by HPA Senior Advisor Ed Wiley, PhD
While artificial intelligence has reshaped industries for the past several, well, decades, generative AI (GenAI) is the next game-changer when it comes to business productivity. GenAI offers companies a unique opportunity to streamline operations, boost efficiency and productivity, and unlock untapped human and business potential.
Given GenAI’s potential to boost productivity, what should business leaders be thinking about to reap the benefits and transform their organizations? Hint: Leaning in and a strategic approach are critical first steps.
Here’s what GenAI’s productivity enhancements look like
The great news is that generative AI can transform workflows across an enterprise, enabling greater productivity for diverse business teams and functions, not just specific departments. With the right GenAI tools, businesses can automate mundane, repetitive tasks to enable their employees to focus on more creative, higher-value work, while also helping individuals work more efficiently – not only boosting the bottom line, but creating happier, more engaged employees while doing so.
For example, a five-person software engineering team that adopts a coding assistant tool (such as GitHub Copilot or Amazon CodeWhisperer) may be able to complete their coding work 25% more quickly. As a result, four people on a coding team working with the coding assistant tool can execute the same amount of work that previously required five people. Now the business is faced with an interesting strategic choice.
How should businesses decide to use their productivity enhancements?
Unlike some initiatives that can take years to yield results, productivity improvements occur swiftly, often within months. As such, business leaders are faced with a decision: What actions might they take to best leverage this newfound productivity?
Should they harness their teams’ greater capacity to move in the same strategic direction, only faster? Or should they maintain their current strategies while also pursuing new initiatives for which they previously had insufficient resources? What about taking the enhancement in a hard cost (headcount reduction) opportunity?
I have worked with business leaders on all three scenarios, and depending on the business’s current context, have seen each as an optimal route. Regardless of the ultimate decision, organizations must transform themselves to embrace generative AI and fully realize its productivity benefits.
What to consider before hitching your wagon to GenAI’s rising star
There’s no question whether GenAI will change the nature of work for your teams. Embracing it requires a thoughtful, strategic approach. Here’s what businesses should think about:
- Driving top-down and bottom-up change management: Leadership buy-in is crucial, but frontline workers also need training and incentives for the successful adoption of any new technology. Refocusing work culture around an AI tool will be more useful than just dropping the tool in.
- Encouraging employee autonomy: Teams should be empowered to experiment and find the best ways to integrate AI tools into their workflows. GenAI is new enough that we have yet to establish standard ways to organize around it.
- Rolling out creative adoption strategies: Getting people excited about GenAI is key for uptake. Leaders should get creative around strategies to encourage adoption, such as implementing gamification, leaderboards, and team competitions to make AI usage fun and engaging (and a little competitive).
- Identifying and leveraging early adopters: Encourage technology-savvy individuals to act as tool champions, guiding and supporting their colleagues through formal and informal knowledge sharing.
- Supporting AI training and uptake: Integrate completion of training and assessment of GenAI skill level into employee evaluations to reinforce its importance. But remember, the proverbial carrot is far more effective than the stick, so focus primarily on the benefits to individuals, teams, and the business.
- Establishing ethical AI use: Create clear guidelines and establish company-wide policies that ensure responsible AI implementation and support transparency about how AI is used throughout the organization, while staying on top of emerging legal issues orbiting AI-generated content and potential copyright infringement.
- Remember the “implementation dip”: One upside of GenAI tools is that they tend to be so straightforward that learning and adoption curves look more like step functions rather than the traditional dip in productivity that accompanies new technology introduction. Keep in mind, however, that people learn at different rates – especially more experienced folks whose benefits from GenAI tend to be smaller than those of their less experienced colleagues.
The four-letter word on everyone’s mind: Jobs
Generative AI isn’t about job replacement; for the foreseeable future, entire jobs will not be replaced by AI equivalents. That said, the reality is that the structure of jobs and of organizations will undoubtedly transform as GenAI takes hold (as suggested by the coding assistant example above). For the time being, the biggest job loss-related risk is that of workforce reduction rather than redeployment of productivity gains to service greater growth. My counsel to workers worried about job loss to AI is this: I wouldn’t worry about losing your job to AI as much as I would about losing your job to someone who knows how to better leverage AI.
Nevertheless, my own bias is less about leveraging AI to reduce cost structure and more about amplifying human capabilities. AI excels at repetitive tasks, freeing up talent to focus on creative thinking, critical analysis, and interpersonal skills – areas where AI lags. What’s more, studies like one by Stanford and MIT on call center employees show that AI assistants can boost not only productivity and customer satisfaction but employee satisfaction as well.
The GenAI revolution is here
In a few years, we will look back at generative AI’s widespread arrival as representing a technological shift as impactful as the public introduction of the internet. Forward-thinking companies that actively leverage its potential will gain a significant competitive edge, while those who hesitate will fall behind. That’s why the time to act is now. Seize the opportunity with smart support, supercharge your business, and unlock a new era of productivity and innovation.
The key to maximizing the benefits of GenAI lies in fostering collaboration between talent and technology. By equipping your workforce with the right tools and combining with a strategic approach, you can unleash the full potential of this technology and propel your business.
Ed Wiley, PhD is an HPA AI and Data Analytics Senior Advisor and experienced senior executive with 25+ years of building, leading, and advising world-class machine learning, AI, and data science teams and projects. He’s worked with companies at various stages, from startup to Fortune 50. He’s also served as a Stanford PhD researcher, business consultant, executive, and academic Chair. Ed and his teams have wrestled with the thorny issues of AI across countless contexts, and during his tenure in the field, he’s learned what’s critical to consider in building an AI practice or executing an AI project: In short, he knows what to do – and what NOT to do – when working with AI. Over the last decade his consulting has focused on serving mid caps and large caps on engineering, data, and AI strategy and operations. Over the past 3 years this work has naturally shifted toward Generative AI, with efforts focused on strategy and technical implementation as well as GenAI-related productivity opportunities.