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How CEOs and their leaders can best prepare their organizations and their people for an AI-first world.

As organizations adopt generative AI across the enterprise, it’s clear that what’s keeping CEOs up at night is not how the technology will be used, but rather how they’ll prepare their people and their businesses for it.

According to Avanade’s recent global research of 3,000-plus business and IT professionals, a majority (56 percent) of executives in the C-Suite say they are highly confident in their organization’s leadership’s understanding of AI and its governance needs, but only 36 percent of CEOs share that optimistic sentiment. The only group with similarly low confidence is midlevel managers—those who will likely bear the largest burden for driving AI adoption across the business.

And yet, while most business and IT leaders (92 percent) believe they need to shift their organizations to AI in 12 months or less, CEOs are even more bullish, with half wanting it within the next six months. CEOs are also the least confident their organizations will harness the benefits of AI faster than their competitors.

How can CEOs more effectively ready their organizations for AI while also accelerating the pace of innovation? And what’s needed to bridge the gap between those leading adoption at scale and the people who must make it a reality? In our experience rolling out generative AI in our own organization and helping clients around the world navigate AI, we see three key imperatives:

1. Put your people first in the era of AI. Like every other technology before it, successful AI adoption should focus on the organization’s most important asset: people. Employees have much to benefit from using AI in their day-to-day jobs, gaining as much as 20 additional hours per week as AI improves productivity, automates mundane tasks and reduces costs. But there’s so much more transformational value on the horizon. Imagine what they will be able to do with that extra time—like bringing more creative thinking, innovation and bold ideas to their work so that they can achieve their full potential.
Putting people at the center of the AI equation is paramount—and when it comes to winning the hearts and minds of people using AI, it’s clear that CEOs and their leadership teams have work to do in building consensus around what’s needed. A big part of that effort must focus on ensuring that people have the right skills and that their workplace culture supports the shift, whether it’s comprehensive training, AI ethics courses or additional skillsets.

That’s why Avanade launched our School of AI for our professionals—not just our technologists—to build AI fluency. In addition to courses on generative and responsible AI, this learning path will focus on practical skills, like “AI prompting,” which we believe will become as innate as knowing how to browse the Internet. In the end, AI creates space for people to become the best version of themselves. That’s when you get the buy-in for true transformational business value with longevity.

2. Disrupt your organization with AI, but do it responsibly. AI readiness requires a responsible AI framework that ensures trust and transparency and that the necessary guardrails are in place
before AI pilot projects even begin. Leaders who believe that such guardrails will impede AI innovation are misguided: in fact, responsible AI frameworks engender trust, confidence and clarity—embracing both the science and art of AI—creating an accelerated path from idea to reality. Such a framework clarifies your “why for AI,” pinpointing where AI has the most potential to solve a business challenge and deliver the most immediate impact. Within a responsible AI framework, establish clear principles and guidelines for AI—including the critical risks not worth taking. Create clear processes for managing and mitigating risks, set clear performance management objectives and document all proposed and implemented AI use cases in a center of excellence that can manage and provision technology resources as needed.

3. Finally, ground your company’s use of AI within your purpose and values. A clearly articulated purpose guides organizations through good times and challenging ones—whether it’s navigating a
global health crisis or the rollout of transformative technologies like generative AI. Ethical and safety considerations will continue to crop up for leaders, but a company’s purpose should be the unwavering North Star when adopting AI—ensuring it stays aligned with your culture, strategy and what makes your company unique. From the CEO to the chief AI officer to the chief people officer,
it’s clear that the success or failure of AI in our organizations depends on whether we get these first critical steps right. We set the tone for how successfully organizations will embrace and adopt AI—it’s up to us to ensure our employees and our customers are prepared in every way for it.


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