Artificial intelligence (AI) has the potential to drastically transform nearly every area of your business. This isn’t news. Soon, AI advancements will no longer be an option for businesses but a necessity. Some might find this daunting. But innovative companies and professionals have already been using AI to reshape work. 

Generative AI (gen AI) stands out for its ability to transform business communication by automating and enhancing manual and time-consuming communication tasks. Gen AI can help companies accelerate high-quality content production, gain new insights, scale personalized customer outreach, and enhance overall communication quality. We should not just think of the introduction of gen AI as a technological upgrade but a fundamental shift in how businesses and employees operate. 

The benefits of having AI strategies and AI systems in place are significant. Knowledge workers using gen AI say it increases their productivity, reduces stress, and lightens their workload. Leaders tout similar benefits for their business, including saved costs, faster levels of innovation, and increased quality of service.

However, an organization can realize the benefits of gen AI only if its employees are equipped to use the technology effectively. Enter AI literacy—perhaps the most important upskilling that businesses need to do (and employees need to achieve) to reach enterprise-wide AI adoption. As LinkedIn’s VP Janine Chamberlin explains it, “Ensuring employees are AI literate is crucial. The skills for jobs are changing faster than ever, driven by rapid developments in new technologies such as generative AI, and businesses cannot afford to be slow on upskilling.” AI literacy is a strategic imperative for business leaders who want to win in today’s competitive market. 

Read on to learn the fundamentals of AI literacy across the enterprise and its importance in transforming your business. 

AI Adoption Across the Enterprise
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Understanding AI Literacy Gaps Across the Enterprise

Before we dive in, it’s important to start with the fundamentals. The (near) future workplace will be one in which every employee’s unique skill set will be augmented by artificial intelligence. While some may fear or resist this new technology, the reality is that machines will not replace knowledge workers—instead, they will enhance, automate, and make our lives easier. But this is possible only if every employee can proficiently use generative AI tools to capture their full potential.

Every employee at your company is likely in a different phase of gen AI literacy. If your company aims to continue on its path of AI adoption, it’s critical to start by ensuring your workforce has an equitable AI skillset. Here are four key concepts that help explain where people might be in their journey of AI literacy: 

  • AI avoidance means that someone is actively choosing not to interact with AI tools. This could stem from a resistance to change or a preference for more traditional working methods. It could also be due to a lack of trust, ethical concerns, or perceived cost and complexity. 
  • AI familiarity refers to the basic use of AI tools. This involves a user being familiar with some AI technologies and able to operate and experiment with them at a fundamental level. But they’re likely not reaping the benefits of gen AI at large. 
  • AI literacy refers to a deep understanding of gen AI technologies and the ability to use them effectively. Someone who is AI literate is aware of its capabilities and limitations specific to their role.  This person uses gen AI as a part of their daily workflows for a variety of tasks and multiple different use cases and, therefore, sees both personal and business benefits. 
  • AI fluency is the most advanced level, referring to a second-nature relationship with gen AI technologies for even the most complex tasks. These high AI skills are not something that all employees will need; AI fluency is reserved for roles and nuanced use cases where responsible AI offers the most opportunity and disruption. 

According to the 2024 State of Business Communication report, only 53% of knowledge workers report using gen AI at work regularly. Of this group, 44% can be considered AI literate, using gen AI for some or most tasks, while a small fraction (9%) would be considered fluent, using gen AI for all communication tasks. Of knowledge workers who don’t use AI regularly at work, 15% have experimented with it, while 32% of workers are avoidant, reporting that they do not use generative AI personally or professionally.

Regular AI usage is more common among business leaders, with 65% falling into the literate category and nearly a quarter (24%) considered fluent. Only a small percentage (8%) of leaders are avoiding AI technology completely. 

Businesses must not only close the wide AI usage gap but also address the rampant AI literacy and fluency gaps that exist between levels, teams, and generations.

It’s clear that AI experimentation is rampant in the workplace, particularly among younger workers. Notably, Gen Z and millennial team members have embraced gen AI, with over 78% having at least experimented with generative AI tools at work. The older generations are far more likely to resist the new technology, with 41% of Gen Xers and a staggering 66% of boomers avoiding it altogether.

This rampant experimentation amplifies the urgency and need for AI literacy across stakeholder groups. If your employees are familiar with gen AI tools but not using them safely or effectively, it increases the risk for your business. That’s why it is key to invest in proper training and develop formal policies to up-level the skillset of your entire workforce.

Perhaps the most noteworthy AI usage and literacy gaps exist between different teams within an organization. Knowledge workers in sales and customer experience (CX) have been more resistant to adopting gen AI in their roles. Meanwhile, their colleagues in IT, HR, and marketing are mostly literate with gen AI tools. These gaps must be addressed in order for businesses to reap the benefits of AI enterprise-wide. 

If the usage and literacy gaps go unaddressed, it can lead to inconsistencies in how your business processes are handled and can create bottlenecks in which AI-utilizing departments must wait for others to catch up. For instance, if only the IT department uses gen AI regularly while other departments such as sales and CX do not, your organization loses out on opportunities for enhanced productivity and innovation. While it’s expected that some teams will adopt AI more quickly, you should aim to ensure that innovation is not siloed but instead used to up-level all teams.

