Emerging Technologies

How artificial intelligence is redefining the role of manager

The reception desk at the Pearl Continental hotel in Peshawar, Pakistan.

Hospitality is one sector poised to reap the benefits of AI assuming 'hard' managerial tasks. Image: REUTERS/Fayaz Aziz

Dan Schawbel
Managing Partner, Workplace Intelligence
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Artificial intelligence (AI) will impact every job, in every industry and every country. There are significant fears that AI will eliminate jobs altogether. Many reports have exposed the harsh realities of workforce automation, especially for certain types of jobs and demographics. For instance, the Brookings Institution found that automation threatens 25% of all US jobs, with an emphasis on low-wage earners in positions where tasks are routine-based. A separate study by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research found that women comprise 58% of jobs at highest risk of automation.

Yet despite these realities, we are beginning to accept our new AI world and adopt these technologies as we see the potential new opportunities. Other studies emphasize how AI will create more jobs or just remove tasks within jobs. A new global study by Oracle and Future Workplace of 8,370 employees, managers and HR leaders across 10 countries, found that almost two-thirds of workers are optimistic, excited and grateful about AI and robot co-workers. Nearly one-quarter went as far as saying they have a loving and gratifying relationship with AI at work, showing an appreciation for how it simplifies and streamlines their lives.

Proportion of respondents who believe robots will one day replace their managers
Proportion of respondents who believe robots will one day replace their managers Image: Oracle & Future Workplace AI@Work Study 2019

Surprisingly, last year, we discovered that the majority of workers would trust orders from a robot. This year, almost two-thirds of workers said they would trust orders from a robot over their manager, and half have already turned to a robot instead of their manager for advice. At American Express, decisions like figuring out what product offer is most relevant to different customer segments are now handled by AI, eliminating the need for managers and employees to discuss these tasks.

Now that AI is removing many of the administrative tasks typically handled by managers, their roles are evolving to focus more on soft over hard skills. The survey found that workers believe robots are better than their managers at providing unbiased information, maintaining work schedules, problem-solving and budget management, while managers are better at empathy, coaching and creating a work culture.

Anthony Mavromatis, vice-president of customer data science and platforms at American Express, points out another way that AI is changing the manager’s role: “AI is increasingly freeing up their time and allowing them to focus on the essence of their job. Going forward, what really matters is the very human skill of being able to be creative and innovate – something that AI isn’t good at yet.” By cutting them loose from tasks traditionally expected of them, AI allows managers to focus on forging stronger relationships with their teammates and having a greater impact in their roles.

Companies such as Hilton that were early in using AI to simplify their recruiting process are now expanding their use to other applications, like digital assistants, for certain processes including feedback and performance reviews. They envision that digital assistants will allow employees to say something like, “I want to take next Friday off, please schedule”, and the necessary HR steps are taken. The digital assistant will be able to be used from a mobile device or a desktop; whenever is most convenient. “When you think about the number of hotel employees who work throughout our hotels serving guests with limited or no time on a computer, and the time constraints we all face, this mobile capability will be a game-changer,” says Kellie Romack, Hilton’s vice-president of digital HR and strategic planning. The company is primed to use AI to help it focus on the needs of both employees and guests.

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AI won’t be replacing a manager’s job; it will be supplementing it. The future of work is one where robots and humans will be working side by side, helping each other get work done faster and more efficient than ever before. As Mavromatis puts it: “AI plus human equals the future. It's not one or the other.”

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Related topics:
Emerging TechnologiesJobs and the Future of WorkBusiness
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