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Onboarding AI in the workplace: 6 best practices for HR

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“Weather the storm” is a typical response to IT initiatives — and most recently to onboarding AI — by those who conduct daily human resource operations.

More experienced HR team members will remember a history of significant technology changes, more than just the recent push to Cloud, but also big data, internet architecture, client-server and enterprise systems.

With the shift to AI, that will spawn yet another surge of IT-related initiatives that will be weathered by your team and organization.

Weather the onboarding AI storm

From an HR team’s perspective, the storm is an appropriate description: the technology change will run its course, it will have positive and negative impacts, and it will move on with your team right there beside you during and after the storm.

Your team will provide support, company funds will be invested in the technology, and some benefits will be realized. 

To help here are the top 6 ways for onboarding AI.

1. Remember previous tech shifts

Artificial intelligence is best seen as a destabilizing technology change impacting your business environment. In fact, 79% of respondents in a global 2023 McKinsey study reported at least some exposure to generative AI, while 22% of respondents reported regular use of generative AI at work.

In other words, AI is an issue that must be addressed and cannot be avoided.

Our collective shift towards AI is not just supported by the fantasy and science fiction narratives to which we’re so familiar.

In fact, the practical application of AI has been building for decades. Though perhaps not as sexy as AI, each previous technology shift we’ve endured had long-standing practical application preceding the shift itself. 

Case in point, I recall performing physical inventories of defense agency communication assets that years later became a backbone for the internet. Likewise, engineers and executives in the defense industry have spent decades focused on AI. 

As with any technology shift, AI has been building in a practical way. Technology shift follows a pattern, and that pattern is founded on years of practical application. Determining the degree to which AI is “special” will take many years to settle.

Until then, it’s wise to pursue AI to meet longer term business objectives while still recognizing the perspective of the people in your organization: this is yet another storm to be weathered.

2. Identify support objectives

The AI technology shift requires your attention and proper planning. How should you set your objectives?

As an organizational leader, it’s crucial to consider the potential opportunities and threats associated with this modernization, while also seeing the bigger picture of this technology change. 

Artificial intelligence has a lot of hype, arguably with good reason, but it is not the priority for your business or your team. Your objectives should be set based on yourbusiness needs in your business environment, and with your team in mind. 

It is at this point that you can consider practical applications. Begin by identifying which actions to take and when to take them. For example —perhaps your seasonal workforce meets a critical summertime need but suffers from high turnover and training challenges. How could AI better support the onboarding process and ongoing training of these positions?  AI may help reduce workplace accidents. Can you utilize the company’s AI software to send timely safety alerts to employees engaged in high-risk operations? Can the software identify operational patterns that may be increasing the risk of accidents?

Understanding how the technology can benefit your objectives and your team puts you in a position to weigh the costs, investment and value to the organization. In the interim, resist the pressure to make the technology shift the priority and avoid taking an action based on the hype.  

3. Align business objectives

Businesses often embrace technology at the expense of the employees who engage in the day-to-day work. However, the closer the technology is to people and process, the less value a business will gain from a technology-focused investment.

In other words: Your people matter much more than this technology shift.  Make your AI initiative and objectives about your people and make sure your people know that this is your principle.

A 2022 Capterra survey found that 83% of employees affected by change fatigue believe their employer did not provide the tools and resources necessary to help them adapt to changes at work. Consider the perspective of your team – their experience with this technology shift matters to their overall productivity and satisfaction at work.

You must “weather this storm” alongside them. What resources can you provide to minimize burnout, attrition and other symptoms of change fatigue? Start at the source: If you get your team invested in the effort and gain their insights early in the process, you can leverage their perspective for a more efficient rollout.

Consider ways to adapt to their feedback as the rollout continues. There are many aspects of what your people do on a daily basis where AI can serve both their interests and the interests of the company as a whole.  When your team is the focus, the technology becomes an extension of their skillsets.

4. Ensure AI supplements

AI is not an overhaul of systems being replaced with a best practice-based enterprise system.  Rather, your business processes are best practice-based and have evolved to meet your specific needs.

The advances in artificial intelligence can supplement your day-to-day operation, which may ultimately enable adjustments to your business process not previously possible.  With this mindset, you can gain improvements for your business process and tamp down fears about the coming changes.

View artificial intelligence as a means to give your people the ability to focus on higher functions, most suitable to human performance.  Routine activities and activities that carry a higher risk of human error will shift to be automated. This is no different than past efforts to automate and that message can help to allay fears.   

5. Avoid replacing high human functions 

Yes, there is hype and some substance behind AI outright replacing personnel, but the risk here is the potential for damage to your team’s confidence in management.

Management should state outright that they have the team’s best interests in mind.  Your objectives should support your team and establish a clear boundary for AI.

6. Maintain communication

A 2023 McKinsey study found that nearly four in ten respondents who adopted AI in their workplace expect more than 20% of their workforce to be reskilled, rather than separated from their organization.

And according to a Pew Research Center survey, 62% of the employees think AI will significantly impact jobholders in the next two decades.

Take the guessing game out of the AI transition. Manage employee expectations by providing a clear AI roadmap for the team to follow. By setting expectations for the company’s short- and long-term investments, you will boost employee morale and trust in the organization.

To gain your team’s support early in the effort, you will need to be transparent and prioritize ongoing communications. Be clear that job functions will undergo change over time, similar to prior technology shifts, but that the company remains team-first.

Likewise, reassure them that this technology shift will serve the organization, not the other way around. The message of “team-first” is critical to those things that humans care about that maintain team spirit: individual team member morale, feelings about the company and other intangibles that drive productivity.

AI hype is pervasive and extends beyond the boundaries of business into popular culture. Your team is certainly talking about it and likely worrying about it. Rather than orient your primary focus on the technology, your best step forward is to focus first on your people.

Help your team to see AI as a technology shift. Make sure they know the company remains team-first, and ensure that, as a team, you will share in the effort to gain advantage from the technology.

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