Congrats on your new job! Russ and I have helped a number of chief data scientists land positions at Fortune 1000 companies. We’ve also watched many struggle in their new roles and depart after an unexpectedly short tenure. Here are a few suggestions to get you started on the path to success.

Step 1: Accept the inconvenient reality

Your path to success starts by acknowledging an inconvenient reality: You got the job because of your expertise, but you will succeed based on how effectively you navigate the organization. Let’s consider some of the challenges you’ll need to address.

Expectations vs. reality

You took the job partly because the company expressed a mandate to transform their business by using AI. But leadership doesn't always appreciate how much time and money is required to demonstrate business impact with AI.

Consider the following examples of how expectations can fail to align with reality.

It will take at least a year for your new employer to fully appreciate how much change and investment is required to fully leverage AI. Your mission is to gradually help leaders appreciate both the potential and the challenges of becoming an AI-driven organization, before they fall behind.

Resistance to change

AI, and your job role, threaten the status quo. Although people are attracted to innovation in the abstract, they resist it when it threatens their worldview. Most people (including executives) are extremely uncomfortable with change. They worry about losing control of budgets, favorite projects, their sense of purpose, and so on.

Frankly, their fears are often well founded. Most IT organizations have the wrong workforce to deploy and support AI. Offloading cognitive tasks to machine learning (ML) models means redesigning business processes or reducing operational staff.

People will perceive that your success comes at the expense of theirs. Fair or not, they will become your detractors.

Step 2: Develop and present your talent strategy

Your success largely depends on how effectively you can build and retain a talented team. Assessing your current team’s capabilities is only one part of your job. You need to evaluate your organization’s approach to attracting and retaining AI talent.

Our AI talent study reveals what works at other large organizations. To align your company with proven approaches, start here:

  1. Discover the current turnover baseline. Contact the HR department to get a list of employees who have left. Find out how long they stayed in the job. If possible, contact a few and ask them why they left. Calculate your turnover rate and identify patterns in why good people are leaving.
  2. Review your recruiting process. Do your job descriptions sell your company as a unique employer of choice? Or do they read like every other large company competing for the same small pool of people? How long does your interview process take? Compile data and examples.
  3. Interview your team members. Are they happy? What changes could the organization implement to make the team more effective? Take surveys, identify patterns, and formulate recommendations.
  4. Present your findings as part of your talent strategy within 90 days.

Focusing on people will give you immediate credibility in the organization, particularly when you can back up your recommendations with metrics and a plan. An AI business transformation will take years, but you can start improving the team and culture within weeks.

Step 3: Identify and support your advocates

Meet all of your potential business partners and see if they share your worldview. If possible, meet their subordinates as well. If they don’t understand AI, give them a copy of our book

Identify those who are most enthusiastic about driving change with AI. Then begin building alliances with them. What are their KPIs? Their fears? How could you drive impact? You will need their help to advocate for resources and to keep leadership patient through the inevitable setbacks.

After you identify the right opportunity, give your advocates a sense of ownership. For example, you could help them present the AI strategy for their business segment. Begin laying the groundwork for their success, recognizing that it’s the only path to your success.

Step 4: Target quick wins

At Prolego we constantly give our clients three pieces of advice on any new AI initiative:

  • Think big. Prepare for scale.
  • Start small. Choose an initial project that helps lay the foundation.
  • Get a quick win. Maintain momentum in the organization.

Your company is almost definitely trying to do too much. Although we don’t necessarily recommend that you try to shut down projects in your first 90 days, you should identify and pursue projects that can add any measurable business value within the first year. 

We’re here to help

We’ve given you some general advice based on patterns we’ve seen across many large organizations. But your situation, your team, and your new employer are unique. If you’d like to talk through your company’s challenges and opportunities, just reach out to Russ so we can schedule some time with you.

Kevin Dewalt
Chief Executive Officer & co-founder

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