The GenAI Building Blocks

The People Side of AI: Embracing technology with a Human-Centric approach

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  • Article
  • 8 minute read
  • 16 Jan 2024

Written by Wolfgang Hufnagel, Daniel Blank, Lennart Heyder and Kai Rautauoma. Humans and new technologies have always had an ambivalent relationship. On one side, there is science, researching the most efficient new methods, concepts, and technologies. On the other side are those who are affected by a new way of working, a new machine, or the potential risk of a job loss due to a new technological advancement. While some, with their inventions, may contribute to faster processes and potentially lead to cost savings for a company, those directly affected by the changes rarely experience enthusiasm.

The initial reaction to the exposure of new technology often is negative and fuelled by emotions, especially fears. AI as a new technology with rising widespread exposure, evokes such emotions, leaving companies that want to derive benefits from its utilization no choice but to deal with the people side of the change. Therefore, this article takes a people-centric perspective, outlining the challenges in adopting AI-supported tools and elucidating the fears employees are confronted with. Additionally, recommendations are provided to ensure the successful implementation of AI technologies and the best ways to address the fears of employees.

The importance of the people side of AI

Similar to other new technologies, organizations employ AI tools with the primary purpose of enhancing operational efficiency by for instance automating mundane tasks or extracting valuable insights from vast datasets. The overarching goal is to gain a competitive edge in the market or at least to keep up with competitors. This is possible due to the productivity boost that leaves employees to perform their tasks faster without a significant loss in quality. Companies recognize the tremendous potential for significant returns, both in terms of cost savings and increased productivity. This leads to the view of the implementation of AI tools as not merely a technological upgrade but a strategic investment. Fundamentally, when looking at investments, the costs are opposed to the potential earnings. With the apparent benefits that AI technology holds there are not many counter arguments when elaborating the business case.

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However, the success of this investment, as is the case with most technology, hinges on the widespread adoption and acceptance of AI technologies within the organization. While the benefits of the utilization of AI tools are evident for most organizations and executives, employees need to embrace and integrate these tools into their workflows and daily business for the organization to gain from it. The synergy between technology and human expertise becomes the cornerstone of a successful AI investment, driving sustainable growth and competitive advantage. Or in other words – Even the smartest solution fails to serve its purpose, if your people refuse to engage with it. This leaves the question for the reasons adoption is sometimes unsatisfactory and what hinders employees from adopting AI tools in the first place.

What hinders adoption of AI

In the realm of technological advancements, the potential benefits of AI are significant. However, the realization of these advantages hinges on the individuals responsible for implementing AI solutions. Despite the countless benefits associated with AI, a critical question arises: what impedes widespread adoption?

The essential functions of fear Interaction

Among various factors, one prevalent obstacle lies within the realm of human emotions. Emotions, diverse in their occurrence and intensity, play a pivotal role. Notably, fear emerges as a potent and universal emotion, developed in early childhood before the maturation of controlled cognitions. Fear, while a fundamental aspect of human experience, can pose a substantial barrier to embracing AI technology. Despite the complex relationship many harbor with fear, it serves essential functions in critical situations. Fear motivates behavior, adapts cognition to relevant stimuli, and facilitates communication among individuals. However, an excessive fear, unwarranted in certain contexts, can hinder progress and limit opportunities. Analogously, apprehensions surrounding AI adoption can stifle organizational growth and innovation.

The analogy extends further when considering the role of fear in the adoption of AI. While a healthy respect and critical examination of AI are prudent, succumbing to fear as a basis for non-adoption restricts opportunities rather than simplifying life. Objectively, numerous reasons advocate for the incorporation of AI within organizations. However, the challenge lies not only in implementing the technology but also in fostering its adoption among the workforce. Given the integral role of fear in the AI adoption process, relying solely on communicating objective reasons may prove insufficient. Emotions, particularly fear, constitute a significant factor that demands consideration during AI implementation. Recognizing that emotional perspectives often prevail over rational assessments, addressing fears becomes imperative in facilitating AI adoption.

Converting fear into adoption necessitates a systematic approach. The initial step in emotionally charged situations involves acceptance. Acknowledging fear for what it is and understanding its purpose allows individuals to recognize that fear is transient and that catastrophizing is a potential pitfall. This cognitive preparation serves as a foundation for the subsequent journey from fear to adoption, wherein exposure becomes pivotal. Exposure entails confronting the object of adoption and gaining a deeper understanding of it. This direct engagement provides firsthand experiences that often dispel unfounded apprehensions, paving the way for overcoming fear and facilitating the adoption of AI. In essence, the transformation from fear to acceptance is a gradual process that involves acknowledging, preparing for, and ultimately confronting concerns associated with AI adoption.

