Simon Terry

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Friends Don’t Let Friends Get Replaced By Algorithms

Automation has widespread implications for the future of work. However we get to make choices on how we work. The best way to start is to ensure you practice the skills to work beyond simple routines.

The Office 365 network had a YamJam today on the future of work led by Bob Crozier and Naomi Moneypenny. The discussion was a rich and vibrant conversation about aspects of the future of work. The concluding conversation was about the prospects of the automation of management.

Your Future Robot Overlords

Many managers design their lives for the maximum predictability. The execute simple repeatable routines.  Over the years those routines are refined to maximise efficiency of management outcomes.

Gone to the robots.

I once knew a senior manager who insisted all financial information be presented in one common format. Why? The manager knew how to interpret that format, even though the numbers could never be reconciled to financial systems. Teams of analysts were required to produce the results in the required format and then explain the inevitable discrepancies and queries.

Gone to robots with the analysts too!

I’ve known managers who manage people according to formulas. For example a performance review might sound like an automated script that could be delivered to you by a robot iPad on wheels:

So what is it that makes you think that your performance has been above average? What is it about those outcomes that enables them to be rated above average? I still don’t understand. Perhaps if you were better able to identify how you have contributed above expectations we could record the rating. Let’s agree an average rating for now.

Gone to the robots!

We could go on listing examples of managers executing routines, but selecting similar items and building lists from large sample sizes is a task best left to automation.

Be a Human Manager

The best chance of avoiding the fate of robot replacement is to ensure that you are learning to adapt and change your management practices to make them more effective.  Move out of the simple and routine realms that will be relatively easy to automate.

We can focus on management that improves the effectiveness of people and realises human potential. This is the attraction of the ResponsiveOrg. We can encourage managers and workers to move from the routine to seek step changes in effectiveness. We can harness the potential of the technology to aid managers to handle creativity, complexity and chaotic situations.

We can also recognise that automation is still a developing process. There may yet be needs for humans to help with the processes like trust, relationships, fairness, empathy and engagement that have not yet been easily replicated. One only needs to see Uber’s issues with the fairness of surge pricing to see that algorithms are still learning in this space. On relationships, it seems Uber’s passion for robot cars doesn’t take account of the lack of loyalty in robot car return management algorithms.  

We can’t predict how far automation will reach. We may yet find ourselves as managers of the very human issues that our robots will encounter in purpose, free will and coordination of autonomous agents. We can be sure it will go further than we expect.  However, we have the choice to determine how we work and the practices we learn now to help us to adapt to a changing future. We can choose human effectiveness over eliminating human workers in the name of efficiency. We might yet be surprised by the extent to which the future of work is human.

The alternative is a little bleak.


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