The Role of AI in Marketing A Conversation with Katie Robert 18

AI is a culture shift

This content was originally featured in the August 23, 2023 newsletter found here:

Are you tired of hearing about AI? Unfortunately, it’s not going anywhere. If anything, it’s going to become so mainstream you won’t even notice it anymore. Until you do. Until your leadership decided that your company is going to be “AI first”. Until your boss tells you that you have all new tools that have AI in them that you need to use. Until you start to lose sleep, worried that AI is going to take your job.

I’m not here to create additional anxiety. What I want to do is help you recognize the pitfalls of introducing AI and how to think about preventing them.

Here’s the short version: AI is a culture shift. If your culture is shaky or non-existent, AI won’t fix it. If your culture is people-first and your leadership wants to start leading with AI, this will fail. AI won’t fix people problems.

A million bazillion years ago when I worked as a product manager, the company I was at was undergoing a lot of changes. The business model was shifting from clinical research to commercial products. The organization was changing from a top-down approach to a more flexible approach called a matrix structure. (I should make a separate post about that.) The tech stack was moving from CD-Rom to dot com. New disciplines were being tested, new managers were being promoted, new technology was being embraced. It was a lot all at once.

Because there was a lot of change, the organization brought in an outside consultant. The consultant talked with “key” employees and leadership about creating a strategic plan. This plan, broken down into several BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals), was then rolled out to the entire company. Each goal had an owner from the leadership team and milestones to hit.

So far, so good, right? Nope. It all looked good on paper, but it didn’t work. It failed spectacularly. Not because the employees weren’t on board (we were) but because there was no follow-through from leadership. They lacked transparency. They stopped updating the employees on the progress. They stopped engaging in the initiatives. They stopped prioritizing the new goals as valuable time spent. The leadership team closed the doors on their “high-level” conversations and locked the rest of the company out. They patted themselves on the back for creating a strategic plan, telling us about it, and giving us instructions to execute it. There were graphics created for this thing. There was a company-wide meeting. There were snacks. And then…crickets.

What went wrong? Well, aside from everything, it wasn’t a true culture shift. Culture is set from the top down. It’s not enough for leadership to go through the motions of what they want the rest of us to do. Leadership needs to consistently participate.

Enter into the chat: AI. I’ve lost count of the leadership teams that have asked us to help them implement AI into their company. I’ve also lost count of the times that I’ve advised them to get aligned with each other on why they want to introduce AI. That’s usually where the conversation stops. If your leadership team is not crystal clear on why they want to change the culture with the introduction of new tech, it won’t work.

Think back a few years to the buzzword of the hour, “digital transformation”. Simply put, digital transformation meant wanting everyone to be digital first and use a bunch of digital platforms that don’t communicate. Where digital transformation got it wrong, and still gets it wrong, is the people. This was the inspiration for the 5P Framework.

Ah, we almost got through a whole post without a mention of the 5P Framework. I’m not going to go through all the pieces (Purpose, People, Process, Platform, Performance). I want to bring it up because by far, the most important “P” is people. And that is the P that is often given the least amount of time and thought.

Back to the point. In this context, AI is just a new piece of technology. It’s another platform. It’s an updated process. However, if you don’t have alignment and participation from the top down, the shiny new object will be just that. It will be a distraction. We will forget to use it. The tool will become just another invoice to pay.

If you’re wondering if the company I worked at a bazillion years ago is still around, it’s not. The leadership team became divided and eventually dissolved. The company sold , changed hands again, and then one more time. It’s a shame, because the BHAGs that we had set could have grown into big things. Ah well, lesson learned.

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