Would an AI boss be better than your current human boss?

Image source, Hannu Rauma

Image caption, Hannu Rauma says using AI to help him manage has “added years to my life”

  • Author, MaryLou Costa
  • Role, Business reporter

Hannu Rauma felt discouraged and frustrated by the stress of managing 83 employees.

“I got too focused on all the things that were going wrong between the teams, and felt a sense of disappointment,” said Mr. Rauma, who lives in Vancouver, Canada.

He is a senior manager at Student Marketing Agency, a company that hires university students to provide marketing support to small businesses.

“When I started bringing in new clients, half of me thought, ‘We’re going to screw this up,’ and that dampened my enthusiasm.”

But according to Mr Rauma, all that has changed since November last year, when the company started using an autonomous AI manager developed by US company Inspira.

The AI ​​manager helps the agency’s employees, who work flexible hours remotely, prepare their schedules and plan their workload in advance.

It monitors their time tracking, sends them deadline reminders and regular check-in messages, and records time spent on different clients so the latter can be accurately billed. The AI ​​also makes suggestions to improve the wording of written text, is available to answer work-related questions, and automatically updates everyone’s work progress in a central portal.

Mr. Rauma says that the shift to AI manager has not only reduced his stress levels, but also allowed his employees to work faster and be more productive. “I can focus on growing the company and all the positive things. It has added years to my life, I know that for sure,” he says.

Mr. Rauma adds that his relationships with his employees have also improved dramatically. “It used to feel like a father-child situation. Now we’re more on an equal footing. It used to be just about solving problems. But now we can have more lighthearted discussions.”

But not everyone at Student Marketing Agency is using the AI ​​manager. Mr. Rauma and 26 of his 83 employees were actually part of a study conducted by Inspira and academics from Columbia University, Arizona State University and the University of Wisconsin to compare the AI ​​manager’s performance with that of human counterparts.

The participants were divided into three groups: one group was coached by a human manager, the second group was coached by the AI ​​manager, and the last group was coached by both the AI ​​and the human manager.

The AI ​​manager achieved a 44% success rate in getting employees to plan their workdays, and was able to motivate employees to log in on time 42% of the time. These numbers were comparable to the human manager, who achieved scores of 45% and 44% in those two areas.

When the AI ​​manager worked with a human manager, together they achieved a 72% success rate in getting employees to plan their workdays, and a 46% success rate in timeliness.

While the study is statistically small and focused on a specific employee type and industry, the results point to interesting implications for companies introducing AI tools.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Dell is one company that has cut jobs in light of the rise of AI

Companies like UPS, Klarna, Dell and others have announced major layoffs this year with the intention of replacing many roles with AI. However, Professor Paul Thurman of Columbia University in New York argues that it would be a mistake to completely abandon management roles for AI.

“The middle management layer is the most critical layer in any organization,” the management professor says. “They’re the layer that, when things start to change, you’re in for a wild ride. Your people don’t see continuity, they don’t get mentoring and coaching… all those human things that human managers are better at than AI and should be focusing on.”

AI, Prof. Thurman adds, can free managers from endless reminding and checking, so they can focus on more innovative ways of working. For example, managers could select project teams based on individual skills, oversee the briefing, and then hand over to their AI to manage details like deadlines.

AI can also identify who on the team is falling behind and may need closer human supervision, while also focusing on top-performing team members who need extra recognition.

But companies must avoid turning AI managers into a surveillance tool, he says.

“You don’t want to get to a point where you find that people are not only not showing up on time, but they’re taking too long for lunch and not eating enough salad. You don’t want to go to that point,” says Prof. Thurman. “You want to find the right way to encourage the right behavior.”

AI managers can also help people who have become “accidental managers” — people who excel in their roles and find themselves managing people despite management not being their natural skill, says Tina Rahman, founder of HR Habitat, a London-based HR consultancy.

“We did a survey on the reasons why people quit their jobs. Almost 100% of respondents said it was because of bad management.

“Some of them said they didn’t like the way they were guided, and most also said it was because they didn’t know what was expected of them or whether they were doing it right,” Ms Rahman said.

“You would expect an AI manager to be built to give those right instructions, to provide full transparency about the requirements and the results. People are likely to be more productive when they know what is expected of them.”

But too much reliance on AI management creates the impression that companies only care about output and not about people, Ms Rahman warns.

“It’s going to be very difficult for a company to tell their employees that they’re introducing a brand new AI system that’s going to completely manage them, and then with the same face say, ‘We care about your workplace experiences,’” she says.

Yet the biggest concern about AI managers may not be the employee perspective, but the cybersecurity perspective, warns James Bore, managing director of cybersecurity consultancy Bores, speaker and author.

“If you have an AI manager and you’ve given him all the business processes, procedures, and intellectual property that suddenly all resides in the software, that can be kidnapped by someone who wants to clone it, and it can also be held hostage,” Mr. Bore says.

“Once you start relying on it, and companies will if they start replacing humans with AI, you’re stuck. You have no resilience, no option to go back to humans, because you don’t have them anymore.”

Rather than businesses becoming more efficient through extensive deployment of AI, Bore says there could be unintended consequences beyond reliance on systems that can fail.

“The more you automate and the more people you remove from your business, yes, you bring down costs. But you also make your business more replaceable.”

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