Can Managers Be Automated? 

Can software replace managers? For anyone who has struggled with a nightmare manager, it might be a welcoming prospect. To top it off, we’ve had news from Gartner that 69% of an average manager’s work would be automated by 2024. 

It’s certainly a bold prediction. And with increasingly sophisticated technology at our disposal, it’s not unreasonable or outlandish to assume that the manager’s role will experience an overhaul in the next four years. But does this mean that managers, and all they do, can be automated? Will we still need manager in this brave new world?

Managers everywhere can rest assured and breathe a sigh of relief. It’s unlikely they are going anywhere anytime soon. The nitty-gritty of everyday management life will likely change, but certain tasks cannot and may not ever be automated.

Benefits of Automating Management Tasks

Automation is not the enemy. In fact, automation could be a saving grace for managers that allows them to spend time on tasks and improvements that make a real difference to the organization. By getting easily-automated tasks out of the way, managers can use their naturally creative minds to come up with innovative solutions to pressing problems, while dedicating more energy to people management.

We also know there are real benefits of automating certain tasks. It eliminates human error, improves accuracy and compliance, and provides consistency and reliability. Furthermore, with increased automation comes enhanced productivity and reduced management overheads. Indeed, tasks likely to be automated include document management, approval of workflows, processing forms, payroll approvals, and data analysis.

But there are limits to automation, and as things stand, this will always be the case. Most of these limitations come down to human connection, communication, and interaction.

What Management Tasks Can’t Be Automated?

There are certain things you need from a human manager. Sure, routine tasks may be automated, but tasks that require high levels of social-creative skills include:

Coaching. More than ever, managers must play a coaching role. They need to spend time with their employees, act as cheerleaders and mentors, and increase levels of knowledge and skills while keeping people motivated, confident, and enthusiastic. 

Feedback. Employees want more frequent, face-to-face feedback with their managers. They want to interact with their managers and discuss their strengths and areas for improvement, to understand exactly what they can do to improve and advance. Automation can certainly deliver more immediate feedback, but managers can make feedback more tailored, motivating, and impactful.

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Rewards and recognition. These are unlikely ever to be automated for two reasons. First, recognition means more coming from a peer or a manager than a machine. Secondly, it is given not only for accomplishment but also for effort. Managers are in the best position to keep an eye on employees and see how they are performing and striving for constant improvement, resulting in a deserved reward.

Creative and forward-thinking problem-solving. Managers can’t just think of the present. They need to be forward-thinking and consider the bigger picture. This involves considering tasks and priorities and setting them in line with company goals, objectives, and values. This process requires strategic and creative thinking, as well as the ability to come up with innovative, out-of-the-box solutions. Currently, this level of automation isn’t possible.

Assistance with mental wellbeing. Employee burnout is on the rise, as are conditions such as anxiety and depression. In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the United States, affecting 40 million adults. Employees need to feel they can discuss their mental wellbeing with their managers and that they will be understood and accommodated. They also need empathetic leaders to discuss mental and emotional struggles.

Hiring and promotion. Some aspects of the recruitment process can certainly be automated. But a lot of recruitment relies on elements that are hard to program. For example, company fit is still something hiring managers look for and prioritize. You want to make sure that the employees you hire will acclimatize well into the company culture, that they have the right values, attitudes, and motivations. There’s no sense in hiring people with impressive strengths and skills if they leave after a short time due to incompatibility. Hiring for company fit can help with retention and morale long-term. That is best determined by a human.

The Future of Management

The idea of 69% of management tasks being automated might sound scary initially, but in reality, it’s great news. This automation will free up valuable time, allowing managers to spend time on tasks that really matter — ones that will make a real difference to employee engagement and the bottom line. Undoubtedly, the face of management will change. But the manager will still play a hugely important role in the smooth running of every organization.

Stuart Hearn is a leading performance management specialist who has been working in the HR sector for over 20 years. He is passionate about moving performance management forward and is currently CEO of Clear Review, an innovative performance management software system. He previously worked for Sony Music Publishing and was a co-founder of PlusHR.

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