Could a robot replace your boss?

24 May 2018 -

RobotRobots may deliver lasting results, but do they make effective managers? We ask experts to weigh up the pros and cons


They already are

Robots already make good managers. Our customers like initial human interaction but, once the account is set up, we don’t have to speak to anyone, as it is all automated. Our system runs the show with little human interaction.

From a customer service point of view, people often do look for human validation, but the system can provide that, too, and actually it is much better at doing that than a person, as humans make many more mistakes than robots do.

Humans make emotional decisions, but robots give the customer what they need instantly. This speeds the process up and makes everything much more efficient, which is better for the customer and, ultimately, beneficial to the business.

Steve Reilly is the CEO of digital content agency VistaBee


They deliver better, lasting results

We have created CoachBot, an intelligent piece of software that uses artificial intelligence (AI) to deliver management training. An effective digital coach uses AI to ask the right questions depending on the given situation and then lead the team to the right answers – it’s exactly what a good human coach can do, but robots do it better.

Human coaching delivers a big learning spike or change in behaviour at the start, but over the following days you see an equally steep decline in retained learning.

A digital coach can remain present in the situation much longer than a human can, offering training when it is needed instead of when the training session is scheduled. As a result, it can deliver much better and longer-lasting results.

Alistair Shepherd is the founder of HR specialist Saberr


They’ve got no EQ

Good managers all have something that we have yet to teach machines: emotional intelligence. The very best managers can understand and work with different personality types to motivate them and get the best results from the team. So much of this is non-verbal communication and based on experience and instinct.

It’s hard to see how we could teach these skills to a machine, at least in the next few decades. If management roles were to be undertaken by robots, there’s also a real risk that team morale would suffer – after all, it’d be almost impossible to get a workforce to trust a machine.

We know the introduction of AI has the potential to automate processes. However, I believe there will still be a demand for soft skills and the human touch – in fact, these will become more important than ever.

Dale Williams is managing director of Yolk Recruitment


They’ll always be operatives

To me, management is the orchestration of resources to achieve a desired effect. I don’t see robots as orchestrators: all they can do is what someone tells them to do, making them operatives, not managers.

If you look around an office, someone must have decided how much to spend on the desks, where the desks should be located and even if the entire department should exist at all. Those are managerial functions, and they require a degree of creativity against the assessment of a business need; no robot is able to do that effectively.

For now, at least, a robot simply carries out a set of predetermined functions. This is not really decision-making; it is more reacting to a list of pre-programmed circumstances.

Noel Bruton is an IT management consultant and trainer


They lack judgement

Many of the things that managers do are repetitive. There is little understanding needed about what they do – it’s a combination of the context they are in and the underlying data. But, as you move up the knowledge curve of what a manager does – the higher-level leadership area – then machines become much less able to do those tasks.

The manager-employee interaction is often a unique situation where a judgement-based decision is needed, and that inherent lack of historical data makes it difficult for machines to come to the right answer and make the correct decision.

Donal Daly is the co-founder of intelligent-software company Altify

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