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7 Ways to Close the AI Trust Gap with Your Employees

Focus on transparency and training to help ease AI anxiety among your staff—and the executive team.

While the deployment of artificial intelligence holds the potential for massive business transformation, many company leaders and employees share a deep mistrust of the technology, especially at the start of a major AI implementation.

Employees often see the technology as a significant job displacement risk, while some C-suite executives view AI as a threat to their domain. Left unchecked, that mistrust can poison the well and curb the effectiveness of AI campaigns.

“An AI trust gap definitely exists,” says Farnaz Ronaghi, co-founder and chief technology officer at NovoEd, a collaborative learning company. “Teams are both curious and nervous at the same time.” 

According to a recent survey by Workday, less than two-thirds of business leaders (62 percent) say they welcome AI technologies in their workplaces. That figure is even lower among employees (52 percent).

Leaders’ mistrust of AI partly stems from the fear that workers may rely too heavily on the technology. 

“Leaders are nervous about deploying the technology because they expect some employees to take AI recommendations as the gold standard without applying human judgment, which would impact the quality of work,” Ronaghi says. “There are also issues related to proprietary information being shared in public domains and concerns about how consistently generative AI can or will be applied by teams.”

Build Unity and Alignment

What can CEOs and CHROs do to ensure management and employees that AI is being deployed for positive—not nefarious—reasons in their workplace? Start by explaining to both that AI initiatives are targeted to grow and improve the company—and that these tools will augment jobs, not replace them.

“We’ve got to get people to the point where they want to embrace [AI],” says Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, president and chief executive officer of SHRM. “We’ve got to make clear to employees that AI can make their lives better and it doesn’t have to be a huge risk to them personally and professionally.”

The key selling point, says Taylor, is to show employees how AI efficiencies can help give them more time in their day to do more human-centered work—and to leave the workplace on time.

Here’s an AI sales pitch checklist for CEOs to help close any AI trust gaps inside their organizations:

1. Lean into learning. The key to overcoming anxiety about any major transformation is to help people understand and get comfortable with the change. That requires a mix of formal training and encouraging (even incentivizing) employees to experiment with AI tools.

“Have your team members play around with ChatGPT,” says Sabra Sciolaro, chief people officer at Firstup, an intelligent workplace communication platform. “Research what new AI features have been incorporated into your current tech stack, sign up for a webinar, take a certification course, and read up on what other management professionals are doing with AI.”

The more team members know about these AI tools, the more confident they’ll be in actually using them in the workplace responsibly.

2. Be transparent. Incorporating a game-changing technology like AI while maintaining confidence and trust isn’t easy. However, the more transparency from the C-suite, the easier the transition.

“Add to your training by educating your workforce about AI and its potential benefits,” Sciolaro says. “Communicate openly about how AI is being tested, and emphasize its role in enhancing productivity and efficiency.”

Offering training and learning opportunities will help remove the mystery around AI-related technologies. “Make sure to share your own AI learnings, concerns and experiences with your employees,” Sciolaro advises. “Your enthusiasm will inspire confidence throughout the company.”

Part of your training must be to communicate clear guidelines for ethical AI usage. A full 80 percent of employees say their company has yet to share guidelines on responsible AI use, according to the Workday survey. Such guidelines help workers better understand how the technology should be used. They also demonstrate a companywide commitment to ethical AI practices and responsible use of data.

3. Get in front of the gap problem. When a CEO or senior executive notices mistrust during or after an AI implementation, they shouldn’t just hope it goes away—they should address the trust problem with employees directly. Also, realize that your previous culture of trust (or lack thereof) will affect your trust gap on AI.  

“The issue right now is that many companies want a first-mover advantage by launching AI programs,” says Kaitlyn Knopp, co-founder and CEO of Pequity, an HR compensation platform company. “This requires speed, which means there is not always time to build or create trust. You have to hope you have a reservoir built up with employees from previous decisions.”

One way to help battle the trust gap is by showing employees that your AI implementation decisions are based on sound research and advice from inside and outside the company.

“Executives should start by learning and bringing in the right expertise to guide decision-making and deployment,” Ronaghi says. “Taking a measured approach and adopting a true research- and-development mindset that evaluates opportunity and places the right guardrails and human evaluation in place is necessary.”

4. Give workers a voice. AI implementation should never solely be a top-down rollout. Knopp, a former compensation executive at Instacart, says executives can help build trust by offering an open forum for employees to voice concerns and share their issues with the company’s AI plan.

“Be ready to answer some tough questions and explain the value of AI to employees beyond just creating shareholder value or by reducing headcounts,” Knopp says. “Will employees be trained on the technology? Will it save work hours for them? It’s also important to explain any technology and security safeguards you’ll add inside the company.”

5. Encourage the sharing of AI best practices. “Once your organization is ready, empower employees to use AI tools effectively and encourage them to share their stories,” Sciolaro says. “For example, encourage them to share how they’re using AI systems and applications to achieve better outcomes and automate repetitive tasks so they can focus on more strategic and creative work.”

6. Celebrate creativity and success. Organizations should also internally recognize successful AI initiatives and celebrate the employees who led them.

Also, one way to slowly acclimate managers and employees to AI is to start with one basic pilot project.

“Once you can show and share tangible results, use them as a basis for expanding AI initiatives across the organization,” Sciolaro says. “This approach allows employees to see the benefits of AI firsthand and reduces resistance to change."

7. Highlight the benefits to employees’ careers. “The reality is that AI is in the workplace, and only those who innovate with it will survive—companies and workers alike,” Knopp says. “Emphasize that the ability to learn this new skill—and to have hands-on experience with it—is a huge advantage professionally and in the marketplace.”

It’s OK to acknowledge apprehension over AI, but make sure managers and staffers know your organization will be embracing the technology.

“As a leader, it’s your job to help both the company and your employees navigate the unknown, which is something C-level executives should own and explain,” Knopp says. “The reality is that the anxiety will exist, so leaders should not solve for the fear, but instead should openly face it with their employees.”


Brian O’Connell is a freelance writer based in Bucks County, Pa. A former Wall Street trader, he is the author of the books CNBC Creating Wealth (John Wiley & Sons, 2001) and The Career Survival Guide (McGraw Hill, 2004).


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