How Will AI Impact Managers In The Future?

When AI starts to do the boring stuff, what will be left for managers to do?
When AI starts to do the boring stuff, what will be left for managers to do?
Image Credit: deepak pal

By now you have probably been hearing a lot about artificial intelligence (AI). We all know that this powerful new technology is entering our lives. At home we’ve seen it sneak in through tools that we use every day like Seri and Alexa. However, as managers we also have to realize that AI is starting to enter the workplace. When it arrives, it is going to change everyone’s lives. This means that the jobs that we used to do will either go away or will be changed. Are you going to be ready to use your manager skills when this happens?

How Do We Do Things Today?

One of the biggest questions that managers have to be asking themselves about the arrival of new artificial intelligence products and services is which jobs will be eliminated and which will be created? No matter what happens to jobs, there is another questions that managers need to come up with an answer to: how is AI likely to change the structure of business hierarchies themselves? The obvious answer for most managers is that the management structure is likely to get more centralized and rigid. The thinking is that AI will help managers track more detailed data about everything their team members are doing, which should make it easier to exercise stricter controls. This is just like our manager training has taught us to do.

This outcome of the arrival of AI will no doubt be true in some cases. But if you take the time to look more closely, the opposite is much more likely to happen in many cases. The reason for this is because when AI does the routine tasks, much of the remaining nonroutine work is likely to be done in loose “adhocracies” consisting of ever-shifting groups of people with the combinations of skills needed for whatever problems arise. Think about that in a traditional hierarchy—such as a factory – large numbers of people are needed to do the core work of the organization: operating machines and doing the other tasks that machines can’t do. For a manager to coordinate the work of all these people, you usually need layers of centralized hierarchies to make sure the people are doing their jobs according to a standard set of rules. Another word for this type of management structure is a bureaucracy.

A good example of this would be a traditional automobile factory without much automation. Managers and engineers decide on the product design. Then lots of team members are needed in the factory to do all the routine work of cutting and painting metal, assembling parts and checking quality. Several levels of factory managers are needed to track the details: be sure the people are present, properly trained and doing their work the right way. This approach to hierarchical management for large groups of people doing routine work has worked well for centuries.

What Impact Will AI Have When It Arrives?

What managers need to understand is that AI will dramatically change this picture. We understand that it is possible for Robots to already do many parts of the routine physical work that used to be done by people. In the future, it’s plausible to imagine robots doing almost all of a given job. The job of the team members is changing. Their task is becoming primarily one of designing the new vehicles and production processes, repairing the machines when something goes wrong, and dealing with any other problems that occur during daily operations.

Managers need to understand that it would be silly to try to manage the team members who do this nonroutine work in the same way traditional factory workers used to be managed. Like team members in consulting firms, research organizations and innovative engineering groups, these nonroutine workers often know better than their managers what needs to be done and how to do it. This means that managers need to provide them with a great deal of freedom in how they do their work. This could result in them needing to work with a different group of colleagues to solve each different problem that arises. At the same time, any given team member might work on several projects at the same time, and the mix of projects would be constantly changing. Members of our team will be doing their own form of team building.

Managers need to understand that all jobs will not become nonroutine and less bureaucratic. In fact, most of today’s jobs include a mix of some tasks that will be automated in the foreseeable future and some that won’t. The key for all managers will be to not assume any particular path. When it arrives, AI may create some more centralized hierarchies, and even more situations that call for flexible structures. The overall goal of introducing AI into the workplace, though, will likely always be the same: figuring out how to combine the different capabilities of people and computers into something that is smarter than anything we’ve ever had before.

What All Of This Means For You

The arrival of artificial intelligence (AI) into the workplace holds a great deal of both promise and peril for managers. The way that jobs are accomplished today will be changed by the arrival of AI. What managers need to understand is which jobs are going to be changed and how AI is going to be worked into how things get accomplished.

When AI arrives in the workplace, it is anticipated that some existing jobs may be eliminated and new jobs created. How managers go about doing their job will be changed. AI will change how tasks get done. In the new world of AI, people will work in ever-shifting groups of people to accomplish tasks. This will have an impact on a company’s bureaucracy. The way that things have been done will need to be changed. When AI takes over jobs, what team members are doing will change. They will start to do more creative and design tasks. Managers will now have to start to give these team members the freedom that they’ll need in order to get their jobs done. Managers are going to have to figure out how to manage both team members and AI systems.

The new world that we will eventually be living in is going to be different from the one that we are in today. The arrival of AI is going to change who is doing what on our teams. The routine tasks will be taken over by AI enabled systems and the members of our team will be freed up to work on higher level tasks. This will change how managers go about doing their work. We need to understand that AI is coming and we need to start to prepare for it today.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: How can managers get members of their team ready for the arrival of AI in the workplace?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Managers are always searching for ways that they can use their manager skills to empower their team to accomplish more. We understand that the things that we have to do, the processes that we have to go through, are good but they may be holding us back and they may be slowing us down. What we’d really like to do is use our manager training to find a method that our team can implement that would allow us to streamline how work gets done. In the world of software development, the term “agile” has been thrown around for a while. Is this something that mangers could use to get more out of their teams?