Davos Agenda

To maximize the benefits of AI, leaders must master this key thing

The principles of change management could help leaders maximize the benefits of AI.

The principles of change management could help leaders maximize the benefits of AI. Image: Unsplash/Jonathan Kemper

Stéphanie Thomson
Writer, Forum Agenda
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Davos Agenda

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  • Over the next five years, artificial intelligence will mean a quarter of jobs change, and some roles could see 80% of their tasks automated.
  • Participants at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings argued that principles of change management could help maximize the benefits and minimize the risks.
  • The World Economic Forum’s Sustainable Development Impact Meetings are being held from 18 to 22 September in New York.

They say that the only constant in life is change. We may be only in the infancy of the AI era, but it’s hard to think of a time when that sentiment has felt more relevant, especially in the world of work.

According to the World Economic Forum's Future of Jobs Report 2023, over the next five years, almost a quarter of jobs will change, and some roles could see 80% of their tasks automated. “One of the biggest takeaways from this report is that everyone needs to be proactive,” explains Prashant Rao, Senior Editor at Semafor, in a session he moderated at the Sustainable Development Impact Meetings.

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How can companies do that? For panellists in the Automation and Augmentation: The AI Workforce session, the answer is clear: business leaders need to draw on classic change management principles. “This is about good change management,” explains Robert E. Moritz, Global Chairman, PwC.

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That starts with making sure workers are aware of the situation and its implications. “You have to describe the environment we’re operating in,” Moritz says, to make sure people understand that “there is an inevitable reality of the trends that are coming.”

While that might sound counterintuitive — should we not focus exclusively on the positive? Paula Ingabire, Minister of Information Communication Technology and Innovation of Rwanda, agrees that by not sugarcoating the situation, leaders are more likely to get broader buy-in. “The tendency with emerging technologies is to sell the benefits and ignore the fears that people have,” she explains. “But once you start minimizing people’s concerns, you’ve lost them.”

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Once that first step is complete, the next one is about getting people onboard. “You’ve got to make sure this is not being done to them, but rather with them,” says Moritz. “You’re co-creating something that is going to be beneficial for them.”

For Mark Gorenberg, Managing Director, Zetta Venture Partners, one way of achieving this is to focus on the ways in which AI will augment work rather than displace it. “You’re not creating a new worker; you’re creating a co-pilot,” he explains.

That slight change of framing can be empowering for people, since it opens up new opportunities. “A co-pilot can help someone get up to speed very, very quickly,” he notes. Framing the issue in this way can be encouraging, given the reality that many of today’s job skills will be irrelevant in as little as five years, Gorenberg thinks. “It allows people to ask themselves, so what am I going to do next? When you allow them to have that co-pilot, they can aspirationally move to that next step.”

The final step is about creating the right environment and culture for people to be able to experiment with these new technologies, and potentially make mistakes along the way. “If you give people permission to use the technologies, and give them the tools to do so, and the safe environment to learn and fail fast, that’s the recipe for all the upside,” thinks Moritz.

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It’s an idea that has worked in practice in Rwanda. “We’ve used concepts like sandboxes, which are very handy because you’re able to test things in a more controlled environment,” Ingabire says. “We’ve also created policy labs that allow us to bring citizens together with people who are building the technologies and the solutions.”

Ultimately, creating this new environment will call for a different type of leadership than we’ve been used to seeing — one where decision-makers are comfortable loosening the reins. “You can’t afford to be territorial,” Gorenberg says. “The onus is really on businesses to create the type of culture where people can accept these changes.”

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Davos AgendaArtificial Intelligence
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