Soon, all of us will see part or all of our work replaced by A.I.
We once thought that automation was a threat only to manual labor, limited to factories and entry-level functions. These types of stories have made headlines since the Luddites destroyed factory machinery in the early 1800s.
But now, thanks to artificial intelligence, none of us is immune.
Even in the once-untouchable realm of what Peter Drucker calls “knowledge work” (that is to say, “white-collar” jobs), humans could be replaced by software.
Consider the case of John, a senior network consulting engineer in his late 40s at one of the leading technology companies on the planet. He had worked diligently his whole career to prepare himself for emerging technologies, assuming that this would be the key to success and long-term stability. He had basically reached the pinnacle of the profession in technical skills, experience and certifications.
His job entailed monitoring his clients’ network optimization, conducting analyses and producing detailed reports with recommendations for network performance improvement.
Almost all of that, his manager told him one day, would be automated. And soon.
The company was planning to use artificial intelligence to power real-time data dashboards available to clients with a few clicks, with real-time alerts providing immediate action recommendations.
John never dreamt that he, a guru-status engineer and a master of technology, could be replaced by the technology itself.
He needed to adapt but didn’t know how. No certification prepared him for this.
It’s coming for all professions
This is what’s going to happen to tens of millions of executives and professionals in every imaginable profession — not just tech — in the coming decades.
- Medicine: AI is making complex diagnoses that only experienced medical professionals could make before. Robotics is replacing doctors in surgery.
- Finance: AI algorithms are conducting analyses and making decisions. Even customer-facing financial advisors will be replaced by financial copilot services such as Wealthfront or Bank of America’s “Erica”.
- Law: A.I. will replace paralegal research functions and gradually take over more complex legal procedures.
Until now, many of us have assumed that improving our technical skills was precisely how we could secure our jobs. Professionals spend a lifetime honing their technical skills. It will be humbling and frightening for all of us as we watch more and more of these skills replaced by technology.
The Future of Work
Over the past 50 years, consciously or not, we have been struggling to keep up with the machines. We think that by being efficient, we are being effective.
We work longer hours than ever, despite technology that should make our lives easier. We take our work home with us. Messaging devices invade our privacy 24 hours a day. We brag about how many emails we receive and respond to. And we never feel like we’re caught up with all of our duties.
We cannot compete with something that needs no sleep, never has a bad day, and needs no recognition. The competition is over. If you try to beat technology at its own game AI is going to win every time.
The Good News
AI is opening up tremendous opportunities for professionals who are willing to learn to be more human. All the evidence points in this direction. AI will not completely replace executives and professionals. It will simply shift their roles.
Industry is beginning the recognize the value of human skills. In a massive survey conducted by LinkedIn, “57 percent of leaders say soft skills are more important than hard skills.” And what “soft skills” were most important according the respondents? Leadership, communication, collaboration and time management.
For six months, John’s manager had been hinting that he should focus more on managing the customer relationship and suggested he take courses in so-called “soft skills.”
“The customer relationship?! Soft skills?” he thought. “I’m an engineer, not a social worker. What a joke.”
But it was no joke. As a well-paid senior engineer, the firm now expected him to be customer-facing, focused on maximizing the customer experience – or there would no longer be a place for him.
Doctors will need to focus more on “bedside manners” to differentiate themselves, since many of their procedures will become automated commodities. Lawyers and finance executives — like John, the network engineer — will all need to focus more on client needs and less on the actual technical work.
McKinsey’s sweeping study, “Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: Workforce Transitions In A Time Of Automation” foresees this trend. By 2030, the study predicts a significant decrease in “data hours,” meaning time spent researching and processing information. What will professionals do instead? “Human interaction hours” will see a corresponding increase.
Professional success will increasingly depend on being more human at work. Our experience at Conversari has shown that professionals can improve their value and be much more effective by strengthening their human skills.
And there’s an additional upside: embracing and highlighting our humanity at work can also
Where do we go from here?
My colleagues and I at Conversari have come up with The Human Value Factor framework to help focus professionals on what makes them uniquely human, effective and valuable to organizations and their stakeholders.
This graphic offers us an opportunity to reflect on ways we can be more effective and valuable as professionals.
From the formula, we see we can be more effective and valuable in two key ways:
- Improving the four skills in the top half of the equation (the numerator)
- Minimizing our time and effort spent on activities in the bottom half (the denominator)
Let’s look at each element of the framework, and the kinds of questions we can ask ourselves to gain insight into how we can be more effective.
Where Do We Begin?
These are the factors we’d put on the numerator of the equation:
1. Empathize & Gain Trust
Machines can imitate empathy, but they cannot replicate it. There is neurochemistry behind the human connection that machines will not replicate in the foreseeable future. Machines can earn trust by being consistent and reliable, but they will never be the same as a human who can look you in the eyes, and with a sincere tone and body language say, “I understand what you are going through. And I have a solution that I think can help.”
Questions for Reflection
- What is my personal brand? How much do people trust me? What behaviors do I exhibit that might hurt trust or make me less approachable?
- In a typical meeting, how many questions do I ask? How intently do I listen? Do I reflect back or paraphrase what I hear to make sure I understand? What do I value more: pushing my own agenda or understanding everyone else’s needs?
