The platform transition to AI is well underway. And while it holds the promise of transforming work and giving organizations a competitive advantage, realizing those benefits isn’t possible without a culture that embraces curiosity, failure, and learning. Leaders are uniquely positioned to foster this culture within their organizations today to set their teams up for success in the future. When paired with AI capabilities, this kind of culture will unlock a better future of work for everyone.
As business leaders, today we find ourselves in a very familiar place: the unfamiliar. Just as we’ve led our teams through the shift to remote and flexible work, we’re now on the cusp of another seismic shift: AI. And like the shift to flexible work, rewarding an organization that embraces AI will depend first and foremost on culture.
The pace and volume of work has increased dramatically, and we are all struggling under its weight. Leaders and employees are eager for AI to lift the burden. That is the key taken away from us 2023 Job Trend Indexwhich surveyed 31,000 people across 31 countries and analyzed trillions of aggregated productivity signals in Microsoft 365, along with labor market trends in LinkedIn.
Nearly two-thirds of employees surveyed told us they don’t have enough time or energy to do their jobs. The cause of this drain is something we identified in the report as digital debt: the influx of data, emails, and chats has outstripped our ability to keep up. Employees today spend nearly 60% of their time communicating, leaving only 40% of their time for creativity and innovation. In a world where creativity is the new productivity, digital debt isn’t just an inconvenience — it’s a liability.
AI promises to solve that responsibility by allowing employees to focus on the most meaningful work. Increasing productivity, streamlining repetitive tasks, and increasing employee well-being are the top three things leaders want from AI, according to our research. Notably, amid fears that AI will take over jobs, the decline in human numbers is at the bottom of the list.
Becoming an AI-powered organization requires us to work in completely new ways. As leaders, there are three steps we can take today to prepare our cultures for an AI-driven future:
Choose curiosity over fear
AI marks a new model of interaction between humans and computers. Until now, the way we interacted with computers was similar to how we interacted with a calculator: We asked questions or gave directions, and the computer provided an answer. But with AI, the computer becomes like a copilot. We need to create a new kind of chemistry together, learning when and how to ask questions and about the importance of fact-checking answers.
Fear is a natural reaction to change, so it’s understandable that employees feel uncertain about what AI will mean for their work. Our research found that while 49% of employees worry that AI will replace their jobs, the promise of AI outweighs the threat: 70% of employees are more than willing to delegate AI to ease their jobs.
We are rarely served by operating from a place of fear. By fostering a culture of curiosity, we can empower our people to understand how AI works, including its capabilities and shortcomings. This understanding begins with personal experience. Encourage employees to put curiosity into action by experimenting (safely and safely) with the new AI toolslike AI-powered FINDING, intelligent writing assistance, or smart calendar, to name just a few. Because each role and function has different ways to use and benefit from AI, challenge them to rethink how AI can improve or change processes as they familiarize themselves with the tools. From there, employees can begin to open up new ways of working.
AI will change almost every job, and almost every work pattern will benefit from some degree of AI augmentation or automation. As leaders, now is the time to encourage our teams to bring creativity to redesigning work, adopting a test-and-learn strategy to find ways AI can best help to meet business needs.
The AI doesn’t get it right every time, but even when it’s wrong, it is BENEFICIAL wrong. This moves you even one step further from a blank slate, so you can jump into the critical thinking work of reviewing, editing, or adding. It takes time to learn these new work patterns and figure out which processes need to be changed and how. But if we create a culture where experimentation and learning are viewed as a prerequisite to progress, we’ll get there faster.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to create the right environment for failure so that our people are empowered to experiment to find out how AI fits into their workflows. In my experience, that includes celebrating wins as well as sharing lessons learned to help each other avoid wasting time learning the same lesson twice. Both formally and informally, carve out space for people to share knowledge – for example, by crowdsourcing a quick guidebook within your department or making AI tips a standing agenda item in your monthly all-staff meetings. Acting with agility will be a fundamental principle of AI-powered organizations.
Be a learn-all
I often hear concerns that AI will become a crutch, offering shortcuts and workarounds that ultimately reduce innovation and engagement. In my opinion, the potential for AI is much greater than that, and it can be a competitive advantage for those who use it thoughtfully. That will be your most active and new employees.
The value you get from AI is only as good as what you put in. Simple questions lead to simple answers. But sophisticated, thought-provoking questions lead to more complex analysis and bigger ideas. The value shifts from employees who have all the right answers to employees who know how to ask the right questions. Organizations of the future will place a premium on analytical thinkers and problem solvers who can effectively reason with AI-generated content.
At Microsoft, we believe that a learn-it-all mentality takes us further than a know-it-all. And while the learning curve of using AI can be daunting, it’s a muscle that must be built over time — and that we need to start strengthening now. When I talk to leaders about how to achieve this in their companies and teams, I tell them three things:
- Build guardrails to help people experiment safely and responsibly. What tools do you encourage employees to use, and what data is – and isn’t – appropriate to input. What guidelines should they follow in fact-checking, reviewing, and editing?
- Learning to work with AI should be an ongoing process, not a one-time exercise. Put learning opportunities into the rhythm of your business and keep employees updated with the latest resources. For example, one team might block off Friday afternoons for learning, while another has monthly “office hours” for AI Q&A and troubleshooting. And think beyond traditional courses or resources. How can peer-to-peer knowledge sharing, such as lunch and learns or digital hotlines, play a role in enabling people to learn from each other?
- Accept the need for change management. Being intentional and programmatic will be critical for successful AI adoption. Identify goals and criteria for success, and select AI champions or pilot program leads to help bring the vision to life. Different functions and disciplines have different needs and challenges when it comes to AI, but one shared need is for structure and support as we all transition to a new way of working.
The platform transition to AI is well underway. And while it holds the promise of transforming work and giving organizations a competitive advantage, realizing those benefits is impossible without a culture that embraces curiosity, failure, and learning. As leaders, we are in a unique position to foster this culture within our organizations today to set our teams up for success in the future. When paired with AI capabilities, this kind of culture will unlock a better future of work for everyone.