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How executives and individual contributors differ when it comes to AI

rebecca hindsRebecca Hinds
June 4th, 2024
2 min read
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This article was originally published on Reworked.

We live in an era where technology zips and zags through our lives. AI is seemingly everywhere—yet it’s also entangled in a mess of buzzwords and grand promises.

In many ways, AI is a transformative technology. But when we look back on history, its promises and challenges are not all that unique. History teaches us that technology implementation is always complex and rarely goes as planned.

As my teammate Mark Anthony Hoffman recently shared at Gartner’s 2024 Digital Workplace Summit, technology resistance is an age-old phenomenon. Plato and Socrates warned against the pen, arguing it induced forgetfulness in the learners’ souls and minds and that knowledge should be spoken and remembered. Almost 2,000 years later, in 1440, Gutenberg invented the printing press. The new technology made the written word widely available, but it also eliminated the jobs of scribes, who lived and profited from Plato’s detested pen. Scribes protested the arrival of the printing press in European cities, claiming that it made words and writing cheap and meaningless.

Another reality of technology is that it affects everyone differently—in particular those at different levels of the organizational totem pole. We’re seeing this with AI too. Our research at Asana’s Work Innovation Lab shows three main areas of divergence between executives and individual contributors in today’s organizations:

1. The Transparency Gap

Our research reveals a striking discrepancy: while 44% of executives believe they have effectively communicated their AI plans, just 25% of individual contributors feel informed about these strategies.

This gap suggests a breakdown in communication, eroding trust and dampening enthusiasm toward AI adoption. Imagine playing a game of telephone where the message is your company’s AI strategy. A clear directive issued by the C-suite becomes increasingly distorted as it trickles down through the managerial layers, until it reaches individual contributors as muddled whispers.

Addressing this requires a more deliberate communication approach:

  • Regular, clear updates on AI projects, objectives, and impacts—such as through internal newsletters that feature project highlights, challenges and next steps.

  • Interactive town hall meetings or brown bags, where employees at all levels can ask questions directly to executives in a two-way dialogue.

  • Using digital forums and work management platforms to encourage open discussions about AI initiatives.

2. The Resource Gap

When it comes to AI training and resources, we also see a gap. About 25% of executives say they’re providing AI training for their teams, but only 11% of individual contributors say they have access to the necessary tools and knowledge.

This gap suggests that despite good intentions, the execution of AI training programs is falling short. It's not enough for executives to allocate resources for training; these resources must be accessible and relevant to all levels of the organization.

Organizations need to launch targeted AI literacy programs tailored to different roles, ensuring all employees have the opportunity to learn about and comfortably interact with AI. These programs should cover the basics of AI, ethical considerations, and practical applications relevant to the participants' daily tasks.

3. The Optimism Gap

Optimism about the potential of AI to drive organizational success also varies up and down the hierarchy. Sixty-one percent of leaders are optimistic about AI's role in achieving company objectives, but only 46% of individual contributors feel the same. Bridging this gap requires clear communication about how AI can augment human capabilities and relieve employees from mundane tasks to allow for more strategic work.

A Human-Centric Strategy

Our recent State of the IT Leader report found that 63% of IT executives regret not choosing technologies more carefully. Investing in cutting-edge AI technology is futile without a concerted effort to bridge these gaps—transparency, resource and optimism.

The success of your AI adoption hinges not on the technology alone but on a full strategy that addresses these human-centric aspects. AI technology needs to be chosen carefully, prioritizing vendors that adopt a human-centric approach. Without a deliberate effort to navigate these human dimensions, the most advanced AI technology may as well be a pen without ink or a press without paper—full of potential, yet unrealized.

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