Why Culture Change is Critical to Your AI Implementation

One of the biggest barriers to a successful AI implementation is an organisation’s resistance to change. In fact, this barrier applies to any new technology or initiative. This is not a new phenomenon, and volumes of knowledge and whole careers have been built around the field of change management.

It’s simply human nature to fear the unknown.

Unfortunately, this fear and resistance to change cripples innovation. In today’s extremely volatile and competitive environment, an inability to innovate can bring even the most successful companies to their knees, while companies that successfully navigate the shifting waters of change leap forward in their markets.

When implementing an AI initiative at your company, your ultimate goal is to achieve some kind of innovation that will allow your business to thrive. For AI, that innovation usually fits into three types: improving operations, developing new products, or strengthening customer intimacy.

To achieve the goals you set for AI in your company, you need everyone to be aligned with your AI strategy (you do have one of those, right?). In most companies, this means that you’ll need to work toward shifting your company culture toward innovation and a collective belief in the value of becoming data-centric, and here’s why.

Innovation requires (and rewards) curiosity.

In the world of business, curiosity rarely kills that cat. On the contrary, it’s what keeps an organisation moving toward innovation and the discovery of new ways to grow, improve your bottom line, and ultimately… survive.

Implementing AI and machine learning in your company benefits when your employees – and especially those leading the effort – possess a genuine curiosity in where the data might lead and what can be learned from it. Asking smart questions about how AI can help the company innovate new products, improve operations, or strengthen ties with customers will help push the limits of the benefits you can get from AI.

Does your company culture reward this type of curiosity?

Implementing new initiatives requires an open line of communication.

According a Gallup poll, only 43% of employees in large corporations strongly agree that they feel free to express thoughts, feelings, and disagreements with a supervisor. That means that 57% of employees most likely bottle up their fears or misunderstandings – which can lead to dissatisfaction, dissention, and even sabotage, whether intentional or not.

And it’s important to recognize that not all fears and concerns are negative or destructive to your goals. Many times, employees’ concerns may expose valid risks that should be addressed and planned for.

It’s much more productive and advantageous for employees’ fears and misgivings to be exposed, so they can be dealt with positively. This can only happen in a culture where every level of staff – from clerks to directors – feels safe in expressing their fears and concerns.

Does your company culture foster a safe environment for honest communication – even if it’s not what you want to hear?

Corporate culture must be aligned with the organisation’s goals and strategy.

Too often, employees are working toward departmental or functional goals at the expense of transparency and shared knowledge that would help the company as a whole. This can happen in highly siloed companies where incentives and rewards (intrinsic and physical) are not aligned with the success of one, unifying corporate strategy.

In an AI initiative, this can lead to many project-killing conditions such as data compliance failures, gaps in knowledge, and competing functional goals.

The very fabric of a company’s culture must be woven around a clearly communicated AI strategy that employees feel vested in and want to support.

Does your company’s current culture represent an environment in which everyone understands, believes in, and is able and willing to support your AI goals and strategy?

People’s fear of machines must be assuaged.

For many, the mention of Artificial Intelligence and machine learning conjures up images of sci-fi killer robots and machines taking over the world – or at least their jobs.

This fear of machines mainly stems from a lack of understanding of what artificial intelligence really is in today’s business context – that it’s more about making much smarter business decisions based on data-generated facts, insights, and prediction. It also includes getting teaching machines to perform some of the more mundane tasks that are typically associated with human intelligence, including learning and pattern recognition.

Rather than displacing people from their jobs, AI’s real benefit is freeing up human resources for more creative purposes and letting machine learning complete the tasks that can be learned from data more accurately than people.

Communicating exactly how you intend to use AI in your organization – as well as the benefits you expect for both the company and your employees – will go a long way in calming fears.

Does your staff understand what AI is? Are they aware of how AI will benefit the company and themselves?

Overcome the belief that people know better than machines.

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