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How talent leaders can help capitalize on generative AI

5-minute read

September 26, 2023

Generative AI has been making headlines across the world as individuals and business leaders explore the possibilities created by this powerful new tool. Public services are no exception. The technology is poised to reinvent many of the ways public service organizations serve citizen needs and get work done.

One recent Accenture study estimated that as much as three-quarters (74%) of public service employees’ working hours are spent on tasks that involve the use of language to some extent – across both front-line and back-office work, as well as interactions across different channels (voice, email, digital apps, and so on).

Generative AI creates numerous opportunities for automating, augmenting and optimizing these language-based tasks. This includes everything from generating automated case summaries for social workers to providing intelligent multi-language chatbots for public services to performing proactive threat analysis in areas like public safety.

This is the perfect example of how technology, data and ways of working can align to improve public service delivery and answer the challenges facing employees. However, as Accenture’s recent report recognises, it is essential that talent leaders play a leading role in driving this transformation forward at this critical time.

A timely arrival

As the public services workload continues to mount, generative AI’s potential to deliver operational efficiency and effectiveness couldn’t be more important.

Many organizations are still managing an all-time-high backlog of cases, thanks to the lingering after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. What’s more, the sector is under increased pressure thanks to changing expectations among both citizens about what they need from their public services.

Some organizations have already made headway in alleviating this pressure by automating routine and non-language-based tasks. In the UK, for example, the Department of Work and Pensions has scaled automation to allow it to handle a projected 210 million additional transactions.

Generative AI now offers the potential for even greater optimization, while also further enhancing service delivery and meeting citizen needs more effectively.

Transparency and trust

However, it needs to be approached responsibly and prudently and security and data protection guidelines have to be strictly adhered to. Generative AI comes with the perception of risk among many members of the public, not to mention public service leaders and employees. And there are good reasons for caution. Several security, legal and ethical considerations must be addressed before generative AI can be deployed in an operational setting.

These include everything from intellectual property rights and data security to inherent bias and discriminatory content in the AI’s training data. For public services in particular, there’s also the question of transparency about where and how generative AI is being used to make decisions and to deliver services.

These concerns are all the more important when you consider that the people being served will often be among the most vulnerable members of society. And even when they’re not, the decisions being taken will frequently be life-changing — in police investigations, social security claims management, and many other situations.

To maintain citizen and worker trust, it’s vitally important that generative AI is used in a fair, transparent, ethical and responsible way. Public services talent leaders have a key role in driving this change.

Talent leaders’ role

Harnessing the power of generative AI is about more than choosing the right technology or making the right process changes. It also needs the right people — those who are motivated to understand what the technology can do and have the right skills to act on the changes to come.

Talent leaders must take a leading role in ensuring the readiness of the workforce, as well as instilling a culture of greater innovation. This process needs thought and care. The shift to new ways of working will be difficult and unsettling for some workers — particularly those who see generative AI as a threat rather than a tool.

Even when workers feel positive about the technology, they may still lack the necessary skills or confidence to use generative AI effectively and appropriately. Our research shows, for instance, that little more than a quarter (27%) of public sector workers say they’re known for their skills in AI. This is well below the equivalent figure (48%) across all industries.

Equally, the success of public services organizations’ adoption of generative AI will depend on how innovation-friendly the culture is. Historically, this is something that many public services organizations have struggled with. For example, research shows that workers in the sector are much less likely than cross-industry averages to think they’ll be rewarded for thinking outside the box (44% vs 72%).

How to get started

Talent leaders will be essential to addressing the above issues and keeping people at the heart of the transformation process. This will be an ongoing effort, but as they get started there are three key areas to focus on.

1. Explore what skills will be needed to harness generative AI.

As organizations begin to identify generative AI opportunities, it’s important to build workforce confidence. Talent leaders should collaborate across the business to map the skills required to leverage the technology effectively. Then plan how they will develop these skills through targeted training.

At the same time, they should make it clear which tasks can’t and/or won’t be automated. And help teams build their capabilities in these areas so they’re ready to capitalize on the extra capacity created by automation elsewhere.

2. Cultivate a culture of experimentation.

Creating an environment that fosters innovation and experimentation won’t happen by itself. It needs talent leaders who actively invest time and resources in engaging workers and overcoming cultural barriers.

Our recent report, Total Enterprise Reinvention in Public Service, found that organizations that are successful at reinvention are significantly more likely to dedicate the right amount of time to activities like change management and communications. Getting this right will help develop the right environment to get the most out of the opportunities of generative AI.

3. Prioritize use cases that maximize value for all.

As talent leaders work with their peers to implement generative AI, they should prioritize use cases that can improve ways of working for employees while also enhancing service delivery for citizens.

This 360-degree value approach should build on the new skills focus and culture of innovation to actively engage teams in the process of change. It should focus on deepening human involvement by augmenting their work and/or helping them focus on other higher-value tasks.

A revolution in public service delivery

Generative AI is set to reinvent work right across the public service sector. Accenture’s research shows that talent leaders have a crucial role to play in leading organizations as they align the technology, data and ways of working to make the most of this new opportunity.

It’s an exciting prospect. I would welcome the chance to talk to you about how your teams might be impacted, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me or my team.


Rainer Binder

Managing Director – Health & Public Service, Social Services and Workforce & Talent Transformation