Managing Leadership by Bot

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Two of the essential objects of employee training include the development management and leadership skills. As noted from our textbook, management development is ‘complex’ and leadership qualities are those which are meant to ‘inspire others’. For the lucky few, it may appear that their management and leadership skills come naturally. For most people taking on the role of supervisor or boss, these skills need to be nurtured and honed in order to assume the characteristics of an effective leader.

Traditional management training programs have provided the context and support for this type of development in the past. We do not live or work in traditional times any more. With the increasing influence of artificial intelligence in the workplace, management and leadership training can now be delivered directly to employees on the job through their personal technical devices.

The influence of leadership apps, such as ‘Coach Amanda’ and ‘Humu’, are explored in a recent article posted in The Wall Street Journal.

Click here to read the article.

As outlined in the article, these types of coaching apps provide prompts or ‘nudges’ to evoke constructive leadership behaviour. The apps are designed to give feedback and repeated reminders of appropriate supervisory or leadership behaviour. On the positive side, this kind of prompting does provide guidance from a neutral space. Most employees are not comfortable telling their direct supervisor something negative about their behaviour that needs to change. Supervisors have often been promoted into their new roles, with little guidance or direction when needing to deal with day-to-day challenges. A personalized and direct coaching app may offer an alternative to what would otherwise be a difficult conversation to have with one’s boss, or (as is usually the case) the negative behaviours for a new supervisor are just not addressed at all.

The fact that a prompt provided by artificial intelligence (AI) is needed in order change human behaviour is more than a bit ironic and, as the article suggests, just a little bit creepy. No matter what one’s perspective on the influence of AI may be, the reality is that it is here to stay and our working world has changed, for better or for worse.

Let’s make sure we program the apps for the better.

Discussion Questions:

  1. Based on your own internet search, how many leadership coaching apps are you able to source?
  2. How does an app, such as ‘Coach Amanda’, influence management development?
  3. Would you use a coaching app for your own leadership development? Explain your rationale.
  4. How does ‘micro-learning’ influence on the job management development in a positive way?

Leadership Lessons

What do leaders really need to know in order to inspire trust, create connections, and motivate others? Usually we look for methodologies and lessons that fall into ‘traditional’ leadership development categories. While these approaches to leadership continue to be valid, we live and work in untraditional times where organizational chaos resulting from constant change is the norm. As organizational leaders, Human Resources professionals need to know how to lead through the currency and consistency of change.

Patty McCord, ‘iconic former chief talent officer at Netflix’, provides us with some blunt lessons in her TedTalk – The Way We Work.

From a Human Resources (HR) perspective, at first, Ms. McCord’s approach seems almost blasphemous! She advocates for the tossing out of the precious acronyms, rules and processes, to which HR clings, to ensure order, system controls and best practice implementation. Upon reflection, however, the values Ms. McCord speaks to are about respect, excitement, passion, modeling, and collaboration.  While she advocates for the tossing out of the formal, once-a-year performance review, Ms. McCord reiterates the need for proactive and ‘in the moment’ feedback based in truth. When we treat our colleagues as adults in the workplace, we can all handle the truth, both positive and negative, because it paves the path to continuous improvement.

Understanding the business, living company values, building excitement for change into the future are ideas that are not new. These are lessons that we, as HR leaders, must continue to learn repeatedly, traditionally and untraditionally, until one day, we may be able to get them right and inspire others to do the same.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When is the last time you were told you are doing a good job at work by your boss?
  2. When is the last time you told a colleague that they were doing something right?
  3. As a leader and an HR professional, how do you inspire others in the workplace?
  4. How can you improve your own capacity for handling change?

The Disengagement Gap

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In many of the HRM NOW! blogs, I have talked about various gaps.

We have the pay equity gap, the PPE gender gap, and now we have a new gap for HR professionals to ponder – the disengagement gap.

But before we get to that, let’s discuss pondering.

Pondering is something more HR professionals should do. HR is good at strategizing, executing and implementing, but pondering is something to add to the HR toolbox.

To ponder is to weigh in with the mind, think about and reflect on, and with this disengagement gap, HR may need to ponder the causes. There seems to be some illogical human behaviour in the disengagement gap, and this is something HR should definitely ponder.

What is the disengagement gap and why is it happening?

An article on HRD calls the disengagement gap ‘a complacency conundrum’:

This DG or the complacency conundrum seems to be incessant in modern day workplaces. A recent North America survey showed the following:

  • 70% of employees are disengaged
  • Only 35 % are planning to leave their organization

This is a strange workplace behaviour. Employees are not happy with their work but are unwilling to change jobs.

