Estimated reading time: 9 minutes
I’ve published a couple of articles lately about the need for organizations to have an artificial intelligence (AI) strategy and how AI can help organizations with employee development. It’s possible that with all the conversation about AI technologies in today’s news, organizations are talking about what AI could mean for their operation and how to get started.
So, I wanted to bring in another technology expert to talk specifically about the things that organizations need to consider when looking at AI tools. Matthew Geohring, MS, is a technology solutions consultant for global insurance brokerage Hub International’s HUB People & Technology Consulting Practice. In his role, he consults with clients on technology implementation strategies including optimization and return-on-investment (ROI). Prior to joining HUB, Matthew spent time as both a human resources generalist and an in-house senior HRIS analyst. I’m excited to be sharing his thoughts with you today.
Matthew, thanks for being here. As we know, there’s a lot of conversation about technology, specifically artificial intelligence (AI), in today’s news. For organizations thinking about jumping into the AI world, what are a couple of things that they should ask themselves to determine if they’re prepared to adopt AI?
[Geohring] Organizations need to take a step back and be sure they have a holistic view of their strategic goals, offerings, and processes. This would allow an organization to objectively assess whether there is either a true need for AI, and if a need is identified, how best to leverage the technology in support of that strategy/goal/culture/etc.
A company should not feel obligated to adopt AI only because others are saying it is neat. They may want to ask the following of their leadership.
- What specific value or business opportunity does AI present that fills an existing gap in the organization?
- How do I expect that AI will be used in day-to-day operations to complement or enhance the current workforce?
- Do we have existing talent that can implement and maintain the tool, and how would we ensure the tool is being used ethically and efficiently. A human touch will still be needed.
Should an organization decide to move forward, change management should be heavily considered.
- Are leaders and employees ready for the enhanced technology and/or functionality?
- Does the organization have a creative and innovative culture, so that AI can be introduced more easily?
- Will AI be well received? How will you be sure employees truly understand how and why AI is being implemented/utilized?
- Do you foresee any resistance to changes? How will you address any potential concerns?
Should an organization decide that they’re going to bring AI into the company, what’s the next step? I know that organizations need to have an Artificial Intelligence strategy, but with AI being so new, should organizations wait until they identify the tool and then then build a strategy / policy around it (which as I’m saying it doesn’t sound like a good idea).
[Geohring] AI should be viewed as a supplement and enhancement, so business strategy and organizational needs should remain as the top priority.
A solid foundation is critical to successfully implementing any new technology. AI should be viewed as one tool in the toolbox – not the epicenter of a company’s overall strategy. Once a need or value is identified, be open for ways to leverage AI as it develops and grows to meet business needs and enhance strategies or policies.
If an organization decides to work AI directly into policy and strategy, include and consider your growth-oriented goals like improving customer satisfaction, expanding in the market, or improving employee communication and engagement.
I’m sure some organizations are viewing Artificial Intelligence has a way to reduce headcount, which BTW – I’m not sure is true. At the point organizations start talking with technology companies, what should they be looking for when it comes to AI features?
[Geohring] The presence of AI is growing rapidly however jobs are largely impacted through enhancement, not replacement.
Again, the business should ask itself, what need does AI satisfy, solve for, or improve upon? For example, AI can help create a more integrated and interactive employee experience. Evaluating systems that are easy to use and understand is important. AI can be a great tool to help with that – but it’s not the only answer.
Will the tool help to perform faster data retrieval and have decision-making skills to reduce tedious tasks or human error? Is the tool easy to understand and manage? Depending on business needs, organizations will want to know if the technology they’re looking at offers AI that can perform process automation, analyze data, and/or engage with customers and employees.
What is the AI being used for? Depending on the use case, an organization will want to know where and how data or decisions are being driven through the tool. Similar to hiring an employee, you want to ensure the tool is capable of performing the tasks required of it.
Because AI can help create a more integrated employee experience, evaluating systems that are easy to use and understand is important. AI can be a great tool to help with that – but it’s not the only answer.
One of the things I’m hearing more about is Artificial Intelligence learning some bad habits – like discrimination. What kinds of questions do organizations need to ask about AI algorithms to ensure this doesn’t happen to them?
[Geohring] When evaluating AI programs, it is important to understand if the algorithms have been created with an inclusive approach and tested for fairness.
