The 18M managers in the US, 11% of the total US workforce, can become much more productive when they are augmented by five AI assistants: Intelligent Executive Assistant, Intelligent Financial Analyst, Intelligent Coach, Intelligent HR Assistant, and Intelligent Strategy Consultant. Vendors such as X.AI, ThoughtSpot, Zoomi, and Crystal are already experimenting in those areas. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee said, “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”
U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2018, there were 18M people in Management occupation in the United States. This is roughly 11% of the total US workforce of 160M. With the advance of technologies such as AI, while many jobs have been fundamentally changed, and many jobs are rumored to be disappearing, the remarkable fact is that the management job hasn’t changed that much over the last 50 years.
In 1950, Professor Peter Drucker, in his landmark book “Practice of Management”, described the 7 key tasks for management:
- Manage by objectives
- Take risks and allow risk-taking decisions to take place at lower levels in the organization
- Be able to make strategic decisions
- Be able to build an integrated team with team members capable of managing and measuring their own performance and results in relation to overall objectives
- Be able to communicate information quickly and clearly, and motivate employees to gain commitment and participation
- Be able to see the business as a whole and to integrate their function within it, and
- Be able to relate the product and industry to the total environment, to find out what is important and what needs to be taken into account.
One would argue that those 7 tasks still reflect what the 18M managers today are doing most of the time.
Furthermore, in 2016, an Accenture survey (https://www.accenture.com/us-en/insight-promise-artificial-intelligence) found that managers are spending 54% of their time on administrative tasks.
With the advances in technology and AI, there are now significant opportunities to augment the managers’ day to day jobs and make the managers’ lives much easier. Instead of doing manual administrative tasks, instead of trying to apply black magic to predict the future and allocate resources, instead of trying to guess how to coach and develop their underlying, AI and technology can make managers more productive and spur more growth in their responsible areas. 5 AI-driven intelligent assistants can be potentially launched to help managers accomplish this:
- Intelligent Executive Assistant
- Intelligent Financial Analyst
- Intelligent Coach
- Intelligent HR Assistant
- Intelligent Strategy Consultant
AI-based Intelligent Executive Assistant
This is probably the easiest and most advanced capability area right now. Tools such as X.AI and Julie.Desk can intelligently schedule appointments. Gmail and Microsoft Outlook are now starting to predict what one’s response might be to an email and the words a writer will likely type next. Airlines are now automatically rebooking frequent fliers onto the next available flights when the flights are cancelled or delayed. As a January 2020 WSJ article indicated, more than 1.6 million secretarial and administrative-assistant jobs have vanished since 2000, an almost 40% decline. The trend will likely continue and managers will increasingly be supported by the Intelligent EAs.
AI-based Intelligent Financial Analyst
Most of my executive clients walk around with a big binder of financial reports. On the one hand, they have all the data in the world and they pore over every single number. On the other hand, the numbers they have are static information that was days or weeks or even months old. In these PowerPoint reports and Excel spreadsheets, there is also only data, no forecast, no intelligence.
Imagine the Intelligent Financial Analyst that automatically integrates various data sources together, provides the readers with the latest real-time information, and pinpoints specific numbers that warrant further attention. This is actually no longer science fiction. Tools such as Tableau, ThoughtSpot, and Domo are now capable of integrating various data sources together. Software products such as Stories (acquired by Workday) and DataRobot already start to demonstrate the potential of intelligently pinpointing performance issues.
AI-based HR Assistant
According to a new AI at Work survey conducted by Oracle and human-resources advisory and research firm Future Workplace, 57% of U.S. workers said they would trust a robot, over their boss, to answer certain questions and complete workplace to-dos.
rLoop (an engineering organization developing solutions based on Blockchain to deliver on the future of transportation) used AI for new hire onboarding by collecting data on the type of frequently asked questions of new hires. Many of the answers to these questions are repetitive, and therefore ideally suited to be handled using AI and improving the new hire onboarding process while also disseminating the company culture and values. This allowed rLoop to improve the new hire onboarding process for team members distributed across multiple locations, time zones, and often working remotely.
In addition, solutions like Zoomi are adding AI to allow better understanding of learning effectiveness and create individualized learning paths. For example, Zoomi collects real-time granular behavioral data and assesses how each learner interacts with the content. By discovering each learner’s cognitive and behavioral preferences, Zoomi then creates personalized content automatically and in real-time.
AI-based Intelligent Coach for Managers
We can use AI to help onboard new employees. But what about the managers themselves? A recent study by CareerBuilder.com shows that 58 percent of managers said they didn’t receive any management training (https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidsturt/2018/03/08/10-shocking-workplace-stats-you-need-to-know/#48b4ea14f3af). Given that scarcity of coaching talent, what if we leverage AI to do the management coaching and training? While this is still emerging technology, attempts are being made already. For example, in 2018, Society for Industrial-Organizational Psychology granted a research on a prototype designed to measure and improve persuasion, using the science from renowned professor Robert Cialdini. The prototypical “Instant Coach” uses a chatbot interface to help people improve their persuasive appeals before they need to do them in real life. The simulator has 4 different modes. One mode allows the user to simply speak into their phone and get immediate feedback on how effectively they’ve used Cialdini’s Principles of Persuasion, and gives concrete suggestions for improvement. Another group of modes are more structured to help a person who doesn’t know where to start, learn how to construct an ethical approach to influencing in a specific situation and measures how much progress they have made.
Another example of such an intelligent coaching tool is PocketConfidant, which also uses a chat interface to help the managers take a step back from a challenging situation and find a more useful or objective way to think about it. A final example is Crystal, an AI based software product that can predict anyone’s personality on popular social media sites, Salesforce, Hubspot and more. This will allow managers to adjust communication styles based on recipients’ personality types and make coaching more effective.
AI-based intelligent strategy advisor
This is probably the most difficult one to launch. Managers’ biggest responsibility is to decide the future and allocate resources onto this. This is where strategy consultants have been helping management over the last century. With AI, maybe there is an opportunity to create intelligent strategy advisor that can advise managers on potential options and even perform simulations to help managers decide which route to take. With AI being able to play poker with monte carlo simulation, you would think that an AI based strategy advisor, with data, can perform as well as a fresh out of school MBA student working as a strategy consultant. As Roy Bahat of Bloomberg Beta said, “Consultancies are built for two-by-two matrices. AI’s matrices are a million by a million”. Many of the simple tasks that are performed by strategy consultants, such as data gathering and benchmarking, can be easily intelligently automated by AI. Simulation and scenario analysis can then be performed by computers with the managers making the final decisions. There will be intelligent “strategy consultants” readily available for managers to pick and choose.
In conclusion, managers, augmented with technology and AI, can become more productive. As Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee said in their Harvard Business Review article (https://hbr.org/cover-story/2017/07/the-business-of-artificial-intelligence), “Over the next decade, AI won’t replace managers, but managers who use AI will replace those who don’t.”
While some of the intelligent assistants described above may still read like science fiction now, I am confident that with the advance of technology, the science fiction will become a reality very soon.