How Artificial Intelligence is Changing the Culture of Work

In many ways, artificial intelligence is reinventing the world of business. A new white paper by culture transformation consultancy Walking the Talk delves into what exactly AI is and the impact it will have on organizational culture. Here’s the latest thinking.
Artificial Intelligence Culture

June 22, 2018 – Artificial intelligence is poised to become one of the most important business disruptors of our times. But too often people look only at the potential downsides of machines simulating human intelligence and overlook the positive impact and value that AI stands to deliver, particularly when it comes to organizational culture.

A new white paper report by Walking the Talk, a global culture transformation firm based in Amsterdam, says the changes that AI brings will be substantial, and that to take best advantage of the technology and to keep ahead of the competition, organizations must embrace a culture of innovation.

“As we move from digitalization to the full digital era, we believe that it is critical to change mindsets and move away from a focus on threats to a focus on opportunities offered by the new AI and cognitive technologies,” said the study, “Future Impact of AI on Culture,” by Jerome Parisse-Brassens, the firm’s executive director, and Humberto Branco, executive director for Latin America. “Beyond the fear of the killer robot and the loss of jobs, which will probably be the case for several industries, AI appeals to our humanity, because at its heart is the use of data to analyze patterns, and in particular patterns of behavior.”

The report asked two central questions: What exactly is AI? And what impact will it have on organizational culture? “At Walking the Talk, we define culture as ‘the patterns of behavior that are encouraged, discouraged, and tolerated by people and systems, over time,’” said Mr. Parisse-Brassens. “With this definition in mind, it is easy to see how central culture is to AI.”

AI Defined

Basically, AI is intelligence displayed by machines. “The term is applied when a machine mimics cognitive functions that humans associate with other human minds, such as learning and problem-solving,” said Mr. Parisse-Brassens. “The term encompasses many things, but at the moment it has a strong emphasis on using algorithms to do very smart things. It makes programming a lot simpler and a lot more interesting. What we are seeing in AI today is mostly pattern-matching and the capacity to look through sets of data.”

Beyond talking to humans, the technology is now moving toward machines talking to one another, which gives rise to images of machines becoming smarter than humans, potentially taking over the world and even wiping out humankind. Yet, Walking the Talk pointed to a more positive view of AI’s potential. “Research is currently being conducted about the ability of machines to stimulate empathy, where it would be able to interpret human emotions and adapt its behavior to give a specific response,” said the report. “It is easy to see through this the impact that AI can have on business: machines dealing with customer complaints, able to ask questions, solving important problems faster and more effectively than humans, showing empathy and providing the appropriate solution.”

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Many industries are already using AI. In healthcare, for example, one application helps doctors sift through hundreds of cancer drugs and choose the best one, based on a rapid analysis of papers, data and records, as well as find trends and treat potential health issues before they appear through regular diagnosis, said the report. The automotive industry is applying the technology with driverless cars. In financial services, AI is helping organize operations, maintain bookkeeping and invest in stocks. It is also being used to detect behavioral patterns for abnormal changes to reduce fraud and financial crime.

Organizational Culture

“What is clear to everyone is that AI is not about eliminating jobs, but about eliminating tasks of jobs, and about creating jobs that are more human – in other words, jobs that machines can’t do – or can’t yet do,” said Mr. Branco.

Walking the Talk said it foresees two main angles in which AI will impact organizational culture. The first one is that AI will help to manage culture. It can help, for example, to conduct a current culture assessment. “The purpose of AI is to analyze vast amounts of data to extract patterns,” said Mr. Branco. “By analyzing behavioral data sets, organizations will develop a good picture of their culture. We can picture a world where data is fed from many sources such as HR data, exit interviews, induction processes, performance management, business processes, leadership forums, and discussion threads to extract real-time behavior patterns to build an almost daily picture of the culture.”

