AI Business School Podcast Episode 2: Culture

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Culture: The value of being data-driven

Undergoing an AI transformation requires an AI-ready culture. Host David Carmona and his guests will share insights on topics such as what it means to be data-driven and how organizations should align internal resources to ensure that subject matter experts are empowered and can more effectively work with data scientists.

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Transcript excerpt (read the full transcript)

David Carmona: Let’s play a game. I want you to imagine for a second that your company is a person. What do you think people would say about this person? What adjectives would they use to describe them? Would they use friendly or ambitious or selfish, creative or boring? Whatever adjectives just came to mind, that is your brand. But today we’re going to talk about something different. Today I want you to think about a different question, what would the employees of your company say about this person? What adjectives would they use to describe it? Those adjectives, whatever you think they are, that’s your culture, and that is what we’re going to discuss in this episode.

Culture is the true personality of your company or your team. It defines how it behaves or what it does. It is the shared assumptions of your employees that are guiding what they do without being written anywhere. Just like people, we may be able to do things that are not aligned with our personalities, but it won’t feel natural, it would feel like forced and we tend to go back to our original behavior. The same thing might happen with your company or your team; you might force something that is not aligned with existing culture, let’s say for example, a new approach driven by AI. You might be successful, but it probably won’t stick. True transformation requires a change in the culture.

[MUSIC]

My name is David Carmona and I’d like to welcome you to this episode of the AI Business School Podcast from Microsoft. Today we will talk about the culture required to transform an organization with AI. So, why this emphasis on culture? I’m going to let my colleague, Gretchen O’Hara, who is the Microsoft VP of AI Strategy and Sustainability, answer that question.

Gretchen O’Hara: Culture can either be at the forefront or it’s something that they haven’t quite thought about actually, as they think about their own AI and digital transformation. Certainly those that support an AI vision and strategy with culture really become the most successful throughout their AI transformation then, so, culture becomes an important pillar of how we think about AI transformation.

[MUSIC]

David: There are many business school cases about companies who implemented this huge cultural change that was required to address a big disruption in the market. But instead of taking you through one of those cases, I’m going to use something that hits a little closer to home for me and tell you an example from Microsoft.

We’ve had our share of learnings in Microsoft in our own AI transformation journey. One of the first units in Microsoft to fully embrace AI was finance. Several years ago, Amy Hood, our CFO, and her leadership team got together to see how they could leverage AI in their organization. They started, of course, with the big goals that they had in finance. And then they evaluated how AI could help on those goals, and they started to cascade that down. But guess what? It didn’t work. With such an early and transformative technology as AI, you are going to go against your personality, your culture. It’s not going to feel natural and it can fail. And that’s what happened to us. We quickly realized the friction to implement some of those ideas was just too high. It required us changing our culture first to successfully adopt these changes. I’ll let Amy tell us more about that.

Amy Hood: We quickly learned that the actual list of things we needed to make were about what cultural attributes we needed to build in our team. How are we going to make it important for each of our team members to get comfortable with new technology? How are we going to incent them to learn and not be afraid of moving forward with this process? And how are we going to motivate, have people be excited about learning, excited about the adoption of new and different ways of approaching problems? And so for me when we look back, [MUSIC] I realize that it was almost more important to realize the culture change you needed in the organization then it was to realize the business problems you were trying to solve.

David: Amy said it perfectly. We focus too much on the technology transformation and we forget that to be successful, we need to start with the culture.

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Heard on this episode

David Carmona, Microsoft General Manager for AI and Innovation
Podcast host David Carmona is the General Manager for AI and Innovation at Microsoft
Gretchen O'Hara is the Vice President of U.S. AI & Sustainability Strategy & Partnership at Microsoft
Gretchen O’Hara is the Vice President of U.S. AI & Sustainability Strategy & Partnership at Microsoft
Amy Hood is the Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft
Amy Hood is the Chief Financial Officer at Microsoft
Stephen Eyears is the Head of Strategy, Innovation and Business Development for 7-Eleven Australia
Stephen Eyears is the Head of Strategy, Innovation and Business Development for 7-Eleven Australia
Mohanbir Sawhney is the Associate Dean for Digital Innovation and McCormick Foundation Professor of Technology at Kellogg School of Management
Mohanbir Sawhney is the Associate Dean for Digital Innovation and McCormick Foundation Professor of Technology at Kellogg School of Management
Andrea Temporiti is the Electrification Business Area Digital Lead at ABB
Andrea Temporiti is the Electrification Business Area Digital Lead at ABB

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