AI readiness at the organizational level takes a village
Keeping up with the world of AI advancements can be head-spinning. Depending on the day, you’ll see AI analysis that AI hype is living up to its reputation, as evidenced by Nvidia’s most recent earnings or others stating that we’re at the peak of the “AI hype cycle, as indicated by Gartner. Suppose organizations take a conservative view on AI and assume that the hype cycle has peaked.
That means that while the buzz tapers off, the less glamorous and more time-intensive work of managing incremental organizational change begins. Change management will look different across industries, and there won’t be a one-size-fits-all approach.
The Marketing AI Institute recently shared the results of a survey of marketers working in the field, and a clear theme emerged: Organizations need to be better prepared. I had a chance to connect with founder and CEO Paul Roetzer, who expanded on the results of his study:
“We surveyed more than 900 marketers for our 2023 State of Marketing AI report, and 78% said their employers have no formal internal AI-focused education and training. When asked about the top barriers to adopting AI in their organizations, “a lack of education and training” was the number one response (64%) for the third straight year.”
Should Organizations Hire A Chief AI Officer?
While organizations like those who practice marketing admit that they must get smarter on all things AI, we must also learn from past missteps when managing significant digital transformations over time. Before AI became the technology darling of the moment, there was the Metaverse — and when that was in full swing — it wasn’t uncommon to create roles, like the Chief Metaverse Officer, who would presumably lead the organization’s Metaverse initiatives.
A recent article in The Drum followed several Metaverse-focused executives through their journey of taking on the Metaverse mantle in the organization. The trend? Most executives, such as Disney’s Mike White, have either moved on or been re-assigned, ironically to areas such as generative AI. From The Drum:
“During his time as the Coca-Cola Company’s head of global creative strategy and content — a position he was first appointed to in January 2021– Pratik Thakar was, like so many marketers, excited about the metaverse. The brand moved quickly in its efforts to establish itself as a pioneer in the web3 space; it launched an NFT campaign way back in July 2021 and, a little under a year later, released a soda aimed at the gaming community, which it alleged to contain “the flavor of pixels.” Today, Thakar is still with Coca-Cola as the company’s global head of generative AI.”
Putting a single person in charge of an emerging trend that could impact the business could make sense if it was structured like a traditional BU, with a P&L attached to it where presidents or CEOs often run the show and are accountable for revenue — but the kind of change management that comes with game-changers such as AI and automation aren’t as neatly packageable.
For many organizations, new roles will be created — new skills will be learned, and yes, some jobs will go away. The blue-collar world, which is no stranger to robotics and automation, has given the corporate world a playbook — it’s up to the corporate world to learn from it as AI comes for the white-collar workforce.
AI Readiness For Organizations
Organizations that are serious about accelerating their initiatives around AI will skip the grand gesture of appointing a Chief AI Officer, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be people in charge.
Change and evolutions in organizations often require a fresh perspective or subject matter expertise from the outside — but these individuals need to be partnered with leaders who understand the culture, history, and DNA of the company. This pairing is critical as without the expertise to navigate the organization, change initiatives sputter out or die on the vine. A few key roles that organizations can consider when becoming more AI-ready.
Organizational Cultural Leader
This is a seasoned, well-respected leader in the org who has spent considerable time across multiple functions/BUs and has the relationships to show for it. They can open doors, facilitate introductions, and understand how to get things done.
Ideally, this candidate has a good blend of cultural and institutional knowledge, which aligns with the organization’s values. Still, they have an equally strong background in operations and running things at that organization.
This role partners closely with the organizational leader and can come from the outside or even internally within the organization if the subject matter expertise exists. Most important is their ability to act as a catalyst — meaning they help the organization think differently about AI and how it could impact the business in the short and long term. Whether they come externally or internally, they should be able to communicate clearly, navigate and rapidly adapt to the environment, and lead through influence.
Organizations can formalize AI transformation efforts by supporting leadership and teams with a cross-functional group that can help make critical decisions, prioritize or de-prioritize efforts, communicate progress or the lack thereof, and draft policies if needed. For example, every organization had to update or create employee policies from scratch during the social media era. We’ll see similar dynamics repeated with AI this time — but it will also be different.
Teams should be formed to support AI-focused leadership who can build, test, and pilot early ideas, concepts, new ways of working, etc. For example, a corporate communications team wants to see if they can streamline some of their output using generative AI tools. Ideally, this function can partner with a pilot team where the expertise exists. From there, the pilot learnings can be shared across the organization.
Change is never all top-down or all bottoms up but rather a combination of the two. This is where members of the organization itself come in, such as employees. Much like social media, many employees already have AI tools, some using them on their own time and others for work.
It’s up to organizational leaders and managers to be in touch with the behaviors, questions, or concerns of the rank-and-file employee or organizational member. Frequent engagement is critical, even around sensitive questions such as, “Will AI take my job?”
It Takes A Village
In short, AI has to become a full-time job for some people, a part-time job for others, or, at minimum, a topic in the organization where communication is clear, efforts are generally understood, and goals are articulated. It’s tempting to show the industry that you’re taking AI so seriously that you’ve appointed a Chief AI Officer.
Still, the reality is that increasing the AI readiness of the organization requires skin in the game across multiple parts of the whole.