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Amy D. Grubb: Communication is Key in Digital Transformation

September 3, 2021
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· 3 min read

Amy D. Grubb joined Ben Taylor, Chief AI Evangelist at DataRobot, on the More Intelligent Tomorrow podcast to discuss the difficulties of digital transformation and the role of I-O psychology in a large government environment.

Trained as an industrial and organizational psychologist, with a Ph.D. from the University of Houston, Amy Grubb has worked at the Federal Bureau of Investigation for more than 22 years. Her current role is Digital Transformation Advisor to the CIO. She’s also a Vice Chair of Bombardier Safety Standdown, a Fellow in the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and an internationally acclaimed speaker.

At the FBI, her primary focus is getting more people to use technology—and improving communication between employees in different roles at the agency.

Staying on top of digital transformation is challenging, she explains, because the FBI uses technology to store, transform, and retrieve data—to be used as evidence in many  cases. But investigators also need to stay ahead of technology because “bad guys figure out bad ways to use it quicker than good guys figure out good ways of using it.”

The FBI is mission-centric, and agents and investigations are the center of everything else that it does. Technologists and non-technologists have very different roles and expertise and getting them to communicate can be a challenge. They’re often afraid to ask questions because it shows vulnerability. Amy tries to get them to realize that the more specialized and complex our world becomes, the more important it is for people to know how to ask the right questions—in ways that convey not that they’re unintelligent, but rather that they’re seeking greater knowledge.

If a special agent or intelligence analyst can appreciate what the data scientist brings to the table, it improves the information that’s available. “It’s not just data, it’s intelligence. And it’s actionable. We can do something with it . . . or build something new to solve the problem.”

Most people think they’re pretty good at communicating, but issues often arise. To clarify, Amy asks questions like “What are we actually trying to solve and who are we trying to solve it for? or “What do you mean by that, exactly?” or “What do you think the obstacles are?”

Once people answer these questions, it can turn out they’re coming at the problem from different angles, speaking two entirely different languages, or arguing past each other. Amy points out that it’s ideal if they then realize “We’re saying the same thing, but using different words.” or “We’re saying different things, but using the same word.”

Amy also points out that a question can be more powerful than a statement. “When you ask a question, you’re telling people what you want to know and what you’re looking for. You do it in a way that puts them on a bit of a pedestal. People who are super smart and super achievement-oriented want to be on that pedestal.”

With regard to AI and machine learning, Amy says, “We have to be thinking about the human side—how people react to all the advances that are going on that, for many people, are incredibly foreign, very scary, and feel like the Wild West. How do we help people see the good that comes from it when we have examples of it not being so good, and we have to live with that legacy and the story that’s been told?”

That’s where storytelling comes in. “People are not going to be motivated by something a computer’s doing. But a leader can give a speech or have a one-on-one interaction that can fire people up in a good way and allow them to do their best work.”

Perhaps there’s a bit more convincing that needs to be done. But it’s not rocket science, she says. It’s behavioral science.

To hear more details about digital transformation and the role of I-O psychology in a large government environment, check out the More Intelligent Tomorrow episode. You can also listen everywhere you enjoy podcasts, including Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts.

Podcast
Amy D. Grubb: Interrogating Data
Watch Now
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