No, the term “robotic managers” doesn’t refer to your boss. Instead, it’s a new process developed to “manage the managers” using artificial intelligence.
It’s an intriguing concept, using research showing that periodic repetition and reminders are good ways for new managers to learn new material – particularly those in the millennial ranks who have grown up with digital processes. This group tends to prefer checking an app instead of sitting through a power point presentation on the material. (Many have been waiting for years for something to replace power point!) The app that is frequently used to serve as management coaches for new managers is the Coach Amanda app, powered by IBM’s Watson. A current coachee has described the process, saying that she has her morning coffee with her coach while she reviews her goals in her new job as a corporate manager and ponders whether she’s spending her time wisely. That’s all done via her Coach Amanda app, of course. In a recent session, she texted her bot to say that she doubted her ability to conduct a performance review for a colleague. The bot chided her, saying that she was “being too hard on herself.” (The information that the bot used was gleaned from a personality test where the coachee scored high on “conscientiousness.”) The coachee apparently thought that the bot was right, saying, “Wow, she called me out on this.” As more millennials move into management jobs, many are finding that they lack basic training in such supervisory skills as delivering feedback and delegating work,” (ref WSJ). Thus, AI-driven coaching apps are being used to fill in some of the gaps. Those who have experienced both a robotic management coach and the human variety, say that the AI version isn’t as good as the human, but it’s far cheaper – roughly $20-30/hour versus $250-500/hour for the human. At this point, the Amanda platform app is in a beta process, with about 600 people using it and several consulting and accounting firms testing it. Another platform, Butterfly, was developed after its three co-founders were thrown into management jobs in their 20s without any training, The app tracks feedback from its users’ employers and uses “machine learning” to provide vetted tips and appropriate articles on a wide variety of subjects. Yet another management bot platform, Qstream, uses a teaching method developed at Harvard Medical School to train medical professionals in safety and diagnostic procedures. The teaching approaches that the app uses have been shown, through peer-reviewed studies, to increase learning. The coaching programs use AI in a variety of ways, but they typically factor a user’s responses over time into the selection and timing of coaching tips. In this way, a user who has almost mastered the material will be prompted to recall it less than someone who is being exposed to it for the first time. There are also some of the apps available that tailor content to what the user wants to learn. The apps tap into current preferences for injecting training into the workday, with 49% of employees saying that they prefer taking their training on-the-job and when they need it, rather than waiting to engage in formal classes where the material is presented. Another benefit is that the manager-trainee’s employees can also participate. In these instances, if the platform identifies a feeling among the employees that their boss is making questionable decisions, the app will nudge the boss to explain the decisions more clearly. These kind of processes have been found to increase the viability and productivity of a variety of groups and teams. Sounds like a new era is dawning in the management training arena.