Looking to Get Ahead of the AI Revolution? Hint: Think Beyond Technology

The discussion around the topic of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the future of work is fascinating, terrifying, and prolific—it’s hard to keep up with the latest learnings and advances. Largely appealing to the public’s fears and uncertainties about AI’s implications, the media tends to focus on what the technology can and cannot (or should and should not) do, and its impending impact on the workforce and economy in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

However, I have yet to see much “real talk” about the importance of the human element of defining the new jobs required to manage cognitive solutions, and readying the workforce for them. To scale and optimize these solutions beyond a simple proof of concept, non-engineer or tech-focused employees will need to understand and be trained on how to work with the technology. Further, readiness mandates a pace of turnaround that most HR and learning and development (L&D) teams are not poised to deliver on.

Here are four ways to focus on jobs and training that will give your organization an edge in embedding AI-enabled capabilities:

  1. Holistically document the work done in your organization—from both quantifiable and qualifiable data sets. To understand the skills needed (whether done by a bot or a human), your organization must capture not only business processes (what gets done), but how decisions are made and why. This key data is not usually captured in a database anywhere. We call the how and why “tacit knowledge,” or the things that people just know from experience or context that informs how the work actually gets done.What to do: Collect employee insights via interviews and ethnographies to understand how they make decisions and where there might be “workarounds” or information not captured in existing databases.
  2. Determine what work is inherently human and what skills are required for high performance in those areas. Decisions need to be made about who or what should execute the work at each stage of the future state process or experience. Once all the human work has been identified, L&D and HR teams need to identify, and in some cases, predict, the roles and accompanying knowledge, skills, and attitudes required for those roles so they can recruit, design, and execute training accordingly. Typically, high performance in this area requires the human workforce to have strong skills in empathy, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution—topics that are sorely neglected in most learning and development curricula.What to do: Map your customer journey and identify the moments that matter. Understand why they matter and then determine whether or not a human is required to deliver that moment. Identify for each moment, whether bot or human, the characteristics required for that moment to remain impactful. For example, if it’s personalization, a human touch is likely required. If it’s about efficiency or ease, a cognitive solution may be better. Design your training and talent strategies around these moments and the skills required to enable them.
  3. Develop a hybrid workforce transition strategy. What follows is a hard look at what it will take to transition your human workforce into the new reality. This includes identifying who will move into new roles, where people will be redistributed if they are not taking on new work, and the time in which it takes your organization to communicate changes, develop, and deliver relevant training. This training should empower talent in alignment with the timing of business changes—specifically deployment of cognitive technologies, whose impacts will be felt within weeks of their deployment. Organizations must clearly outline roles and responsibilities—with a focus on the delineation between humans and cognitive technologies.What to do: With any cognitive solution implementation, come up with your talent and training strategies at the beginning (if not before) your bot build phase and partner with experienced change managers. You will need communication and training plans, identification of who will move into new roles (such as bot trainer) and if people will move out of their function, where they will go instead. The more detail you can provide upfront about dates and what to expect—including what functions the bot will not perform, the less fear will exist in your organization around these changes, which will result in increased speed to adoption.
  4. Begin now. Yesterday would have been better, actually. The work outlined here would usually take years to execute, but the new reality is that deploying cognitive solutions requires workforce adaptation within weeks. Any work and training that can be defined today, ahead of an actual implementation, will better inoculate departments against the shock that they will inevitably feel.What to do: Without knowing the exact roles and skills your organization might need to strategize for, you can begin training your entire workforce now on the basics of AI terminology and functionality. You can also begin introducing more “soft skills” training on topics like emotional intelligence, critical thinking and creativity, some of the top skills of 2020 as cited by The World Economic Forum.

It should come as no surprise to those who work in these functions: HR and L&D will be the lynch pin in successfully transitioning into the workforce of the future. What is critical is that organizations prepare today to avoid talent disruption, employee disenfranchisement, and broken bots—not to mention wasted capital. By doing so, organizations can also quell much of the popular fear about AI by reinvigorating the workforce and its training, and elevating human functions to a new level of organizational importance. This is the future state that will empower both humans and machines towards a greater future of meaningful work.