AI for Businesses: 6 Steps All CEOs Should Take

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It’s been more than a year since ChatGPT burst onto the scene, and business as we know it has changed forever. 

CEOs are all asking the same question right now: How do we embrace AI at our company in a way that’s safe and effective? Studies show that almost 80% of companies haven’t developed an AI strategy yet, which means very few small and mid-sized businesses have found an answer to this question.

The key is developing a culture where your people feel comfortable experimenting and problem-solving with AI. If leaders take the right steps now, they can help their people see AI as a helpful tool and not a threat.

Below, I’ll outline six steps you can follow to encourage healthy AI use at your company.

 Why a top-down approach won’t work with AI

As I look at small and mid-sized businesses out there that are winning with AI, they all have something in common: They’ve avoided the mistake of going top-down.

Let me explain what I mean.

Often, you hear about CEOs coming back from conferences or discovering something new and saying, “We need to start doing X right away.” These kinds of initiatives tend to fizzle out. Maybe the buy-in isn’t there. Maybe the CEO moves on to something new.

To build an AI culture, you can’t follow that playbook. 

With AI, there are literally thousands of new tools on the market — with more coming all the time. Even AI experts can’t keep up.

Your front-line employees are the ones in the day-to-day work of your business. They’re the ones who need to be leading this charge. They’re the ones who can try out a bunch of tools and see which ones they like. 

As the leader, it’s your job to make it safe and fun to experiment. Then, let your people lead the way. They’ll come back to you with things you never dreamed of.

And your business will thrive. 

Building a healthy culture of AI in 6 steps

Whatever your starting point, whatever your company identity, these six steps will help you build a healthy AI culture at your organization. 

1. Start with education

The clearest way to combat fear is with education, so the first step is all about information. 

At IMPACT, we tell our clients to take an entire day for an AI training workshop. You can watch keynotes, share presentations, and check out product demonstrations and walk-throughs. 

Everyone will come into the day with different levels of comfort — most will have experimented on their own, some not so much — but they will leave with a shared language and a clearer understanding of AI and its capabilities. 

2. Set clear expectations

Pretty quickly, you can get all the fears out into the open, and that’s always an important first step. As a CEO, I know how when things go unaddressed, they tend to fester. The way you fight it is with clarity and information.

Your people will want to know, first and foremost, if AI is going to take their jobs. A lot of talk in the industry goes like this: AI will not take your job, but someone better at using AI than you might. 

I think that’s true, but I also like what HubSpot’s Dharmesh Shah said this year at INBOUND: “AI is going to take your job — but it’s going to give you a job you like even more.” 

The way you prepare for the future is by learning. Tell your employees that experimenting with and embracing AI is now part of their job — and it will now be a part of their performance review. 

Ask that they set aside an hour per week to learn and experiment.

As you do this, you’re going to address some concerns. Most of all, people will want to know if AI is going to take their jobs. 

Remember, a top-down approach is not going to work. You don’t want to choose the platforms and tools your team should use.

Instead, let them discover the tools that can make them better at their jobs, and then let them swap stories and insights.

But this experimentation is important. AI is the future. If we’re not learning, we’ll fall behind our competitors. AI is going to disrupt knowledge work, and those marketers, designers, and developers who want to keep doing things the way they’ve always done them are going to get left behind. They need to start preparing for that future now, and they do so by exploring and discovering.  

3. Give them guidelines

Experimentation is the goal, but only if it’s done safely and responsibly. Otherwise, you have chaos and risk.

There are a lot of great examples of AI guidelines out there. The city of Boston, for one, published a pretty comprehensive guide to using AI.

At IMPACT, we created what we call the SAFETY guidelines to keep us and our clients safe. We rolled these out to our team and made sure they were crystal clear. 

We say that any AI experimentation needs to be:

  • Secure: We must keep our (and our clients’) data secure. Check the data security levels of the tools you use and act accordingly. If you’re not sure, don’t risk it. 
  • Assistive, not autonomous: AI is a helper, not a team member. There must be a human in the loop at all times. We are accountable for what AI does, and our oversight is vital.
  • Fact-checked: We would never blindly publish anything AI produces. We check everything.  
  • Experimental: AI can help us improve our work quality and increase our output. We need to experiment to see how.
  • Transparent: Our use of AI is not a secret. We should be transparent with coworkers, supervisors, clients, and our audience. We cite sources. 
  • Remember, Your expertise matters: AI can enhance your creativity. AI can speed up your repetitive tasks. None of this is possible without your expertise. Let AI multiply your impact for the good of the organization.

Guidelines are there to keep them (and your company) safe. If they’re done right, guidelines don’t restrict experimentation — they make it easier.  

These ones are broad enough to cover big concerns. Just like with everything else, encourage your people to use their best judgment. 

4. Identify an ‘AI champion’

Identify an internal AI champion who can help teach, support, and encourage other employees. This should be a tech-savvy early adopter who’s optimistic, well-liked, and a good teacher. 

You could make this person an official champion, with some formal expectations tied to the role, or it could be more of an informal thing. But you’ll want this champion to have a direct line to the leadership team so that as they build momentum and buy-in they can keep company leaders in the loop. 

5. Provide a process for experimentation and measuring ROI

Experimentation can be haphazard. Your team members may want a framework to help them stay on track. At IMPACT, we recommend a process that’s based on the scientific method. The same one you learned in school. 

It goes like this:

  1. Describe the problem or opportunity
  2. Create a hypothesis 
  3. Determine the metrics for success
  4. Plan an experiment to test your hypothesis
  5. Identify the potential impact 
  6. Run the experiment
  7. Document the results
  8. Share your findings 

We ask our team members to document the AI experiments they’re undertaking. With a formalized process, we can keep track and share information between teams. 

All along, you’ll be tracking the potential ROI of these experiments, both on the micro level (experiment by experiment) and on the macro level (for your whole organization). Some AI tools, like chatbots, can be expensive. Others are cheap. Working them into your processes can yield a huge savings — but only if you keep track.

Remember, not all experiments will be successful. But you will learn a lot from any failure.  

6. Reward employees; celebrate success

If you want something to become a part of your culture, reward it. If you want a success to be duplicated, celebrate it.

There are a number of ways you can do this, from a simple shout-out at an all-hands meeting to an actual cash prize or bonus. At IMPACT, we do both. We share our AI wins at our monthly meetings so each experiment can inspire others. 

At the same time, I’ve put in place a $5,000 per quarter prize to be given out at my discretion. It may all go to one person. It may be split between several — or it may not be awarded in a given quarter. The idea of a bonus spurs innovation, though, and we’ve seen a big uptick in experiments since the prize was announced. 

Leading your company into the future

Getting your team to embrace something new, like AI, is hard, and sometimes you need help. As my business partner Marcus always says, you can be a prophet to the whole world, but you might not be accepted in your hometown.

In other words, changing an organization from the inside is no easy task. Even if you’re the CEO, creating a culture change out of the blue can be daunting. 

You may need some guidance.

We’ve led AI workshops at dozens of businesses that build momentum, create buy-in, and change the culture. We can work hand in hand with your team to set the right tone so your people feel excited, not on edge. 

If you’re among those 80% of businesses still waiting on the sidelines, now’s the time to step forward. With the right assistance, you can create a culture of innovation that will keep you ahead of the curve for years to come. 

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