The superstar managers of the AI era will be much more than scheduling ninjas or efficient task managers. They’ll serve as bridges between AI systems and their team members, guiding them toward more innovative and collaborative pursuits. Finally rid of repetitive and cognitively uninteresting tasks, managers will be free to unleash the full breadth of their creative skills and leadership acumen. Here’s what’s ahead for decision-makers of all seniority levels.
The role of AI in management
Before looking at the evolving role of managers, let’s consider the changes AI is already bringing to companies. At present, managers spend 54 percent of their time on administrative tasks like scheduling and logistics coordination. As artificial intelligence systems become increasingly capable of fielding appointment requests, responding to emails, and generating quarterly and annual reports, managers will be able to redirect their attention to richer, more challenging priorities.
Because today’s managers are still bogged down with administrative duties, they spend just 10 percent of their time on strategy and innovation and only 7 percent on developing their in-house talent and engaging stakeholders. AI improves that ratio, enabling managers to double the time they spend collaborating on new initiatives and investing in personnel and community development.
Managers should anticipate big changes as AI becomes integrated into their workflows. In addition to serving as leaders and facilitators, as they do today, they’ll find their analytical and decision-making skills called into sharper focus. Judgement work, which requires a keen understanding of data and its human impact, will become paramount. New skills will be needed, and existing skills — like digital aptitude, creative thinking, data analysis, and strategic development — will be sharpened.
Our research suggests that super-managers in the age of AI will inhabit three distinct roles simultaneously, that of the empathetic mentor, the data-driven decider, and the creative innovator.
Managers as empathetic mentors
Freed from the mundanity of scheduling and logistics, managers will be able to devote more time to helping employees improve their skills. We know that AI will change the way many different departments work, so team members will need to adapt through tech training and rethinking the ways they can contribute to the company. Leaders will need to hone their “outcentric” management skills to advance their team’s development, meaning that they’ll need to nurture employees’ abilities in order to ensure everyone is actively contributing. In a sense, managers will become skills assessment experts, identifying workers’ strengths and molding employees into more well-rounded team members.
Managers will also become both students and teachers of AI systems. In a recent survey of 4,000 workers across the U.S., U.K., and Germany, the majority said they felt underprepared to fully leverage AI’s benefits. They expressed optimism that technology will make their workplaces more collaborative and will strengthen relationships among team members. But they’ll need their managers’ guidance to maximize the tools that are rapidly becoming available to them.
While not all managers will hold explicitly technical roles, they’ll still need to learn how to approach AI technologies like machine learning as “non-technical” leaders. Then they’ll have to train their colleagues to use those tools. At the very least, they’ll need to connect the dots between what AI platforms can do and how those functions correspond to the team’s goals. As companies transition to using AI assistants for data entry and scheduling, managers may need to engage in some handholding to help employees adapt to their new workflows.
While we know that AI-powered companies can become rich environments for learning and innovation, change isn’t always easy. Managers will be responsible for easing the path for their employees by helping them develop new professional goals in light of AI and strategizing how they can use AI to do their jobs more effectively.
Managers as data-driven decision-makers
Equipped with deep insights and forecasts generated by AI, managers will be better prepared to make smart decisions on behalf of their companies. Across departments, they’ll have more and better information to help their teams excel. Tools such as predictive analytics will aid them in deciding which initiatives are most likely to resonate among customers to minimize costs and maximize ROI. Machine learning will analyze expected outcomes based on company data, lowering the risk of poor investments.
However, human judgment will still be critically important in executive decision-making. An AI program might recommend particular cost-savings measures or produce a recommendation in favor of a new business initiative. However, a human manager will need to decide whether the process of achieving those aims aligns with the company’s mission and values. As a 2016 Deloitte study titled “Talent for survival: Essential skills for humans working in the machine age” asserts, it’s not all about technical analysis. Numbers are important, but they don’t always tell the full story. Managers can bring empathy and context to the picture to decide the best course for the company’s long-term goals, which aligns with Deloitte’s prediction that problem-solving, social skills, creativity, and emotional intelligence will serve as vital complements to increased technical skills.
Managers may also evolve into “explainers,” a new category of jobs created by AI. Explainers will monitor the effects AI algorithms have on the business’ goals and communicate those findings to the company’s leadership. They’ll also determine which strategies will benefit from AI assistance and which require more traditional approaches.
Managers as creative innovators
The word “creativity” often brings to mind painters or writers. But in the AI era, managers across organizations — and not only those in traditionally creative departments — will be called upon to create unique solutions and products. Creativity is no longer solely for the so-called creatives.
In this sense, creativity in leadership roles represents the ability to distill complex ideas, identify novel patterns, and devise innovative solutions. Managers must look at business challenges in different ways and from new perspectives.
In fact, managers may soon be required to synthesize new ideas, analyze their potential impacts, and then lead production and promotion campaigns to ensure that anticipated gains are realized. We’ll see such dynamics play out in all different departments as managers increasingly turn their attention away from administration and toward innovation. With AI’s assistance, for example, managers can overhaul outdated workflows, implement more dynamic project management strategies, and use customer data to brainstorm truly disruptive ideas. Predictive tools will allow them to better understand the market and determine which concepts are viable and which new endeavors are likely to bear fruit. The World Economic Forum puts it plainly: “Creativity and critical thinking skills are increasingly important in an automated workforce.”
In short, the automation of low-level tasks and the powerful insights generated by predictive analytics and other AI-powered systems will give managers more time and more data than they’ve ever had before. AI will help them do their job better even as it makes the work itself more fulfilling. The coming changes herald an era in which managers have the bandwidth to focus on complex, high-profile tasks like employee development and innovative brainstorming.
Additional article contributors: Mehdi Ghafourifar and Brian Walker.
Brienne Ghafourifar is a cofounder of Entefy, an AI communication technology company building the first universal communicator.
The article originally appeared at Entefy.