"Alexa, can I trust my manager?"

According to a recent survey, 64 percent of respondents said they would trust a robot more than their manager. If that was wasn't surprising enough, 50 percent admitted turning to a robot instead of going to their boss.

The added confidence in artificial intelligence (AI) and robotic process automation comes as no surprise as more and more applications find their way into businesses. In my organization, for example, "robots" update spreadsheets, recommend future development locations, and even suggest learning content based on employees' backgrounds and job functions. 

The increased efficiency and accuracy are hard to deny. But, for managers, over-reliance should be a concern. As you can imagine, there's risk associated with employees circumventing your judgment. Garbage in, garbage out they say. It's still essential that they keep you in the loop, come to you with questions, and respect you.  

When asked what a robot can do better than managers, respondents noted the following top five responses: 

  1. Provide unbiased information 
  2. Maintain work schedules 
  3. Problem solve 
  4. Manage a budget 
  5. Answer confidential questions without causing fear of scrutiny 

When asked why they were excited about further AI integration, respondents indicated that they would: 

  1. Have more free time 

  2. Learn new skills, and
  3. Expand current role to be more strategic

After reading through these two lists, I was struck with a few thoughts that I think are valid considerations for leaders.  

Due to aspects like unconscious bias and "legacy ways of thinking," are employees questioning the legitimacy of managers' advice? Are managers bad problem solvers, or do they just not have the bandwidth to help employees puzzle through obstacles? And, are managers spending too much time on self-serving tasks as opposed to leading and elevating their people?

Some of these thoughts may be valid. Others may be a new norm and real benefits of post-Ai integration. However, if managers won't be looked at for skill development, maintaining schedules, and managing a P&L, then where can they instill trust and engage employees? 

Finally, participants were asked: What can a manager do better than a robot? The top three were: 

  1. Understand my feelings 
  2. Coach me 
  3. Create (or promote) a work culture

The role of "manager" is changing. The transition to leadership (intensified by the integration of AI) requires a transformation of thought. Rather than focusing on the details, managing the numbers, and serving as a technical expert to your team, employees value your mentorship.

At the end of the day, managers set the tone and are responsible for developing and engaging their employees concurrent with their workload. 

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.