The Little-Known Factor That Derails 70% of AI Project Success

Are you prepared to address the biggest challenge of AI implementation? Hint: success doesn’t depend on technology.

In a recent article titled, “AI Won’t Replace Humans but Humans with AI Will Replace Humans Without AI,” Harvard Business Review writer Karim Lakhani noted, “…the real challenge [of technology adoption] is not a technological challenge. I would say that’s like a 30% challenge. The real challenge is 70%, which is an organizational challenge.”

Leadership experts agree. The single most common reason technology implementations fail is not the technology … it’s the people. Managing people through change is already hard, and when we throw in the emotional turmoil of artificial intelligence (AI), it gets harder. If you’re selling AI, your business reputation depends on effective, successful product implementations so that your customers see measurable business benefit from working with you. Leveling up your leadership coaching can help ensure better results on every project. Think they won’t pay you for it? Think again! Ninety percent of companies that have successfully implemented AI dedicated half their budgets to activities that drove adoption, not the tech itself. With two-thirds of organizations expecting to increase their investment in the next three years, AI is an attractive market opportunity. Let’s ensure your success. In this article, we’ll walk through some common-sense change management ideas in the context of AI in the workplace, so you’re equipped with a practical understanding to share with your customers. But before we jump into change management strategies, let’s talk about why AI seems to be triggering a deep emotional response in workers who are already stressed at work and disengaged from their company’s missions.

Mental and emotional impacts of AI

Perhaps you’ve noticed it in the people around you. You may even be feeling it yourself. Anxiety is everywhere! Calling it a “massive health wakeup call,” Dr. Cindy Gordon notes that according to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression rates have increased 25% in just the last year. That piles on to historically high anxiety levels during the recent pandemic to mean we’re all pretty stressed out. And when stress increases, burnout and compromised physical well-being typically aren’t far behind. Naturally, when workers don’t feel well, they don’t perform well, leading to a dramatic rise in the number of adults who report being significantly disengaged at work.

As technology dealers, most of us feel comfortable (and some even eager) when major shifts occur to the products we represent. That means, despite overall anxiety, most of us are excited by the possibilities AI represents to the workforce. We’re not typical workers. According to PA Consulting, public perception of AI remains skeptical at best. They report 69% of individuals are afraid of AI and 72% of adults say they don’t know enough about AI to trust it. Their conclusion: “Overall, this analysis highlights a reluctance to incorporate AI systems into existing processes.” Let’s face it, the people who will use our AI products don’t want them — even if the organization recognizes potential benefits. It’s a scenario doomed to fail. If 70% of technology implementation success depends on getting the people part right, we’re under-serving our customers if we don’t pair change management coaching for leaders with the technologies we sell.

AI offers significant business benefits

With all these concerns, why are businesses investing in AI? When successfully adopted, AI projects can result in transformative value to organizations, and workers who adjust report being happier at work after AI relieves them of some of the most routine, boring parts of their jobs. Consider the following:

  • Analysts at McKinsey report that 60-70% of worker activities can be automated. 
  • Half of US consumers would be happy for AI to take over the parts of the job they don’t enjoy (50%), and they feel it can help them focus on more meaningful areas of their role (48%). 
  • 53% of employees could save two hours daily using automation (20 hours monthly) 78% of leaders could save three hours daily with automation (30 hours monthly). 
  • Deloitte says enterprises with an AI strategy are 170% more likely to achieve their goals. 
  • By 2025, AI and ML are estimated to drive $4.4 trillion in business value.

Three change management strategies

So, how can you offer consulting services packaged with your AI implementations that increase the likelihood of successful AI transitions for your customers? It’s easier than you think. Though some personalities are more open to it, the ability to embrace change is a skill. That means everyone can improve their flexibility through skill development and repetition or practice. Carol Dweck popularized this idea in her book Mindset, in which she explains the differences between fixed and growth mindsets. Fixed mindsets get caught in proving their existing intelligence and therefore resist expending effort learning new things. Growth mindsets, on the other hand, enjoy the challenge of learning and believe that change brings improvement.

Here are three change management strategies proven to help people adopt a more growth-focused mindset allowing them to adjust to workplace changes more effectively.

1. Role and goal clarity

So much of the confusion in the workplace can be resolved by clarifying roles and responsibilities. Your leadership coaching should start with an effort to help organizational leaders review every job description and evaluate them for any changes needed to accommodate your AI project. Note that experts consistently agree that, for most workers, tasks will change rather than entire jobs being eliminated. “The essence of redefining work is shifting all workers’ time, effort, and attention from executing routine, tightly defined tasks to identifying and addressing unseen problems and opportunities. … automation can be a key to freeing up the capacity of the workers to do this type of work…” say the experts at Deloitte. In fact, adopting an “always evolving” mindset will do wonders for leaders and workers alike in the offices of the future, but be aware that only 14% of the workforce is naturally wired to do this.

2. Change management coaching for leaders

The idea of the learning organization has been around for a few decades, and it comes once again to the forefront as companies adopt AI. Successful AI implementation requires leaders to adopt a test-and-learn mentality and to monitor and direct workers’ learning loops. Leaders can relieve the pressure of getting everything perfect the first time, and allow for AI projects to be iterative in nature — repeating successes for new applications and projects, while also seeking improved results with each new change no matter how small the adjustment. In a HBR article titled “Building the AI-Powered Organization,” the authors note, “AI initiatives face formidable cultural and organizational barriers. But we’ve also seen that leaders who at the outset take steps to break down those barriers can effectively capture AI’s opportunities.”

Perhaps the key for your leadership coaching: ensure all role and goal change conversations involve honest and open communication to relieve anxiety about job loss and equip everyone with the knowledge they need to make the best decisions for themselves.

3. Education for staff

Finally, everyone — especially those whose jobs are changing — should receive abundant and ongoing communication and education. Help employees develop a digital mentality focused on both understanding the tech being implemented and the changes specific to their job tasks. Let staff participate in job redefinitions so they understand how routine tasks they may not enjoy will give way to opportunities to think more creatively and add new value to the company. Most adults who are involved in defining change are more open to it and ready to embrace the new reality.


People have spread fear with each new wave of technological innovation for centuries, yet we find new value each time society adjusts. Despite rumors of job loss, AI will actually result in a net gain in the number of available jobs … they’ll just look a little different. So leaders of the future must be adept at both technological innovation and people management in order to help their organizations find value. The analysts at McKinsey put it this way, “AI engines and people together can create much more value than either can individually.”

Set your AI customers up for success and help them find transformative value by working with you. Package leadership and change management consulting with every AI project to maximize your value and your opportunity.   

Christina Robbins is Vice President of Communication Strategy and Marketing at Digitech Systems LLC, one of the most trusted choices for intelligent information management and business process automation worldwide. Celebrated by industry analysts and insiders as the best enterprise content management and workflow solutions on the market, Digitech Systems has an unsurpassed legacy of accelerating business performance by streamlining digital processes for organizations of any size. For more information visit