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Assessing the leadership divide on AI deployment

Differences of opinion between senior leaders and heads of department on AI deployment could hold back workforce transformation

Published by Oliver Shaw 

There’s a stir of mixed excitement and apprehension among leaders that has been driving the wave of business investment in AI to date but how that feeling lands depends on the seniority of the person you speak to.

While management teams are generally in agreement about the need for organizations to evolve with AI, these two groups are divided in their opinion on the best way forward.

On the one hand, AI promises transformative benefits – something that’s keenly felt by senior leaders. On the other, it raises concerns about job security, privacy, and ethics, as expressed by heads of departmental that are at the coalface of organizational change.

The upshot of this misalignment could be a slow down in the deployment AI in business operations.

In this article, we explore the views of senior leaders and departmental heads using insights from our AI and workforce transformation research study, and we offer some suggestions on how this leadership divide can be bridged.

The C-suite is optimistic about introducing AI into the workforce

As the race towards widespread business adoption of AI heats up, the C-suite is particularly optimistic about introducing new technologies and doing so at an accelerated rate.

Some 92% of senior leaders think AI will make the workforce more productive and 85% are confident they’ll have deployed the technology in core business operations by the end of 2025.

For this reason, four in five (82%) business leaders have already invested in generative AI, machine learning, Robotic Process Automation (RPA), or another form of AI.

Our research also shows that senior leaders have confidence in AI’s usefulness to the workforce. Consequently, a third of organizations are planning to increase their investment in AI by more than 50% over the next year.

Motivated by the opportunity to use AI to position their organization as an industry leader, as well as keep pace with competitors, C-suite leaders want AI to enable their workforce to focus on higher-value tasks.

Increased productivity and opportunities to cut costs are just some of the benefits of AI that excite senior leaders. So much so that 96% say they intend to continue investing in AI and related technologies in the coming year.

Departmental heads have a less positive outlook on AI deployment

In contrast to senior leaders, the optimism for AI pales when it comes to departmental heads. Only 75% think AI will improve productivity and just 58% think AI will be in core operations by 2025.

Some stakeholders are unsure how they’ll integrate AI into the workforce while keeping up with the changes the technology will bring. And they say there’s a lack of clarity concerning the advantages AI will deliver for the workforce.

Our research also found that departmental leaders are cautious about:

Concerns over employee buy-in add to departmental heads’ worries

There’s also apprehension among departmental heads that employee skepticism will slow down AI adoption, making it less effective and undermining workforce transformation initiatives as a result.

Unlike senior leaders, only 68% of departmental heads say their teams are supportive of the organization’s investment in AI. Others believe the benefits of AI will come at the expense of people, causing disruption and displacement of jobs at all levels of the organization.

With such a disconnect between the two groups, what can be done to bring leaders together?

Business leaders need to reach a consensus to support the rollout of AI technologies

AI-assisted workforce transformation is already underway and consensus between leaders at different levels of the organization will be crucial for its success, supported by a data-driven approach to organizational change.

While the C-suite is keen to push ahead with deploying AI in the workforce, departmental heads are more concerned with protecting workers from redundancies first (70%). This is one area where leaders need to have a plan for how they’ll introduce AI without replacing swathes of jobs.

Having a detailed understanding of how the workforce looks today is the starting point for AI-driven workforce transformation. This will enable leaders to see opportunities for AI to take on lower-value tasks, support certain activities in collaboration with human workers, and create new roles that take advantage of uniquely human skills.

By taking this approach, organizations can accelerate workforce change through AI, encourage stakeholder buy-in, and create competitive advantage through efficiencies and cost savings. But it’s understanding above all else that will bring leaders together and allow businesses to deploy AI to best effect.

Download Orgvue’s report Human-first, machine enhanced: the role of AI in workforce transformation, to discover how to create a meaningful forecast of your organization’s workforce needs and use AI to succeed.