Thought Leadership AI

Insights into AI, leadership, and fostering a culture of trust in the workplace

Learn about the impact of AI, the importance of trust, and the mindset of a great leader in our Q&A with Toni Cusumano, a leader in PwC’s Workforce Transformation practice.

5 min read

Updated on June 17, 2024

Published on June 17, 2024

Learn about the impact of AI, the importance of trust, and the mindset of a great leader in our Q&A with Toni Cusumano, a leader in PwC’s Workforce Transformation practice.
Lauren Reed
Lauren Reed
Content Strategist

From the exponential growth of AI capabilities and adoption to global external factors, business leaders today face an ever-shifting landscape of challenges. But one thing hasn’t changed: people are an organization’s most important asset. An increased focus on employee experience and engagement shows how important it is for employers to build a culture where their people can thrive.

Antonia (Toni) Cusumano, a leader in PwC’s Workforce Transformation practice, works with organizations across the globe to achieve their business goals by tapping into the potential of their people. She recently sat down with Aparna Bawa, Zoom’s chief operating officer, at our Work Transformation Summit to discuss workforce dynamics, the tangible costs of employee disengagement, and the skills today’s and tomorrow's leaders need to succeed.

We’re continuing our conversation with Toni with an in-depth look at:

  • How to create a culture of trust within your organization and rebuild it once it’s been lost.
  • Going a step beyond employee performance to measure and nurture employee progression.
  • How AI is shaping the workforce, and what organizations should consider in order to implement AI successfully.
  • The mindset that a great leader needs to navigate the unique set of challenges and megatrends shaping the world.

Read on for her insights below.


Trust is a critical part of an organization’s culture, but how do companies go about creating a culture of trust? 

Every organization wants a culture of trust — but there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to getting there. It’s important to first make sure that there’s coherence across your organization’s strategy, operations, and culture so these elements support each other and your business goals.  

Then, you can prioritize behaviors that support that culture and set clear, consistent expectations around those behaviors across the organization.  

Establish active listening channels to gather real-time feedback about what’s working well, and what’s not. Additionally, leaders can make efforts to communicate trust in employees, particularly when implementing new policies or changes. By providing clear reasoning behind organizational decisions, leaders can foster trust — and keep productivity and morale strong.  


For organizations that are dealing with a loss of trust among their employees, how can they look to rebuild it? 

There are two ways organizations can lose the trust of their workforce: through a major, organization-wide, trust-breaking event, or through smaller moments that might go unnoticed.  

Trust-breaking events are more common than business leaders may think — and executives and employees may have different perceptions of what this type of event may look like. According to PwC research, only 20% of business executives say their organization has experienced a trust-damaging event, but more than half of employees (54%) report experiencing this type of incident.  

For major trust-breaking events, the solution is typically straightforward: take ownership and apologize. Don’t pass the buck, don’t be passive, and don’t find a scapegoat. Be clear about the factors that contributed to the incident, and outline how you’ll change policies, operations, or behaviors so that it won’t happen again. 

Executives can recover from smaller moments of trust erosion by getting closer to the daily, personal experiences that matter most to employees. Identify where instances of bias or mistreatment could be occurring, strengthen employee listening efforts, and encourage feedback at all levels. 


What’s the difference between performance and progression, and how can employers nurture progression in their employees?

Performance focuses on what has happened in the past and how an employee is currently doing. Progression focuses on the future — the potential that someone has to grow over time. 

At PwC, we measure performance by assessing the behaviors an employee is expected to exhibit at their current level. When we assess progression, we focus on the behaviors an employee is expected to exhibit at their current and next level. 

