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  • Writer's picturePeter Sondergaard

Is it time to create an AI Guild in your organization?

Usage of AI in many organizations often fails to scale because too few people across the organization understand AI from a business context. Developing skills and competencies around AI, data analysis, and data science among all employees is a challenge for most organizations but is vital to complete digitalization. And given the limited external experience, hiring these skills or competencies is equally challenging. Organizations will need a jolt to the system. They need to make AI, data, and data science attractive for everyone to develop. These concerns led to the idea that perhaps organizations should create an AI Guild. An AI Guild would recruit members from among all the employees in your organization. The purpose of the AI Guild would be to increase the members' AI and data science skills and promote the personal benefits of understanding AI, data, and data science. Medieval guilds maintained a tight grip on who could be members of the guild but would ensure shared skills, tools, and knowledge. A modern AI Guild created within an organization must ensure that membership could encompass the entire employee base. And then focus on developing the skills of the members in collaboration with the members. In a couple of large organizations, we have recently worked with, an AI Guild has had a tremendous impact on AI and data competencies uptake, including attendance in training programs. This created a significant improvement in corporate AI competency as a result of creating an AI Guild.

But why create an AI Guild? Why not just have HR continue to be responsible for employee learning & development, including AI, data analytics, and data science competencies? First, this approach, while plausible, will be too slow compared with the required competitive benefit of a rapid improvement in organizational competencies around AI and data through a guild approach. Second, the guild is run by the members, in this case, all the employees. That will usually result in higher engagement levels, which will be critical if the organization is to see a broad and rapid improvement in AI and data competencies. HR can and should be involved in sponsoring an AI Guild but not running it as an L&D initiative.

What benefits would result from creating an AI Guild? The first would be to create an employee-driven approach to increasing a set of skills that will become critical for all employees over the next few years and define all organizations' competitiveness. An employee-driven approach would likely ensure a significant adoption rate and more rapid retention of skills because it was driven by the individual, not a top-down exercise. The second benefit of an AI guild would be to demystify AI and data science, making them both understood and valued across the organizations. The result of demystifying AI would be that the organization would become more innovative in using data and AI. Demystifying AI and data would also result in more AI advocates across the organization. The third benefit would be to bring about a more natural and employee-involved approach to understanding AI ethics, risk, and governance. These three topics will become critical for organizations to have a broad knowledge of, and an AI Guild could most certainly be a vehicle for generating this understanding. Lastly, an AI Guild would act as an enabler for the transition of skills, tasks, and jobs in the organization over the next ten years. AI will change jobs, and the AI Guild would guide all employees on adapting and developing the required new and change skills for the future organization.

Success for any broad organizational initiative, including improvement in skills, is only achieved if there is a positive symbiotic relationship between its strategy, including the executive team's objectives, and the employees' interests and aspirations. If the organization's strategy includes data and AI at the core of its future, then an AI Guild would provide a solution to get employees involved and invested in developing their skills. And by developing the AI, data, and data science competencies of all employees, the organization will significantly improve its chances of success. It may still entail that the HR organization sponsors and invests money in the AI Guild even if they don't run it. Several executives across the organization can equally become ambassadors for the AI Guild because their success is dependent on broad AI and data competencies. One such prominent executive will be the CIO. Lastly, the one true evangelist for an AI Guild (or any approach to improve AI and data literacy) has to be the CEO. Most organizations will not survive the next ten years unless they massively improve employee (and leadership) AI and data literacy, and the CEO will be responsible for just that.

In this next phase of digitalization, making data and AI the core of the transformation will be critical. That transformation will only be successful if all employees are engaged and have the required future skills and competencies. An AI Guild with broad employee representation would be a critical vehicle in a successful transformation.

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Feb 23, 2021

As I talk to business and IT execs, the cultural challenges are a most common theme. Your thoughts on most relevant. At my alma mater, the University of Florida, a major investment in faculty and curriculum is being made to see that all graduates in all fields are exposed to AI and must take at least one course in AI relevant to their field of study.

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