Human Trust as the Cultural Foundation for Digital Transformation

The pace of change is accelerating, and a do-adapt-learn mentality is critical for survival. Digital transformation isn’t a destination, but an ongoing journey. The more digitally transformed the organization is, the faster and easier it is to make additional incremental changes. Everything about digitally-enabled businesses is built to change rather than built to last. Building an ability to change continuously requires the capacity to learn and adapt across people, process, data and technology.

On the digital transformation journey, Artificial Intelligence (AI) presents one opportunity for organizations to transform apart from the herd. For some organizations, moving from a paper business to a digital and automated one is the transformation. For others, the transformation is more advanced such as leveraging advanced AI to mirror human capabilities like visual perception and speech. These types of solutions can help organizations accelerate decision-making, speed up the innovation process, and free humans to focus on higher value work: all pivotal in an organization’s effort to keep pace with change. In fact, North Highland research shows that 78 percent of organizations believe that AI can help augment the capabilities of their workforce. Regardless, if the starting point is an AI strategy or a digital transformation program, AI tools (ranging from simple automation to machine learning to an augmented workforce) are no doubt a key enabler to the future state of the digitally transformed.

While the promise of AI is tangible, organizations will undoubtedly struggle to achieve their AI goals if fostering human trust is not central to AI strategy. Tactically, this blog will focus on human trust in the context of artificial intelligence, but much of what is contained here can be applied in multiple transformation scenarios.

The unfortunate reality is that trust is at an all-time low . 0ne only needs to read an AI newsfeed to know that corporate carelessness abounds within ethics, safety, and data, resulting in resignations at Google, and resulting in surge in Ethics committees and demands for AI principles. Some of this bad behavior can be attributed to corporate arrogance, while other instances are simply global corporations committing first adopter scraped knees—just very publicly.

With AI creating new economic realities and fundamentally changing how people experience the world, the next twenty years is sure to set new standards of living and working, much like the industrial revolutions before it.

Thankfully, the ways in which humans adapt to any kind of change is not new. Trust is a critical factor influencing humans’ ability to accept and adapt to change, and is a known contributor to high performing teams. Unfortunately, most companies and AI experts are so distracted by “cool tech” they forget that the real work is getting humans to accept, help build, and integrate these solutions into new ways of working. Fundamentally, understanding humans is the key to unlocking any of the promises that AI offers.

Three ways to establish trust to help reach the operational promised land:

  1. Insights: Understand what humans know and what they are worried about. Whether the goal focuses around customers or employees, there is critical knowledge that is most definitely not documented in current systems and processes. Employees know things about how work gets done (or as important—why it doesn’t!) and why decisions are made (required for automation and AI to work). They can also identify what they are most apprehensive about when it comes to integrating and adopting AI. Customers are the only ones who can express what matters to them. Use this to implement AI with intention and not detract from human moments that matter.
  2. Training and Communications: Inform employees about the AI vision, and how it will (and will not) be applied. Help educate teams on the different technologies and the kinds of problems they solve so everyone starts with the same foundational understanding of what is being considered and what it is actually capable of doing.
  3. Co-Creation: Build solutions collaboratively with key influencers from the business units being served—both to capture the key knowledge described in #1, and equally important, to give them ownership and skin in the game for the success of your initiatives. Humans are more likely to trust that something will work if they know someone who does the work was involved in building the new tool. Innovation teams working in a box can only drive so far. Cross-team collaboration and networked execution are required for faster adoption.

There is so much exciting work to be done in the next few years using AI within the digital space. With AI as one piece of a larger digital transformation puzzle that shapes people, processes, and technology, those organizations that take a human-driven approach with AI as an empowering agent will easily surpass their tool-focused competitors.

For more thinking on this topic, take a look at our latest perspectives on cognitive ethics and cognitive organizations.