Blog 29.4.2024

Navigating the evolving digital society – Unlock AI’s potential with change leadership skills


Digital Society

One of the most important things in our fast-paced digital society, is mastering the meta-skill of change leadership. Change leadership skills will help you get all the juice out of new technologies like AI.

How do we prepare for a brave, still undefined new world of us interacting with AI? It all starts with a solid foundation. Think of it like building a house – you wouldn’t want to build it on shaky ground, would you? The same goes for AI. You need to have a clear AI strategy in place, know what you want to achieve with this technology (and specific tools) as well as make sure that your data is in such shape that AI can actually use it.

But it’s not just about the technical stuff, it is very much about the people and how we interact with technology. One corner stone here is to foster psychological safety and create a culture of experimentation, where it is okay to try things out, possibly fail and then learn from it. It also means that line managers need to be prepared to lead and support their teams through times of change and through ups and downs. They make sure everyone has the right skills needed to succeed, when getting acquainted with AI. Data analytics, AI interpretation, critical thinking, human-machine communication (e.g. writing prompts), futuristic and visionary thinking, creativity and storytelling skills to name a few. 

AI stirs things up on the emotional side  

Another aspect, which makes AI a lot about people, lies in the area of psychology and emotions: according to David Rock, who has a doctorate in neuroscience of leadership, we have five, universal, psychological basic needs at work (status, certainty, autonomy, relatedness, fairness) and our brain is a master in scanning our environment and detecting possible threats to these needs.

In other words, our brain alarms us when a change comes along at work; be it new technology, new processes or organisational changes. The possibly threatening change puts forward a lot of emotions, worries and questions. The introduction of AI technology and tools at work might bring forward questions like:  

  • What about ethics and cyber security?  
  • Are we losing part of our routine work?  
  • Will I learn?  
  • How to find energy to learn yet another technology?  
  • Will we lose human interaction?  
  • Will my current skills be made redundant?  
  • Will I lose status at work?  
  • I am no tech-wizard, is there a risk I will be left out?  
  • Can I have a say in how my work will change?  

This all makes it extremely important to learn from brain research and understand how people react in change. Other important things to consider on the people side are: 

  • Do we have enough time and “space” to actually be more creative when mundane tasks can be automated, or do we create even more digital waste that takes up our time and energy?  
  • Do we realise that our brain loves routines and there has to be enough routine work left for us to not completely fry our brains?  
  • Do we see the essence of sponsor commitment to creating a culture, where we can benefit from AI, not just concentrating on tools, but truly being the architects of our future business and ways of doing it?  
  • Do we invest enough in line manager and peer support for people to dare trying out new technologies?  

These are all challenges and things to consider before we jump the gun and start buying licenses to AI based tools. But here’s the exciting part: if we do it right, AI has the potential to unlock our full human potential. It can free us from mundane tasks and allow us to focus on what truly matters – creativity, innovation and connection.  

Unlocking the potential of AI: the critical role of change leadership 

To build a world where humans and machines work together in harmony and where technology truly enhances our humanity, we need to lead people in a human-centric way towards a the new ways of working, by:

  • keeping employees informed about any AI implementation, its objectives and why it has been chosen to support the business.
  • explaining the concrete impacts of AI on people’s roles.
  • encouraging open dialogue and involving employees in the integration processes. 
  • offering training and other support resources.
  • encouraging people to take on a more experimental approach to things.
  • providing feedback on how people are doing, celebrating success and addressing concerns.
  • fostering psychological safety.
  • aiming for AI systems that enhance human capabilities and decision-making instead of replacing human workers.
  • making sure people are not burdened by too many changes simultaneously to integrating AI in their daily working processes.
  • preparing line managers to act as role-models and lead their teams in times of change.

People experts in addition to AI experts 

Since we don’t know yet, what opportunities and changes AI as a technology might bring, I would suggest it is a very good time to get our foundation in order and learn about basic facts on how people: 

  1. react to change
  2. learn new things and unlearn old habits 
  3. stick to the new ways of working even when facing the initial difficulties 
  4. handle simultaneous changes 

When we lead in a people-centric way, we have better chances of welcoming the changes AI might bring to individuals, organisations and society. Like John Hagel so eloquently put it: “AI may just be the catalyst we need to reclaim what makes us truly human.”

Is your organisation currently considering how to make knowledge work more meaningful and effective with Generative AI?

change management

data & AI

Maria Gauffin

Senior Change Consultant

Maria is an enthusiastic and productive change management professional. In addition to experience in large transformation programs, mainly in large international corporations, Maria has gained insight from training & coaching, marketing & communication, process development & automation and management consultancy.

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