“Don’t be a know-it-all; be a learn-it-all.”
This statement exemplifies the culture change that Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has been instilling within his organization. And it seems to be working. Since he took over the role, Microsoft’s share price has almost tripled. The company, recently considered a laggard in the fast-paced tech landscape, is now the world’s fourth most valuable company, behind only Google, Apple and Amazon.
Organizations in every industry are recognizing the need to reskill their workforces to compete in an evolving business world. For example, AT&T has famously shown its commitment to internal development through its $1 billion Future Ready initiative. Sourcing talented professionals from outside the company will always be important. However, building on your internal capability is more budget friendly. It’s also a great way to retain critical factors, such as institutional knowledge and cultural integrity, that are lost when people are replaced.
But can an organization ever really be “future ready”? After all, the future is a moving target. No one really knows what’s coming next. Therefore, reskilling cannot be viewed as a temporary initiative with a specific end goal. Continuous learning must be a sustained priority to ensure people are always ready to execute, regardless of what comes next. This is where the real potential for artificial intelligence lies in the workplace — helping individual employees stay knowledgeable and skilled as the business changes around them.
AI is already changing the way work is done through the automation of tasks that are more quickly and accurately completed by a machine. Fears regarding the mass replacement of humans with robots have started to calm. Organizations are shifting instead to focus on a future in which people work alongside machines and focus on the skills that are uniquely human. However, while business leaders are recognizing the potential for AI, only 3 percent are planning significant increases to their training budgets to support employees during the transition. The writing may be on the wall, but employees are mostly unprepared to enter this new world of work.
Thankfully, the same technology that is changing the nature of work can be applied to support this change. Traditional training is limited to one-and-done, one-size-fits-all activities, such as classroom sessions or e-learning, that are a disruption to the daily workflow. Most employee training is frontloaded in onboarding, when they are overloaded with information that they are unlikely to retain long-term. AI gives organizations the ability to provide personalized learning opportunities to individual employees when and where they need help. It essentially flips the workplace learning paradigm on its head, providing right-size-fits-one support at the scale of a global business.
Companies like Bloomingdale’s, Merck and BT are using AI-enabled technology to provide personalized training to their employees as part of their workflow. These organizations are leveraging the mountains of data that are already available regarding employee performance to target learning and support to specific people. Then, rather than consume entire courses on irrelevant topics, employees are able to review just the information they need in the limited time they have available.
AI helps management see how training is specifically impacting performance so they can be more proactive. Not only does this approach directly impact bottom-line results, but AI-driven learning also makes companies more agile. They can now quickly pivot employee development in the direction the business needs to go without spending months developing and deploying formal training programs. Learning has become a recognized, valued part of everyday work.
With the speed of technology advancement and business change, any organization that has not started to consider AI implications and applications is already falling behind. However, business leaders can also not afford to approach this discipline in a hasty or irresponsible manner. AI must be applied with purpose and in alignment with business goals. This includes considerations around how employee data is collected and used. Human bias can quickly become machine bias. Organizations must be open and transparent regarding their AI initiatives in order to foster trust with employees. While it is a technology-enabled concept, people and their needs must remain a central focus.
You don’t need to be Microsoft to foster a learn-it-all culture, and you don’t need a $1 billion initiative to reskill your employees. Rather, operations and human resources must work together to reimagine the role of learning in the employee experience. With AI-enabled technology, a well-crafted data architecture and a cultural focus on people, any company can prepare their employees for the workplace of the future (and beyond).