4 Ways to Leverage AI in Your Corporate Strategy

Rendering of pathways in the human brain with a lighted background

With the swift expansion of artificial intelligence, automation tools are now readily available to corporations and consumers alike. Companies are integrating new technologies to avoid falling behind their competition and appearing out of touch with trends that matter to their employees and customers.

But the steps to incorporate and embrace emerging tech can be challenging. Expert faculty from the Graduate School of Management at Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business identified four best practices senior executives can employ to capitalize on advancements in AI and dodge common pitfalls.

1. Innovate early – with startup partners.

In its 2022 Global AI Adoption Index, IBM reported that 35 percent of companies were using AI and 42 percent were exploring AI for future implementation. Findings from Grand View Research indicate this tech adoption will drive the market size to $1.8 billion in revenue within seven years. To remain competitive in this environment, leaders can collaborate across companies to use AI in ways that set them apart from major rivals.

Swift changes in tech-driven markets demand innovation and adaptation, but many businesses are optimized to resist change rather than embrace it, leading to fewer risks – and rewards. The hesitation to adopt can be a danger to the bottom line.

“Executives can avoid this stumbling block by implementing agile methods and building mutually beneficial partnerships with startups driving innovation in their areas of need,” said Stephen Sauer, senior lecturer of management and organizations and Entrepreneur in Residence for the college. “Established companies can benefit from the tech experimentation that is more common in newer businesses while giving these partners the wisdom of experience.”

Karan Girotra, Charles H. Dyson Family professor of technology and management, adds that when tech advances rapidly in times of political and socioeconomic uncertainty, leaders can underestimate the rate of change and overestimate the ability of past expertise in helping them tackle the environment.

“Executives need to adopt a learn-it-all, not a know-it-all, mindset. Leaders need to embrace smart, cheap and fast experimentation to try out many new initiatives and learn fast,” Girotra said.

2. Choose accuracy over convenience.

Information may be more accessible than ever, but discerning fact from fiction grows more difficult each day. The convenience and speed of generative AI make it easier for audiences to accept and share information without examination. However, the perils of using incorrect data, which range from operational shortfalls and security threats to public relations crises and financial losses, can ruin organizations.

“The increasing amounts of misinformation with which we are all confronted today – including from AI errors – can undermine our problem-solving efforts,” said Risa Mish, professor of practice of management. “Now, more than ever, leaders must be able to guide their teams in understanding what we know versus what we are assuming we know.”

According to Mish, AI exists to help us tackle complex issues in a way that balances efficiency, thoroughness and accuracy, but leaders should be willing to learn how to apply the technology responsibly.

“Corporate decision-makers should first work to comprehend core AI concepts. Then start with small-scale projects to test the tech in their operations,” Mish said. “This requires leaders to build cross-functional teams that understand the organization’s strategy and can align AI with goals.”

3. Recognize your biases.

Incorporating machine intelligence into business operations may require leaders to reassess their approach to corporate ethics. AI systems operate on data provided by humans and can perpetuate prejudices as a result. If not carefully monitored, this can lead to unfair outcomes for workers, customers and other stakeholders.

“Leaders need to be aware that we are all susceptible to biases which can negatively impact our decision-making and behavior. We naturally look for, remember, favor and interpret information in a way that confirms our previously held beliefs or values. We also discount or reject information that runs counter to these beliefs and values,” said Michelle Duguid, associate professor and associate dean of diversity, inclusion and belonging.

While AI can expedite decision-making for hiring, business forecasting, surveillance and more, Duguid encourages senior executives and their teams to take precautions against complacency. Instead, firms can develop quality assurance processes to ensure automated outputs meet their corporate standards.

“Senior executives need to be able to think strategically about potential risks and challenges, and make informed decisions that align with the company’s overall goals and values,” said Sauer. “Strategic thinking is a team effort, and the more leaders are able to build teams with diverse opinions and experiences – what we call ‘heterogeneous task cognition’ – the more successful they will be in combating any biases that might creep in with the use of AI and other digital technologies.”

