5 Ways for CEOs to Harness AI for Bold Business Transformation
Not that long ago, many CEOs were convinced customers would never type their credit card number into a computer. Those who weren’t afraid of change built digital storefronts that became a BIG competitive advantage as the internet grew faster and more ubiquitous in our lives and businesses.
AI is shaping up to be the biggest technological disruptor since the internet jumped out of college dorms and into our pockets. Once again, CEOs are faced with a potential turning point. And, once again, we’re already seeing forward-thinking companies that are positioning themselves to sprint out of the gate. IBM recently announced that it’s pausing its hiring to reassess what jobs AI can do. Dropbox is restructuring its workforce to make room for AI-focused talent.
And your company?
Are you prepping for a fast-approaching future in which smarter, faster AI can make your business more efficient? Are you leveraging current AI tools to improve your workflow and decision-making? Are you using AI to gather more data about your customers and improve their experience with your products and services?
Here are five ways that CEOs can integrate AI into their next-gen plans for Making BIG Happen.
1. Prioritize learning.
AI should be a top topic for your regularly scheduled learning time. One of the easiest ways to get started is to just play around with ChatGPT or Google’s Bard, and encourage your direct reports to do the same. Copy and paste an email into the prompt and ask AI to write a response. Imagine that you’re starting a brand new company and ask AI to help you develop a business plan. Tell AI to translate a press release into Spanish and ask a bilingual team member to check its grammar and spelling. If your morning routine is stale, ask ChatGPT to act like it’s your personal assistant and design you a new one.
Of course, these consumer-grade tools are just the tip of the iceberg. Once you wrap your mind around some of the simpler things that AI can do, read up on some of AI’s more sophisticated applications in logistics, supply-chain management, data gathering, marketing, and customer service. Work with your IT team to zero in on two or three implementations that you should consider in the near-term, such as adding chatbots to your customer help team or using ChatGPT to draft meeting agendas.
Then, look into your Crystal Ball and identify potential applications for AI that should be a part of your 3-5 year plan. What aspects of current jobs could AI potentially do that would free up your best people to focus more time on their 10 out of 10 skills? What new products or services could you launch if you had better data about your customers? What outdated “best” practices could you replace?
2. Automate what you can now.
AI-powered chatbots and virtual assistants could be some of the most important “hires” your company makes this year. In many cases, these technologies can already answer routine customer service questions, 24/7. They can also analyze those interactions with customers to identify recurring problems you need to fix or potential needs that a new product or service could meet.
Data gathering, management, and analysis is another group of tasks AI can handle. Plug AI into your web site and social media analytics to get a clearer picture of what’s engaging to your audience, what that audience looks like, and how to turn more clicks into more business. Run your numbers past an AI analyst to help your CFO and sales teams create more accurate projections. Streamline repetitive tasks like data entry and inventory management.
AI can also be a great tool for ideation and content creation. Ask ChatGPT or Bard to draft social media posts, product descriptions, and email campaigns, or to act as a research assistant or SEO optimizer. AI music generators can score your next video. Or, use an AI video creator to make the whole video.
Despite the hype from AI’s biggest proponents — and opponents — these tools aren’t always going to give you perfect content ready for publication. Not yet anyway. But automating the “rough draft” or “brainstorming” process can give your creatives a compelling place to start from that could spark more inspired final drafts.
And remember, garbage in, garbage out. One of the keys to natural language processing AIs like ChatGPT or Bard is the prompts you use to generate the output. Invest time in learning the art and science of “prompt engineering” to get the best results.
3. Invest in AI talent and infrastructure.
AI may seem autonomous when it’s working well, but any tech is only as good as the people running it. Your future org chart needs seats for AI experts who can develop, implement, and manage the AI systems your company will need to fulfill your vision for BIG. Some companies we coach that have been anticipating an exposition in AI for years got ahead of the game by creating new c-suite roles like Chief Technology Officer or Chief AI Officer. It’s time for your company to catch up.
This might be one of those instances where CEOs need to get creative about the talent they’re targeting. AI is still an emerging field, and competition for the best of the best is going to be fierce. There might not be a perfect 1:1 match between AI top talent and your industry. Just like any other hire, competitive drive, ambition, innovative thinking, and culture fit could be more valuable than the specific experience on a resume.
4. Set ethical AI guidelines.
You’ve probably read the stories about college campuses and newsrooms fretting over whether or not using AI is “cheating.” Likewise, some of your techy savvy employees might worry that if they’re tapping AI to help with tasks, they’re going to be “found out” and face serious consequences.
It’s up to the CEO to establish guidelines for how the company will and won’t use AI. Start by thinking about potential benefits for your key stakeholders. Using AI to draft an email marketing campaign is just basic efficiency now. A good FAQ chatbot that’s available 24/7 is table stakes and could be a lifesaver for customers. But you don’t want someone on your customer service team using AI to respond to a frustrated email from one of your most important buyers about an incomplete shipment. There’s also a fine line between using AI to deliver better products and services to customers, and saturating an audience with so much target marketing that they feel like you’re “spying” on their online habits.
The AI toolkit should help your people reduce the work that anyone — or anything — can accomplish so they can spend more time doing what people do best. Be open to potential new implementations. But be wary about any AI that could violate the trust you’ve built between your company, your employees, and your customers.
5. Embrace a culture of change and innovation.
When you hire that new Chief AI Officer, a subset of your employees will worry that computers are coming for their jobs. Some members of the old guard might struggle to understand what AI can and can’t do. And some won’t be willing to try.
That’s the kind of thinking that, once upon a time, led Blockbuster to say, “We can’t buy this DVD-by-mail company, we need revenue from brick-and-mortar stores and late fees.” That’s the thought process that kept Kodak from embracing the digital revolution even though one of its own engineers invented the digital camera in 1975. That’s the sound of the music industry clinging to CD sales while pirates digitized their products and shared everything online for free.
Companies that cling to the past are like an insect fossilized in amber. And employees who feel threatened by the new are often the very underperformers who have the most to fear.
AI is just the latest example of how fast business can and will change. Keeping pace with that change isn’t a choice. It’s a necessity. And as CEO, it’s your responsibility to communicate a vision for your AI-powered future that points past those fears and towards an inspiring new vision of your company: one that’s more efficient, more innovative, more responsive, more adaptable, and more capable of Making BIG Happen for everyone who works there.
About CEO Coaching International
CEO Coaching International works with CEOs and their leadership teams to achieve extraordinary results quarter after quarter, year after year. Known globally for its success in coaching growth-focused entrepreneurs to meaningful exits, CEO Coaching International has coached more than 1,000 CEOs and entrepreneurs in more than 60 countries and 45 industries. The coaches at CEO Coaching International are former CEOs, presidents, or executives who have made BIG happen. The firm’s coaches have led double-digit sales and profit growth in businesses ranging in size from startups to over $10 billion, and many are founders that have led their companies through successful eight, nine, and ten-figure exits. Companies working with CEO Coaching International for two years or more have experienced an average EBITDA CAGR of 53.5% during their time as a client, more than three times the U.S. average, and a revenue CAGR of 26.2%, nearly twice the U.S. average.