The role of Leadership in AI, Automation and Future of Work

Visual Courtesy: @EIU and @asheeshmehra

Automation, machine learning, AI and a host of technological advances have brought about a raging debate on the future of work and its impact on employment and jobs.

 Are we going to be replaced by robots and AI?

Will this industrial revolution 4.0 bring about mass unemployment?

Will jobs change in scope and nature?

Here’s a couple of links on this debate:

What Jobs Will Emerge In The Future of Work?

What the future of work will mean for jobs, work and wages?

Across businesses all over leaders are grappling with the rapid development of technology and its increasing usage in work trying to figure out how to manage business operations with disruption knocking on the doors and innovation becoming a necessity. In this milieu automation and AI are impacting all industries.

Couple that with being pre-occupied with culture development, employee engagement, customer satisfaction scores and own leadership capabilities, and one can see how much todays leaders have on their plates!

So what can leaders do?

In the past two weeks I had the good fortune of attending a couple of closed-door sessions discussing innovation, disruption, automation, AI and future of work.
My top three[i]  key learnings were:

  1. Businesses need to acknowledge the reality which is the impact of technological advances and identify the areas they are being impacted.
  2. This is very important in order for CEOs to have clarity on their technology strategy and be able to communicate that clearly to the organization.
  3. The Economist and Hays survey shows that CEOs believe entire job categories will not be affected but specific tasks would be. This in turn would affect certain groups of employees and not all.

I believe these insights are significant.

With leadership being in the spotlight and employee engagement a pressing need, being able to forecast the technologies required to undertake planned investment becomes an issue of sustainability for the future. Identifying and investing on technology is not an easy task. It depends on the organizations’ strategic direction and on its reputational strength in recovering the investment costs within a short period of time.  Most importantly it depends on answering the WHATWhat will the technology improve or create that will add value to the organization.

Depending on the ability of the organization to scale up or be agile enough to pivot and change, if required, the choice of technology investment will directly impact employee engagement first and customer experience secondly. In turn these affect business viability.

Is your technology investment based on value creation or is it your annual IT budget?

It is a given that technology will continue to evolve probably even faster than it is currently. Therefore answering the question– What will the technology improve or create that will add value to the organization– is very important in the context of organizational purpose and the operating strategy.

Investment in technology can come either as a cost or a budgeted capital expenditure or identified as a facilitator in value creation. These are two different perspectives that impact business sustainability quite differently. The former has an expenditure mind-set and recovery will, probably, be an accounting procedure. The latter is based on a growth mind-set that rests on the organizational purpose and will see value creation and financial returns over time.

In discussions with CEOs of varied organizations one thing came across clearly— there is a lack of clarity on the route to undertake for this.

Is it to be looked at as an IT or Marketing or HR investment? Or is it something else altogether?

Such thinking is occurring due to the historical business models we are used to.  Such investments were based on a historical need and risk evaluation and a financial cost-benefit analysis. And this scenario prevails because most CEOs’ have to deliver either quarterly or half-yearly numbers.

Such a model does not take into account a value creation approach.

A value creation approach is where the organizational purpose and the stakeholders’ experiences are taken as the foundation of evaluating what technology and how that technology will create or help improve current experiences and add value to the organizational purpose. That brings us back a full circle in understanding that creating a technology strategy it is not a what is available today that matters but it is what the stakeholders want tomorrow and how that would add distinctive value to the stakeholders and in turn to the organization.

In the midst of all the chaos arising from continuous change an organization that finds its guiding purpose and distinctive value creation, for its stakeholders, will clearly be able to identify the technological requirement of today and tomorrow and be able to put in place a phased execution plan covering the required investments, employee upskilling and returns from the use of technology.

[1] Automation, AI and The Future of Work—The Economist & Hays—for the Economist Corporate Network.
(Points are paraphrased with authorization).