With the proliferation of generative AI technology, something we’ve been calling The Great Democratization of Technology has occurred. No longer is the ability to quickly implement ideas living in our brains limited to those with strong technical engineering and development skills. Irrespective of education and background, anyone with a computer or smartphone can much more readily translate their transformational ideas into reality, better target and communicate them to customers or key executive audiences, and craft their own personal and professional development plans—all as simply as texting or messaging with a friend online.
Though some organizations are choosing to dismiss these technologies as a toy or gimmick or limit employee use due to data privacy concerns, smart businesses are training their employees on the appropriate use of the technology so they can not just stay ahead of the curve but ensure they don’t get left behind.
About 50% of jobs are expected to be disrupted in the next 5 years, per the World Economic Forum, and upskilling is a necessity. If we capitalize on the opportunities generative AI enables correctly, companies can inspire employees to eagerly learn and grow on their terms. In doing so, they simultaneously give them back a measure of control and boost employee engagement and morale, already low and further damaged by recent return-to-office mandates.
But how can we best do this? When we put employees in the driver’s seat so they see this technology as something that can empower and work for them rather than a threat or something happening to them.
How can we possibly know how and where employees want to grow or how to best position learning opportunities internally? A good place to start is to ensure we’re not making unfounded assumptions while striving to make employees feel better heard and understood. This way, they take greater ownership and feel they have a role in informing and shaping any resulting initiatives. If they’re like employees in most organizations we work with, the themes of “too many fire drills,” “too much time in unnecessary meetings,” “too many low-value tedious activities, bad data, and not enough time for strategic initiatives,” “not enough work/life balance,” “lack of leadership visibility and growth opportunities,” “lack of executive trust or confidence and security in their positions”—especially with recent layoffs and return-to-office mandates—will be top of mind.
In addition to their concerns and fears, you can ask employees to share their ideas and what they’d most like to learn or feel they should do that would enable and empower them to achieve their goals. Depending on what you hear from employees in these surveys, you can package light training on using generative AI. You can even ask generative AI to create the associated content for you if your training teams don’t have time to do so.
Tactics that may resonate with employees include:
1. Get executive attention when you more effectively frame your ideas
Write more effective emails, pitches, and executive communications with AI.
2. Get seen/appreciated—ensuring the great work you’re doing is visible
How to best provide visibility to partners with efficiency from AI.
3. Overcome your specific challenges with tips & tricks from your role models
Use AI as a personalized free mini-MBA to learn leadership or technical skills of interest and get advice from the greats for specific problems.
4. No more mundane tasks: Your very own personal assistant at your fingertips
You now have an AI personal assistant you can leverage to offload mundane tasks, help you find things, make personalized recommendations, write like you, and more.
5. You are not an old code rewrite monkey
For tech talent, there is support for generating, checking, optimizing, and commenting on old code for clarity, continuity, and speed to insights.
In times of disruption, people seek control. You can position generative AI not as something to fear but as a tool to empower employees to claw back time, control their destinies, and learn or pursue paths they may have once thought impossible or out of reach for them.
Like it or not, generative AI technology is here to stay. It’s not just a curiosity; though some view it as a threat, are misusing it, or are trying to limit its use, those who ignore it will find themselves behind and struggle to catch up.
That’s not to mention the ever-growing cottage industry of hundreds of companies that have spawned in the wake of APIs to leverage this technology. ChatGPT’s parent company, OpenAI, has over 1.5B views in the past month (to put this in context, this is just behind Netflix, LinkedIn, and Reddit). This technology is already accelerating innovation: some big tech companies and high-growth start-ups are already adopting generative AI into every aspect of their day-to-day operations. And those who don’t—or have policies that employees consider backward or disruptive—are losing top talent to other companies or have their ex-employees spinning off start-ups of their own. The revolution isn’t coming; it’s already here and will only continue to grow.
So much of the debate around generative AI reminds me of when the internet was first made widely available to the general public and schools tried to restrict use for student projects. This would be seen as a completely absurd handcuffing of children today. Institutions adopting such policies would be seen as archaic and actively hindering the children in their care from being successful in their future endeavors by preventing them from learning and leveraging this technology (and teaching them how to do so correctly and accurately!) as a tool to empower them to do their best work.
Empowered employees are engaged employees, and the data shows that with greater engagement comes improved performance, productivity, and innovation, reduced absenteeism and turnover, improved profitability, and, in many cases, multiple-fold increased revenue.
Though data privacy and other concerns still need to be hammered out for certain applications, none prevents employers from adopting generative AI technology for employee-driven personalized learning and development purposes. Employees can be trained in the correct, safe use of generative AI—like all other technology they use at work. The opportunity can be framed as a means to relieve frustration and empower employees to learn topics of interest in record time: a way to achieve things they’d only dreamed of and previously viewed as impossible or out of reach.
Though it will be easy to be left behind in the wake of this Great Democratization of Technology, we can embrace it and guide our people through these waters, ensuring they not only survive but thrive in this new era.