The FINANCIAL — The vast majority (84 percent) of managers believe intelligent machines will make them more effective and their work more interesting, according to a new study by Accenture. However, more than one-third (35 percent) fear cognitive computing and intelligent machines will threaten their job.
A new Accenture Strategy report, Managers and machines, unite!, features findings from a study of more than 1,700 managers in 14 countries – including those from the C-suite, middle and front lines – about their attitudes toward and expectations of cognitive computing on their current job roles and skills, as well as their positions in the workforce of the future.
Managers spend much of their working day on the tasks that the study’s authors believe intelligent machines will be most suited to do in the future. When asked about the tasks they spend the most time on, in their current position, 81 percent of respondents said planning and coordinating work, followed by solving problems and handling exceptions (65 percent), monitoring and reporting performance (52 percent), maintaining routines and standards (51 percent) and analyzing and sharing information (45 percent) were the most consuming.
Intelligent machines will increasingly free managers from these time-consuming tasks to focus on work that is more uniquely human, or “judgment work,” such as complex thinking and higher-order reasoning. Yet more than half (57 percent) are uncertain whether they have the skills to succeed in their role over the next five years and many are concerned about the impact on their jobs. Managers in electronics and high tech are most concerned that intelligent machines could threaten their positions (50 percent), followed by 49 percent of banking managers, 42 percent in the airline sector and 41 percent of those in retail.
“Intelligent machines will not only augment the decision making abilities of managers by providing them with relevant insight and data, but free them to focus on more strategic tasks,” said David Smith, senior managing director, Accenture Strategy. “The workforce of the future needs to have more intuition, creativity and emotional intelligence. Intelligent machines cannot provide that but do give managers the time to bring these attributes to the fore and allow them to experiment, innovate and capture new growth opportunities.”
Managers Trust Machines – To an Extent
The lack of trust that managers have in intelligent systems needs to be addressed, according to the research, especially among first-line managers. When asked if they would trust the advice of intelligent systems in making business decisions in the future, only 14 percent of first-line managers and 24 percent of mid-level managers said they strongly agree, compared to close to half (46 percent) of executive-level managers.
To get on board with fully trusting an intelligent system, managers indicate they need to understand how the system works and generates advice (61 percent), that the system has a proven track record (57 percent) and the system provides convincing explanations (51 percent).
A Skills Gap Is Developing Between Soft and Hard Skills
Managers believe the skills most important for their roles in five years are digital and technology skills (42 percent), creative thinking and experimentation (33 percent), data analysis and interpretation (31 percent) and strategy development (30 percent).
However, managers underestimate the importance of interpersonal skills that set them apart from intelligent machines. When asked which skills they need to be successful in their role in five years, only one in five said social networking (21 percent), people development (21 percent) and collaboration skills (20 percent).
“Managers are not entirely sold on the benefit of intelligent machines and it is up to senior executives to address their concerns,” said Bob Thomas, managing director of research on leadership and the workforce, Accenture Strategy. “They need to help their managers not just improve their technology skills but develop greater interpersonal skills to lead the workforce of the future.”
Recommendations: Three Ways Organizations Can Prepare Managers
CEOs and their leadership teams need to ensure that managers are prepared to take full advantage of the change that lies ahead. Accenture Strategy has three recommendations to facilitate the shift:
Sharpen the Human Edge. To achieve the right skill levels and capabilities, leaders will need to revise their organizations’ talent development and coaching programs, and individual performance criteria.
Rally the Troops. Leaders must present themselves as advocates of change. Managers will be more likely to commit emotionally to the introduction of cognitive computing if they trust the leaders at the helm. Building trust will require clear and honest communications and calls for leaders to involve managers in the change.
Chart a Course of Discovery. CEOs should strive to create a union of managers and machines that does more than automate tasks or augment managers’ performance. The most successful long-term unions will multiply the value that managers or machines are able to deliver on their own.