4. Use AI as a supplement, not a replacement.

More than 40% of business owners are concerned about an overdependence on AI, according to a recent Forbes Advisor survey. Automation has the potential to replace human workers in certain roles, leading to job displacement, changes in employment patterns and economic disruption.

“Advances in AI and other digital technologies present businesses with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reinvent their products and processes,” said Girotra. “At the same time, there are several pitfalls – technologies that do not live up to their promise, new business models that have no feasible path to profitability, the large negative externalities that these innovations place on society. Businesses that blindly embrace these opportunities, or those that are paralyzed by the pitfalls, are unlikely to survive.”

Looking at AI as a tool with capabilities and limits, and creating a builder culture, Girotra says, is key in taking advantage of the opportunities.

Elizabeth Mannix, Ann Whitney Olin professor of management agrees. When leaders have self-awareness of their own strengths and weaknesses – and they are cognizant of their impact on others – they can lead with intention and create an environment in which their team members can thrive alongside AI.”

 

Faculty from Cornell University have designed online certificate programs on a variety of in-demand leadership, technology, business and finance topics, including change management and digital transformation. An AI strategy certificate from the SC Johnson College of Business is also available online through eCornell.

Cornell Tech launches new product, technology leadership program

Students at Cornell Tech

As the demand for product managers and tech executives continues to grow, Cornell Tech has purposefully designed a flagship Product and Tech Executive Leadership Program in collaboration with eCornell, offering professionals a unique opportunity to enhance their leadership skills and take their tech innovation strategies to the next level. The program aims to equip participants with the necessary expertise to navigate the rapidly evolving digital landscape.

Designed for mid and senior-level product managers, engineering leaders and technology professionals with experience leading teams, the three-day immersive program will take place Sept. 19 to 21, 2023, at Cornell Tech in New York, NY.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle.

Cornell debuts biotech, pharma management program

Networking at Cornell Tech

As biotechnology and pharmaceutical professionals continue efforts to make advances in medicinal drug formulation, safety and efficacy, experts in the field are implementing innovations to address regulatory hurdles, research costs and global health challenges.

The new Biotech and Pharmaceutical Management Program offered through the Cornell Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy is designed to give leaders the opportunity to explore industry trends and cutting edge research with a cohort of peers, executives and renowned faculty from the university.

Read the full story on the Cornell Chronicle.

New Cornell certificate emphasizes dialogue in DEI

Photo of group dialogue with one young woman facing camera.

In 2020, hiring for diversity, equity and inclusion roles surged. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, three years later – amid recession fears – companies are cutting DEI leadership positions at a rapid and disproportionate rate, leaving practitioners to seek new ways of continuing efforts to create welcoming work environments.

Dialogue for Change, a new online certificate program from Cornell’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations and the Intergroup Dialogue Project (IDP) delivered through eCornell, provides a fresh approach to DEI for team managers and supervisors, executives and all employees interested in building equitable cultures.

“The certificate focuses on four key development areas: human connection, social identity, intergroup communication and strategic change,” said Adi Grabiner-Keinan, executive director for academic DEI education and director of the IDP. “Our goals are to develop participants’ awareness around the four development areas and to strengthen their capacity to make meaningful change at personal, interpersonal and institutional levels.”

Together with Lisa Nishii, vice provost for undergraduate education and professor in the Cornell ILR School, Grabiner-Keinan is co-author of the Dialogue for Change certificate. The duo intends for the program to help professionals promote sustainable institutional change no matter their position on the organizational chart.

In three courses – Counteracting Unconscious Bias, Dialogue Across Difference and Strategic Influence – participants learn and practice skills for intentional connection and communication, and examine ways to impact change in different spheres of influence, including within their teams and organizations. These skills, according to Grabiner-Keinan, are crucial well beyond the field of DEI.

“Skills such as active and generative listening, strategic questioning, purposeful sharing, perspective-taking, withholding judgment and questioning assumptions allow us to lead, communicate and collaborate effectively,” Grabiner-Keinan said. “They enable us to broaden our perspective, learn from a variety of people and situations, bring people together, think creatively and create meaning and vision. Unfortunately, such skills are seldom taught in schools or colleges.”

