Talk of artificial intelligence (AI) is everywhere – often in the context of the imminent danger it poses to jobs. But far from being an enemy to senior management, AI may well be an executive’s best ally. After all, the future of management will depend on intelligent people who know how to work with intelligent machines.
But to do this, you have to be ready. Here are some suggestions.
Start by training yourself to understand the data
Artificial intelligence isn’t just for the IT department or for computer engineers. No one really knows how many jobs will be lost as AI is further developed, but we do know that virtually all professions will change in some way. As the availability of data and the power of computers continue to expand, executives have to understand AI so as to lead their company effectively.
In this context, the most decisive expertise for executives is knowing what’s possible. Algorithms can detect data patterns, but cannot interpret them: executives capable of asking the right questions are required. To ask the right questions, you have to have a solid knowledge base. The digital literacy of top leadership is essential – not because you’ll be writing code or crunching numbers, but because you’ll have to lead people who are and take decisions informed by the data.
Discover what AI can do for you
So far, AI has proven enormously useful on the operational side of businesses, and somewhat less successful in other areas. AI helps to automate business processes, especially administrative ones. The analysis of the massive amounts of data can provide fresh and crucial insights into your customers and your employees.
Discover those specific areas where AI is most useful to you and your company – whether it’s in refining the recruitment process or monitoring purchasing habits or evaluating advertising campaigns. On a business level, it’s important to be clear about where the competitive advantage of your company lies.
And dare to experiment. Explore the opportunities that AI offers your company and implement pilot schemes that allow you to assess its impact without taking large risks.
Build an organization based on data
While you should set an example by educating yourself, it’s not just about you. Create a data-fluid ecosystem in your company. Don’t limit yourself to contracting specialists from outside the organization: take a holisitc approach to AI, and make sure that your whole organization is ready for it.
Redefine roles, encourage collaboration between humans and machines, combine AI with the collective intelligence of people, and provide the appropriate training for employees so that they are prepared for a data-driven world.
Think strategically and define values
Since artificial intelligence allows some routine tasks to be automated, executives can focus on what is really important: strategic thinking. The age of AI demands, more than ever, leadership characterized by humanity, ethics and integrity. Change is constant and, to navigate it without losing your way, it’s essential to have solid values, a clear sense of purpose and a strategic thought process.
AI can be used to help plan and draw up budgets, but when it comes to establishing the vision of the business, aligning and motivating employees, people are needed. Work on your interpersonal skills for the development of people, coaching of teams and encouraging collaboration. Focus on what is not yet within reach of the machines.
And although AI challenges paradigms, we mustn’t forget the fundamental questions for company management: What’s our purpose? How can we involve employees so that they help us to achieve this and grow with us? Remember that customers are loyal to companies and brands because of the operational side – they deliver what is promised – but also because of other factors such as reputation. In a regulatory environment in which consumers end up being the owners of their data, the differential value will no longer be in access to the data or algorithms, but rather in winning the trust and consent of clients.
Good executives know how to manage complex trade-offs; they are capable of directing in the present while at the same time exploring future opportunities, grounded in a sense of purpose. Machines can’t do any of this – at least not yet.
IESE’s Executive Education programs prepare executives to face the challenges posed by digitalization, through focused programs that analyze digital impact and through digitalization content embedded in our senior management and functional director programs. All of our programs are human-centered and ethics-oriented.
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