LORRAINE HOWELL

Media Skills Training

Managers Replaced by Software? Not So Fast...

When you are good at what you do, it’s likely you could be encouraged by your company to move up in the organization, manage a team, a department or a division. Or you decide to start your own company, build it from the ground up, managing people, projects, and resources

Over the past few decades we’ve seen how the workplace has been transformed by technology, everything from robotics in manufacturing to software that makes us all more productive. Technology has streamlined and eliminated jobs across many industries. One example is the travel industry, a field that saw a 34 percent decline in jobs over a recent 12-year period.

Could technology also replace managers? In a provocative article titled “Here’s How Managers Can Be Replaced by Software” in the Harvard Business Review, Devin Fidler describes his work at the Institute for the Future, where he recently tested whether high-level management could be automated. Fidler and his team on the Workable Futures Initiative found that software could virtually manage projects, even assigning and overseeing product assembly and workflow. He warns that managers should not assume that only their subordinates should be concerned about replacement by robots and other forms of automation.

Although Fidler’s findings are a sign of things to come, it’s important to remember a manager does so much more than assign tasks remotely or virtually. Everything involved, from obtaining funding and approval for projects, to hiring the right people, to assigning tasks and ensuring they’re done correctly, involves a skill software can’t perform as humans do: communication.

Consider another recent article in Harvard Business Review by David Burkus titled “No, That Meeting Could Not Have Been an Email,” describing the use of email vs. communicating in-person or holding a meeting. Aside from the obvious lack of nonverbal cues in electronic communication – or assigning of tasks —people make assumptions from email messages that they might not make in person, especially when it’s so easy to clarify right on the spot. What’s more, the parties involved in email messages may never know that a miscommunication occurred, at least until it’s too late. According to the study’s authors, communication is much more involved than just “translating sentence and syntax.”

Communication is one of the most valuable and impactful skills that managers have, and you would be wise to improve and promote yours if you want to move into management, retain your management position, or run your own company, and stay one step ahead of those who want to replace you with software!


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