Dialogue for Change engages students in weekly live sessions. Trained IDP facilitators guide participants through practice conversations within small groups of experts and peers. Each dialogue builds on earlier coursework, enabling the cohort to use new knowledge in real time. Students who complete the program earn professional development credit hours toward human resources and project management certifications.

Each student who earns the Dialogue for Change certificate, Grabiner-Keinan says, will recognize their power to foster inclusion, connection and equity in any role. “An integral part of this program is to identify the agency and responsibility that each of us has. It’s true that leaders and supervisors have more power in institutions, but this program helps people understand that they all have power to make change interpersonally and institutionally within their workplaces.”

The Dialogue for Change certificate program is now enrolling students. Visit the program website to learn more.

New certificate program develops key negotiation skills

Negotiation is a powerful tool, and can help people steer their personal and professional lives toward success.

Yet according to a survey by LinkedIn, more than 40% of U.S. employees say they don’t feel confident in their negotiation skills, and 25% say they’ve never negotiated for themselves in the workplace.

Recognizing that a lack of negotiation skills can stifle a career, Cornell has developed a new online certificate program. Negotiation Mastery will help professionals improve negotiation abilities through the introduction of practical tactics and tools, peer exercises and expert instruction.

“The ability to effectively negotiate is critical,” said Allan Filipowicz, co-author of the program and associate dean for executive education at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “It increases a person’s chance of getting the job or salary they want, making a business deal that benefits them and much more. It’s a lifelong skill.”

“This program will teach you how to advocate for yourself to get better deals, while at the same time enhancing personal or business relationships,” said Tony Simons, program co-author and professor at the School of Hotel Administration.

Available online through eCornell, this program consists of six three-week courses:

  • Introduction to Negotiation
  • Integrative Negotiation
  • Psychology of Negotiation
  • Preparing for a Negotiation
  • Power Dynamics and Ethics in Negotiation
  • Complex Negotiation

Upon completion of the program, participants will earn a Negotiation Mastery certificate and 60 CEUs. To learn more about this program, visit the eCornell website.

7 expert tips for creating a great beer experience for your customers

Today there are over 15 million restaurants and bars in the world. Add in the booming winery and brewery industries, and the average consumer is over-saturated with choices when looking to grab a drink.

With so many options available, hospitality businesses are hard-pressed to elevate the experience they are providing guests. What’s the solution? Doug Miller, a lecturer at Cornell University’s Hotel School with over thirty years of experience in the industry, offers his best-practice tips for running a successful beverage program and enhancing the overall customer experience.

Consider your audience. Different people have different expectations. It’s important to understand who your customer base is, and where their interests lie. If you’re opening a new business, do some research. Visit successful businesses nearby, sit at the bar, and observe. Ask yourself, “What is the atmosphere? How are the customers responding to it? What’s on the food and beverage menus? What’s on tap? What are people ordering? What size pour is preferred?” If you’re an existing business looking to take it to the next level, do the research again. Study the differences between how your business operates versus the successful ones around you. Compare those to your ideal, and determine ways to bridge the gap.

Be strategic. Armed with information about your target customers, choices must be made. If you have a tap beer program, will you offer beer tastings? If you do offer tastings, you can work the cost of the tastings into your pricing model. Is your audience beer-centric? If so, maybe you don’t need to offer as many options for the wine lover. If not, you may need to consider alternative beverage offerings. Does your target audience enjoy craft, imported or domestic beer? Is there a popular beer being produced locally? A common mistake businesses make is putting thought into creating a local food menu, but then offering no locally sourced beer or other beverages to accompany it. If the local element is important, then it should be represented in all aspects of the menu and business.

Also consider how your beverage program complements your food offering (if you have one). If you’re serving seafood, are you offering a wheat beer or white wine to accompany it? If you’re serving red meat, do you have an ale or Cabernet Sauvignon on the menu? Some businesses may choose to forgo a food offering altogether. If you’re choosing to not serve food, consider your business hours and location. Do your hours of operation cater to an after-dinner crowd? Is the location near popular restaurants?

