A recent article in The Wall Street Journal by Sam Schechner, entitled “Meet Your New Boss: An Algorithm,” disturbed me. Schechner reported that many companies are using so-called gig economy algorithms to schedule and track large strategic projects. Global organizations like Royal Dutch Shell are using artificial intelligence (AI) programs to match workers to projects based on their skills and experience.
Now, I am all in favor of AI software that can track projects, manipulate large volumes of data, evaluate and plan vacation schedules, and perform other number-crunching tasks. But Schechner went on to say, “These management tools are part of a broader shift to apply artificial intelligence to hiring and other human-resources work.”
Perhaps the most troubling remark in the article is the one uttered by Dr. Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic of University College London: “Someday, we might not need managers anymore.” He believes that humans are not very good at identifying worker potential, building teams and providing feedback.
Rather than address the inadequacies of managers, we seem to be moving to an algorithm to solve all managerial problems. Haven’t we learned from the preponderance of texting as opposed to face-to-face communication? (If I asked my tech-savvy grandchildren this question, I know I would get a blank stare!) UCLA professor Albert Mehrabain discovered that 58 percent of communication is through body language; 35 percent through vocal tone, pitch and emphasis; and only 7 percent through content.
Management is a relationship business. That’s a reality that an Al program can’t touch. But, here’s the real problem: After over 30 years (from 1973 to 2007) of increased business sector productivity averaging over 2 percent per year, the rate in the last five years has been less than 1 percent per year.
Sure, part of this depressing trend is due to the Great Recession and the decline in business investment spending. However, another possible cause is the acceleration of Baby Boomers’ leaving the workforce at a rate of 10,000 per day. Companies are losing seasoned employees with vast amounts of technical, industry and organizational knowledge.
To begin addressing this global human resources problem, managers must take action, and that means developing their teams. After reading a recent Accenture survey of 1,770 frontline, mid-level and executive managers, some might be motivated to change their priorities. The survey respondents reported that only 7 percent of their time was spent developing their people and engaging with stakeholders, and a whopping 54 percent was spent on administrative coordination and control. These numbers equate to spending almost eight times more time on administrative “B.S.” than on engaging our team members and customers. I’m surprised there has been any increase in productivity!
Secondarily, Chamorro-Premuzic’s claim that managers are not very good at providing feedback is correct. Consider the 2015 Gallup survey that indicated only 19 percent of millennials receive routine feedback, and only 17 percent claim that the feedback they receive is meaningful. The survey also found that over 50 percent of employees reported that there were more than 30 days between feedback sessions with their managers.
Rather than relying on an AI program, think about your priorities as a manager. Begin by placing team development and feedback at the top of your list and administrative duties at the bottom. Here are three steps you can begin practicing today:
1. Schedule a time to meet with each team member to:
- Agree on one to three business development goals.
- Identify success criteria – how to recognize and measure success.
- Determine actions to achieve goals and the support he or she needs from leadership to succeed.
- Establish how to practice and apply new skills.
- Discuss his or her long-term personal goals (which may or may not be business-related).
2. Hold three weekly employee-directed stand-up meetings each month. Ask:
- What questions do you have for me?
- What do you need from me to be successful?
3. Hold one leader-directed stand-up meeting each month. Ask:
- How are you progressing toward your business goals?
- Are there barriers inhibiting your development?
- How are you progressing toward your personal goals?
You may ask, “Why be concerned about personal goals, especially if they are not business-related?” In most cases, if you support your individual team members’ personal goals, they will be more enthusiastic about helping you reach your business goals.
If you are concerned about how much time you are spending developing your people, I believe you will discover that it is all worth the effort. If you are responsible for 20 team members, that equates to a commitment of less than two hours each week of necessary team development time. Of course, the initial development meetings with each team member may require more time, and there may be issues that require follow-up coaching. However, it’s far better to address a minor issue before it becomes major crisis.
Think about starting 2018 with renewed thinking; put your team’s development front and center of your to-do list. Remember: Engaged, informed and educated team members will result in better customer service and lower turnover, and they will energize the entire organization!