Welcoming the change AI and machine learning will bring
We all know the old adage — change is inevitable. The founder of Airbnb noted recently on a popular podcast, “If you’re not thinking of what’s next, the world around you will change faster than you do.” Businesses in the US and around the globe continue to face change at an unparalleled pace. It’s been well-covered by the press in the past few years, and we can all read the myriad of studies, including SilkRoad’s take on the topic, predicting a lack of readiness, massive job shifts, and the inevitable fundamental changes coming to our workforce because of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, among other digital technology disruptions.
Rather than denying or fearing the change, there are ways that organizations and their leaders can prepare for a new future. It all starts with their current employees, as leaders such as Amazon have recognized. To embrace opportunities from AI/machine learning, employees need continuous learning, reskilling, or rediscovery, and guidance for embracing the unknown through an organization with EQ and IQ training, transparent assessment, and strong HR leadership.
Regardless of whether it’s a big company with massive brand recognition — think GM, Apple, IBM, and so on — or a small startup with large aspirations, all organizations are facing some level of anxiety about the impending change driven by AI and machine learning.
There have been numerous marvels of human ingenuity that have brought us to this precipice. Many of those marvels were guided by one of the greatest change agents of recent times — Steve Jobs. Steve made many famous speeches and quotes during his life, none more so than his commencement address at Stanford University in 2005.
In this speech, Steve told three stories that changed his life and made him the successful person those graduates saw before them. The first was how the “dots connected” in his life after he dropped out of college and began “dropping in” on classes he found interesting. The second was getting fired from the company he founded, Apple, and the opportunities that opened for him following that humbling experience. The last was about the “ultimate change agent” as he called it — death — and the freedom it brings when you embrace your own mortality.
Those three stories apply to the coming disruptions we face today.
Historically in any employment arc, there is a beginning when the employer showers the employee with information and forms, a middle that is not well-defined or well-run at most companies, and the end that is usually abrupt and unsatisfactory. AI and machine learning will exacerbate the gaps in these already antiquated employer-employee relationship models.
The key learnings from Steve’s speech more than 14 years ago hold as much relevance today as they did when he spoke them.
Connecting the Dots and Continuous Learning
Bosses should begin to connect the dots for employees, provide them with a path toward self-improvement and challenge them toward critical thinking — skills commonly identified with increasing importance for human relevance among technology. Steve connected the dots between a calligraphy class he dropped in on at college and the original Mac and its multiple typefaces and proper spacing. Often, corporate training programs have a destination in mind — to learn a certain skill — which is similar to general education classes. Building drop-in programs could help tailor modules and train employees to use their experience to enhance the future.
Disappointment and Rediscovery
Disruption, by definition, causes turmoil and forces change. This will bring about disappointment for many as their work lives must change. But change doesn’t need to end in hardship. It can bring rejuvenation and a rekindling of passion. Bosses need to recognize that renewal in the workforce as it drives the passion, ingenuity, and commitment to succeed in new ways of working.
Death and Embracing the Unknown
Bosses can prepare their employees not only for foreseeable challenges, but for the unknowns they will face while in their current employment and beyond. Through leadership and prescriptive action, leaders can refocus their workforce’s anxieties into energy and courage their need to face the unforeseen.
We live in a highly complex world in which everyone has limited time and resources to focus beyond current tasks to the future. Effective solutions to meet the upcoming disruption will require simplicity. Here are some examples:
- Broaden trainings to include both EQ (emotional quotient) and IQ (intelligence quotient) preparations.
- Assess company training efforts on both quantitative and qualitative measures.
- Empower the Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) and the HR team to drive the workforce change needed to meet the AI and machine learning challenges.
Combining EQ and IQ
EQ is based on five categories. It’s important to focus on the empathy category for employees, as it is the most important for companies in the coming years. It is well-documented that empathy is an important component to any company’s success. Empathy builds compassion and trust, which extends to teamwork and effective collaboration. So why don’t more companies offer training in the face of a disruption that could require teamwork on an unparalleled scale in the coming year? SilkRoad Technology believes in tailored paths for each employee so that he or she can reach their fullest potential. For some of us, empathy comes naturally; for others it is a more foreign concept.
In most cases, supervisors can see early on what level of EQ an employee can exhibit. The supervisor can then work within their company’s talent training programs to craft a path that is particular to that employee. Where many companies fail is in providing programs that can be tailored. Instead the program — if one exists at all — is “one size fits all” and the employee is likely to become disillusioned by all the material that doesn’t pertain to them.
Transparent and Meaningful Assessment
Think back over your own career, how many times have you been given a negative review or were declined a bonus based on measurements over which you had very limited control or were so highly subjective and not well-defined? As AI and machine learning fundamentally change the workplace, it will exacerbate this divide that already exists.
Many times, this is seen as problem originated within the corporate leadership and the HR function. It stems from antiquated thinking and capabilities — judging everyone on an equal playing field. In today’s world, we have the ability to measure individual contributions to the line item that an employee most affects — revenues, costs, margins, inventory turns, etc. And we have greater resources to measure qualitative milestones.
The cardinal rule when dealing with employees is to first answer the question: “What does this mean for me?” So why should anyone so needlessly stumble when assessing individual contributions and charting a path for continued growth? AI will force companies to change their thinking. Those that start now will be way ahead of the game.
HR as the Driver
It has been our experience that HR, and in particular HR leadership, is rarely “at the table” when big decisions are made. It is only after the fact when the decisions need to be executed and communicated that HR is informed. This must change for companies to successfully navigate the issues that AI and machine learning will present. The CHRO is in the optimal position to drive the effort and focus the workforce properly on the coming change. CEOs and CFOs need to empower their CHRO to be at the table and have a key voice in decisions.
Perhaps if Steve Jobs were alive today, he would be looking with excitement at the coming AI and machine learning revolution. The possibilities are nearly limitless. To embrace those opportunities, maybe he would marry what his employees need — continuous learning, rediscovery, and embracing the unknown — with best practices — EQ and IQ training, transparent assessment, and strong HR leadership — to prepare his company for next revolution. It’s time to challenge all bosses (CEOs, CFOs, board members, etc.) to make the courageous changes necessary to position their companies’ workforces for AI and other game-changers in the coming years.
Written by: Robert Dvorak
Robert Dvorak serves as Chief Executive Officer and President of SilkRoad Technology. SilkRoad Technology optimizes human capital through its software and services platform that helps organizations attract, retain and align people to business goals or outcomes. He brings 30 years of executive leadership in strategic sales and IT to his role.