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CEO to CEO: A Leader’s Guide to Implementing AI 

I recently sat down with Gary McClure, senior consultant at Thrivence, to explore how leaders can effectively champion AI within their firms. As CEO of Barge Design Solutions and an AI enthusiast, I excitedly have embraced how this tool can help me personally and professionally. And I gladly accept any opportunity to share the things I’ve learned along my AI journey to help other leaders excel at theirs. — Bob Higgins 

Gary: You’re recognized within Barge as an enthusiastic cheerleader for pretty much all things AI. What gets you most excited about its possibilities? 

Bob: It’s a combination of what I’ve already experienced with AI and what I know is coming down the pike. I have spent months kicking the tires and applying AI to as many scenarios as possible. Here are the three areas: it can be an incredible thought partner once you learn to use it correctly, this applies to every CEO and their teams. Secondly, when applying it to your work it can serve as augmented intelligence and enhance many facets of your org from HR and Marketing to production opportunities gained in your internal and external processes. Third, AI is a field leveler for small and mid size organizations to compete with national firms on a regional and ultimately national scale. And it seems like I’ve only scratched the surface of potential it can provide. I’m excited that I can continue to learn about and apply AI, knowing that it will continue to evolve and present us even more powerful opportunities. 

Gary: You have shared your findings and experiences with numerous leaders. From one-on-one demonstrations to AI video courses that have garnered international attention, you obviously have taken a proactive approach in influencing fellow executives. What are you hearing from them? What’s on their minds? And what are you telling them? 

Bob: A couple of the most frequent questions I get are “Am I already behind?” and “What role should I play in advancing AI in my firm? What steps should I take?”. These are related, so I can answer them in turn. 

First, you are not being left behind. We all are still trying to figure it out…how to leverage AI to gain competitive advantage. That opportunity is still in front of us. But there’s a sense of urgency, for that advantage soon will shift to a necessity, a must-have for staying in the game. 

I recommend you act now and start small. Hit some singles and doubles rather than swinging for the fence. If you quickly can get a few practical AI wins, that will encourage employee adoption, help them overcome their fear of AI, and hone your AI processes and tools, then build momentum to go bigger. 

Gary: And what about their role in AI? 

Bob: As a leader (or the leader), you play a vital role. The most important starting point is your employees. While the many technical aspects of AI certainly are important, I suggest your role as chief AI advocate primarily should focus on the people side of AI. 

You can influence your employees through very practical actions. For example, communicate the firm’s AI vision and tie it to your company’s business objectives. Regularly articulate a compelling path forward and the associated benefits. Also actively listen to your employees’ concerns and hesitancies about AI; seek push-back and proactively address it. 

Another activity that has worked well at Barge is that I model AI use and advocate for it. So integrate AI processes and tools into both your work and personal environments and make them visible to your workforce. Show them AI in action. Leaders model the behavior they want to see in the organization. 

Lastly, be the voice of the firm for thoughtful counsel on AI guidelines and responsible uses within the organization. You can set the standard for what’s acceptable and compliant. It’s critical to set those expectations early. 

A pretty substantial list, but let’s address five risks and a few limitations.

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Gary: What implementation steps do you recommend? 

Bob: We have found by working with Thrivence that successful AI integration can follow a basic framework. There are six core phases or steps that facilitate an implementation process that covers all the bases. I’ll summarize each. 

1. The first phase is “Define AI Objectives”. This fundamental starting point will help you establish an overall AI vision that supports the firm’s existing business goals; those must be aligned. We discovered that it helps to identify pressing issues you face or perhaps a significant opportunity to pursue. Use these as prompts to then create an AI hypothesis to prove. 

For example, Barge continues to seek superb talent in a challenging labor market. Our hypothesis was “By leveraging AI, we can hire high-quality individuals quicker, with greater efficiency, and with less cost.” That statement was the platform on which we built our AI use cases for talent acquisition. We conducted due diligence to uncover relevant hiring data, then crafted specific objectives we wanted to achieve. We had to start there to know what success looked like. 

2. Next, “Assess AI Readiness”. It’s tempting to rush into executing AI applications and producing results. But a word of caution: I have seen firms struggle later in the process from issues such as data accessibility, differing processes, and other logistical hurdles that could have been avoided. 

My recommendation for the next phase is to dedicate time to taking an honest assessment of your firm’s current state. Where do you stand on key attributes such as your people/organization, corporate values and ethics, technology and tools, data, processes, and others? 

Thrivence leads a practical audit of these areas to uncover potential issues that might arise and hinder (or even halt) AI implementation. Some leaders have voiced that they desire speedy execution and results, but I suggest that it is wise to identify potential risks early. Address them and move forward. 

If you would like further guidance on any of the learnings or ways to increase AI adoption within your organization, please do not hesitate to contact us at info@thrivence.com.

Gary McClure is a senior consultant at Thrivence, a consulting firm specializing in strategy, leader development, organizational performance, and technology. For more than 15 years, Gary has led organizational transformation initiatives and taught leaders how to navigate successful change. He can be reached at gary.mcclure@thrivence.com.  

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