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The current global crisis has forced millions of white-collar knowledge workers to work from home, and many struggle with the daily distractions that come with that. Organizations empathize with this challenge but also need their workers to be as productive as possible during this challenging time.
Concerned about remote worker productivity, some organizations have found that analyzing email usage, Zoom, Slack, and online search histories do not show a full picture of what a worker is doing on a daily basis. Therefore, forward-thinking companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) and Data Science to ensure that workers are focused on “deep work” — the work that fulfills the most important business objectives — rather than process work. They are also using AI to reveal who the most valuable knowledge workers are — those that are making a big difference in fulfilling company objectives and driving profits.
Using AI to drive worker productivity may seem like it could have a negative “Big Brother is watching you” impact on employees, but truthfully, AI is more of a friend than a foe to the worker. AI actually helps workers stay focused on the most important tasks at hand that drive real business value. Moreover, AI automates mundane tasks, freeing up knowledge workers to spend more time on key projects. And AI excels at using accurate data to produce powerful business insights — often better than humans can. People simply don’t have the ability to observe and process the same volumes and at the same speed as AI does.
Lastly, AI and Data Science give teams a comprehensive view of the business. Business leaders often make decisions with very limited and often biased input. People see pieces of the puzzle and try to complete the full puzzle from past experience — again, an incomplete and biased view that leads to inadequate decisions. Using AI helps organizations make better decisions from the get-go.
The judicious use of AI is not only improving productivity but also transforming leadership. Some leaders are actively using AI and Data Science to give their team members more meaningful roles. AI can process and analyze far more data than people and provide more accurate business insights. It can also be used to track time wastage and identify where and how time can be saved or better used. In fact, chatbots are already dealing with routine IT and HR inquiries, and machine learning programs are giving accurate predictions of customer demand.
AI is already delivering the tools that leaders need to eliminate the boring, mundane work so that workers can focus on the deep, engaging work — from streamlining processes and decision-making to eliminating repetitive tasks and making team collaboration far easier. At the same time, AI is turning leaders into better decision-makers by turning data into accurate business insights at a time when we need them the most. With superior data at our fingertips, we can make better decisions regarding customer experience, ROI, consumer behavior, marketing focus, lowering costs, and hiring.
Despite all of the positive outcomes of AI, many leaders are still either afraid of it or skeptical — something that needs to change as we forge ahead in a post-COVID-19 world. In fact, a recent Forbes Insights study found that, of 387 business leaders surveyed, 79 percent recognized the urgent need to prioritize AI, but only 5 percent felt they were ready to embrace it.
Fortunately, there are six key strategies that help organizations implement AI judiciously and effectively. According to the Global Leadership Forecast, here are the actions that leaders and boards should take to help their organizations implement AI on a company-wide basis:
- Uncover critical leadership roles first. Then, evaluate the readiness of your talent to embrace and pioneer new types of digital transformation.
- Include emergent knowledge and skills to refocus leader development. Use this to update your competency framework.
- Create digital accelerator leadership-immersion programs to build technical know-how and leadership capability.
- Lead for the future of the organization. Nurture and develop legacy leaders, and bring in new leaders with imagination and vision around how technology can transform productivity and competitive position.
- Develop a digital ecosystem that will help leaders thrive. This ecosystem should offer new approaches to learning, rewards, use of space, and elimination of hierarchies. Place great digital-ready leaders in a traditional culture, and they will surely fail.
- Assess your leadership talent and determine if some of your current leaders will be unable or unwilling to make the transition. It may be time to make the tough decisions about who to keep and who to let go.
The right use of AI offers an unparalleled opportunity to transform organizations and boost worker productivity and morale. As we ramp up AI worldwide, it is important to keep in mind that leaders and teams must also embrace a more humane leadership mindset to make AI truly successful for one and all. That means embedding practices that support the development of empathy, emotional intelligence, and the kind of nuanced ethical judgment that will be critical for leaders at all levels if they are required to manage AI effectively.