Because AI is created by humans, conscious or unconscious bias can find its way into the algorithms. It is important for employers to ask vendors for transparency about algorithms being used and how they were developed. Programmers and designers involved in the creation of the AI should be from diverse backgrounds, with diverse perspectives. After checking to understand a vendor’s inclusivity, organizations can ask if disparate impact is regularly tested and validated, with results readily available. Vendor references should also be provided, as AI should be transparent, explainable, and fair. The power of AI is increasing in step with regulations and the burden of proof for those who use it. Organizations need to ensure that it is fair and ethical.
Organizations will want AI to ‘fit in’, so it’s important to ask if the system can understand the ways the employer speaks to its employees. Can a company impose its desired culture? Will similar language be used, and can it convey the desired level of empathy and understanding? Similarly, can an outside force impose changes on this AI causing unintended/unwarranted decisions or responses?
Speaking of bad habits, when it comes to AI in organizations, should companies review and revise their ethics and privacy statements to specifically address AI, such as when it can and can’t be used?
[Geohring] AI is incredible with what it can do, so not only is it worth the effort to understand the capabilities, how it could or should be used by members of the organization, and whether that fits with a company’s objectives and culture – but companies utilizing AI have a social responsibility to protect their employees and customers. Issues around privacy, cyber, and other data-related risks must be considered. This is especially true because AI can’t yet perform a lot of tasks in the way that humans can such as understanding cause and effect or using common sense, which could leave companies vulnerable to unintended consequences of the AI’s action.
As AI continues to develop, new rules and regulations will follow as we see in other countries with restrictions being established on viewable data. The sophistication of the company’s IT and security departments will be integral, and as such, companies really need to understand how to manage the technology, the limits and risks, and where and how to use it.
Last question. There could be employees who are reluctant to interact with Artificial Intelligence. What are some things that organizations can say to help employees better understand AI and its benefits?
[Geohring] This is really about change management, a critical step to gaining buy-in at an organization. An employer can’t expect adoption without thoughtfully creating a message and campaign for all users (including your clients!). Businesses should consider their people and engagement strategies when planning to implement AI. Done well, this can be an exciting boost to a strong employee value proposition!
Be transparent with employees and explain why a specific AI was chosen. This relates back to why AI should be viewed as an enhancement to strategy, rather than the epicenter. An employee hearing ‘XYZ AI is being implemented as a chat feature to alleviate incoming calls into a call center. Giving customers access to answers at their fingertips will allow our representatives to work on more impactful issues.’ would be more likely to adopt than an employee hearing ‘XYZ AI is being implemented because it is cool, right?!’. Culturally speaking, employees want to know that their work is still valued, and businesses that convey this will help employees to feel more comfortable about the positive and exciting opportunities AI can bring.
Be just as transparent with how it was chosen and how it will be utilized. What other systems or solutions were considered? What is the downstream impact of the current issue? Who helped identify issues and provided input on the solution? How does this fit into their daily routine and tasks? Are any trainings or resources being offered to help adoption or management? Transparency with employees regarding how AI will be used and what data will be collected and used is critical. Training employees to better understand how the AI works will help to establish confidence and allow them to provide more impactful input.
Introduce your employees to the AI, show them a demo, allow them to interact with it. Offer trainings and other informative material to enhance their capabilities. Some AI tools will scan and evaluate more data in seconds than a person could in a lifetime, so that global knowledge can be communicated as an advantage, allowing employees the ability to learn things or make informed decisions in far less time than it may take to learn by other avenues. Organizations can use the tool as a skills development tool around automated processes and how they can positively impact an employee and an entire organization.
A huge thanks to Matthew for sharing his experience with us. If you’re looking for more information, be sure to check out the HUB International website. It has lots of information on technology, employee benefits, and more.
While we’ve been talking about AI for a while, we’re getting to the point where the talk is turning into reality. That’s really exciting. But we need to prepare for it. Artificial intelligence is a new tool. One of the reasons that I’ve shared three interviews with three different people recently is because it’s a great opportunity to see their perspectives. I found it very interesting to see how each interview aligns and they do. So the good news is that there are some common insights that we can use to bring AI into our lives and workplaces safely and effectively.
Image captured by Sharlyn Lauby while exploring the streets of Atlanta, GA51