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By: Darryl A. Smith and Usman Khan

Are you considering the integration of artificial intelligence (AI) into your organization’s strategic planning? If not, it’s time to start. Today’s AI-powered tools and resources offer unparalleled opportunities for enhancing efficiency and impact across all sectors.

However, as these tools gain more traction, they also face the challenge of hype. Decision-makers often rush to invest in AI tools and research, seeking immediate returns without clearly defining their objectives.

Implementing AI in a holistic and sustainable manner requires moving beyond the hype and focusing on embedding culture and climate into the implementation process. While AI can indeed revolutionize your work, genuine transformation occurs when you deliberately align its adoption with your company’s work, vision, and values.

Consider these essential questions: Do you view AI, or any new technology, solely as a means to cut costs and increase efficiency? Or are you exploring how it can serve your organization while remaining aligned with its core values?  By considering these questions, you can ensure that AI implementation reflects your organization’s ethos and objectives rather than allowing technology to dictate your direction.

AI reflects your blind spots.

AI absorbs the information it’s given – the data, the contexts, and, unfortunately, the biases that often lurk beneath the surface of our organizations. This isn’t abstract philosophy or technological myth; Dr. Safiya Noble highlights in Algorithms of Oppression that faulty AI can directly cause real-word harm in lending, hiring, and countless other areas.

The notion that AI will magically resolve all problems, or worse, render talented individuals obsolete, is perilous. Similar to any significant technological advancement, the choices we make regarding AI today will have far-reaching consequences. By prioritizing a culture-focused AI strategy, you stand to gain competitive advantages in talent acquisition, public confidence, and risk management. Conversely, neglecting culture puts you at risk of constructing discriminatory systems, alienating your workforce, and encountering costly consequences.

There’s a widespread misconception that AI systems inherently possess objectivity or that AI serves as a panacea for eliminating human biases. The reality is quite different: AI learns and evolves based on the data it receives. It essentially reflects the environment it’s trained in, including any biases present in that environment. If developed within a workplace culture that tolerates unchecked biases or relies on skewed data sets, these biases inevitably become ingrained within the structure of your AI systems.

This hurts business, but more importantly, it hurts people. Imagine an AI recruiting tool perpetuating biased hiring practices, leading you to miss out on top talent, or a customer service AI that alienates specific demographics. These are not theoretical problems – they’re happening now.

So how do you solve for culture and climate?

  • Dive Deep into D&I:  As an organizational decision-maker, you’re responsible for fostering inclusive environments – and as experts in making that happen, we know that doesn’t happen by accident. Every major shift in your resources and strategy – including as it relates to AI adoption – needs to have inclusivity baked in by design. A focus on DEI in AI ensures a broader range of perspectives are considered, fostering fairer and more robust AI systems that benefit everyone.

    Ask yourself these questions:  Do diverse voices truly shape decision-making? Do all employees have equal access to opportunities that will create better, fairer AI data? 

  • Demystify AI, Company-Wide: Basic AI training helps everyone understand potential pitfalls and how it should be used. Furthermore, AI is also not a sentient scapegoat – it is a powerful tool, and as with any tool, responsible usage and accountability should be proactively built into this strategy. 
  • Proactive Feedback is Key: Don’t wait for disaster. Create multiple avenues for employee input, particularly from those most likely to be harmed by biased AI. Track how new AI tools impact job satisfaction and performance across different groups. 
  • Build an Ethics ‘Watchdog’: Your AI steering committee must reflect the diversity of your workforce and have teeth. It shouldn’t just rubber-stamp projects but have the authority to pause or significantly alter systems that raise concerns. 
  • Invest in Your People – AI Will Support Them: AI is a great way to personalize employee development. AI can be a powerful tool to build, learn, and create – and as your employees’ skills evolve, track skill gains for targeted promotions, ensuring your workforce is future-proofed as roles change.

It’s tempting to view AI through a purely technological lens. Leaders who see culture as a building block in the adoption of AI – or any new technology – are the ones with these advantages:

  • Increased Innovation and Creativity: When your organization centers culture and climate, your employees feel safe to take risks, speak up, and see themselves reflected in the company’s direction. In parallel, they’re more empowered to champion and advance innovative new approaches for your work – like with the adoption of new technologies like AI. This leads to better solutions, creativity, and outcomes. 
  • Reduced Stress and Anxiety Around AI Adoption: A lot of anxiety exists around the role AI takes in our work now. As a leader, transparency, openness, and collaboration in decision-making on your part creates psychological safety for the people you work with. When your plans for AI adoption and implementation centers their perspectives, voices, and expertise, they’re more likely to build with you and less likely to experience anxiety that hinders their well-being and impact. 
  • Improved Problem-Solving Across the Organization: AI thrives on quality data and informed decision-making. Employees experiencing a healthy culture are more likely (and willing) to flag potential biases in data, question assumptions, and push for diverse perspectives. 
  • Reduced Cost of Errors and Bias Mitigation: Bias is a growing point of contention as we think about how AI can be used in our workflows – and these conversations will only become more common as the technology continues to mature. Addressing bias early is innovative – and much cheaper than lawsuits, bad press, or having to rebuild AI systems from scratch due to discriminatory outcomes. 

    And don’t think AI-driven technologies inherently eliminate bias – as we’re finding out as more people adopt these tools in their work, the opposite is turning out to be true.

  • Expanded Market Reach: AI tools built with inclusivity in mind are more likely to work well for a diverse customer base, opening new opportunities and avoiding missteps that limit growth.

  • Stronger Employer Brand and Competitive Advantage: Companies truly committed to ethical, inclusive AI attract top talent and stand out in a crowded marketplace. This leads to better hiring outcomes, improved innovation, and higher ROI over time.

AI is here to stay, but it’s a supplement, not a solution.

Think about your implementation roadmap one year from now – what does success look like? We firmly believe that the companies that have most successfully leveraged AI won’t be the most cutting-edge, or even the most tech-savvy; they’ll be those who understand that responsible, impactful AI depends on cultivating a responsible culture.

This presents a leadership challenge with direct implications for your bottom line: as you start or continue your implementation, make the necessary culture investments now – or risk being left behind as the technology continues to adapt and your stakeholders greater accountability. 

The promise of AI is undeniable, but the risks of bias and unfairness are just as real. Here’s the hard truth: AI reflects what we put into it. Unchecked biases in your workplace become biases in your AI tools, and as the technology continues to develop rapidly, your inputs will be amplified – whether they’re positive or negative.

AI is not a replacement for your people – it’s a way to empower them.

Is Your Company Ready?

DAS & Associates helps leaders understand their organization’s strengths, vulnerabilities, and the steps needed for truly responsible AI. We offer:

  • In-depth culture assessments, uncovering what your data might not show.
  • Training and development programs to build AI literacy company-wide.
  • Guidance for establishing clear ethical frameworks for AI development.

We’re here to partner with you in centering your organization’s culture and climate as you continue to adapt to today’s business and technological landscape. This isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do. Contact us to learn more and lay the groundwork for a future where AI truly benefits your business and everyone it touches.

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