Could digital transformation make task-based managers redundant?

Romy Hughes from Brightman examines how digital transformation will affect some managers and how they can prepare for the future.

Let’s face it, 99 times out of 100, when new technology enters the workplace, it simply digitizes an existing process to make it more efficient.

While most new technology can be marketed as revolutionary, it rarely lives up to the title. Most of the time, new technology just iterates the status quo here and there instead of fundamentally revolutionizing it.

This is where digital transformation sets itself apart from other technological implementations. When implemented correctly, digital transformation offers organizations the opportunity to fundamentally change the way they operate.

It is this aspect of transformation that distinguishes it from a more traditional technological implementation. The problem is, most people aren’t ready to change the way they work, let alone transform.

Those in leadership positions in particular, which have functioned largely the same since the Industrial Revolution, are sure to be shocked when the effects of digital transformation really take hold. But how will digital transformation affect them and is there anything they can do about it?

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The promise of digital transformation

Digital transformation has the ability to fundamentally change how a business works, from opening new revenue opportunities and introducing new data on which to make more informed decisions, to questioning relevance. of certain positions. Most of these consequences are intentional and expected, but some of them may be completely unexpected.

One of these unintended consequences of digital transformation is its impact on management culture. It has the potential to fundamentally change the way management decisions are made, potentially reaching a point where leaders could rely less and less on their hunches and more on the ideas and recommendations of AI algorithms.

Those same executives who are currently overseeing their organization’s digital transformation may not understand just how automated their own decision-making can become in the future.

Could automated decision making be a change for the better?

Thanks to digital transformation, AI and big data, companies have access to a wealth of management data and information never before imagined. With every customer interaction, supply chain step, and marketing response that can be recorded and analyzed at scale and in real time, the amount of information that can now be analyzed is staggering.

Correlations between datasets that could never have been predicted can now be discovered and exploited, with AI engines continually tweaking their algorithms to better predict outcomes.

Once an organization has reached this stage, it will have the ability to delegate even the most important decisions to AI. Where should the company invest its profits this year? What is the right price to pay for X? What is the most profitable product to promote in the next two quarters? Which region is at risk of political turmoil over the next five years and how can it be remedied?

These are all very big questions with far too many variables for only a handful of individuals to make informed decisions, yet this is how conference rooms operate on a day-to-day basis. You could say that almost all strategic management decisions are made by nothing more than intuition, as no individual is able to analyze all the facts on their own to make a truly informed decision, or they have no just not have access to all the facts. do this.

AI brings the possibility of truly fact-based decision making closer to reality. If an organization is willing to let go of control and take calculated risks to test and build confidence in its algorithms, it has the opportunity to be led by facts, not feelings.

Managers are not immune to this change

Whenever a change is proposed in the workplace – whether it’s a new technology, a merger or an acquisition, most fears tend to be about its impact on workers in the workplace. first line, especially with regard to the risk of dismissal. Do you need as many checkouts with self-service checkouts for example? In this scenario, the answer is of course no.

But technological innovations have always made, and will continue to make, certain production roles redundant. Yet despite many technological revolutions, the human race has yet to find itself redundant. We may have fewer coal miners, switchboard operators, and chimney sweeps, for example, but people have found rewarding work in other new, often technology-driven industries.

The difference this time around is that the change brought about by digital transformation is not limited to the productive workforce, but also to their managers. And given that the foundational role of the manager has been largely isolated from all of the workforce changes under them so far, managers might get a big surprise.

This is because most managers are task-based managers; they define tasks and verify that these tasks are accomplished. This is then reported to their manager, who then in turn reports until he finally reaches the board.

Management is therefore, most often, a line of report to those upstream in the chain. But as task reporting becomes more automated through digital transformation, or tasks themselves become automated, what role does the task-based manager remain? If they can no longer report task completion, what is their role?

Return management to its roots

Managers need to recognize this change now and adapt to it, just as their staff has had to do for generations. Organizations can help by moving away from task-based reporting lines to values-based and results-based goals.

Managers will still have an important role to play in the digitally transformed company, but it will be much more forward-looking and strategic. Instead of compiling reports and looking back at what has and hasn’t been done, they should focus more on the future.

Managers will read reports instead of writing them and make more strategic decisions based on the abundance of data they have. We are far from the tactical and task-oriented manager that dominates our organizations today. It will require very different skills and mindset, which some managers today may struggle to embrace.

While this change forces us to reassess the role of the manager in modern organizations, in reality, digital transformation is taking management back to its roots. Management was never meant to be a point of aggregation for reports. Management is all about generating value by getting the most out of people through the encouragement, inspiration and empowerment of teams.

The impact of digital transformation on managers will ultimately be positive for them, those they lead and their organizations, but only if they embrace it and are ready to transform along the way.

Through Romy Hugues

Romy Hughes is a Principal at Brightman, a business change company with expertise in integration and service management.

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