Evaluating the viability of AI in the workplace

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Evaluating the viability of AI in the workplace

By Christa Martin - 12/28/2020

It’s becoming increasingly important for organizational leaders to consider the potential impact of artificial intelligence on company culture. 

Recent research estimates that one in five employees will have an artificial intelligence (AI) system as their coworker by 2022. As workplace applications of artificial intelligence become the norm, organizational leaders will face a bevy of new challenges, ranging from resource allocation to effective implementation.

As organizational leaders steer their companies into increasingly competitive labor markets while keeping a close eye on the achievement of topline results, one of their most pressing questions will become, “How can humans and AI work together while maintaining a cohesive company culture?” 

Here are three key considerations corporate leaders will need to address to craft—and progressively strengthen—flourishing company cultures in which humans and AI systems are able to work in tandem:

1. Conduct cost-benefit analyses
As they prepare to roll out their AI solutions, corporate leadership teams must be sure to conduct careful cost-benefit analyses. This should not only evaluate the potential capital investment and ROI of implementing artificial intelligence in the workplace as precisely as possible but should also weigh the cultural costs and benefits of choosing to deploy or forgo such solutions.

An AI system’s cultural costs and benefits may include its value-add to customers, users’ perceptions of its interface, its interoperability with existing operational systems, its overall reliability, its embodiment of a company’s cultural beliefs (e.g., “collaborative problem-solving is valued within this organization”), and more.

For example, one of Amazon’s top cultural beliefs is “Customer Obsession.” The company’s customer service chatbots can conduct natural, colloquial, real-time text exchanges with customers. These bots serve as a prime example of AI being harnessed in a way that not only drives positive business outcomes, but embodies an organization’s cultural beliefs.

Further, it’s crucial for organizational leaders to conduct additional cost-benefit analyses of specific AI applications within their organizations. AI should be viewed not as a one-time fix for all operational problems, but as a tool to be leveraged only when it will be cost-effective, efficient, and culturally valuable to do so.

For instance, an AI system may be able to streamline the talent acquisition process by vetting applicants’ resumes and filtering out unqualified candidates. Alternatively, an AI system may be able to reduce labor costs on the production line at a manufacturing plant or drive conversions for a retailer by providing consumers with the information they need.

It’s up to leaders to take stock of various job functions and potential AI applications and conduct thorough cost-benefit analyses to make decisions that will promote their organizations’ cultural beliefs and, in turn, drive results.

2. Maintaining control over AI-driven results
Taking a step back, it’s critical to consider the intended role of a leadership team within an organization. Great leaders do not command teams blindly, rejecting employee feedback in favor of rigid protocol and critically not creating dialogue. Nor are they micromanagers who do not trust employees to remain responsible for delivering desired results. Rather, great leaders encourage collaboration, candid feedback, and creativity, remaining open to possibilities and empathetic to unique perspectives.

Most importantly, strong leaders steer teams toward a set of shared objectives, the achievement of which would offer collective benefits. These objectives, also known as OKRs (objectives and key results), are the three to five meaningful, measurable, and memorable “must-deliver” business outcomes that define organizational success. Throughout the journey toward OKR fulfillment, leaders must maintain their adaptability and openness to innovative ideas and viewpoints.

3. Fostering a collaborative culture
Collaboration is the cornerstone of a thriving company culture. As Mary Barra, CEO of GM states, "You've got to create a climate where people feel that they can speak up, that there's not fear in the organization. So, we work really hard to not be hierarchical; clever ideas can come from anywhere."

In a collaborative culture this now extends to people, AI, bots and more. All “members” of an organization need to continually reaffirm their commitment to executing on OKRs and take proactive measures—whether inside or outside the strict boundaries of their individual roles—to ensure they honor this commitment.  This won’t be an easy transition for some, learning to trust AI, to objectively review data and patterns will still be in the human court for a long time to come.

Bottom line
For corporate leaders wrestling with if, when, how, and why to implement artificial intelligence, cultural considerations should be reviewed for the readiness of an organization and their employees. Only a thriving culture rooted in collaboration and led by flexible, receptive, collaborative leadership teams will remain viable in rapidly evolving, highly competitive markets.

Leaders should deploy AI solutions for business when they feel confident that the systems reflect their organizations’ cultural beliefs, add value to the customer, employee experiences and productivity. Enabling AI allows organizations to remain agile in their approach to execution and empower all members of their organizations to reach new heights in achieving results that matter most for the organization and their customers.

Christa Martin is CMO of Chief Outsiders.

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