The steps and measures on how to foster adoption Interaction

Acknowledgement of concerns

Promoting acceptance must occur at various levels: executive, management, and employee levels. Executive leadership must be aligned on the reasons for implementing AI tools. This vision needs to be shared with and, if necessary, refined by the rest of the management. Early involvement of relevant stakeholders is a key aspect.

The role of management is crucial in ensuring a smooth integration of AI within an organization. Leadership sets the tone for a culture of innovation and adaptability. When management actively promotes the integration of AI tools, communicates their benefits clearly, and addresses concerns, employees are more likely to embrace these technological changes. A supportive management approach creates an environment where curiosity and learning are encouraged, facilitating a more seamless transition to AI-driven processes. One of the main benefits of an open environment is the freedom and self-confidence the employees perceive which improves their willingness to try new things.

For management, it is crucial to understand how employees perceive the respective change. If implementations have potentially gone awry in the past, it becomes even more important for employees to have the opportunity to contribute in some way and thus become part of the change. Generally, AI can be expected to evoke mixed feelings among staff before and during an implementation. Identifying supporters, those who are still uncertain, and those who completely reject the change simplifies the development of communication and training measures and informs management of the current status quo. Handling these parties requires different approaches. While those who support the change have to be encouraged and empowered, the concerns of those who oppose the change have to be taken seriously. Communication therefore has to be planned thoroughly.

Preparation for confrontation

Communication about the introduction of AI is a delicate balancing act, fraught with both risks and opportunities. The importance of proactive, transparent, open, and regular communication cannot be emphasized enough. Especially with a topic that fuels fears, transparency should be taken as seriously as possible. A loss in trust is hard if not impossible to recover from. The starting point for communication can be a kick off event where senior stakeholders but also other stakeholder groups get informed on the very basics of AI (e.g. how AI has developed and works). Such a kick off event not only motivates those who are interested in the topic but also demystifies the functionality of AI.

Regardless of the size of an organization or the available formats or channels, communication can counter many risks, provided that the management understands which messages need to be conveyed to employees at what time. This being said, it is crucial to create key messages that build a frame for communication for different stakeholder groups and that address the respective stakeholders accurately. Here, sounding the key messages within the stakeholder group brings immense benefits.

Communication should never be one-sided, from management to employees, but must be thought of as a two-way street. Participation is the key. Employees must be heard and have the opportunity to openly discuss issues and their fears. Among other formats this can be reached through open discussion formats, surveys and votings, and the gathering of questions and concerns. Involving stakeholders often is paid too little attention to resulting in stakeholders either not informed enough as they did not grapple with the change or not motivated to adopt something they identify as external (known as “not invented here”).

Confrontation with AI tools

To foster acceptance, organizations can implement various interventions. Regular Q&A sessions provide a platform for employees to voice concerns and seek clarification. This can be strengthened by the establishment of AI communities. Within these clusters likewise tech interested employees can support each other, discuss related topics and promote success stories of the potential gains. This encourages others to see the benefits and makes the adoption easier.

Engagement sessions such as workshops or hands-on training offer practical insights into AI applications within the organizational context. In those engagement sessions it is crucial to both guide through the usage of the tool and also give the opportunity to test in a safe environment where no mistakes can be made.

Additionally, creating channels for continuous feedback and involving employees in the decision-making process ensures that their perspectives are considered. Feedback has to be taken seriously and be considered throughout the whole design and implementation process. Without the feedback future users not only feel unheard but also frustrated when working with a system that incorporates needless challenges within the usage.


Fear of new technologies like AI is entirely natural and human. Change management is an essential component to learn how to deal with this fear and, later on, the technology itself. Adopting an AI tool requires a sophisticated strategy and an awareness among leadership that each individual responds differently to changes. Understanding how fear operates and the various reactions people exhibit when experiencing fear is crucial. The path to acceptance won't always be easy: apart from resistance, different phases of tool implementation may also trigger frustration. However, if an organization is aware that specific emotional states could jeopardize project success, proactive measures can be taken early on to counteract these challenges. Finding a collective approach involving all employees is crucial. Executives as sponsors for the implementation, a sophisticated view on the stakeholder landscape, clear and transparent communication, as well as opportunities to learn how to navigate AI technology through appropriate measures, are key factors. This leads to acceptance among all employees, alleviating the fear, and ultimately, the tool becomes successfully utilized.

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Franz Steuer

Franz Steuer

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Andreas Hufenstuhl

Andreas Hufenstuhl

Partner, Data & AI Use Cases, PwC Germany

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Christine Flath

Christine Flath

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Wolfgang Hufnagel

Wolfgang Hufnagel

Manager, PwC Germany

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Daniel Blank

Daniel Blank

Senior Associate, PwC Germany

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Lennart Heyder

Lennart Heyder

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Kai Rautauoma

Kai Rautauoma

Associate, PwC Germany

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