This is especially strange when North America has some of the lowest unemployment rates in years. Low unemployment rates should make it easier for employees to leave jobs they do not like.  However, this was not happening in 2018, where 74% of employees were willing to leave their jobs, but in 2019, only 35% are.  Why the drastic drop?

HR professionals must consider why the change in employee’s attitudes. It’s not because employees love their jobs, because most do not.  All HR departments should begin a quest to understand how to engage their employees on a personal level. HR departments that start to ponder and develop some solutions to resolve this disengagement gap will see great performance benefits.

Discussion Questions

Improve your skills as a new HR professional by clicking on Dr. Natalie Baumgartner’s website. Pick one of her posts to read and review, and then ask yourself how an HR department could start to implement some of her ideas about employee engagement.

Investing in Learning

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It seems that the Canadian landscape for workplace investment in training and development continues to be a ‘good news/bad news’ type of scenario.

According to information provided by the Conference Board of Canada (and as noted in our textbook), Canadian workplaces continue to lag behind our American counterparts in how much is invested for workplace training. That is the bad news. The good news, according to this report, is that Canadian companies are steadily increasing the amount of funds provided per employee to invest in individual workplace training and development plans.

Click here to read the report from the Conference Board of Canada.

As identified by the Conference Board of Canada, investment in learning promotes and creates positive workplace culture but the changing external environment impacts the level of investment from a budgetary perspective.  While challenging, Canadian workplaces cannot back away from the improvements in funding for workplace learning and skills development.

The need for investing in ongoing training for Canadian workers is highlighted in a recent online article provided by Canadian HR Reporter. The article notes that the need for ongoing training is critical for ensuring the continued health of the Canadian economy. More importantly the type of training needed to invest in the future is on the continual shaping of skills and competencies for Canadian workers.

Click here to read the article by Canadian HR Reporter.

As noted in the article, gone are the days where Canadian workers can expect ‘jobs for life’. Continual learning through formal and informal training strategies, are critical in order for both Canadian workers and workplaces to remain competitive. The article speaks to Canadian skills development as a changed approach for employee ‘re-skilling’ in certain sectors facing workplace challenges.

What has not changed is that the primary skills of individual adaptability and commitment to learning are ongoing requirements for Canadian workers in order to meet the future and its continuing demands. That is should be good news for us all.

Discussion Questions:

  1. As the manager for training and development, what types of re-skilling programs would you implement in order to retrain and retain a potentially aging workforce?
  2. According to the article, the concept of ‘jobs for life’ is disappearing:
    • How long do you see yourself working for a particular employer?
    • What will determine the length of your tenure with that employer?
  3. If the employer investment in your workplace training needs is $889, what types of training will you want to receive?
  4. How much individual training do you think $889 will buy?

Should Robots Be Training Your Employees?

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Here is an interesting twist in the world of training and developing employees: Artificial Intelligence (AI) may be better at reading emotional intelligence than HR professionals.

Click here to read the article.

An exceptional human skill is reading people’s emotions, but robots may be better at it than trained HR professionals. A robot with the proper algorithm may be better served training employees, supervisors, and managers on the soft skills of emotional intelligence than an HR professional.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. By using AI and machine-learning algorithms a greater amount of HR data can be analyzed and evaluated at a level of efficiency and accuracy that no human can achieve. Could you image a HR professional evaluating an employee’s emotion with 87 per cent accuracy? Well, AI can reach that level of emotional accuracy. Researchers at MIT have created a wireless system called EQ-Radio, which uses wireless signals to scan an individual and identify if an individual is excited, happy, angry, or sad.

Click here to watch how MIT has developed an emotion detection machine.

Imagine what impact this type of technology may have on training and developing employees? Instead of using the end-of-training session reaction evaluations (commonly known as happy sheets), you can measure if your training had an emotional affect. In addition, there are many other HR applications of using emotions to understand employees at work.

AI and machine learning algorithms may just start to become mainstream in some workplaces. HR must be aware of the impacts of AI on the employees that work in organizations, how to use these new technologies, and how to manage the changes that these technologies will have.

Discussion Questions

Think about AI, machine learning, and EQ-Radio. How could these technologies disrupt training and development in the workplace?

Identify some of the potential ethical concerns that HR departments will need to address when companies start using emotional detection scanners in the workplace? What could HR do to reduce ethical and personal privacy concerns?