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Mixing Manager and Machine

Three challenges about using intelligent machines managers need to understand

As technology progresses, many companies are using intelligent machines (also known as business automation or AI) to make tasks easier. These systems can bypass human intervention to automate easier tasks such as monitoring performance and scheduling. This frees up much-needed time for, as Accenture Strategy puts it, “judgement work,” where human decision making skills and intuition are required.

The vast majority of managers believe incorporating intelligent machines into the workforce will enhance workflow among other benefits. However a study by the Accenture Institute for High Performance and Accenture Strategy also found three challenges that may hinder the integration.

1. Managers undervalue person-to-person skills

Currently, managers see themselves as unprepared for working alongside intelligent machines, with 57% believing they need to update their skills. However, when asked what skills they believe will be most valuable, many discounted the value of interpersonal skills, such as social networking, people development, and collaboration. Interestingly, 42% thought digital/technology skills were of utmost importance, while only 21% ranked social networking highly. This may be problematic in the future as managers will need to work closely with their teams to understand the information from these intelligent machines, and make the right decisions based on data and personal experience. This will move the organisation forward through creativity and experimentation.

2. Trust is a difficult barrier to break

Accenture’s study suggests that while 84% of all managers think machines will increase the effectiveness and interest in their work, a mere 14% of first-line managers would be ready to trust and act on the advice of intelligent machines. While far more senior executives (46%) would trust the information; somehow organisations will have to find a way to close the gap. The three highest rated ways of solving this problem among first-line and middle management appear to be:

1. Ensure everyone is well informed about how the system produces advice and how it functions (60%)
2. Make sure the system has done well in the past in other companies (55%)
3. Ensure the system can explain its logic (49%)

3. It’s not clear how intelligent machines will increase value

Many managers do not want to give full control over to intelligent machines, believing them to be of most value when they augment rather than automate, work functions. They see only one of 11 core management tasks, monitoring and reporting performance, to be worthy of full automation. However there are many opportunities for augmentation to speed up processes, making them bigger and better. Intelligent machines can now run predictions on job applicants, recommending strategies to help them succeed in the company. There is so much potential for growth, however unknown the path may be.

So how can leadership teams make sure their managers are ready for the future of intelligent machines?

  • Make your workforce ready: Ensure your managers have the knowledge and education to work with the machines. Go through existing training and revitalise it so it fits to the new requirements. Include aspects of analytical reasoning, digital know-how, and business acumen.
  • Inspire your managers: You can’t just introduce an intelligent machine to a workforce and assume that your managers will fall into line. Educate them about the system, and convince them of its value.
  • Start making changes: Intelligent machines are such a new idea in the business world. There is very little available in terms of a track record or solid case studies, so you must be willing to try new things to see for yourself how both augmentation and automation will help your organisation grow.


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