Future of Work: Leadership Upskilling for the AI Era | UBDS Digital
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The Future of Work: Leadership Upskilling for the AI Era

Arun Manoharan
23 May, 2024

In today's dynamic business world, the rise of GenAI, like ChatGPT, is flipping the script on digital innovation. AI is no longer just for tech geeks—88% of the AI talent pool comes from across a range of roles, such as middle management, healthcare, educators, and admins. 

Market trends are pointing to an estimate that around 70% of non-AI users in today’s world will start using AI as applications keep increasing. As pointed out by The World Economic Forum, by 2025 half the workforce will need a skills refresh to ensure that the tech is used properly and ethically. However, there's a real fear among workers about the tech itself. Therefore upskilling isn't just a personal mission to learn how to use tech

Leadership in the digital age demands a fresh skill set 

Organisations need to foster a culture where AI isn't seen as a threat but as another entity colleagues need to learn how to work with. 

Despite the widespread adoption of AI, many organisations struggle to harness its full potential and reap business value due to lack of expertise or key resources, ineffective implementation, poor change management, and lack of a supportive digital culture

When digital culture elements are properly aligned, all types of organisations can deliver valuable, timely, and cost-effective solutions to end-users. Furthermore, research points to evidence that the right work culture not only boosts performance but also positively improves community happiness.

According to the EY Tech Horizon Survey in 2022, 79% of government leaders agree that culture needs to change to fully benefit from digital transformation. It's therefore paramount for leaders to possess this skill set that will build a culture that is empowering not only themselves but also their teams to navigate the ever-evolving landscape. 

Given their pivotal role and drive, here are three essential skillsets leaders require for implementing a digital culture in the AI era. 

1. Strategic storytelling. 

Strategic storytelling transcends the mere act of sparking enthusiasm about the potential of new technology. It's about charting a course towards the future, while rallying your team around a shared purpose and a value system. 

The ability to weave strategic narratives becomes an indispensable skill for leaders. This skill forms the cornerstone for cultivating a culture steeped in digital innovation. Research from Microsoft shows that 100% of organisations realise the potential of AI if leaders clearly communicate the vision. Understanding the values that drive individuals and teams is the catalyst for initiating change that is not only impactful but also sustainable.

Leaders must embrace a growth mindset to seize opportunities without being bogged down by daily operations. And while leaders keep an eye out on the horizon, they must remember to guide their teams along this transformative journey. 

2. Empathise, encourage, and empower. 

In today’s digital era, empathy helps to foster trust, respect, and build a strong foundation for a digital culture. When introducing new changes in an organisation, there is a risk that these changes may be perceived as an immediate threat to the psychological safety of the organisation. 

The feeling of safety and the courage to voice one’s thoughts is not merely an individual characteristic, even though it’s experienced at the personal level. As Edmondson puts it, “it’s an emergent property of the group.” 

By highlighting the significance of their voices, leaders should foster an environment where colleagues can speak up without fear, reprimand or humiliation at work. It is crucial for leaders to understand the underlying apprehensions their teams may have towards new technology. They should craft personalised narratives that illuminate the advantages of adopting these technologies in their respective roles. Furthermore, leaders should demonstrate their support by co-developing effective strategies for managing change. 

As Erik Brynjolfsson said, “For every dollar invested in talent, nine dollars needs to be invested in talent-related processes”. This investment is crucial for maximizing the returns on technological investments. 

Beyond investing in talent, clear guidelines are vital for a safe space for experimentation. Leaders should inspire their teams to select their preferred learning methods, such as webinars, training programs, or sandbox environments. By empowering colleagues to select their preferred training option and fostering psychological safety within the culture, teams will be equipped to learn and apply the technology within their roles. 

3. Innovate across the ecosystem 

As AI alleviates the burden of repetitive tasks, every member of an organisation will be able to focus more on human-centric tasks. Organisations will lose resilience if they do not have an operating model that fosters team collaboration across the ecosystem. 

Innovation across the ecosystem requires leaders to continuously enhance products, services, and operating models that bolster a digital culture. This poses a challenge as it necessitates adopting novel work methods while managing legacy systems. 

Leaders should equip their teams by creating appropriate frameworks for prioritising ideas and executing digital transformation initiatives across the ecosystem. They need to skilfully juggle conflicting priorities and steer their teams to engage stakeholders such as partners, customers, suppliers, and internal teams, thereby advancing the organisation’s innovation agenda. 

Lastly, leaders should broaden feedback loops to incorporate insights from teams and stakeholders across the ecosystem. Feedback not only supports in refining the operating model, but also gains invaluable insights to scale the initiative, realise its full potential, and identify further opportunities to apply the technology. 

By embracing these principles, leaders can steer their organisations towards sustained success in an ever-evolving environment. An environment where AI isn't seen as a threat but as another entity which can – with the right organisational environment – greatly enhance productivity, employee wellbeing, and customer satisfaction.

At UBDS Digital, we uphold the principles mentioned above and have consistently improved our operating model since our establishment. We recognise that technology must not only be cutting-edge but also practical and quick to implement. We specialise in transforming your complex challenges into opportunities, delivering solutions that are not just acceptable but truly exceptional, engaging across the full digital lifecycle. Our approach ensures that with us, you navigate the intricacies of digital transformation with unwavering confidence and achieve outcomes that surpass expectations. You will never have to compromise on quality, security and reliability. That is our promise to you. 

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Arun Manoharan
Arun Manoharan
Senior Strategy and Innovation Consultant

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