Replacement by robots? The idea of robots dominating the world is a common sci-fi trope that elicits an almost involuntary eye-roll from most of us. However, as technology continues to advance at lightning speed, the prospect of being replaced by robots is no longer so distant. For some employees, it’s becoming an increasingly real and unnerving possibility. As a leader, how can you lead through this uncertain terrain?
AI and the future of work
Work is in a state of upheaval. “Every job will be impacted by AI,” says Pieter den Hamer, VP of research at Gartner. However, “most of that will be more augmentation rather than replacing workers.”
In speaking to this further, 38% of workers worry that AI will make their skills less useful in the workplace, although most don’t fully trust AI. It’s not unlike how in the 1800s, weavers and tailors worried about the use of textile and sewing machines.
There are plenty of things that AI can do more effectively and efficiently than humans. Where humans make mistakes and are inaccurate, AI is consistently precise and exceptionally fast. While people only have so much capacity, AI can scale almost limitlessly in some instances.
It makes sense that people are worried. AI has already taken over the writing of social media posts, job descriptions, emails, and other written communications in the business sphere. How can you lead through this awe-inspiring, yet deeply chilling and daunting uncertainty?
Leading through AI uncertainty
1. Remind people of their value. You likely hired them for more than just a single skill. Reiterate how your people bring in value that vastly exceeds what AI can offer. Provide people with a ‘line of sight’ from what they’re working on to what the larger department needs, to how they make a difference for the organization.
2. Develop skills. Many people are afraid that their job skills will no longer be relevant in a year or five years from now. For instance, the communications professional is afraid that ChatGPT means that he/she will no longer need to write.
To that effect, introduce new strategies for strategic knowledge transfer. A core aspect of leading through uncertainty is providing opportunity for the development of new skills and capabilities.
In addition to upskilling, provide clear career pathing. Outline developmental strategies that will move people with ‘replaced’ skills into new and exciting roles.
3. Cultivate workplace culture. Work may become less collegial and more transactional as tech begins to take on more tasks. In fact, a recent Cigna poll found that nearly 50% of Gen Zs felt that work seemed like a transaction. They said that they lacked the opportunity to genuinely connect with colleagues.
More broadly, only 31% of employees are satisfied with the extent of their social connection at work, with 22% reporting that they don’t even have a single workplace friend. It’s a no-brainer; people feel more motivated to do their best work when they have a sense of connection.
Amidst rising anxiety around AI, and tens of thousands of recent tech job cuts, leaders need to boldly address AI fears. Paint a picture of what’s on the horizon. Show all of the bright possibilities that await. Although you may not be able to predict the future with certainty, you can provide vision and direction.
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