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3rd Jul 2024

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Event Insights: Senior Leaders Breakfast Briefing on Business Performance in an Age of AI

Our most recent Senior Leaders Breakfast Briefing event, held at Lapps Quay in Cork, brought together an esteemed panel of experts to discuss the multifaceted impact of artificial intelligence (AI) in today’s workplace. Moderated by Gary McCarthy, the panel featured insights from Linda Hayes, Paidi O’Reilly, Mark Purcell, and Barbara O’Gorman, each shedding light on various dimensions of AI integration in their respective fields.

Broadening the Perspective on AI in the Workplace

Barbara O’Gorman of Boston Scientific kicked off the discussion by highlighting the diverse personas within the workplace: product builders, salespeople, office-based employees, and leaders. She emphasised that AI’s potential extends beyond those working on laptops, impacting every role from production to sales. For instance, AI can streamline mundane tasks such as finding a parking space or approving annual leave, significantly enhancing productivity.

In the sales arena, AI offers invaluable tools for targeting customers and providing crucial information. However, the integration of AI also brings fears about job replacement. O’Gorman underscored that while AI can augment human capabilities, it cannot replace human judgment, decisions, or morality.

Enhancing Productivity and Empathy with AI

Paidi O’Reilly discussed how consultants using AI can complete tasks more efficiently and with higher quality. Yet, he cautioned that AI isn’t infallible and can sometimes err. Paidi introduced the concept of AI representing personas during meetings, even showing empathy, such as understanding the challenges faced by someone with a parent suffering from Parkinson’s. However, he also warned of potential biases in AI, particularly a “West Coast, Silicon Valley, male bias,” necessitating awareness and vigilance.

Building Confidence and Ethical Use of AI

Linda Hayes of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) addressed the concerns surrounding AI, particularly fears about job redesign and replacement. She highlighted a survey indicating that 56% of employees believe AI will reshape their roles, with many worried about job security and the accuracy of AI-generated information. To help combat these fears, J&J launched a chatbot and focused on transparent, ethical engagement with AI. The company emphasises continuous learning, dedicating days for employees to enhance their capabilities, including their AI skills.

Linda also noted a significant hierarchical divide in AI adoption: leaders are more likely to use AI than managers, who, in turn, use it more than frontline staff. This disparity underscores the need for comprehensive AI literacy and comfort across all levels of an organisation.

Navigating AI in Hiring and Talent Management

Barbara O’Gorman highlighted the transformative potential of generative AI in hiring. AI can scan CVs to identify relevant skills and suggest internal roles to employees, fostering a proactive approach to career development. However, overcoming the fear of AI and ensuring employees feel in control, rather than victims, is crucial.

The discussion also touched on trust and psychological safety. J&J leaders demonstrate vulnerability by sharing their personal and professional use of AI, fostering an environment where 87% of employees want to develop AI-related skills. Leaders play a pivotal role in recognising and nurturing employee efforts.

Starting the AI Journey

For organisations at the beginning of their AI journey, Linda Hayes recommended focusing on employee comfort and identifying actionable steps towards integration. Access to technology and a positive employee experience are fundamental. Paidi O’Reilly advised leaders to start using generative AI within their areas of expertise, balancing AI capabilities with personal knowledge.

Mark Purcell emphasised that AI integration should be led from the top but championed throughout the organisation. Addressing AI biases, such as in CV scanning, requires human intervention and diverse perspectives. Collaborative AI design, incorporating multiple viewpoints, can enhance fairness and inclusivity.

Managing AI Risks and Collaborating with Technology

The panel also discussed managing risks related to AI and intellectual property (IP). Companies must be cautious about the data fed into AI models and consider using encryption and other protective measures. Embracing a collaborative mindset with generative AI, rather than seeking straightforward answers, can lead to more nuanced and effective outcomes.

The Breakfast Briefing provided a comprehensive overview of AI’s transformative impact on the workplace. From enhancing productivity and empathy to addressing fears and ethical concerns, AI presents both opportunities and challenges. The key lies in balancing AI’s capabilities with human judgment, fostering continuous learning, and ensuring ethical, inclusive practices. As AI continues to evolve, organisations must navigate this ever-changing landscape thoughtfully and strategically.

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