Cultivate an atmosphere. Atmosphere is one of the most essential components of any business. A beer program can be wildly impressive, but if the atmosphere doesn’t appeal to the clientele, the business will struggle.

Sit down at the bar and imagine the ideal experience of your clientele. Ask yourself questions. Is the bar and glassware clean? Is the lighting soft and inviting? Does the decor fit the vibe? What music is playing, and at what volume? Is it easy to carry on conversation? Should there be a television, and how often should it be on? If it’s not on, can it be covered or moved out of sight? Is there adequate seating for singles, couples and groups? Are there smells coming from the kitchen? Is there a draft from the front door? Is there space for bartenders to move behind the bar, and servers to move around the tables? Are the seats comfortable? Is there a place to hang a jacket or purse? Is a server readily available? Considering the customer experience from start to finish is an opportunity to spot aspects that may not be up to par.

Be efficient. Establish a strategy for success. Perhaps most vital to this is equipping your service team with the knowledge they need to serve any customer. Take time to ensure they understand the customer experience they should cultivate. Consider creating cards on each beverage so that your servers can access detailed information on the history of a specific beer, including alcohol content, IBUs, OGs or FGs as needed. Encourage them to be proactive in offering a second drink to guests — a best practice is to ask “What would you like to select next?”, not “Do you want another?”

Engage your audience. The most critical element of a successful business is the customer experience. And while menu options and atmosphere can be major players in creating a good experience, the make-it-or-break-it factor is service.

The service industry can be challenging; you are serving a diverse clientele, with different needs and differing expectations. Some beer enthusiasts may expect a comprehensive history of their beverage from their server, while others may want no engagement while they enjoy a drink. Some guests may lack enthusiasm or interest in beer altogether, and be present out of necessity for a friend or group. Regardless, it is important to create an exceptional experience for each customer, and recognize their individual needs. Service is a delicate balance of managing expectations and trying to meet the needs of the guest. An establishment should consider how they can improve the experience for their clientele and make their visit memorable.

The best possible experience can make many forms; for some, it will be engaging with the server over the intricacies of their beverage, while for others, it may be minimal yet efficient communication. Asking simple questions such as “Why did you choose this beer?” or “What brings you out today?” can offer insight into the guest’s beer knowledge and expectations. The answer may have to do with the brand, hops, alcohol content or simply the name sounding good. Any information can help servers to determine the level at which to engage the customer.

Pro tip — don’t leave the engagement to just the bartenders and servers! A manager’s place is also engaging with guests. Don’t waste time retroactively trying to handle online perception in an office during open hours. The best time to manage perception is on the floor as it’s developing.

Don’t make assumptions. The biggest mistake a service team can make is to assume anything about a customer. A guest may not be there for beer or wine. Men don’t always prefer beer, and women aren’t always wine. Neither beverage should be considered classier than the other; the same descriptors are used for both pallets, and the tongue has a similar experience – bitter, sweet, salty, sour or umami. A glass should be provided for either beverage; similar to wine, the full experience of beer comes from pouring it into a glass (not frozen; even chilled is not usually worth the fridge space) and allowing the guest to enjoy the aroma of the beer. Don’t expect every guest to be familiar with beer or wine, and don’t insult their understanding, either. Make every attempt to engage the customer on their preferred level, and avoid creating any sense of chagrin or discomfort.

Be decisive. With so many considerations available, it’s easy to become overwhelmed and struggle with decision-making. The same atmosphere doesn’t appeal to everyone. You can only have so many items on a menu to appeal to your clientele, and an over-saturated beer selection will not accomplish any goals. To be successful, you must determine your business strategy, research your target audience, and then make decisions that align accordingly. A beer menu doesn’t need to be huge; it can offer only 6-7 beers, given they are chosen with the clientele in mind. Purchasing too much beer runs the risk of it going out of date in the storeroom — the average shelf life of an IPA is around 60-90 days. Some beer styles can have a longer shelf life, but for most beers styles, fresher is better. Tap lines should be cleaned every other week, and no business wants to waste money on a keg that won’t sell. It’s impossible to carry every type of beer, so don’t complicate your business by trying to establish a menu for all (but do offer that level of service).

