Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced By Software (Devin Fidler) The Forum applies the 70:20:10 Lens


We are all well aware of how technology is disrupting work in all sectors from education to hospitals to industrial parks and service industries. Up until recently the fear of technology induced unemployment has been limited to the blue collar sector as we have seen automation displace the likes of autoworkers and toll booth operators to name a few. Andrew McAfee in his book Race Against the Machine explored the trends and problems to come as intelligent machines continue to be more efficient and effective than people beings in doing some of the work of human beings.

One area which appeared to be out of reach was the role of leaders in organisations; most specifically that of Managers overseeing the logistics, resources, time and deliverables. For example in agile environments communication and iteration are particularly critical compared to the more predictable and traditional waterfall approaches to development. This is work a machine could never do, right?

Wrong.

A new technology called iCEO aims to do just that, replace the role of the Manager. In the article Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced By Software, the iCEO technology is described as "...a virtual management system that automates complex work by dividing it into small individual tasks. iCEO then assigns these micro-tasks to workers using multiple software platforms, such as oDesk, Uber, and email/text messaging."

An example from the text showed how iCEO was set up to prepare a research report for a Fortune 50 company. iCEO oversaw:

  • Workers tasked to curate a list of articles on the topic
  • Duplicates being removed by another group
  • Technical analysts extracting and arranging the articles’ key insights
  • Writers turning insights into coherent text
  • Subject matter experts reviewing
  • Editors, proofreaders, and fact checkers finalizing

In the end the speed and quality was considered very impressive and clearly didn't require the added role of a Project Manager. So how then can the maligned Managers survive? The answer is actually found in what iCEO does best as this hints of what it cannot do. iCEO is designed to "oversee." iCEO is perfect for the distribution of work and the segmentation of activities. It certainly has the potential to meet the role of assigning tasks and process management and without a doubt it will be able to collect and analyze certain types of data to inform decisions for future needs and risks. What it cannot do (at this time) is support the necessary continuous development of workforce skills in the agile ways needed to keep pace with the speed of business. 

To survive, Managers need to let go of the role that has historically defined them, that of managing or overseeing the work. The work they need to engage in is also the work that cannot be sent abroad as easily (outsourced) or placed into the "hands" of machines (automated). The new work of Managers is the work of artisans. It is the work that goes beyond the tactile and cognitive activities of project schedules and more into emotional areas. The manager's best defence then is to think less like a manager of people and process serving the organisation and more like an inspiring/encouraging agent, guide and model serving the people. iCEO cannot respond to the human elements needed in the development of people. Yes, new tools like iCEO will provide a great deal of data that will inform us on the individuals in our networks that hold the best promise for learning from but that is only if those individuals too are in position and have the disposition to share and collaborate. 

Employee needs for appreciation, incremental success, challenge and greater purpose of their work is most important today and it must come from another individual not a software application. As echoed throughout the book 70:20:10 Framework Explained, learning is primarily a social activity and social learning cannot be done without others. Building trust, supporting communities of practice and interest, as well as encouraging personal learning networks (PLN) is the "work" of the new manager. They will need to foster transparency through working out loud, model curation activities to surface relevant information for easier consumption and promote a culture of continuous learning. These skills are not learned through traditional methods, approaches and systematic curricula around project management. The greater skills will come through deeper understanding of psychology, sociology, human motivation, and networking. 

Technology like iCEO will do as technology has always done free people to work in more meaningful ways for and with their fellow human beings. Therefore relief and not fear should be the reaction by organisational leaders as they too will experience the same level of benefit their reports will; engagement in work that has a greater impact than just the bottom line.

READ: Here's How Managers Can Be Replaced By Software