On the second day of this year’s summit you might have noticed our colleagues standing just outside of the Ritz-Carlton’s ballroom, equipped with a camera and a microphone.That was because we wanted to use the opportunity of meeting so many interesting personalities to conduct some interviews on the topics of Global Female Leaders 2017. One of the summit’s major themes this year was – you guessed it – artificial intelligence. It influcenced most of our discussions and is important for nearly every relevant economic issue. Concerning this topic, we had the pleasure of talking to Vera Schneevoigt from Fujitsu. Not only did she participate in the panel on Management in the Years of Transformation, but her team also brought with them interesting technology that you could try out in their Fujitsu World.
During our interview, Vera said one of those things that cause a sudden flash of inspiration – a light bulb moment if you will. And we just had to follow up on this. Because she posed the rethorical question whether we would even need leaders any longer in the future with artificial intelligence on the rise. Will powerful computer programmes take over most of our management tasks soon?
Does artificial intelligence have leadership capabilities?
For many people this isn’t even a topic right now. Most of the debate surrounding the consequences of AI and automation is about the substitution of manual labour with smart robots. That’s a big deal for corporations and people too, since many manufacturing jobs as well as many repetitive jobs in the service industry are at risk.
But AI leading a company? That’s not something machines can do, right? Well, yes… and no. There definitely are some things artificial intelligence can do better than humans.
Do computers make better decisions? Seems likely…
Making decisions is probably the most important task in leadership, so we will talk about this right away. Gartner analyst Nigel Rayner said even five years ago that this is the case, citing machine learning and predictive analytics. And let’s face it: When it comes to clear-cut decision making, machines probably are better than humans by now. They don’t have to listen to their “gut feeling” and instead are capabable of analysing huge quantities of data.
Given the right data base, they can perform lots and lots of tasks very effectively. For example: they can predict on a mathematical level which job candidate will most probably perform best if they are hired. They can easily reorganise a shift schedule in case many employees are absent – even rapidly and short-term. They are able to invest in the right stocks and can predict which customer will be interested in which product and when they will be most susceptible to which exact kind of advertising. Given the right data base, machines can basically make decisions on everything. And over time, when the data bases grow (exponentially), these decisions become more and more precise.
No human has these capabilities. We have the ability reason, to be sure, but not on this level. And since businesses by now are overflooded with data, there will be no way around using analytics to work with them.
Al versus AI
But fortunately there is a caveat, and it has a bit to do with our oh so unreliable gut feelings. Because in business and in life there are factors other than just raw numbers that we have to consider. Take leading a workforce for example. How would you like to work at a company where the employees’ shifts are being switched around by computer programmes? For example, you would be notified by an automatically sent e-mail that, surprise, you have to work late tomorrow, cancel your plans please.
There is a thing that computers can’t functionally do yet, and will never be able to actually do ever: and that is engaging in what we call “Appreciative Leadership”. “Al” if you will, for the sake of a witty heading. Machines just aren’t good at people skills in general yet.
We know today that those companies work best where employees feel valued, where they know about the idealistic goals of their work, and where they feel they are contributing to a greater good. And these sentiments, which result in intrisic motivation that is so much more of a driving force than every monetary incentive, are mostly inspired by competent and mission driven leadership.
Maybe a machine will one day be able to tell as in a very convincing way that we and the work we do are important. But it is another question of whether we will actually be convinced. Because leadership stems from being accepted or feared, and it is at least questionable whether people will ever accept an algorithm as their leader.
Leaders and artificial intelligence should work together
So what’s the takeaway? Well, you guessed it already. Of course we will need leadership from actual people in the future, most definitely. But, as with every other job where automation takes over, leaders will be able to use artificial intelligence to take care of many tedious tasks. But instead of just letting the algorithm “make” the decisions, it’s best to view it as a colleague with lots of insight in several topics. The actual decision has to be made and communicated by humans though.
For example, did you know that leaders use up more than half of their time doing administrative work? That was found by an Accenture study on the topic that asked managers on all organisational levels how they spend their time. A lot of cumbersome planning of schedules, reports and analyses that would have to be done by humans otherwise can be done by computer programmes. But they should stay a basis for the decisions that are made and not predetermine them.
In the end, we are very happy to have spoken to Vera, because this was a very thought-provoking impulse she gave us.