Employers can nurture employee progression by:

  • Providing well-defined career paths along with the flexibility to engage in more than one particular career path depending on the employee’s current and desired skills.
  • Offering continuous opportunities for learning and development that are relevant to employees, the organization, and macroeconomic trends.
  • Setting clear expectations upfront on how employees can progress and the availability to progress for specific positions. This level of transparency can help employees understand more about their own career path and inform their decision-making for how they choose to focus their progression over time.
  • Engaging in consistent coaching conversations; at PwC, we leveraged the 2+2 coaching model for employees to have quarterly coaching conversations with their relationship leaders (the equivalent of a career mentor) to identify strengths and areas for development to focus on throughout the year.
  • Providing timely recognition and awards for behaviors that you want employees to exhibit in order to progress. At PwC, we encourage these behaviors through a centralized platform called Rewards Central where employees can be awarded for their progression-related behaviors in real time throughout the year.  


What are some ways you see companies implementing AI that are most effective or beneficial to employees’ day-to-day work?

There are so many ways that we are seeing AI used to benefit employees’ day-to-day work. At a high level, generative AI is being used to create, summarize, transform, query content or data, and of course, chat! 

From an employee’s perspective, using AI means never having to stare at a blank page when you have writer’s block — AI can be your first draft or brainstorming partner. It allows you to automate repetitive tasks like note-taking or data entry, helping employees focus on higher-value work. AI can analyze large datasets or content to provide valuable insights, enabling employees to make faster and more informed decisions.

We’re seeing companies implement AI in some interesting ways:

  • Implement company-specific instances of generative AI chatbots, such as Chat-GPT, equipped with company-specific knowledge sources for employees to create, summarize, and augment content in a way that is secure and specific to them.
  • Develop or implement AI-specific applications to automate operations, data analysis, and code creation.
  • Roll out AI capabilities embedded inside current enterprise applications, such as Salesforce.
  • Utilize AI-enabled chatbots and virtual assistants to help employees with scheduling, reminders, and organizing tasks to improve productivity.


What are some common mistakes or missteps companies might make in adopting AI (or any new, transformative technology)? Any advice to avoid those pitfalls?

One of the common mistakes companies make when adopting AI or any new transformative technology is lacking a thorough strategy. It is important to align AI initiatives with business goals to avoid misdirected efforts and wasted resources. It is crucial to clearly articulate the reasons for investing in AI, the objectives to be achieved, and the opportunities it can bring for employees. 

Additionally, overreliance on AI without human oversight can lead to biased or incorrect outcomes. Establishing parameters around AI usage and responsible behaviors is essential for mitigating risks and realizing the intended value. 

Another mistake is not future-proofing the architecture while building initial use cases. Considering scalability and flexibility from the start can prevent costly rework in the future. 

Lastly, underestimating change management and overlooking ethical or privacy concerns can hinder successful adoption. Involving employees in the process, making sure leaders understand and reinforce AI usage, and addressing ethical considerations are key to overcoming these challenges.


What are some of the biggest challenges facing business leaders today? What makes a truly great leader stand out?

The world is facing a unique set of challenges, and the impacts of these megatrends are forcing businesses to reinvent themselves in order to survive and thrive. Megatrends such as AI, localization, and climate are changing the basic assumptions and rules of operation for every organization, and require new forms of value creation, trust, and risk management. They are requiring our clients to reinvent their entire operating models, value propositions, and assumptions, and leadership is central to that process.

Successful organizations that are leading this massive reinvention have leaders who understand the nature of the transformation and have the capabilities to lead through it. 

Organizations that are looking to improve need transformative leaders, leaders who can: 

  • Make sense of the world as a basis for reimagining how the organization is going to create value in this complex system.
  • Set radical ambition, committing to help address a significant problem and compelling the organization to undergo fundamental transformation to achieve this. 
  • Achieve the promised outcomes, getting personally involved in reconfiguring the system to enable the organization to go beyond what it knows how to do and fulfill its ambition 
  • Act as a catalyst, attracting and bringing together employees with very different capabilities and talent needed to solve the problem they set out to address.
  • Power the engines so they and their teams remain energized, grow, and develop throughout the transformation.


More insights on employee engagement and culture

View Toni’s conversation with Aparna on demand, or watch our other sessions that explore the impact of multigenerational workforce dynamics and technology on the employee experience.

Choose your region to view the recordings:



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