How do you get employees to embrace AI? (You may find this sneaky)

An expert suggests ways to fight ingrained, anti-AI workplace culture. Some of the techniques are fascinating.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer
People using AI on screens
Eugene Mymrin/Getty Images

It's a good news, bad news world. For every ray of light, there's a lightning bolt ready to explode our sense of well-being.

One can imagine, then, how many of the world's employees are girding themselves and seeking every possible element of grounding against the threat from artificial intelligence (AI): "Will it take my job? Will it make me permanently obsolete? Or, perhaps worse, will it become my boss?"

Also: Want to work in AI? How to pivot your career in 5 steps

Meanwhile, many bosses might be thinking: "Will it make me a lot more money before it becomes my boss? Exactly how much money will it make me? And how quickly?"

A new way of working

Let's look at AI from the boss's perspective.

Many people might already realize how hard it could be to persuade employees to let AI improve their company's output. Many bosses might be tempted to force AI into the workplace culture by simply declaring the technology to be the bright new hope for tomorrow.

Also: Have 10 hours? IBM will train you in AI fundamentals - for free

There may, though, be more subtle ways of introducing AI.

I've learned this fact from a fascinating series of suggestions penned in the Harvard Business Review by Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic. 

He's the chief innovation officer at ManpowerGroup, and a professor of business psychology at University College London and Columbia University. He's also a co-founder of deepersignals.com, as well as an associate at Harvard's Entrepreneurial Finance Lab.

Also: Is prompt engineer displacing data scientist as the 'sexiest job of the 21st century'?

Having looked at Chamorro-Premuzic's analysis, I marvel at some of his suggestions for persuading employees to let AI into their work lives.

Some of these tactics might seem both pure and logical. For example: "Sell the ways in which this technology will strengthen the organization -- and increase the resilience of each part -- with the goal to upgrade attitudes from negative to positive, or at least neutral."

Not every CEO is a fine salesperson, however. A lot of them used to be CFOs, after all.

Then there's the idea of testing AI against more traditional solutions to difficult work problems. This approach seems preferable to instantly blanketing your company with AI everywhere.

Sneaky, brilliant, or both?

But Chamorro-Premuzic then slides into more subtle, perhaps sneaky areas. Here's one of his headlines: "Intuition Is The Common Enemy."

But wait a minute -- wasn't intuition the thing that made Steve Jobs successful? Don't we always most admire the people who have inspired -- often illogical -- ideas that suddenly blossom into world-changing realities?

Also: How to use ChatGPT

Chamorro-Premuzic is quite clear here: "The production of human-like activity by autonomous technologies is often seen by people -- no matter their role -- as a threat to control, power, and autonomy."

He immediately follows up with: "To be fair, it often does reduce freedom and improvisation by humans."

Freedom reduction is not a popular concept here in the US, even if it's not always perfectly understood.

Chamorro-Premuzic insists, though, that persuading employees to let AI make the minor decisions will release them to concentrate on the major ones.

However, I fear he might not yet have persuaded you of the benefits of AI. I fear you may not be at ease with the idea of AI becoming the employee of the month. I fear you may think that once AI makes the smaller decisions, it'll soon want to make the bigger ones, too. 

Also: 6 AI tools to supercharge your work and everyday life

Please, then, think about this -- to my mind -- sneakiest idea, which he headlines: "Process Eats Culture For Lunch."

This concept almost sounds like the scheming innards of a politician's mind. Yet Chamorro-Premuzic offers a delightful metaphor. 

He suggests treating workplace culture "as you would treat your relationship to the weather: Not as something you can change, but something that informs your choice of clothing."

I think I get what he means, although my clothing choices can sometimes be charitably called eclectic.

Also: You can build your own AI chatbot with this drag-and-drop tool

Chamorro-Premuzic's thinking is this: "The key is to put in place new systems and processes that counteract the effects of culture, like extrinsic formal incentives that inhibit the influence of informal dynamics and forces."

Academics often bathe in such complex concepts, but I abstract from this idea an essential sneakiness where a new process will simply neutralize ingrained cultural norms.

However, my concern is that an ingrained culture will see these new processes for what they fear they are: Trojan ponies trying to act lovable.

The middle matters most

Chamorro-Premuzic then brings up something of which you might be aware, but I certainly wasn't. 

Research apparently shows that the best way to make sure new processes are embraced isn't by sending an all-staff email, or even by making a big announcement on Slack.

Instead, the key to success is getting middle managers to be the new process's champions -- "for their [mid-level managers'] behaviors and decisions mobilize change and instill new habits in the wider workforce."

Also: I took this free AI course for developers in one weekend and highly recommend it

You might not have realized middle managers are so influential, especially as many companies currently seem to believe they can do without too many of them.

I confess that I've embraced certain levels of AI simply by trying the tools out and seeing if they work. It may be harder, however, for people in larger, more bureaucratic companies to experiment -- until they see their middle manager doing it.

So, the biggest lesson for bosses might be to create irresistible processes, championed by incentivized middle managers, that -- gently, of course -- blunt cultural prejudice.

And the lesson for employees is clear: If you see your middle manager telling you they love the new processes instituted from on high, they may have been influenced by a very clever, very pro-AI CEO.

Editorial standards