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The Robots That Manage the Managers

15 April 2019

Not exactly about the writing business, but perhaps a sci-fi writing prompt.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Raquel Collings often has morning coffee with her management coach. She reviews her goals in her new job as a corporate manager and ponders whether she’s spending her time wisely.

The coaching topics are the only part of the sessions that is conventional.

Ms. Collings’ coach is a bot—a manager-training app powered by the artificial intelligence of IBM ’s Watson. The app, Coach Amanda, serves up tips on her phone in five- to 10-minute videos and texts that Ms. Collings consumes during spare moments in her workday.

When she recently texted the bot that she doubted her ability to review a colleague’s performance, it chided her for being too hard on herself, based on a personality test in the app showing she was highly conscientious. “I thought, ‘Wow, she called me out on this,’ ” says Ms. Collings, a marketing manager for First United Bank, a Durant, Okla., financial-services company.

As more millennials move into management jobs, many are finding they lack basic training in such supervisory skills as delivering feedback and delegating work. A new crop of AI-driven coaching apps and platforms are aiming to fill the gap, including Butterfly, Qstream and LEADx, the Philadelphia-based maker of Coach Amanda.

. . . .

Ken Ryzner says Coach Amanda helped him run richer brainstorming sessions with colleagues by suggesting he ask more questions. He cringed, however, at the app’s response when he reported he had finished one of its assigned tasks.

“She came back with, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ It’s weird to me when a chatbot has kind of fake emotions. I was like, ‘That’s creepy. That’s weird.’ ” says Mr. Ryzner, a 49-year-old instructional designer at Red Nucleus, a Yardley, Pa., provider of custom learning applications.

Coach Amanda isn’t as good as a human coach, says Kevin Kruse, LEADx’s founder. “If you can afford $250 to $500 an hour, go get a human,” he says. “But AI is democratizing leadership training.” The cost is far less—$30 a month for individual buyers, and $20 a month for employees (or less for larger employers).

. . . .

If Humu identifies a morale problem, such as a feeling among employees that their boss is making questionable decisions or being too secretive, the platform might nudge the manager to explain his decisions more clearly, Mr. Bock says. Employees might get nudges at the same time aimed at restoring trust in the manager, by suggesting he or she has good intentions and is just really busy, or wants to avoid distracting them.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG wondered how a lawyer-coaching system might work.

“Studies have shown that the average attorney includes 53 semicolons in a 15-page contract. You have only used 19. Would you like me to suggest locations where you could insert additional semicolons to match the expected frequency of use? If you prefer, I could insert them automatically.”


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7 Comments to “The Robots That Manage the Managers”

  1. Gee, Elisa on the TRS-80 Model I could do that! 😛

    Sounds to much like those troubleshooting scripts Dell went to rather than hire people that could actually think and use logic. (Is it plugged in? Have you tried turning it off and on again? 😉 )

  2. Say, do you have any psychological issues?

  3. As more millennials move into management jobs, many are finding they lack basic training in such supervisory skills as delivering feedback and delegating work.

    Oh, I don’t think this is a millennial thing (I’m not a millenial). I think part of it is a “Can I put myself in someone else’s shoes” thing, and a basic training thing.

    I am skeptical that any current machine will be as useful as a human at the task of teaching how to get on with humans. I’ve had managers who I don’t think could pass a Turing test, so forget the machine.

    The delegating work problem? That could be a side effect of kids growing up with that stupid group project nonsense that school teachers love so much. Teachers claim that this is how it works in the real world, except no, it does not: in the real world, you assign people to do a task who are actually competent at that task. You don’t just arbitrarily group some people together, unless you are an idiot — or the project isn’t that significant.

    Delivering feedback? Okay, I take it back, Lieutenant Commander Data could explain how this works: praise in public, criticize in private. Fall in line when the decision has been finalized.

  4. Studies have shown that the average attorney includes 53 semicolons in a 15-page contract.

    I once banned all punctuation marks from business writing other than the period. Word count fell and clarity blossomed.

    • I like that idea. I’m going to have to try it.

    • In a perfect world . . . .

      From time to time, various and sundry (there’s an example of extraneous words) groups and individuals have promoted “Plain English Contracts” (I don’t know whether anyone wants “Plain French Contracts”).

      A couple of responses:

      1. In some cases, particular phrases have developed a specific legal meaning, either through common usage over time or via court decisions or inclusion in some statute or another.

      If you want to make certain the contract includes all the meanings, implications, assumptions, etc., of a legal term, using that term may be the surest way of doing that.

      2. Sometimes, the business agreement the parties to a contract have reached is a complicated one.

      It’s not unusual for an attorney to deliver a first draft of a contract and have someone say something like, “We need to make sure that Paragraph 11 only applies for months with 30 days or fewer, excluding February on any leap year. The guy who is financing this deal wants that.”

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