Building AI-Ready Organizations: A Guide
It's Not Rocket Science (Well, Almost)
Welcome to the 384 new FullStack HR readers who joined last week!
If you aren't yet subscribed, join the other 4000+ like-minded people in this free newsletter by subscribing below:
Thanks to all who tuned in to the webinar on Wednesday! The feedback has been overwhelming, and I’m still behind on emails, DMs, and whatnot. I’ll try my best to catch up on all of these over the coming weeks.
Did you miss it? You can watch the webinar on LinkedIn or on YouTube.
If you have feedback, thoughts, or comments, ping me.
And if you found it useful - share it!
In today’s piece, I’ll give you my version of how you can start to work with AI more deliberately in organizations. Since January, I’ve spoken to 50+ HR leaders worldwide on how they think and go about this; this is a condensed and summarized version of those talks.
Let’s get to it.
If you've been following my newsletters this year, you know I've been beating the drum about a topic that's close to my heart and mind - the transformative power of AI in HR.
It's a game-changer, new dawn on the horizon, redefining the HR landscape, and you know all metaphors one could ever think of.
Yet, amid the futuristic chatter, a pragmatic question echoes in my inbox - "How do we even start thinking about AI systemically and strategically in our organizations?"
Well, how do you?
Understanding the Terrain
Embarking on the AI journey is like nurturing a garden. It requires patience, effort, and above all, a deep understanding of what you're cultivating. (I’m no farmer myself, but still…)
Step one is to bring it up on the agenda, but as someone rightfully pointed out - how do you do that?
How to put AI on the agenda?
Ah, the art of getting something onto the agenda! It's a crucial yet often overlooked skill. Introducing a new idea, especially something as transformative as AI, to the board or leadership team requires finesse, strategy, and a dollop of courage.
Identifying the “Right” Moment*
The Strategic Moment: Look out for discussions or meetings about long-term strategies, digital transformation, or enhancing efficiency. These are perfect occasions to introduce AI as a part of the solution.
The "Gap" Moment: If your organization is facing a challenge that AI could help solve—like a bottleneck in operations, a market threat, or an unmet customer need—use this as an opportunity to bring AI onto the agenda.
The Competitive Moment: If a competitor has successfully used AI or if industry trends suggest the growing importance of AI, leverage these facts to argue why AI should be on your organization's agenda.
There might obviously be more moments (or no moment at all, you do it) to bring this up on the agenda, but these might be a useful way of thinking about when and also how to introduce the topic.
*The important part here is that you don’t wait forever for THE right moment. Doing is better than waiting.
Framing the Discussion
Once the topic is introduced, you must frame and facilitate the discussion. As Simon Sinek pointed out in his book, it’s always good to start with the "Why".
Begin by clearly articulating why the organization needs AI. Tie this back to the company's mission, vision, or strategic goals. Use concrete examples and compelling data to support your argument.
As always, you should anticipate resistance when facilitating discussions.
Be ready for pushback and skepticism. Address potential concerns proactively by discussing how the organization can manage risks associated with AI, such as privacy, security, and ethical considerations.
Also, ensure you have a clear cost-benefit analysis. Demonstrate AI initiatives' potential ROI. Include both tangible benefits, such as cost savings or revenue growth, and intangible ones, like enhanced customer experience or improved decision-making.
A great way to introduce topics like this is also to find your champions. Before the meeting, identify potential allies who are likely to support your initiative. Provide them with information and encourage them to voice their support during the meeting.
Remember that what resonates the strongest with most people are stories. Stories can be powerful tools for persuasion. Share success stories of other organizations that have benefited from AI. If possible, relate these stories to your organization's challenges or opportunities.
Don't be disheartened if you don't get a green light immediately. Persistence pays off. Keep the conversation going by sharing articles, reports, or news about AI in your industry. Offer to arrange informational sessions or bring in experts for a more in-depth discussion.
And lastly, believe in yourself. You don’t need to be a data scientist to bring the topic of AI up on the agenda. You are here. You read this. You are ready!
Building AI capabilities.
Once on the agenda, it’s time to start educating the board or the leadership team about AI - what it can and can't do the ethical dilemmas, and potential pitfalls. We need to know the ins and outs, the yin and yang of AI. Once our leadership understands these, they're better equipped to drive the AI initiatives in the right direction.
Once our leadership team is in the know, the next challenge is creating an AI-ready workforce. But fear not; this doesn't mean transforming everyone into data scientists. What we're aiming for is AI literacy across the organization.
The first step in my book is to host internal workshops and seminars led by AI experts. Make sure these sessions are interactive, with plenty of real-world examples. You could also invite AI leaders from other companies to share their experiences and best practices. This is still a fairly new field; in my experience, people are keen on sharing knowledge.
After you’ve done larger sessions to bring awareness up, starting more formal training around AI is probably a good idea. Start small and make the training sessions iterative. I suggest breaking it down into three buckets.
AI Awareness Program: Start with a basic AI awareness program for all employees. They need to understand what AI is, why it's important, and how it can make their jobs easier. Make it as engaging and interactive as possible. Maybe even gamify the learning process.
Elements of AI is a great course to take, but they also offer a business version of that training. (Let me know if you want to know more about that, and I’ll connect you with the people behind it.)
Specialized Training: Provide advanced, specialized training for those directly working with AI. This could be through workshops, online courses, or on-the-job training. Engage your people in finding the right courses on this one, as they might vary heavily depending on what your workforce does.
Continual Learning: AI is evolving at breakneck speed. Keeping up is not an option; it's a necessity. Encourage continual learning by providing access to the latest courses, webinars, and conferences.
Setting the Stage
We've got our leaders on board, and our workforce is ready. The next piece of the puzzle is creating policies that pave the way for AI acceptance. (You can do this simultaneously as well.)
AI Strategy: Make AI part of your organization's overall strategy. It should not be a side project or an afterthought. Include it in your mission statement, your annual goals, and your KPIs. Show your workforce that AI is here to stay.
Experimentation and Failure: Encourage experimentation with AI. Make it clear that failures are not just tolerated but expected. They're stepping stones on the path to AI proficiency.
Rewards and Recognition: Recognize and reward employees who embrace AI, come up with innovative uses, or show significant improvement in their AI skills.
Building AI into the Workflow
So we’ve done all of the above. And got the T-shirt. Now it’s time for the next and perhaps most important step. Integrating AI into the daily workflow.
Here's the golden rule - AI should be an ally, not an adversary. It should make the work easier, not harder. So how do we ensure that?
Find the Right Tools: Look for AI tools that fit your needs. There's no point in adopting a tool just because it's the latest fad. The tool should solve a real problem or enhance an existing process.
Iterative Approach: Implement the tools incrementally. Start with a small, manageable project. Once that's successful, move on to the next. This iterative approach reduces risk and makes the transition smoother.
Support System: Provide ample support during the transition phase. This could be through training, helpdesks, or AI mentors. Remember, every change brings a bit of discomfort. Your job is to minimize that discomfort.
So there you have it, my friends, a semi-practical guide to building AI-ready organizations. You can do bits and pieces of this as well, but I hope it serves as some kind of inspiration, at least.
It might seem daunting at first, but the steps provided here are sure many but remember to get allies. It’s not solely HR:s responsibility to foster this environment, even though I believe that we should set the agenda.
And also, remember that it's not an overnight transformation but a journey. A journey that requires patience, dedication, and a keen eye for detail.
But trust me; it's a journey worth embarking on.