While boards and committees are assessing how they respond to the rapidly evolving capabilities of Large Language Models (LLM) like ChatGPT, the stark reality is that the workforce they represent are already weaving such tools into their day-to-day work. I see balancing the risk and reward of AI as one of the biggest challenges for business leaders to overcome right now. For me, I am experiencing a sense of Déjà vu. The corporate world has been here before.

Just over a decade ago, organisations were facing a similar kind of disruption from social media. By the time ‘social media’ made it onto the board’s agenda, their workforce and their customers were already tweeting in droves and many of their competitors had already set up profiles.

I remember working with clients who were desperate to reap the rewards the new social platforms had to offer in terms of engagement and reach at a low cost. But they were also terrified of what their customers and employees might say about them online. They were also not used to the speed of social then; many still aren’t. The fact that anything trending or mildly creative still went through the traditional production mill, with corporate brand, copy, legal and sometimes even the Managing Director wanting to see posts prior to publication is proof enough.

Brands that went out first got a head start on developing their social presence and were able to build large active communities of followers and even new customers. However, it was not all good and the influx of brands getting it wrong reverberated through the business community causing brands to hesitate before fully embracing social media. Stories like the one brand that accidentally weighed in on a controversial political debate because a staff member was logged into the wrong account and another where a disgruntled ex-employee exacted her revenge via the corporate Twitter handle. Some brands attempted to ban employees from using social channels altogether. So, as we enter this all-too-familiar era of AI, what can businesses learn from those past experiences?

  1. First movers have the most to gain. Like those that were quick out of the blocks in embracing social media, businesses that adapt quickly and embrace AI will likely see huge benefits in leading the way. Be open-minded about the application of AI and the possibilities it presents for the way your organisation conducts business.
  2. Employees are going to use it anyway. Many of your employees are already using AI to do their job so it’s important to be aware of this and provide guidelines for how it’s used across the business. We’ve already seen reports of copyright infringements and leaked IP associated with AI usage. Set up guardrails to help moderate its usage early to reduce risk.
  3. Too much cautiousness will stifle creativity and you stand to be disrupted. It is right to be cautious with AI to protect your commercial interests and of course, you need to involve legal and Human Resources to help align the use of AI to your corporate policies and handbooks but aim to define the room you have left to operate as quickly as possible. Finding the right balance here is critical.
  4. Leverage and empower your early adopters. Your workforce is already using AI to do things the board have not yet imagined. Create a space for these innovators and encourage them to share their experiences and collaborate to refine and embed new thinking into your wider working practices.
  5. Invest in discovery. This is another game changing and disrupting technology that is going to revolutionise the way many conduct business. Embrace it. Invest in talent and ringfence resource to accelerate success with AI and do not expect AI innovation to magically happen if it is simply tagged onto the team’s day job.

Josh Turbill is Head of Digital Technology, Edelman.

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