Fear of AI – why no progress is being made

Why digitization is not progressing - even though "something is being done"

According to a recent survey, 22% of German companies offer smart services, 13 are preparing them and 50% are currently planning them (Friedrich, Meiren, Schiller 2021). Only 7% think they are using AI. Why is that?

AI can be used for numerous services if data is collected and used in a targeted manner. Chatbots, for example, can streamline and change work processes – this is still not being done enough.

Developments are progressing rapidly; new features and announcements are coming out almost daily. The various AIs are on the way to independently using other machines to generate complex results; voice, image and the mutual creation of these are possible.

Fear paralyzes

In individual cases, it is fear and a lack of time to deal with new things. A diffuse devaluation of one’s own work is becoming apparent. What is the point of working if the work is taken over by AI? Why do you learn a trade and where can you still find work if machines take it from you? And what about the global situation anyway? War, logistics problems, ideologies and the climate?

Day-to-day business is also characterized by staff shortages and a lack of time. Digitization issues are urgent and often people are named as responsible and projects are launched. However, these are erratically rigid and large and it is difficult to see any immediate effect. And large projects in particular only have small quick wins that do not make up for the additional effort. Fundamental new structures need to be created, but which ones? This leads to a cooling-out process. You leave the action to others, as high up as possible, and wait it out.

What changes

Part of the work is done with large digitalization projects, but that is not enough. As with all change management, such profound changes must be tackled with the people in the company. After all, everyone’s resources are at stake:

  • There is a new demand for data – potential information – that was previously not even known to be collectable and analyzable.
  • This calls entire processes into question – at least in the medium term. And in private industry today, the medium term means six months. In public administration and also in large corporations, people are thinking more long-term, but these considerations are possible processes – in fact, they can be superseded at any time by something even more current.
  • Digitization is not just a mega term, but is split into many facets. The mere assertion of a transformation to a digitalized world of work is not yet a successful implementation.
  • Job titles will change; activities will be divided more into roles instead of comprehensive tasks and areas of responsibility. Who can do what and how can this still create a team atmosphere? Who will stand up for the company at all? Will the average length of time millennials stay with a company really drop as dramatically as the young spokespeople Jo Dietrich and Jäel Meier claim?
  • Nothing. It could be machines in the background that are already in use, it could be the need to use such machines to collect and evaluate data. But it could also be the changes in small areas of work that are now imminent, threatening to put normal employees at risk.
  • In particular, the change in repetitive work, which can be optimized and shortened through the use of bots, is an urgent challenge

What it costs

Working with AI (e.g. generative AI) increases complexity at first: interfaces need to be used, new apps and software need to be successfully integrated. And this means additional work. Employees are expected to welcome the new, even though the new applications often do not harmonize with existing processes right from the start. This is where the user trap lurks: people are dissatisfied because things take longer, support and coordination are required and the product is expensive and disappoints expectations. This creates congestion in the already full workload – even more pending tasks pile up. This is the tipping point, where the momentum that prevailed in the initial euphoria is called into question.

This is how successful change works

Change management as a term has become too commonplace to be more active. But: it’s always about the individual employee and the interaction within the team. And about the big picture: why are we here – what added value do we provide and what is the purpose of our work?

If a change is to occur, this affects the basic disposition: the danger button lights up and fear, resistance and blockages may set in. For some, enthusiasm sets in, which irritates others all the more. Work is not just about financial security, about thinking about existential necessities, as Maslow postulated in the 1940s – incidentally without empiricism underneath. If we take a holistic view of people, additional needs emerge:

  • People want psychological security: employers should therefore not unsettle them with “new” management trends. Implementing the duty of care means confronting fears.
  • For well-being in both private and professional life, psychological safety also means being recognized and taken seriously. Only employees who are heard and included experience what is called “appreciation”. This has consequences for changes and sustainable restructuring.
  • People want a space where they can realize their potential: they want to feel that they are being asked, indeed, that they are being consulted and included in decisions. But it is only when inclusion has an effect that the feeling of self-efficacy is addressed.

Using positive social engineering

Understood as social engineering, the individual members of the company must be familiarized with the necessities of change: with hopes, constraints, potentials and possible solutions.

The fact is: there are slower, uninterested and active employees when it comes to a sense of the big picture. In other words, leadership must actively exert itself in order to appeal to as many people as possible and thus take them seriously. The 80:20 principle also applies here. If a majority is “on board” or only 30% are actual apostles of change, a lot has already been gained.

However, this normative objective requires continuity and credibility. It is important to work permanently on the new and not to postulate a digitalization initiative – which then dies down after a few storm waves.

This is the only way to make digitalization work

The crux of the matter, which makes everything difficult, is that it is not yet clear exactly what is changing. Activities should therefore sincerely communicate where the company wants to start with actions and, in particular, understand this as a shared learning journey.

Broken down to processes, this means that the value creation, service and other processes must be examined in detail to determine what can be changed and optimized where and how using digitized data or chatbot machines. The fact is: it affects desk workers, sales representatives, sales as well as services and smart services for the customer. How exactly what exactly changes should be tackled on several levels and is ultimately the task of the communications department.

However, attempts to make progress at all and open discussion about their success are crucial.

This is the only way to get employees involved

  • Communication and requirements must be tailored in such a way that they are understood as a joint search and implementation. Everyone must be involved in a comprehensible and inclusive manner. A roll-out plan can provide security.
  • The big picture of the prospect of realization and a common goal is at the forefront. Google’s vision, for example, states with grand gestures: “We provide an important service to the world by making relevant information on virtually any topic available immediately.”
  • The aim is to react continuously: The bush radio should be followed closely; it is the seismograph where intervening top-down action is due.
  • Employees who think with commitment are not to be had for free. Differences in personality and character must be taken into account. This is easier said than done: do you really try to understand people despite their “odd behavior” and translate this into the team?
  • Decisions that come down on employees from above like a command from God are no longer in keeping with the times. What is at stake needs to be explained in a broader context. At the same time, however, as many employees as possible should be involved in strategic issues. This applies to positive goals, but also to hard facts such as redundancies.
  • Create opportunities for learning. Everyone – including the change agents – must get their inspiration from where. New things must be discovered and brought into the company as inspiration.

Be aware of what needs to be lost: the time it takes to destroy trust-based cohesion is short. Rebuilding togetherness takes forever. From this perspective, the additional effort is justifiable and “worth it” again.

Diverse Hochschulabschlüsse in Geisteswissenschafen und public wie nonprofit-Management. Führungserfahrung, DACH-Bereich-Positionierung. Dozentin an diversen Hochschulen zu Personalentwicklung, Wissensmanagement und Innovationsförderung und Diversity.

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