Updated: Jan 23, 2020
Recently, I read an article about replacing managers with robots. Certainly, this is a provocative concept, and it definitely caught my attention. Yet, it still seemed well removed from our current business practices.
However, when I looked just a tiny bit into the future, I learned the likelihood of managers being replaced by automation is pretty high. Moreover, many workers would actually agree with this idea of their manager being replaced by a machine. Why? According to the AI at Work study conducted by Oracle and Future Workplace, workers surveyed report they trust robots more than the people who lead them. In fact, 64% of people surveyed said they would trust a robot more than their manager, and they’ve even turned to robots for advice.
This isn’t all that surprising. What I’ve learned in all the research and work I’ve done is that managers are often not trusted and are the biggest contributors to disengagement in the workplace. In addition, managers are the number 1 reason people quit their jobs. If workers put more trust in machines than people to lead them, that’s a pretty clear indicator their managers haven’t done a great job of connecting with them.
The future of work points to Artificial Intelligence (AI) affecting all areas of business, including management. However, it’s not yet time for managers to dust off their resumes and consider a career change. Nope—we still need managers.
We NEED managers
There is still a place for managers in organizations. (I’d argue good managers may be needed more now than ever before.) However, the manager’s role is changing. We no longer need managers who supervise and monitor every move, clog up calendars with unnecessary meetings, or sit in their offices planning resources and doling out tasks. AI and bots are far better at doing that stuff than humans are, so it makes sense that companies would employ AI in those areas and let their managers focus on the things that really help with increasing employee engagement and retention: having regular and frequent one-on-one conversations, showing empathy, providing coaching and feedback, and exploring opportunities for professional development. This is what workers are craving from their bosses, after all. They want the connection that comes from having a relationship with their managers.
Predictions from authorities like McKinsey tell us that the demand for social and emotional skills will grow by 26% in the next 10 years. (Source: Stephen Newman and Paula Ketter, Future Ready or Not? ATD Magazine Nov. 2019) There will also be an increase in demand for higher cognitive skills like creative thinking and decision-making. Companies, and their leadership, would be wise to invest in developing their managers in these key areas. These are uniquely human skills that can’t be easily replicated by machines. Yet, these are the same key skills that influence engagement, retention, productivity and customer satisfaction. As we’ve learned before, it’s bad for business to ignore these areas.
Change is happening quickly. Technology is providing information and opportunity to move faster and grow rapidly. Managers can no longer afford to do what they’ve always done, lest they become ou