Despite these wide usage and literacy gaps, the general consensus is that experimentation is driving new interest, with 58% of workers wishing their organizations were more open to AI implementation. It’s critical for businesses to act upon this in order to see the transformational benefits of gen AI.

AI Literacy Versus Data Literacy

While AI literacy refers to a deep understanding of gen AI technologies and the ability to use them effectively, data literacy is the ability to read, understand, create, and communicate data as information. It involves skills in data science, data analysis, interpretation, and critical thinking to make informed decisions. Data-literate individuals, such as data scientists or workers in fields like data analytics or computer science, can gather data, assess its quality, identify patterns, and draw meaningful conclusions. Data literacy is hard to achieve, but generative AI removes the need for all workers to have this skill since the technology itself has high data literacy.

The Importance of Understanding LLMs

One critical component of AI literacy and data literacy is understanding the large language models (LLMs) that the gen AI technology uses to actually generate text. LLMs are trained on vast amounts of data, which allows them to perform the tasks that we ask them to do. There are many different LLMs that are trained on different data sets and fine-tuned to perform certain tasks. Some LLMs may be great at natural language processing, which allows them to generate text when asked a question, while others perform better at coding tasks, and others are better suited for translation assistance. ChatGPT, for example, is a chatbot application that uses an LLM to generate text content in various formats.

The foundation of an LLM is its training data and algorithms. This training data could be vast amounts of public text gathered from the internet or it could be proprietary data sources. Both the volume and the quality of the data that each LLM is trained on impact how that LLM will learn. The more high-quality data, the better the LLM becomes at predicting human language patterns, generating contextual and relevant responses, and performing the specific tasks it’s been fine-tuned to perform.

Two (of many) LLM behaviors to be aware of:

  • Biases: If an LLM is trained on unreliable data, such as massive amounts of text data from the internet, which is subject to societal biases, it can reflect or amplify existing prejudices found in its training data.
  • Hallucinations: While receiving a seemingly perfectly crafted answer from AI models may sound ideal, LLMs can create outputs that sound confident and reliable but are actually false or misleading.

Understanding the basics of LLMs is essential to AI literacy because effective use of gen AI requires you to be aware of its capabilities so that you know when to use certain LLMs for the task at hand. Responsible use of these tools also requires you to be aware of their behaviors so that you can spot potential biases and inaccuracies and actively work to avoid them.

The Compounding Effect of AI Literacy

Investing in an AI-literate workforce is not only impactful for your team but for your business, too. On an individual level, generative AI has the potential to improve the quality of life and quality of performance for every employee. For workers who use gen AI regularly, 77% say that it makes them better at their jobs. Four in five (80%) workers affirm that gen AI improves the overall quality of their work, and the same percentage of workers say they can get more done using gen AI. They say that this leads to tangible benefits like reduced stress, heightened productivity, lighter workloads, and job satisfaction.

These individual gains add up for businesses. Org-wide AI literacy compounds all of the employee-level benefits at scale, presenting a massive opportunity to truly transform the workplace. Business leaders report seeing gains in productivity, increased quality of service for customers, saved costs, and faster innovation as a result of having an AI-literate workforce.

The reality is that businesses won’t be able to see the full impact of generative AI unless everyone is using it. Business communication is multidimensional. If only half of the people communicating are doing so effectively with gen AI tools, those folks might be more productive, creative, and happier in their jobs, but the people on the receiving end won’t feel those benefits. This could then lead to roadblocks that prevent moving projects forward as well as frustrations from people communicating at different levels of efficacy.

According to the State of Business Communication report, we already see a divide between how leaders and workers perceive their company’s internal communication. Business leaders express a more optimistic view of communication effectiveness than knowledge workers. This contrast is highlighted by a substantial 24-percentage-point gap, where 87% of business leaders perceive their organization’s communication as “highly effective,” compared to 63% of knowledge workers. 

Addressing these disparities in communication efficacy and AI literacy should be a strategic imperative for business leaders. To achieve this, they’ll need a systematic approach to AI literacy and a strategic implementation of generative AI tools. Many businesses currently have a piecemeal approach, experimenting with a variety of different AI tools and having loose or even no specific communication guidelines for employees. Unfortunately, that just won’t cut it in today’s competitive and fast-paced market. 

Enabling an AI-Literate Workforce

Generative AI will fundamentally change the way we communicate at work. If your workforce does not invest in AI literacy programs and address these skills gaps, you will be left behind. This is not just a technological upgrade. It’s a fundamental shift in how businesses and employees operate. The learning curve might seem steep, but it is achievable. 

Now is the time for leaders to know where they are on their path to enterprise-wide AI and invest in ubiquitous AI tools that their entire workforce can leverage. Regular interaction with gen AI applications can naturally enhance employees’ understanding and comfort with these technologies and foster a more literate workforce. These tools should be embedded into employees’ daily workflows so they can learn to use them in the most productive and effective ways.

When your workforce is not only comfortable with using generative AI but also capable of leveraging a suite of AI tools to drive innovation and efficiency, you will be well on your way to achieving a full business transformation.

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