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It can also identify the target culture. “AI may be able to predict the best target culture based on hundreds of thousands of external and internal information sources,” he added. “To do this, it could simulate various scenarios of behavior change and measure the resulting business outcomes.”

Mindsets and Behaviors

AI can also serve to develop a culture plan. Beyond behaviors, AI will be able to identify systemic issues and their consequences, avoiding many of the current risks and facilitating the development of a culture plan. “It will help focus on the right culture change levers, better predict impact on culture and on the bottom line,” said Mr. Parisse-Brassens. “AI will also help identify culture influencers in the business as well as those resisting new sets of behavioral and management standards.”

And it can measure culture itself. “Whether it is to measure business outcomes or behavioral shifts, AI will play a significant role,” said Mr. Parisse-Brassens. “AI’s power and intelligence comes from the data at its disposal to analyze patterns, so having tools to collect behavioral shift will still be necessary.”

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The second angle is that AI will directly influence the mindsets and behaviors of people at work through the systems that will be implemented, he said. Among the “culture archetypes,” that the study identified, innovation is cited as the one that AI will impact the most. “The mindset that sits behind innovation is curiosity,” said the report. “Asking questions, challenging, testing, trialing things and failing fast are all behaviors underpinning innovation, and they are the essence of AI and cognitive technologies.”

A Mindset of Innovation

To make the most of AI, organizations must shift toward a mindset of innovation, bringing the curiosity to look beyond what they can now see and interpret. “They will need to ask the right questions of the machines, they will need to be ready to test the solutions provided, and move quickly,” said Mr. Parisse-Brassens. “AI will innovate, see patterns that the human brain can’t detect, and offer new ways forward.”

In practical terms, AI is already influencing the way businesses are managed, said Messrs. Parisse-Brassens and Branco in an interview with Hunt Scanlon Media. “With an increasingly challenging external environment, there is a critical need for senior executives to be supported in exploring new business boundaries, continuously challenging their traditional business-models, fast-prototyping products and services, being sufficiently humble in accepting high-accurate learning-machine inputs to decisions, to deal with errors, losses and lack of complete answers to new questions that are arising with increasing speed, range, complexity and associated risks,” the authors said. “Openness to learn, to innovate and to foster the courage required to move fast even when uncertain are concrete requirements in embracing AI.”

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The type of people organizations need to recruit will change, moving away from highly technical roles to jobs that place more importance on cultural fit and adaptability. “People who are adaptable, responsive and agile will be favored,” said Mr. Branco. “This will impact the culture of the organization towards one of innovation.”

Enhancing Diversity

To build the next generation of technology and AI tools, organizations will need as many diverse points of view as possible, the authors said in the interview. “We need the ability to think differently about data, tools and uses of technology,” they said. “We need people whose logic is different. We need different ways of thinking. This means that contrary to what many of us think, robotization and AI will not remove diversity but enhance it. Talent management will therefore be directly influenced. Through the analysis that AI will provide, it will be able help to maximize the value from the workforce, but also fully engage them, use their strengths and increase their commitment and engagement.”

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As such, recruitment of talent will need to evolve and in some cases, to be completely transformed or even become unnecessary. “People who are adaptable, responsive and agile will be highly favored, because they will be able to not only work with AI but allow the business to thrive and grow through AI,” the authors said. “A growth mindset will be one of the key attributes of new talent, moving away from static, linear, short-term thinking towards sustainability, incremental, open ways of looking at the world.”

The road to realizing the full cultural impact of artificial intelligence is long, concluded the report. Walking the Talk said it predicts the changes that are coming will be considerable. And as it is so often with culture, leadership will be the central issue. “Will leaders adapt to a new workforce, new ways of thinking and acting?” asked the authors. “Will leaders make the most of a new technology that will help them to empower the workforce? Will they use AI to create the culture they need to effectively implement their strategy, being able to manage their businesses transition to an AI environment? This challenge requires major cross-functional attention, effort and collaboration.”

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Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor; and Andrew W. Mitchell, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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