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5 ways to think about AI’s role in change management

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Victoria Grady is a change management expert and an associate professor of management in the Costello College of Business at George Mason University.

Adoption of artificial intelligence is lunging toward the mainstream, and the pace that organizations need to take on to keep up feels like it is increasing exponentially. 

In an unprecedented 12 months, artificial intelligence has shifted workplace dialogue from whether we will integrate AI to when. Not only is AI often the catalyst behind the need to change, it is also shifting the way that organizations will manage change. 

But with the right communication and integration plan, AI can be used to enhance productivity, performance and agility at both the organizational and individual levels. 

Recently, I spoke with Tamarah Usher, an AI strategist with Slalom Consulting, about two important features related to understanding AI, change management and the evolving workplace. The basic distinction is that the nuances and implications of AI will shift, based on whether we are looking at organization-level adoption or individual-level adoption. This conversation prompted a deeper dive into the impact of AI and the evolving nature of change management.  

Organizations are highly complex systems that, even after 30+ years of change management research, can still be unexpectedly sluggish at change adoption. AI can change that. 

A relevant example is the integration of a unique workplace algorithm that is tailored to boost productivity by minimizing misaligned project or program tasks. Integrated properly, this solution can mitigate volatility and uncertainty through what seems like real-time connective adaptability.  

AI also provides the ability to pivot decisively to the optimal change management framework given the specific scenario within your organization. AI tools are designed to identify a change management framework that is unique, flexible, and adaptable. This agile approach to change management will benefit both human and financial resources within the organization. 

Using ChatGPT, create a brief scenario for the organization that describes the current change challenge. Then submit the scenario and based on the results, provide a few additional questions to narrow the focus. Alternatively, simply ask ChatGPT to suggest a change management framework based on the scenario. The ChatGPT results will provide high-level guidance, suggested frameworks, or potential references as a starting point for development of a custom change strategy for that specific organization.  

The impact of AI on individual-level adoption is equally significant, especially as it relates to human work inside the organization. For example, individual performance can be enhanced with targeted AI decision-making tools or integration of an AI tool to remove the human bias. 

AI is a tool to enhance, not a threat to replace. In a recent article by TfTHacker on Medium, AI is referred to as a thinking partner — it can make better decisions, understand complicated problems or explore deeper meaning. That is a brilliant use of AI. 

Consider an example. Recently, a new colleague asked me to explain the difference in strategy for presenting similar course theory to undergraduate students versus graduate students in a university setting. I immediately decided to see how AI might be able to support my response and save me time. ChatGPT was the on-call resource, my thinking partner. 

I typed in the question “What is the difference in strategy for teaching material to undergraduate versus graduate students in a higher education environment?” The response: “Presenting material to undergraduate and graduate students requires different strategies due to variations in their levels of knowledge, experience, and cognitive abilities.” 

The response went on to elaborate on seven different areas to consider for development of such strategies. I created my response to my colleagues’ question using the ChatGPT response as a starting point, then adding my 20+ years of higher education experience to create an easy-to-follow guide for my colleague’s question. 

Integrating this process saved me time and highlighted areas I might not have initially considered. But, in the end, it should be considered a solid starting point that still relies on the human experience to be complete. 

As noted in Forbes, there is a common thread in many of the current AI-related articles that give the illusion that embracing and integrating AI full throttle is the only way to go. It is not. Similar to the malleability in the brain called neuroplasticity, organizations (with their employees) can purposefully adapt to embrace the AI revolution. 

However, as many of us (leadership included) are functioning in this unique space that is completely unfamiliar, it is important to consider that the change management models and frameworks that worked before may not work now. The adoption of AI as a partner, as is common with most new “relationships,” will permanently shift the way we work. Here are a few guidelines to get started.

Shift the trajectory.  

Integrate AI as a guide for change. As highlighted in the examples above, active integration of AI to manage your organization’s change process (or answer a colleagues’ question) and focus resource allocation can be pivotal to the reimagined organizational strategy.    

Remember AI is a tool. 

AI as a tool will enhance the working process. Proactively integrate AI to address more change faster and accelerate the rate of change adoption within the organization. The ultimate goal? Leveraging AI to gain strategic foresight.  

Embrace the upskilling opportunity.  

AI presents a real-time opportunity for skill evolution. This opportunity will create tighter integration between business and IT, leading to more efficient processes to optimize innovation.  

Create space for connection.  

Some express concern about potential for more isolated work environments with increased adoption of AI. Communicate with your people. They want to feel valued and supported. Create conversational space within the organization (physical and virtual) to encourage individuals from different areas to meet, connect and communicate.

It’s okay to push pause.  

Recognize that AI is unfamiliar territory for many of us — leadership included. The process of organizational learning and development needs to be reimagined with AI at its center. Recognize that the pace of the learning goals will need to be adaptable and flexible to proactively account for individual learning differences.  

As AI influences the path forward for many organizations, we are reminded of an appropriate E.O. Wilson, American sociobiologist, quote: “The real problem of humanity is the following: We have Paleolithic emotions, medieval institutions, and god-like technology.”

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