Leaders should prioritize artificial intelligence literacy, empathy, and balance AI benefits with human insights to navigate the transformative impact of AI on teams effectively.

Sunil Rajasekar, CEO

March 22, 2024

4 Min Read
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D Hurst via Alamy Stock

As artificial intelligence reshapes the business landscape, leaders are tasked with a critical challenge: Integrating generative AI in a way that enhances operations without undermining the workforce. With 40% of organizations planning to increase their AI investment, according to a McKinsey survey, the focus must shift to a human-centric approach. This approach, 'people over product,’ emphasizes the importance of managing AI’s impact on employees, ensuring that technological progress and workforce well-being go hand in hand. 

Cultivating AI Literacy and Skills Amid Rising Anxiety 

With 72% of employees worried about AI’s impact on their income and 67% fearing it might hinder their career progression due to insufficient AI skills, the push for improving AI literacy and skills is critical.  

Leaders should create and roll out extensive training initiatives that not only cover AI’s technical aspects but also offer a comprehensive understanding of how AI can support, rather than substitute, human roles. Emphasis should be on developing soft skills like critical thinking, adaptability, and creative problem-solving, which are crucial in an AI-driven workplace. These competencies allow employees to effectively engage with AI tools and adapt to the innovative processes AI introduces.  

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Taking an example from the B2B payments sector, where AI is revolutionizing customer service and fraud detection in real-time transactions, recognizing AI’s potential to streamline tasks can convert employee apprehension into eagerness, encouraging them to view AI as an ally in their daily responsibilities. 

Aside from alleviating anxiety around job security and career growth, the fact is that everyone can benefit from regular AI education. In fact, a recent Billtrust survey found that despite 65% of CFOs (chief financial officer) adopting generative AI in their operations, less than half say they are “very knowledgeable” on the technology.  Engaging in regular, interactive learning experiences and practical AI projects ensures that any gaps between implementation and understanding don’t lead to the underutilization of generative AI, causing businesses to miss out on opportunities, or worse, feel the negative impact of misusing the technology. 

Fostering a Culture of Empathy and Open Communication

With a KPMG study revealing that 39% of executives believe AI will diminish human interactions, it’s essential for leaders to foster a culture of empathy and open communication. This approach is crucial in ensuring that AI integration strengthens rather than disrupts workplace cohesion. 

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Leaders should establish regular forums and feedback sessions, providing platforms for employees to voice their concerns and insights about AI. Transparent communication about AI integration plans is vital, clarifying AI’s role and its implications for the team. Such openness not only demystifies AI but also aligns the team with shared objectives, helping to alleviate anxieties about job security and the future. 

Moreover, emphasizing empathy means acknowledging and addressing the emotional and professional impacts of AI on employees. This involves not just listening but actively responding to the challenges posed by AI, offering support and guidance. Through empathetic leadership and clear communication, trust is built, anxiety is reduced, and a positive perception of AI is fostered, ensuring a smoother transition for the entire organization. 

Balancing AI Operational Benefits With Human Insights 

AI’s integration in businesses offers substantial operational benefits, notably in process efficiency and data analysis. Yet, it’s essential for leaders to harmonize these with the distinct insights only humans can provide. Such a balance ensures that AI enhances, rather than overshadows, human contributions to the workforce. 

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Leaders should identify tasks where AI excels, like repetitive processes and analytical tasks, allowing employees to focus on areas requiring creativity, ethical judgment, and interpersonal skills. This division of labor not only increases overall productivity but also enriches job satisfaction, as employees engage in more meaningful, creative work. 

This approach promotes a synergistic relationship between AI and human intelligence, maximizing both productivity and innovation. It’s crucial for leaders to recognize and celebrate human contributions, reinforcing the idea that human skills are indispensable to the organization’s success, even in an AI-enhanced future. By maintaining this equilibrium, businesses can foster a motivated, engaged workforce, crucial for thriving in the evolving digital landscape. 

In the context of payments, AI’s ability to process transactions rapidly and accurately presents a clear operational advantage. Yet, it’s the human touch that discerns the nuances of customer behavior and preferences, guiding the strategic application of AI to personalize payment solutions and enhance customer satisfaction. For example, leveraging AI to analyze payment patterns can help teams anticipate and address client needs, a task that inherently requires human insight to interpret and act upon the data effectively. This synergy between AI’s analytical capabilities and human intuition exemplifies the balance leaders must strive for, ensuring technology amplifies rather than replaces the unique contributions of their workforce. 

Embracing AI With a People-First Strategy 

Leaders play a pivotal role in steering organizations through the AI revolution. By prioritizing AI literacy, fostering empathy and communication, and balancing AI’s benefits with human insights, they can lead their teams toward a future where technology and human talent complement each other. In doing so, they not only harness the full potential of AI but also uphold the principle of ‘people over product,’ ensuring that the heart of every organization -- its workforce -- remains strong and vibrant in an era of unprecedented technological advancement. 

About the Author(s)

Sunil Rajasekar

CEO, Billtrust

Sunil Rajasekar is the CEO of Billtrust. He has over two decades of experience in the business software industry. Previously, Sunil served as the President of Mindbody, a leading experience technology platform for the fitness, wellness and beauty industries, the General Manager at eBay, and CTO of Lithium Technologies. Sunil serves on the board of Harvey Mudd and Storable. Sunil is also an active investor and advisor to startups.

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