At the end of the day, an enjoyable customer experience comes down to three themes: the environment, the service, and the engagement. Devoting time to regularly developing and re-evaluating your business plan, menu, atmosphere and service team is essential to creating the optimal experience that will bring your customers back over and over again.

To learn more about creating the optimal beer program, check out the Beer Essentials certificate program authored by Doug Miller.

Douglass Miller
Douglass Miller, lecturer at the School of Hotel Administration (SHA).

Online brand-management course offered through eCornell

Key to the success of any business is how well its brands are managed. Brand perception drives decisions and actions, making brand management one of the most important aspects of business strategy.

Cornell’s online Brand Management certificate program is ideal for business and marketing professionals, and provides the essential framework to build, manage and enhance a brand.

“This program takes a comprehensive look at brand management, enabling participants to develop a strategic approach to running their brand,” said Chekitan S. Dev, program co-author and professor of marketing in the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. “Understanding and analyzing the purpose of your brand … and how it will achieve success is crucial to the long-term success of any business.”

“Every touch point with a consumer conveys brand meaning and should build the brand,” said Patti Mandel ’83, M.B.A. ’85, program co-author and visiting lecturer at the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management. “This program covers how to develop a deep understanding of the brand and the world in which it exists.”

Available online through eCornell, this program will cover critical aspects of brand management. The certificate program consists of six two-week courses:

  • Brand Purpose
  • Brand Strategy
  • Brand Positioning
  • Brand Planning
  • Brand Activation
  • Brand Measurement

After completing the six courses, participants earn a brand management certificate from SC Johnson. Visit the eCornell website for more information.

Advice from the Real Estate Roundtable: Real Knowledge, Real Experience

The commercial real estate industry can feel opaque and even intimidating to outsiders and newcomers. Armed with a bit of practical guidance and the right analytical tools, however, anyone can learn to navigate real estate investment and development.

To learn more about the integral components of commercial real estate, eCornell hosted a special roundtable event with lecturer Jeanne Varney, professor Jan deRoos and lecturer Brad Wellstead from Cornell’s SC Johnson College of Business. Here’s what they had to say.

What are the risks associated with real estate development?

Varney: Real estate development is a time-intensive process. It’s years of planning and construction. The designers, general contractors, architects, and engineers all have to work together to get everything finished. There’s the cost of capital itself, and the financing. Then there are unforeseen conditions, like market dynamics. There are also risks related to liquidity.

Wellstead: In the beginning, the primary risks concern the development. Next, there are schedule, budget, and quality issues to consider. Then, there are risks concerning the internal factors of the development team. There are external risk factors too.

So, from an investment standpoint, why is commercial real estate thought of as relatively sound?

deRoos: If you’ve completed your foundational work correctly, a good asset in a good market with good political support and good financing can produce solid returns for a long time. The retail industry is a recent example of how the world can change: it slowly changes, then all of a sudden there’s a tipping point.

Let’s talk about property prices and how to negotiate when properties are sold.

deRoos: Property pricing is based on expectations of what will happen in the future. It’s the intersection of two things: the cash flow that one can derive from an asset and how the capital markets treat those cash flows. When negotiating a price between a buyer and seller, first you’ll negotiate price. Once you have a tentative agreement, the focus turns to the balance sheet.

deRoos: The first rule of real estate is never fall in love with something that doesn’t love you back. That requires you to know the price at which you could sell it to the market. If it’s worth more to you than it is to the market, you hold it. If it’s worth more to the market than it is to you, sell it. The best asset management discipline is to do that rigorously on an ongoing basis.

