When change affects people in your organization, remember that you have a wealth of talent that needn’t go to waste. Consider re-skilling to meet the company’s needs as well as the employees’.

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Image: fizkes, Getty Images/iStockphoto

How many times have you heard a manager respond to employees about organizational change with the words, “It just made sense”? To workers who are adversely impacted by the change, it might not make sense at all. That’s exactly why managers who introduce artificial intelligence and enable change should never lose sight of the human impact.

Early in my career, I was impacted by organizational changes that affected my job and responsibilities. Later in my career, I was the one making these changes and communicating change to employees.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Along the way, I learned three things:

  1. If an employee’s job is significantly changed, you engage the employee early in the process of defining new work flows and you support that employee with the necessary retraining.
  2. If an employee loses a job because of a reorganization, you do all you can to try to place the employee elsewhere, whether in your company or someone else’s.
  3. If you have employees who remain after some of their workmates have lost their jobs, you spend time with those employees, who are likely to go through feelings of guilt or sadness.

In a nutshell: You need to attend to the human side of your business when the business undergoes change.

With artificial intelligence and robotics beginning to assume many of the time-consuming and repetitive tasks that employees have done in the past, and with the tech industry saying that these devices and automated processes will leave employees with valuable time that they can spend on more complex and skillful work, it is important to follow through with your workforce to ensure that what tech companies say is really the case and that your employee issues are addressed.

Learning from a cybersecurity training program

I recently had a conversation with John DeSimone, vice president of cybersecurity, training and services at Raytheon Intelligence & Space. DeSimone was in the process of building out his organization’s cybersecurity skills. While our conversation was not entirely about change management, DeSimone stressed the importance of retaining and investing in employee skills training so employees could continue to evolve with the company.

I asked him what he has learned from his tenure about how to promote change management and re-skill workers.

SEE: How to get free AI training and tools (TechRepublic) 

“Be proactive,” DeSimone said. “No one is going to do it for you. We not only offer a cyber academy to meet growing customer demand for training home-grown cyber talent, but we actually use it to manufacture talent for ourselves. We’ve retrained entire classes of Raytheon software engineers to become cyber engineers.”

DeSimone also emphasized the importance of developing a collegiate “farm system.” 

“Students coming up are so tech-savvy, and they’re more reliant than any previous generation on technology,” he said. “That means they’re also going to be the answer to combating the ever-more-sophisticated and mushrooming cyber threats out there. When you’ve been in an academic setting your entire life, it’s hard to know what’s out there in terms of job opportunities that aren’t considered mainstream. We’d like to change that and make sure students with the intellectual curiosity know that a career in cybersecurity means good-paying jobs in a sector with effectively a zero percent unemployment rate.”

SEE: 9 questions to ask when auditing your AI systems (TechRepublic) 

Re-skilling your own workers for AI

Similar approaches need be taken to re-skill knowledge workers, business and IT employees whose jobs are changing with AI because employees need to see continuing investments in themselves at the same time that companies are continuously investing in technologies like AI. 

In the course of re-skilling employees, managers might find that some of the most high-potential employees are those they least expected.

“Some of our most inquisitive minds include college dropouts or art majors who see the world differently,” DeSimone said. “New ways of looking at problems and someone who wants to understand why and how is so much more important than degree or tenure.”

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