· Insights

Don’t ask what AI can do for you

Instead we should be asking what we can do for AI – and how we can best re-design our organisations to maximise its positive impact.

In the previous articles in this series we’ve explored the drive towards greater autonomy and the emergence of the whole-self and their impact on organisations and their structures.

It’s now time to look at the way in which technology, and AI and machine learning can enable us to take the fullest advantage of these developments.

As the title suggests, and we’ll elaborate on this, it’s not merely a question of what AI might do to transform our working lives, but how those working lives and the way they grow and are shaped may need to change to ensure that AI achieves its fullest potential.


AI in the empowered workplace

We’re already familiar with the ways in which our consumer lives are being changed by machine learning. Far from being passive ‘consumers’ we are now far more active in the process, using technology to filter and explore the things which engage us.

In turn those technologies are recognising our enthusiasms and further stimulating those interests.

We turn to YouTube to learn new techniques, not just for entertainment.

Companies like Ikea and Amazon stay ahead by making recommendations based on our previous activities, and then further refining those based on our reactions to those recommendations.

The question we now need to address is this: how can we optimise this to bring the very same levels of empowerment and engagement into the workplace? 

If we want to take responsibility for our own careers and learning, if we want to be able to channel the enthusiasms of employees towards the greater goals of the organisation, then we need to have workplaces which are fine tuned to enable us to deliver these objectives.        

AI holds out the opportunity to do just that: to both accelerate this change and provide the potentially very radical solutions to make that change happen.  

But to really enable this there is a need to fundamentally re-design the processes and policies we have, until now, taken as read.

All radical changes, of which AI is only one, lead to the need to re-address the way we do things.

Until we examine these needs and understand what is required, how can we possibly integrate new technologies which, by their very nature, demand we adopt such changes to enable them to operate successfully?

AI might well be the cart full of shiny toys and brilliant solutions; but unless and until we harness it to a suitable horse to drive it, it’ll remain just that – the promise of a brilliant future which will remain unfulfilled.

But with the right structures, to extend the metaphor just a little longer, we’ll not just have a firm hold of the reins, but be in a position to enable everyone in our organisation to share in the direction we are travelling, and to contribute their skills and enthusiasms to speed that journey.

And speed is of the essence. It’s our employees who are going to push this forward with increasing pace.

Just as they are used to curating their own experiences outside the workplace, that same expectation will lead to a demand that they are able to do that in the workplace – and with the same autonomy that they achieve this in their own time.

Technology will be essential to enabling us to bring these two demands together; so that the expectation and the execution come smoothly together.

Allowing employees to access the knowledge they need from one single place and without having to go through a gatekeeper to access that knowledge is just the start.

We have to enable employees to share their experiences, enthusiasms and aspirations with everyone.

Finally, it will make visible the learning plans, options and support they need to help them develop their present and potential future roles, and find out about the career options that will help them make the most of their skills and aspirations.

All this can be achieved through the intelligent application of artificial Intelligence. In fact, it’s not just a question of making it happen in the future, it needs to be happening right now.  


Investing now to ensure AI delivers

The future – and I accept this is a bit of a cliché – is in our hands. But it isn’t magically going to happen at some as yet undisclosed future date. It needs to be happening right now.

We need to be questioning the way we at present design our organisations. Are they fully fit to enable us to adopt and then exploit these new technologies?

Are we in a position right now to enable them to deliver to their fullest potential? If we don’t do that there is a strong risk that we hand the future to the cynical and sceptical, and we really can’t afford to do that. There is too much at stake.

An exciting new future? 

Or more of the same, just a bit faster? We have a choice here and that choice is in our own hands. We are the ones who can make the difference; the technology is there to help us make it happen.

To start that process we have to be prepared to pose the right questions and be prepared to make the right changes so that we apply the right answers.

That process doesn’t start in a few months or in the next quarter. It needs to start immediately. Seize the day.

The AI revolution isn’t going to happen tomorrow, but it isn’t going to happen at all until we start to take the demands it will make upon us seriously, and adopt the right strategies to ensure that we truly make the most of its transformational potential.  

Michael Esau is global HR advisor at SAP

To read more, including how SuccessFactors customers are succeeding with AI, go to Artificial Intelligence | SAP Business AI

Announcing Joule – SAP’s new generative AI assistant

Embedded throughout SAP’s enterprise portfolio, Joule is already enabling SAP SuccessFactors customers to sort and contextualise data from multiple systems. This allows those clients to drive smarter insights quickly and effectively. To find out more about how Joule can help your organisation deliver relevant, reliable and responsible AI – click here   

Also announcing HR ConnectTuesday 14 November sees the launch of our global flagship event – HR Connect – with a theme of Change Work for Good.

To be part of that conversation, register now at  SAP | UKI HR Connect 2023