Why banning AI at the office won’t solve everything


If you are a CEO or business founder, there’s a shiny (if not-so-new) KPI on your scorecard list – and it could unseat your future if not embraced well and managed with gusto. It is AI, or Artificial Intelligence.
Brent Duffy, joint Managing Director and Partner at Maximus International has over 20 years of experience consulting and developing many of Australia’s top senior leaders and executives across organisations such as Johnson & Johnson, Suncorp, and nbn Co.

This trend demands more of leaders than getting familiar with tools like ChatGPT or improving customer service bots that will matter in the years ahead. It’s about a mindset of accepting that AI is here to stay.

It can help us lead teams and manage day-to-day tasks, but if we don’t understand its full potential, we will see a new wave of casualties.

Not unlike when one-time photographic giant Kodak failed a decade ago to regard the rise of digital imagery as the new normal, and as a result lost its leadership edge in the market and has only just managed to get some traction again.

Or the way Zoom became the runaway success story and remains the dominant online communications platform during the pandemic upending legacy companies like Cisco’s Webex thanks to more competitive pricing and user-friendly access.

In 2020, Zoom grew so quickly that its brand became the default term for video conferencing. “Let’s jump on a Zoom,” has become as ubiquitous as, “Google it.”

Those of us running organisations have a duty to ensure we don’t get left behind but rather can ride the next wave of digital disruption to corner commercial advantage.

AI remains one of the biggest challenges for any leader to mitigate.

A rising number of firms are banning ChatGPT use by employees, for example, in light of security concerns from cyberattacks and data breaches. Even Zoom has been named as one of the AI tools that can potentially “spy on” staff sharing sensitive content staff in online meetings.

Here are my four biggest tips on how leaders can ‘make nice’ with their newest AI recruit.

1. Stay curious

As the founder of Apple, the late Steve Jobs once said, “Curiosity is a superpower in leadership. We don’t have to have all the answers, but we should be asking all the right questions. AI is the perfect opportunity for this approach”.

In my experience, many Australian leaders can have blinkers, our geographic isolation from other major regions has always been a challenge and the lockdowns we experienced during 2020-2021 have upped the potential to make us even more insular.

At Maximus, we took on the opportunity and leveraged virtual platforms to bring online executive study tours to our clients and leaders in Australia.

During the peak of the Covid pandemic we worked with partner organisations like Israel-Australia chamber of Commerce and Singularity University to bring hundreds of global leaders to Australia.

The outcome was deeply curious Australian leaders who took inspiration from around the world. That is AI led leadership in action.

2. Pause to gain perspective

When we’re caught in a cycle of ‘ready’ (noticing) and ‘go’ (reacting) – of adrenalin and immediate consequences – we’re neglecting the opportunity to think through the next steps – the second and third layers of consequences.

Perspective takes time and isn’t developed fully by shifting between ‘ready’ and ‘go’. Leaders have a right to be taking the time to pause and think and the rise of AI is a pause-and-think opportunity.

Once the world opened post-lockdown, many organisations came out early with strong opinions at both ends of the work-from-home vs a return to the office full-time spectrum.

There were CEOs demanding that everyone comes back to the office immediately and were equally perplexed by the response or CEOs saying we are never going back to the office, and we endorse 100% flexible work arrangements. Both examples are ready/go flexes.

They had major workforce consequences like quiet quitting, productivity declines, and a completely missed opportunity to learn the ways of the future now. There is no one answer or “one size fits all” approach to flexibility or AI.

Leaders must SET and consider all perspectives for individuals, teams, the business and customers.

3. Reverse mentor your AI uptake

For every dollar spent on procuring new technology; companies are spending double that on embedding it, according to one recent study. The people impact of AI including change management and training shouldn’t be underestimated.

Consider reverse mentoring as a leader. In today’s digital environment, there is a lot we can learn from digital natives.

Companies wanting to remain at the cutting edge are tapping into the idea that ‘reverse mentoring’ can yield incredible results.

Maximus works with many companies that are grappling hard with digital disruption and how to do this inside-out approach, rather than be disrupted from outside-in.

There are numerous bright spots of small experiments with generative AI and robotics in every field from medical care to financial services.

Your people are undoubtedly playing with tech inside your organisation every day. Our role is to shine a light on them.

We must embrace being mentored by our digital natives, to think about the broader applications of AI and real opportunities to scale.

4. Revisit your ethics

Companies globally are grappling with the role of AI and ethics considering emerging technology comes with inevitable risks. The ‘godfather of AI’ Geoffrey Hinton is worried AI could eliminate jobs and spread misinformation.

A myriad of new scenarios has necessitated an array of new thinking and approaches – and a code of conduct on how and where we use AI apps such as ChatGPT, Motion, or OpenAI.

But there are many ethical challenges leaders face, such as the lack of transparency of AI tools and noting AI copy and outputs are not always intelligible to humans.

We also know AI is not neutral. AI-based decisions are susceptible to inaccuracies, discriminatory outcomes, and embedded or inserted bias.

Surveillance practices for data gathering and privacy concerns remain.

AI is impacting codes of conduct, especially around customer data. All organisations need to be very conscious of cyber risks and privacy issues with AI.

Reputational risk due to cyber breach is now in the top 3 risks in most entities. A major cyber event will impact customer retention, loyalty, and share price.

In large cases like the Optus and Medibank hacks last year, it will take years to recover.

AI is here to stay. We need to ensure leaders create and implement a new way of AI-related ‘codes of conduct’ and most of all, lead by example.

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Brent Duffy, joint Managing Director and Partner at Maximus International has over 20 years of experience consulting and developing many of Australia’s top senior leaders and executives across organisations such as Johnson & Johnson, Suncorp, and nbn Co.

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