Boards & Leadership Teams at an AI Crossroad

This article is the first in a series about how boards and leadership teams should think about AI strategy with a sober eye to the reality that while everything seems to be changing, some foundational things remain the same.*

AI: What is new and what has always mattered.

This shiny object – AI – will be disrupting your industry, your company, and even each of you for a long time into the future. However, that fact should ensure you take the time now – in this moment of significant disruption – to double-click on some foundational elements of the business as a powerful place to start your journey to discovering what is possible.

What is the AI Strategy?

Boards turn to their leadership teams and increasingly ask, “What is our AI strategy?” The media hype cycle around AI has undoubtedly introduced a mix of panic, FOMO (Fear of missing out), and enthusiasm about what it could mean for their companies. Given where AI is in its lifecycle, there is a limited pool of talent with the knowledge and skills to deeply understand it, and possibly even fewer who can understand what it is and how to best apply its capabilities to businesses.  

Now more than ever, the time has come to take a deep and reflective look into your business strategy with humility and curiosity. 

Prioritizing people strategy as an integral and valued element of the overall business strategy is an excellent place to start. Some might find the focus on people first a bit ironic when considering a technology that is often posited as one that will eliminate jobs and replace entire roles.   

Irony aside, even with AI, some things have been and remain critically and foundationally important.

Talent and Culture.

Both talent and company culture have been and remain critically important to business strategy.

As a board, you know the value of talent and culture, but sometimes attention to them can take a back seat to addressing shorter-term obstacles and challenges. The specter of AI as an enabler, threat, or both creates a sense of urgency. Now is the time to invoke some exploratory “organizational surgery.”

Companies looking to score early wins with gen AI should move quickly. But those hoping that gen AI offers a shortcut past the tough—and necessary—organizational surgery are likely to meet with disappointing results. 

What is Digital Transformation?, McKinsey

Companies looking to score early wins with gen AI should move quickly. But those hoping that gen AI offers a shortcut past the tough—and necessary—organizational surgery are likely to meet with disappointing results. 

What is Digital Transformation?, McKinsey

While boards can successfully find and retain members who bring significant experience to building organizations for scale, navigating difficult times, and mitigating risks, they cannot similarly tap into a talent pool that brings seasoned experience with AI. Those people do not exist.  

Not all is lost, however.  

Some unique talent attributes have repeatedly yielded extraordinary ROI for teams navigating change and disruption. You need these talent attributes in large supply to tap into a new business strategy that is improved, enabled, and/or empowered by AI.

The goal of infusing AI into a new way of thinking about your business strategy is to focus your efforts on solutions that will be measured and assessed in terms of whether they produce value creation.  Start your exploratory organizational surgery with an honest assessment of the organization’s and leaders’ effectiveness at acquiring, assessing, and developing talent.  Have the leaders invested in talent attributes that will serve the company well as it navigates the changes, challenges, and opportunities ahead?

CRITICAL ATTRIBUTES

CURIOSITY

People with capacity to be … Courageous and curious about the art of the possible.

Cultures that … Celebrate curiosity and questioning the status quo as a good thing.

ADAPTABILITY

People with capacity to be …Critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective collaborators and communicators.

Cultures that … Execute with transparency so that everyone on the team knows and understands the business vision and the how and why of changes to adapt.

CONTINUOUS LEARNING

People with capacity to be … Enthusiastic continuous learners.

Cultures that … Value learning over KIAs (Know it Alls… and especially at the leadership level!)

ANALYTICAL

People with capacity to be … Keen on identifying patterns in processes and systems to improve them to produce better outcomes for the business.

Cultures that … Apply data to understand the business, customers, and what is working / not working.

CREATIVITY

People with capacity to be …Innovative thinking outside of the box and status quo.

Cultures that …Celebrate innovative thinking outside of the box and status quo.

CRITICAL ATTRIBUTES

PEOPLE WITH THE CAPACITY TO BE …

CULTURES THAT …

CURIOSITY Courageous and curious about the art of the piossible. Celebrate curiousity and questions the status quo as a good thing.
ADAPTABILITY Critical thinkers, problem solvers, and effective collaborators and communicators. Execute with transparency so that everyone on the team knows and understands the business vision and the how and why of changes to adapt.
CONTINUOUS LEARNERS Open-minded  continuous learners. Value learning over KIAs (Know it Alls… and especially at the leadership level!)
ANALYTICAL Keen on identifying patterns in processes and systems to improve them to produce better outcomes for the business. Apply data to understand the business, customers, and what is working / not working.
CREATIVITY Innovative thinking and problem solving.  Celebrate innovative thinking outside of the box and status quo even if it yields mistakes or misses (learning opportunity).

The attributes of your people, leaders, and organization above are table stakes for identifying how well your company will create a sustainable business strategy in the presence of AI’s disruption. The business strategy is still the critical foundational focus. AI introduces new challenges, opportunities, and possibilities that demand your attention, but don’t lose focus on the business strategy while locking on to the shiny object of AI.

As a board, your imperative should be to invoke the organizational surgery needed upon assessing the current state of talent and culture. Every company has something to gain by improving its ability to create value by leveraging AI. The “how” will vary greatly. Assuring that there is a talent pool of curious, creative, adaptable, analytical, continuous learners who can thrive in a culture that empowers them is the first step.

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