- Am I sensitive to what I hear and see in people around me? Do I have the emotional intelligence to respond to others while staying calm and centered in my own values?
- How do my tone of voice and body language affect others’ perception of me?
2. Inspire & Influence
Machines cannot inspire. Inspiration is born from a uniquely human mix of ideas, dreams, values, courage, and neurochemistry. Machines cannot replicate it. Influence is an ability to shape opinions of others and outcomes even when I don’t have official authority – which is an enormous challenge in modern organizations that demand flatter and wider collaboration between peers and interdisciplinary teams.
Questions for Reflection
- To what extent do I express my dreams, hopes, values and goals as a regular aspect of how I communicate with others?
- How much do people seem to respect my opinion and follow my advice, even when I don’t have direct authority?
- When I’m collaborating on teams, especially with peers, how much is my contribution valued by others and taken into account in final plans?
3. Collaborate, Connect & Share
Old school thinking was, “I have to protect what I know. If I give it away, I’ll walk away with nothing”. The same thought process applied to helping others develop: “if I teach someone to do my job, I’ll be replaced by younger (and cheaper) labor”.
Nothing is farther from the truth. Today, leaders are expected to develop extensive networks, share knowledge and develop people, no matter where they are located on the organizational chart. The new thinking is “I cannot be promoted to a new role if my successor isn’t ready.”
Today, our network is much more valuable than our knowledge. There is personal gratification and long-term benefits to sharing and helping others grow. By sharing knowledge and developing people, you extend your influence and people network exponentially. You also become well known for a function machines cannot replace: connecting, teaching and believing in people.
Attempts have been to create automated executive coaching processes. They might offer some benefit. But nothing will replace a good mentor who can say, “I believe in you and I know you can do this.”
Questions for reflection:
- How much time do I dedicate to nurturing connections and sharing my knowledge and experience with others?
- Am I able to build connections across professions, functional areas, business units, cultures and age ranges?
- To what extent do I mentor and develop others? How do I make time in my schedule to dedicate to helping others?
- How often do I share best practices with others and seek feedback?
Machines can learn from trial and error. There will be a day when machines and software will design and create more machines and software. However, that’s different from the term “innovation” as we use it at Conversari.
Innovation is a uniquely human endeavor that engages our imagination, creativity and dreams to create uniquely human solutions for uniquely human problems and dilemmas.
Innovation is not limited to certain areas and positions in organizations, like R&D. Successful organizations are now innovating in all areas at all times. Regardless of our profession and job, these are questions we can be asking ourselves:
- How is my “personal brand” with respect to innovation? Would be people consider me change facilitator, early adopter, or someone resistant to change?
- How often do I propose improvement in my workplace, whether it be improving work processes, ability to improve the customer experience (internal or external), business outcomes or communication channels?
- If I see opportunities for improvement, how do I channel my energy? Do I just complain and expect change to happen? To what extent do I gather the resources, connections and allies necessary to collaboratively make change happen?
- How often do I seek best practices, even from colleagues or other areas of my own organization?
Now the Denominator: Redundant, Irrelevant & Automatable Work
Time and energy spent on redundant, irrelevant and automatable work decreases our value to an organization and our stakeholders.
Hard work needs to get done. The world cannot all be warm and fuzzy human skills. We understand. Our point here is simply to highlight that time spent on redundant, irrelevant and automatable work renders us vulnerable to being replaced by machines.
Question for reflection: How much time do I spend:
- In meetings that are unnecessary or don’t require my input?
- Making repetitive “decisions” that are really the result of a lack of processes?
- On activities that correspond to my old position and not my new one, that I have not managed to delegate properly?
- On activities that could be done as well or better by someone empowered on my team, freeing me to do more elevated or valuable functions?
- Doing work that is replicated in some other area, office or business unit?
Putting it into action, your way
The reflection questions above are likely generated ideas in your head for how to improve your own effectiveness and value. What next?
- Get help. Share your ideas and find help from someone with similar goals so that you can support each other. Set some milestone dates and regular times to meet each other and monitor how you are doing.
- Rethink your agenda. Remember that the goal here is to work smarter, not necessarily harder. Making more room
inour daily agenda to focus on our human skills and activities means finding ways to eliminate, delegate or make more efficient other functions.
- Take baby steps. Choose one of the four human skill areas to begin with, and set some small, measurable steps to show improvement. Ask yourself, “if I was able to show a little more empathy and gain a little more trust from X person or group, what would be the impact in my relationship and our business results?’
- Go deeper. From the wealth of business resources available, find a good book, article or training opportunity that explores a specific skill in more detail. Contact us for more ideas.
- Get feedback. Share your goals with your manager or a mentor for their feedback. Seek some advice or feedback from someone who you think exemplifies the skills you hope to develop.
- Celebrate your progress. Share you best practices and give yourself credit – and those who helped you – for evolving. Share with us! You also can add your comments below.
Embrace your humanity to be more effective – and more immune to being replaced by a machine. This will likely force you out of your comfort zone. You aren’t alone.
Our experience has shown that the courage to evolve will bring unexpected results and can be very gratifying in the long run. Playing it safe will be much riskier.
With determination and a clear vision, we fundamentally believe in every person’s ability to change. We’ve lived it ourselves and been honored to witness to it countless times.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.