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BI must balance AI in helping drive positive outcomes for business

Anne Wickham, 24 May 2024

How people feel, the context in which they are making choices, and their values, motivations and beliefs are better determinants of their behaviours than advice from an AI – for now at least. Behavioural insights are essential if you are trying to change or encourage behaviours – or even maintain the status quo.

Not long after I moved to Sydney in my late 20s, I landed my first consulting role in the corporate and finance team at an independent PR firm.

I realised straightaway that I was part of a really special team. My colleagues were young, whip-smart, ambitious but also quite eclectic. Some may have described us as ‘difficult’. It was filled with ‘exes’. An ex-lawyer, an ex-investment banker, an ex-anthropologist, an ex-ad exec. I was an ex-public servant. You get the drift. We were independent thinkers. We would have heated debates.

We worked hard and played hard, and our team was the profit generating engine for the firm. We did communication around IPOs, mergers and corporate crises, and the tech boom was just starting.

It was the perfect job until we were acquired by a global PR firm because of our team’s success.

AI will tell you how often mergers fail, and the proven processes for success. But you know what AI cannot yet predict? What really drives our behaviours and choices we make and the catalysts that blow things up.

In the case of the agency I worked for, it was painting our reception wall.

Our office reception had a bright red reception wall that everybody loved. In fact, the first question that came up when we were told we had been sold was whether the red wall could stay. (That should have been a clue.) We were assured that it would. The next week it was painted boring blue, irretrievably breaking our trust.

Next, we were asked to sign new employment contracts that tied our remuneration to the group’s performance in the Asia-Pac region, rather than individual performance. The non-compete clauses extended to any company that had ever been discussed as a potential client.

The team I was part of perceived the clients we worked with to be our clients rather than the firm’s. We valued working very closely with them and in ways we saw fit. We were motivated by solving problems and helping our clients succeed. We highly valued the respect and recognition we received from the CEO and our team leader. We believed we were valued and critically important to the firm.

None of that was reflected in the new contracts so none of us signed them. If felt good to be rebellious. No matter what the new firm tried – over months – we refused. We held all the cards, and the way we were being treated conflicted with our team’s values, motivations and beliefs.

We continued to work. We continued to be paid, but over the next 18 months every one of us left, with clients often walking too. Redundancies in other parts of the business soon followed.

This expensive mistake could have been avoided if the firm’s new owners understood us as an asset. But it could not have been avoided with advice from an AI.

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