The human-first approach to AI workplace adoption

Very few companies have any idea as how to best introduce AI technology into the workplace

it competency in ai world primary

This has been a year with high expectations on the role digital artificial intelligence would play in business. Almost every executive from every department in an organization has been asked at some point what its AI strategy is, when it will be applied, and what results should be expected. Everyone wants to be viewed as the AI-first company. The challenge is, with all these expectations and pressures for AI implementation, very few have any idea as how to best introduce the technology into the workplace.

This begs the question “Is AI a fad?” AI is very popular, everyone is talking about it, everyone wants it, and very few understand how to use it in a long-term meaningful way. Of course, AI is not really a fad, it is just an emerging technology that is facing some adoption hurdles. The first of which is how and where to introduce it in an organization.

One reason introducing the technology is difficult is because of the fears associated with it. When employees see the words “artificial” and “intelligence” together, what they read is “You are going to be replaced by a computer.” This is a very real fear that people in almost every industry are faced with. The reality is that these fears are mostly unfounded—for the foreseeable future. AI today is not capable of fully replacing people. While there is an ever-growing series of predictive reports about the impact AI will have on the jobs market, these rely on two very important assumptions:

  1. The advancement of AI capabilities in the work environment.
  2. The corporate perspective on how to best use AI tools in the workplace.

The first point on the capabilities of AI and its projection, and ultimate limitations, will be a subject I address in a future blog post. When it comes to adopting an AI strategy in the workplace, however, the second point—how companies will use AI tools—has greater impact and meaning for today.

AI, for all its fame and glory, is an instrument. As with any tool, how you approach it and how you use it determine its ultimate value to you. An automobile is a great example. If you approach a car as a powerful technology capable of allowing you to travel greater distances at greater speeds than the human body is capable of on its own, you greatly expand what is possible to achieve in a single day. If you approach an automobile as a cool way to go really fast, chances are you are going to get into an accident and cause a lot of damage. AI is a very powerful emerging technology; how companies approach it today will impact the efficiencies or impairments we will have tomorrow.

When it comes to the workforce, this means always putting the person first. There is no AI product on the market today that can act as a 100-percent rip and replace of the human worker. If you go into your AI strategy treating it as such, you will ultimately fail at your goals—and demoralize your entire workforce. Again, AI is an instrument for the human worker. AI runs at its best when it is implemented in a way that improves the human worker’s efficiency and effectiveness.

So how do you do that? At that very initial phase of your AI strategy, you should lean towards an AI solution that has higher benefits for the employee on a day-to-day basis.

There are a ton of AI applications available today from chatbots and automation to data processing and knowledge-engagement tools. Which of these is the least invasive, while engaging positive employee adoption? The answer is dependent on the individual business at hand. For one company, engaging a chatbot may increase worker productivity and job satisfaction by eliminating the mundane repetitive tasks employees hate to do. For another company, a chatbot may diminish the role of the human workers to the point where it feels like just a matter of time until they are fired.

The risk for a company lies in that “matter of time” needed for the chatbot to advance to the point where the person is no longer relevant. In reality, that may be much longer than the employee, or company, expects. This can leave the organization in a spot where employees are disengaged and tech can’t fill the gap. This will not only negatively impact productivity but will delay the rollout of additional AI applications, costing the competitive advantage of being AI-first.

Every organization will have its own unique set of parameters that will work. The key, again, is to put the human worker first. The human worker is who built your company, the human worker is who helped bring your company to the level of success it is seeing today, and the human worker is the only one capable of doing every facet of the work needed to keep your projections of success moving upward.

What I have seen in terms of employee engagement and acceptance of AI is that their first point of contact with it should be in a way that does not replace any existing job roles. Rather, it gives employees the ability to perform those roles at a higher level. This is the ultimate AI engagement plan dynamic; high employee/business value with low job-security threat.

Companies can achieve this by finding solutions that automate processes that impact output but doesn’t actually replace tasks already assigned to the human worker. These can be applications that improve the flow of communication, the sharing of knowledge, and the ability to collaborate or brainstorm. These can be applications that allow for a quicker acclimation to the job and company for new hires, or present analyzed historical company data for assistance with sales opportunities. These are all means for AI to benefit both the company and employee.

By having that first point of AI adoption being a human-focused solution, and using that balance as a guide for your entire AI strategy, your employees will embrace those solutions faster and with greater results. AI from a technical perspective, as well as a business strategy, should not be viewed as a replacement of the human workforce, but as an enhancement to it. By approaching your strategy this way, a company can sidestep many of the fears that come along with AI adoption, while reaping the benefits of this powerful new technology.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?