AI Won't Save Your Workplace Dysfunction

AI Won’t Save Your Workplace Dysfunction (But Humans Can)

GenAI promises to revolutionise many aspects of work. However, it’s crucial to recognise its limitations. AI cannot solve the deep, systemic issues plaguing our workplaces.

The Fear Factor

The rapid rise of AI has sparked concerns around job security. This is despite findings from a recent MIT Sloan survey that only 1% of organisations polled had eliminated any roles because GenAI now performs them. That said, 3% of organisations admitted that some roles had changed since GenAI took over many of their tasks. 

The changes brought about by AI can sometimes feel out of control and overwhelming. Understandably, employees worry that their roles could be automated, leading to a profound sense of insecurity and for some an existential threat. Instinctively, humans respond to this type of stimulus by escaping, freezing, fighting or appeasing.  All of which destroy psychological safety within teams, eroding productivity, and morale and hampering collaboration… the opposite of what we need for a healthy, successful workplace.

The AI Race Is Not A Fair One

Depending on their typical tasks, some teams may find it relatively simple to adopt GenAI as a tool, and gain productivity fast. However, this will not be true for all. Teams solving complex problems tend to work in a cross-functional way. This means, of course, that a team working closely with a more productive AI-assisted team will struggle to keep up. Consequently, leaders will start to notice symptoms of burnout in the non-AI-augmented team.

In turn, systemic issues that block the flow of value to customers will worsen. More dependency management will emerge, and governance issues will become exacerbated. It may appear that work slows down from the enterprise level… which requires all the systemic solutions we’ve learnt to optimise groups of teams, portfolios and departments and, if possible, the organisation as a whole.

How will your organisation form a strategy to adopt GenAI? Will they expand capacity chaotically? Or work strategically to bring the most successful business outcomes?

A Case Study

With a recent client, we found work impeded and waiting for availability for 192 days. In partnership with leadership and the people affected by the change being proposed, we reduced this lead time to 5 days for greater speed to market. That’s over 97% acceleration in only two weeks,  with less multi-tasking and higher focus for people doing the work.

What’s more, we achieved this with a small change to organisational design and no additional capital expenditures or operating expenses. From the systems perspective, this meant faster time to market for the teams dependent on this group. Happier employees, faster to market and less noise from leadership escalations.

Typically,  we find at least a 30% improvement of this kind across all organisations we partner with. So if you want results like these for your company, enquire about our Spark program (the flow module in particular).

Remember: AI Cannot Solve  Systemic Issues

AI excels at automating specific tasks. Yet it cannot address the root causes of workplace dysfunction.
Issues such as:

  • operational bottlenecks
  • lack of alignment between work and vision
  • low process efficiency
  • poor prioritisation
  • lack of two-way communication 
  • broken feedback loops between customers, strategy and vision
  • unhealthy conflict
  • ineffective decision-making processes
  • mismatch of leadership style and context
  • lack of time and space for innovation, or to think creatively
  • systemic biases
  • homogeneous decision-making groups
  • bureaucratic structures
  • lack of psychological safety

These problems are complex, unique to each organisation and as a result best practices don’t often work. They need human intervention, continuous improvement from short-term hypothesis-driven approaches and cultural change. Change that builds trust and supports people to work together to find creative solutions.

AI cannot instil the agile mindset. Nor can it foster the trust and self-organisation necessary for true transformation. These are inherently human endeavours. They require empathy, emotional intelligence, and a deep understanding of organisational dynamics.

GenAI is Biased and Can Perpetuate Harmful Stereotypes…

We know that organisations have invested time and effort to improve Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. Unfortunately, the systemic biases in our organisations (and our world) are not only reflected but exacerbated by GenAI. A study of Stable Diffusion’s text-to-image model found that it takes “racial and gender disparities to extremes — worse than those found in the real world”. 

For example, image sets generated for all high-paying professions predominantly featured individuals with lighter skin tones, while prompts like “fast-food worker” and “dishwasher” more frequently produced images of people with darker skin tones. 

In addition to this, women were significantly underrepresented in high-paying jobs and positions of power… far more so than in the real world. For example, only 7% of the image results for ‘doctor’ were women, yet 39% of US doctors are women (47% in the UK).

“Every part of the process in which a human can be biased, AI can also be biased.”
Nicole Napolitano, Center for Policing Equity

…and it’s not a quick fix

Google developed an AI image generator that had seemingly taken into account these systemic biases. It had apparently been programmed to produce more diverse and representative images. Unfortunately, when prompted for historical images, these were not only inaccurate, but occasionally inappropriate in the extreme…

“Users found that asking for images of Nazi soldiers or the US founding fathers would create pictures consisting mostly or solely of women and people of colour.”
Andrew Griffin, The Independent

Google has since taken their Gemini AI image generator offline, but remains committed to taking “representation and bias seriously”, according to Jack Krawczyk, senior director for Gemini experiences at Google.

This is a powerful example of deep systemic issues that need to be addressed by human intervention, rather than by algorithmic adjustment.

Humans at the Helm

Individuals and teams are experimenting with GenAI to improve their work and become more productive. However, for employees to innovate in this way, their workplace must provide an environment that encourages and enables them to do so. When employees have a voice in how AI is implemented and how it impacts their roles, they feel more secure and confident about the changing nature of their work.

To harness AI’s potential, while addressing systemic challenges, we need humans at the helm. Leaders must create environments where employees feel:

  • able to speak up (psychologically safe)
  • valued
  • respected
  • empowered to embrace change

Teams must cultivate trust, collaboration, and a proactive mindset, continuously seeking improvement. This human-centric approach is not only essential for leveraging employee-driven innovation but also for navigating the complexities of modern workplaces… complexities that AI cannot resolve.

The Way Forward

As GenAI continues to shape the future of work, we must strike a balance. While leveraging its capabilities as a tool, humans are needed to offset bias, monitor for hallucinations, identify errors and continuously improve model training. People are the very essence of what makes our workplaces thrive, and are crucial to successful business outcomes even with GenAI.

“The most overlooked, the most powerful, and the least leveraged of all the skills and tools we have available to create success is the power of people.”

Simon Powers

According to MIT Sloan, 24% of the organisations polled are experimenting systematically with using GenAI on specific tasks.  Unsurprisingly, organisations are looking to harness AI’s incredible potential.  At the same time, they must address the systemic issues that hinder success. Together with our sister company, Bryter Work, we can help your company to:

  • build a culture where people thrive
  • improve team dynamics and foster psychological safety
  • develop leaders from expert to catalyst
  • improve process (flow) efficiency
  • promote human agency and reduce conflict
  • embrace an agile mindset

AI Won’t Save Your Workplace Dysfunction… But Humans Can

Transforming our workplaces requires a symbiotic relationship between human ingenuity and technological advancement. AI is a powerful tool. But it is humans who must wield it wisely. We must be guided by our values and principles… along with a relentless pursuit of making working life better.

This article was written in collaboration with the AWA AI Community. With special thanks to Kim Greenwood and Dr. Ulla Raithel-Beck for their advice, support and input.

AWA Global and Bryter Work help organisations build cultures where people thrive. We equip leaders and teams with the tools and strategies needed to navigate the complexities of the modern workplace… including adapting to working with GenAI.

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