Wellstead: It’s important to determine if you are in this for a quick turnaround, which in real estate might be two to three years, or twenty years. This decision influences how you manage that asset.

deRoos: Some create a lot of wealth for themselves by being flippers, and some create a lot of wealth as operators. A flipper is concerned about creating value and exiting at the right time. An operator is focused on leasing activity, taking care of tenants, and enhancing the property value.

Switching gears, what are the most important things to focus on when raising debt capital?

deRoos: You need to maximize your proceeds. In U.S. real estate, non-recourse means that the lender’s only recourse is to foreclose on real estate if you default. You get a free option to sell the real estate to the lender for the remaining balance, which is a bit cynical, but it’s also a very real option. You really need to limit your recourse as much as possible when you borrow.

Why is it more advantageous to raise debt capital over equity capital? What’s the variation in risk?

deRoos: Debt is cheap. Think of it this way: I want to buy something for $100. I have $30 of my own money. I need to raise $70. If I bring in a partner, they want to help me drive the bus. If I bring in a lender, they have their hands pretty far off the wheel of the bus. A lender is much less expensive.

Why is raising equity capital so hard?

deRoos: The hardest thing in life is asking someone to be your life partner. The second hardest thing you’re going to do in life is to ask someone for money. Investors are giving up liquidity. It’s really hard to get your money out. Investors give up control. They have to trust you to do the right thing to produce returns for them. You need to make that attractive by putting a structure in place that gives you all of the returns after I pay debt until you achieve a certain required rate of return, and then I get paid handsomely. It’s called a promote structure, used very commonly in private equity.

What about investment strategy advice? How do you know whether you’re making a good investment?

deRoos: Figure out how you add value and then add value to it. Ask yourself the following: “How will I add value? Do I know design? Do I have unique access to money? Do I have unique relationships with tenants? What is my value-add?” Then partner up with other people who can bring another piece to the table and do the things that really add value.

Finally, let’s discuss the economics of sustainable development.

Varney: There are growing legislative requirements when it comes to sustainable development. There’s a much greater level of education with all of the service providers, architects, engineers, designers, or manufacturers. Some municipalities even have requirements for building certifications like Green Globes or LEED certifications. They have expediting permitting processes for projects that are sustainable. There’s even a growing field for green lending.

More efficient equipment translates into less energy costs, so hopefully higher profitability, or more reliable debt service. There’s also solid research that shows sustainable buildings have higher leasing occupancy rates and higher leasing rate rental rates. Healthier indoor environments means less toxins and more efficient equipment. A LEED certified building is a higher quality building. We call it a halo effect or a positive reflection on the company.

For more information on real estate and investments, check out eCornell’s certificate programs designed by deRoos, Varney and Wellstead, including Commercial Real Estate and Hotel Real Estate, or watch the full Cornell Keynote, A Real Estate Roundtable, here.

Certificate program combines tech, financial services

Financial institutions are increasingly using new technologies to deploy existing resources to deliver transaction, payment and asset-management services.

To capitalize on these rapidly expanding innovations in financial technology, Cornell has established a new FinTech Certificate Program. Participants will not only identify key advances in the fintech landscape, but also analyze opportunities in financial technology and blockchain.

“Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley are … leading the charge into fintech with blockchain technology and machine learning,” said program author Ari Juels, the Weill Family Foundation and Joan and Sanford I. Weill Professor at Cornell Tech. “Those working in financial services should take heed.”

“Advances in technology have revolutionized the way the financial sector does business, and, by extension, how we all do business,” said Drew Pascarella, associate dean for MBA programs and senior lecturer of finance at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management. “It is imperative that everyone within the financial services ecosystem understands these key trends.”

Financial services professionals, consultants, software companies who sell to financial services and others in the banking and financial sectors will find value in this certificate program, available online through eCornell.

The FinTech Certificate program consists of four two-week courses, including:

  • FinTech Disruptions;
  • Trends in FinTech;
  • Cryptocurrencies and Ledgers;
  • Cryptography Essentials.

After completion of the four courses, participants will earn a fintech certificate from Cornell SC Johnson College of Business, and 40 professional development hours.

– Kristi Gaylord