The Change Manager & AI

The Change Manager & AI

By: Declan Foster

Gartner estimates that by 2020 85% of customer interactions with companies will take place without human involvement. When you think about Artificial Intelligence (AI) what image from popular culture springs to mind? Is it the cute and friendly R2D2 droid or do you think of more dystopian characters like HAL 9000 from 2001 or The Terminator? Whatever comes to mind for you, I think we can all agree that AI is here now and will only become more pervasive in the coming years. When Netflix recommends a new boxset for your viewing or when that new sweater you ordered online is picked off a shelf by a robot in an Amazon warehouse, you are interacting with AI.

Employees are becoming increasingly concerned that their jobs may be replaced by AI. Up to 25% of jobs in the US are threatened by automation, according to a study by CNBC. Organisations are recognising the importance of AI and that their competitors may gain a competitive advantage from it. A recent survey by PwC indicated that two-thirds of CEOs consider AI to be bigger than the internet revolution. However, according to a survey by KPMG 45% of surveyed executives say that trusting AI systems was either challenging or very challenging. We are so concerned about AI as a society that Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic US presidential candidate, is running on a platform of introducing a universal basic income for all citizens as a safety net in a world with less work due to automation and AI.

I believe the Organisational Change Management (OCM) profession is well placed to assist organisations preparing for AI. Hopefully, we can present a well-balanced view of it. Thought leaders in this area, including Professor Thomas Malone of MIT, have advocated for a collective intelligence approach, where ‘people and computers can be connected so that collectively they act more intelligently than any one person, group, or computer has acted before”. However, there are areas of legitimate concern that need to be addressed and these include bias and the explainability of the algorithms used in Machine Learning.

In this article, I hope to outline the impact that AI might have on the OCM profession and the role of OCM in assisting organisations to adopt AI technologies. Before we do that let’s define AI and explain some of its components.

AI can be defined as machines acting in a way that mimics human cognition to solve problems. Currently, the most common components are Machine Learning (ML), Natural Language Processing (NLP) and Robotics. ML uses statistics and algorithms and large data sets to predict outcomes; whether that’s predicting from a scan if a particular growth is cancerous to predicting if a loan application will default. The most ubiquitous examples of NLP are arguably Alexa or those chatbots that you may have encountered when using the website of your utility or bank. Self-driving vehicles are the most obvious forms of robots that we will see in public spaces.


Role of the Change Manager

So then what is and will be the role of the Change Manager when introducing AI to organisations? On one level we can view the introduction of AI as a technology project and therefore the Change Manager will need to conduct the typical activities including impact and stakeholder assessments, developing a communications strategy and plan and evaluating change readiness. In addition, the Change Manager will need to assist with the broader culture change piece including education and understanding about AI in general, including addressing the concerns about bias and fairness in ML algorithms. The need for explainability of these algorithms will be increasingly important. ‘Computer says no’, while a great comedy catchphrase, is not a suitable response to explain an ML recommendation!


AI as Stakeholder

As if stakeholder management wasn’t challenging enough already, we may now have to consider AI systems as stakeholders. For example, if we consider our chatbots as digital employees they may have to be informed when we introduce any major change into an organisation, rather than just be seen as an impacted system. We will also be dealing with a broad range of new roles brought about by AI and these include Ethics Compliance Officer and Transparency Analyst. Savioke, a company that provides robots to hotels and restaurants, even has an employee with the job title Chief Robot Whisperer!


AI as a Tool

Can AI assist the OCM professional doing their job? What if we used a chatbot, instead of a project email address, to help answer queries from employees directly on our change initiative. Chatbots could also assist with change readiness surveys. We could also use a sentiment analysis tool to help understand how our stakeholders are responding to the change, both internally and externally if relevant. Imagine using a Natural Language Generation Tool, like the ones delivered by companies such as Narrative Science and Automated Insights, to generate narratives from all of the data we collect on our change initiatives. We could automate the generation of a narrative style report for our executives based on the issues, risks, sentiment analysis, queries and change readiness data we have compiled.

Does this mean that I am advocating that Change Managers are obsolete and should be automated? Not at all. This is a great example of where human and machine working together can achieve so much more than either machine or human working separately can achieve.

The introduction of AI tools can free us up to perform more value-adding activities e.g. attending meetings with impacted stakeholders, walking the floor and having more time to engage with sponsors and stakeholders. I for one am optimistic and excited about what AI has to offer.


Look out for Declan's next article about getting your organisation ready for AI.