How People Leaders Can Help Build A Trusting Relationship With AI

You can’t build trust with Artificial Intelligence until you build trust in AI.

AI seems to be everything, everywhere, all the time. We are constantly bombarded with promises of AI augmentation potential, from basic content creation to complex agents and smart robots. And yet, after the initial hype, there seems to be a growing sense of frustration with AI that doesn’t seem to be able to deliver consistently predictable results. As we travel through this “trough of disillusionment,” it becomes clearer that we cannot build trust with AI, until we build trust in AI.

Imagine a world where AI could manage many of the small, daily tasks that fill our inboxes and to-do lists. However, several considerations exist including hallucinations, biases, lack of transparency in processes, inaccuracies in outcomes, and insufficient accountability from the developers of these tools. At times, it feels like we’re stuck in a loop, or advancing at an agonizingly slow pace at best. Not surprisingly, we’re in fact moving at the “speed of trust,” as referenced in Stephen M. R. Covey’s book.

Therefore, if we want to leverage the potential of AI for business success and as a society, we must continue to accelerate the process of earning trust through thoughtful initiatives.

The Foundations Of Trust

Trust is the foundation of all relationships and is essential for personal and professional success. Its presence positively impacts motivation and information sharing, which leads to increased efficiency, productivity, and effectiveness. On the other hand, its absence throws us into a downward spiral of frustration, rework, and lack of productive business outcomes.

This rings particularly true in our deeply integrated economy of collaboration and interdependence. Whether it is toward our clients and other external stakeholders, or our own teams and employees, we need trust. And for HR teams, mutual trust is the one capital asset needed to operate as a true partner to our business and counterparts.

And yet, trust is at the lowest historical level. According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, an annual survey that has been running for the past 23 years with 32,000 respondents worldwide, almost 1 in 4 employees don’t trust their employers, and employers overestimate their employees’ trust by 40%. Distrust breeds polarization and introduces friction in the adoption of even the most benevolent measures and the most beneficial products.  

AI in particular, fares no better: 79% of leaders agree their company needs to adopt AI to stay competitive, but 59% worry about quantifying the productivity gains of AI, according to a recent report by MicrosoftMicrosoft and LinkedIn.

Turning AI Into A Trustworthy Teammate

We have established that trust is crucial for collaboration in an interconnected and interdependent workplace. But how do we build it?

I believe that humans and AI will need to collaborate and coexist in the future workplace. This will need us to take a relational approach with AI, rather than a transactional one by establishing clear rules to build trust over time.

Creating An Engaging Vision For Trustworthy AI

Implementing trustworthy AI would require an approach to the relationship between human and AI teammates that accomplishes the following:

  1. Establish ethical guidelines, including clear ethical principles for AI usage in the workplace, ensuring transparency, fairness, and accountability, creating a foundation of trust, and evolving it as needed.
  2. Introduce and onboard AI systems as new teammates and familiarize employees with their capabilities, limitations, and intended purpose.
  3. Communicate Clearly AI's roles and responsibilities within the team, encouraging open dialogue, and sharing updates on AI performance and progress.
  4. Allocate tasks collaboratively, highlighting AI's strengths while ensuring human teammates focus on areas where their skills are most valuable.
  5. Support Skill Development to help employees work effectively with AI, fostering mutual growth and understanding.
  6. Actively Request Feedback from employees on their experience working with AI systems and use this information for continuous improvements.
  7. Recognize and celebrate achievements of AI-human collaboration, just as you would recognize the contributions of a human teammate.

Luckily, there’s no need to start from scratch. There are many organizations and individual researchers who have pioneered the approach to Ethical AI as an avenue to build trust, and have released open-source toolkits that can be used as blueprints:

Hernan Chiosso fromProductizeHR published a canvas to guide your Ethical AI planning that I have personally leveraged and found very useful.

Companies like IBMIBM and GoogleGoogle have developed several tools like the AI Explainability 360 Opensource Toolkit to understand how ML models predict labels, and What-If Tool to visually probe the behavior of trained machine-learning models respectively.

People Leaders Can Lead The Charge

The importance of human connection in the age of AI will continue to remain critical as we strive to build trust. People leaders are particularly well-equipped to lead this charge, as their key responsibilities include:

  • Advocating for human-centric focus
  • Specializing in communications and change management
  • Facilitating employee engagement, growth and advocacy
  • Designing policies and driving change management
  • Architecting positive work cultures

This is a rare opportunity for us to take that proverbial seat at the table in a critical pivot moment of workplace history. Taking advantage of this opportunity is up to us.

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