Much has been written about Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the impact it is likely to have on people in the coming years. But whether it will enable the workforce to focus on the more creative tasks, or inhibit a variety of people securing paid work, only time will tell.

In this article we will explore this change management phenomenon and consider how AI will affect not only the AI first mover organisations, but whole industries and their global workforces, as well as the resistance which will follow the potential impact on great swathes of employees. We shall also consider the possibility that AI itself may enable the more effective management of resistance to change.

The anticipated impact of AI

The International Data Corporation (IDC) recently forecasted that spending on Artificial Intelligence and machine learning will grow from $12B in 2017 to $57.6B by 2021 – it seems abundantly clear that AI is no ‘flash in the pan’. However, the question of what value it will add remains unclear; what is certain is that AI will be disruptive, and we are already starting to see which industries are likely to experience the most significant impact.

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review shares some insights into which industries appear to be most at risk. The model included below illustrates these insight – developed by Accenture, it reflects anticipated levels of disruption according to the following descriptors:

  1. Durability – Inefficient, mature industries – alcoholic beverages, tires & rubber
  2. Vulnerability – Incumbents have high entry barriers such as regulation; capital requirements
  3. Volatility – Industries with high levels of disruption; susceptible to more disruption in short term.
  4. Viability – New or reborn industries that have endured significant disruption.

Image from Harvard Business Review, How Likely Is Your Industry to Be Disrupted? [1]

According to this data, almost 50% of the 98 segments from the 20 industry sectors surveyed are in either the volatility or vulnerability quadrants.

A change management response to Artificial Intelligence challenges

Managing resistance to change is one of the fundamental focal points for change managers. The effective management of resistance is contingent on ‘doing change management right the first time’. In the case of AI, this technique is perhaps even more essential, as the sensitive nature of the topic poses risks to the orgnisational culture and exposes the organisation to the risk of losing competitive advantage (if, for example, valuable employees decide to leave taking the good ideas with them). If global powerhouses like Amazon face challenges in the maturity of their CM activities in relation to AI, ensuring change management is right the first time will be vital for many other organisations. Likewise, if multi-million dollar investments yield negative feedback – such as an expectation that AI will result in job losses, then you should also expect resistance to change from your portfolio of change.

However, the future is not as bleak as some may suggest. Being forewarned is forearmed and even though AI is a new hot-topic, the methods for tackling resistance are consistent across almost all changes, and in this respect AI is no different. A solid process, based on adequate preparation, management and reinforcement of change is always a good place to start. Consider the following relating to each of these dimensions:

According to leading research in the field of change management, resistance to change is avoidable, [4] as evidenced in the graph below.

One of the key conclusions which can be drawn from this data is that a formal approach to managing change is fundamentally important.  This will only be more pronounced in the case of the significant disruptions which technological revolutions like AI present.

What of the future?

One of the key change management principles, irrespective of whether AI is involved or not, is to engage the “right” resistance managers. Resistance managers are those that understand, and can apply change management principles to add value to the organisation through change, and who can help the organisation avoid resistance. Identifying the root cause of potential resistance is vital – particularly when reflecting on the fact that two key reasons why people will resist AI are:

  1. The likelihood that it will cause job losses and,
  2. An underlying concern as to what it will bring ‘us’ in the medium/long term.

AI is likely to permeate through so much of what we do today, and it is hard to consider scenarios where these key change management principles will not be required. AI is already being referred to as the ‘4th industrial revolution‘, and it is essential for organisations to be appropriately prepared. ‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ as the old cliché goes, but it seems to be an appropriate mantra for organisations facing this next big wave of innovation. Consider how AI will affect your organisation. Discuss it with your people, find out their fears and hopes and help them to accept it for the challenge it presents, and not for the potential costs it could have.


[1] Abbosh, O. Savic, V and Moore, M. (2018).  How Likely Is Your Industry to Be Disrupted? This 2×2 Matrix Will Tell YouHarvard Business Review

[2] Meola, A (2017). Shop online and get your items delivery by a drone delivery service: The future Amazon and Domino’s have envisioned for us, Business Insider UK

[3] Levy S. (2018). Inside Amazon’s Artificial Intelligence FlywheelWired Magazine

[4] Prosci Best Practices in Change Management Research Report, 2018 Edition, Prosci Inc