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How intelligent automation could change the workforce of the future

Many have trumpeted the rise of intelligent machines, systems, and automation as signalling the death of large swathes of our complex workforce ecosystem.

As our economy and workplaces move to embrace digital and technology, machines and systems emerge that can perform processes effectively, and gather insights out of otherwise-uninterpretable data.

However there is another way to consider the shift occurring in workplaces across the world.

Rather than entire jobs disappearing, McKinsey suggest that it’s rather the more mundane and process-based tasks common to many jobs that are up for automation and augmentation by intelligent machines.

Indeed 60 per cent of roles could have a third of their duties better facilitated by intelligent machines.

Human intuition + intelligent automation

This opens the door for more higher order work, and more accurate results from now-automated tasks.

Accenture outlines how the rise of intelligent machines in an increasingly digital world will provide managers and leaders with the opportunity to excel, rather than having to compete against a threat of automation.

By removing the need to pore over the more routine trend analysis, scheduling, and basic processes, managers will be able to focus on more strategic and human aspects of leadership.

After all, human intuition and judgement is a powerful tool. 

Complex reasoning, the ability to view decisions through a subjective ethical lens, and the empathy required to successfully manage a high performing and diverse team, are all skills that cannot be easily automated.

But providing more bandwidth to focus on these areas will allow good leaders and organisations to stride ahead.

Conversely, human processing is poor comparatively to that of machines, and we often struggle to glean the correct insights from structured data, not to mention unstructured.

Much of the time we rely on an inaccurate sample group, or revert to gut instinct or tradition.

Here, machines and systems (take IBM’s Watson for example) can remove the noise – confounding inputs resulting in an unclear set of options without an immediately obvious solution – and provide leaders with clearer high level data-based recommendations and insights into any question they wish to ask, allowing leaders’ to look across data and make strategic, intuitive, and human decisions. 

The changing face of management

It is now widely accepted that skills in strategic planning, digital and technology adaption, and improvement and innovation will be required by all managers and leaders in the future.

However, the interpersonal and human elements of management – personal development, coaching, mentoring, and networking – will also become increasingly important as machines provide more accurate and actionable insights.

The question then emerges whether managers and leaders will have the skills required to flourish in this new workplace.

Trust in – and understanding of – data, machines, and technology will be essential in modern workforces and organisations, and embracing this will likely be one of the key factors to a company’s success in future markets and economies.

Crucial to any machine insights is ensuring you understand the inputs and data you are providing it, and know what questions to ask of it.

Too much data and uninterpretable recommendations is never a blessing. But leaders who understand their market and the problems that need solving, and can embrace machine-generated recommendations (a figure currently sitting at a low 14-24 per cent of frontline and middle managers) will have a great chance to show off their strategic, commercial, and innovative chops.

Management is changing, and is no longer about looking down at what your team, division, or company is doing; but rather up and out, across an organisation, market, or economy, and making decisions that will leave you in a better commercial or operational position tomorrow than you are today.

Similarly, managers will have more time to spend on more accurate and effective interpersonal and individual development for their teams. This is a good thing, because people management is changing as quickly as technology is.

People don’t just want blind direction.

They want leadership, vision, innovation; they want to understand their role in the company, the impact they are having, and where it’s going to take them.

Managers will now have the chance to further develop their ability to provide visionary leadership and communicate strategy, make better and more informed decisions, and help their people and teams feel empowered in their roles and careers.

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