For decades, there were well-understood paths and processes for advancing up the career ladder to management ranks. Get the right training, get to know the right people, treat the people working for you fairly, and understand your area of the business. Now, artificial intelligence is upending the tried-and-true rules of management — with a surprisingly non-technical bent.
Becoming a successful manager in the coming AI era demands two things: more people-management skills, coupled with an ability to marshal AI resources to areas where they are needed. In light of this encroaching advance of AI, it’s time for executives and professionals to re-direct their career paths.
First, there’s the growing understanding that more AI means more demand for people skills, not less. With more AI on the scene, “management skills will shift to leadership through the context of those more human-oriented skills,” says Frank Diana, futurist with Tata Consultancy Services. “If machines are dealing with the bulk of what businesses do today, then leadership, people skills and true creativity become vital.”
At the same time, traditional layers of management — charged with sending information and data up and down the line — will be rendered obsolete, Diana says. “Clearly, if nothing else, the last year has exposed the potential of AI for knowledge-working to people all over the world. The layers that we see in our organizations today will never, ever survive this era. AI’s role in enabling sense and respond is going to eliminate the need for a lot of organizational hierarchies.”
“AI will eliminate most of the mundane day to day tasks that managers and employees spend the majority of their time doing,” predicts Alexa Eden, wellness consultant and formerly humane technologist with AlgoAI Tech.
There are specific skills that will make for the successful employee or manager in the AI age, such as “intuitive learning, empathy, energy management, and awareness,” says Eden. “Learning to read between the lines, among people, processes, and problems, will be the secret sauce for all successful professionals in the future.”
To build careers and skills “for a future where knowledge exists in an automated, democratized manner, we must increasingly nurture those human skills that make us distinctly human,” says Diana. This consists of “critical thinking, problem solving, empathy, innovative thought, and entrepreneurial spirit.”
Look across the practice areas of HR, finance, sales, marketing, operations, customer success, and engineering, “you can pretty easily pick at least two or three use cases for each that will be facilitated by AI tools,” says Robinson. “Managers should think about how they can enable their teams to comfortably and safely use AI technology without worrying about infosec and privacy issues.”
Importantly, managers of today and tomorrow need to understand the implications of AI on the career aspirations of their team members. “Every working professional will eventually be impacted by AI,” Eden predicts. Fields that will be augmented by AI include those “that analyze and aggregate massive data,” she continues. Examples include data analytics, actuaries, SEO specialists, marketing professionals, legal teams, contract managers, and trading desks. “AI will be able to track, follow, and predict certain trends that the human mind, and eye takes too long to do.”
Even lawyers and doctors will be freed to focus on higher-value tasks, Diana says. “In the case of a doctor, where a lot of their tasks are automated, they can spend more time with patients and allow the compassion and empathy side of what makes us human play a much more effective role in that world.”
Professionals in these data-intensive occupations “will want to prepare by learning to adapt, learn from, and train AI language model systems to work better for them, and seek out the specifics of what they are looking for,” says Eden.
What Managers Need to Know About AI
Managers won’t have to have algorithm development skills, but will be expected to have a high-level understanding of the implications of AI to their operations and organizations. “AI is challenging professionals across all occupations to redirect their skills to be more adaptive, analytical, data-driven, and cross disciplinary,” says Joe Robinson, co-founder and CEO of Hummingbird. “They must be up to date on the latest trends from multiple angles – business, legal, privacy, information security, and so on. For example, how is AI being implemented, what are the capabilities and limitations of AI, and what are the regulations that are currently being put in place? Only with this knowledge can professionals and managers assess when and where to apply AI.”
This doesn’t necessarily require extensive coursework in technical skills, but rather, an emphasis on the creative skills that ultimately move businesses forward. “Investing heavily in soft skill development human intelligence, creative strategy, collaborative solutions, and intuitive decision making will help the professionals of the future thrive,” Eden says.
Non-technical managers and employees “shouldn’t break their heads over developing technical skills, but I would suggest that they learn the basics so they can find, hire, communicate, and manage and direct their technical leads with a sharp awareness.” They should still “learn the basics of code, language models, and neural networks so they can learn the universal language of programming — the more AI we introduce into our daily processes, the more we will need to partner with AI to ensure our solutions,” Eden says.
Ultimately, success as a manager in this era “is about filling the gaps AI cannot fill and use it to your advantage in the workplace,” says Robinson. “There will potentially be new job roles and careers focusing on both the development of the technology as well as managing and optimizing AI systems for the end users.”
Overall, Eden is feeling positive about the future of management and professional careers in the age of AI. “AI will help alleviate the tasks; managers will help elevate the humans,” she relates. “AI is here for a reason, and as long as we embrace it, are intentional with it, smart, and careful with its deployment, we will reap its benefits.”