Managing In An AI Environment

Liz Mellon writes about the challenges facing managers in an AI environment and identifies four challenges, being;

  1. Establishing trust
  2. Confronting bias
  3. Dealing with emotion
  4. Staying flexible

On the surface Liz’s analysis might suggest leadership and management competencies may not differ that much from the present to the future. That may be true however I feel there are potential peculiarities of the future workplace environment that those entering management ranks at present, or aspiring to do so in future, might consider.

Machines are designed to achieve an outcome in the most economical manner. I believe it will require more than an ability to accept the presence of machines, it may also require an ability to know when to accept the advice of a machine; even in circumstances where our instincts suggest otherwise. This may prove challenging for human beings. We already function alongside a well developed AI environment, that being our own brain; yet as human beings we are notorious for ignoring warning signs and in some instances, better judgment. As a species we are not good at giving up control.

This shouldn’t suggest human managers will need to play second fiddle to a robot. The good news according to Quy Huy, INSEAD Professor of Strategic Management, writing on How Automation Will Rescue Middle Managers, is that managers will become increasingly important with the advent of AI. It will become a partnership – another aspect that humans are good at out of necessity more than desire. There will be times when, despite all the data provided by a computer, a human manager will need to make a decision that differs from the course recommended. The question afterwards will become, how well did the human manager apply critical analysis to the data?

Take the social services environment. In future a manager may tap into AI for data related to consumer need, while also seeking input into potential actions and outcomes. Feedback from the AI environment, based upon logic, may suggest investment of resources in a certain manner, however the managers experience of working with consumers may differ. Logic versus emotion! The AI environment might suggest a set of strategies that make perfect sense when viewed logically; but fail the ‘pub test’ when it comes to actually helping real people.

Managers in future will not be able to excuse ‘fuzzy logic’. There will be nothing fuzzy about AI data analysis. There will be no excuse for human deficiency as AI analysis will provide a counter point to human weakness.

An article in HBR titled How Artificial Intelligence Will Redefine Management points out that 54% of work tasks are mundane, repetitive and easily transfered to an AI environment. This suggests that those with employment will be able to double their effectiveness and efficiency through partnerships with AI.

Does an AI workplace sound like fun? From where we stand it may not appear so. It will be a workplace driven by efficiency and effectiveness. At the same time there will likely be areas of workplace improvement. Decisions at all levels will be driven by data. This will improve decision making. It will also place less reliance upon emotion, leading to lower levels of workplace conflict and stress. Ironically this may lead to the demise of management coaches while increasing the need for managers to apply a workplace coaching model. Similarly the dreaded performance appraisal process will have moved past its use by date. Interestingly, our acceptance of AI machines in all their manifestations will likely lead to greater acceptance of diversity in our workplace.

I wonder if a modern analogy might provide a pointer to the future. Let’s look to our top level sporting events and the arrival of the third umpire. Since the arrival of technological umpires, real umpires have increasingly deferred decision making to a machine, in this instance a high resolution camera. Can we expect to see humans making less ill informed decisions in future? John Simon writing in the WSJ, titled Tomorrow’s Business Leaders Learn How To Work With AI suggests at the very least, our interaction with AI enables humans to develop some humility and teaches us the limits to human data analysis.

John Coxon enable CEO’s and managers to be the best they want to be through mentoring and coaching. You can work with John by emailing john@johncoxon.com.au

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