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Hiring a Robot for Your Management Team

Meet the new boss. She never plays favorites and doesn’t partake in office gossip. She gives clear directions. At performance review time she offers valuable observations and backs them up with examples. She is perfect. Well, almost. If she does tend to repeat herself and wouldn’t give you time off to attend your son’s violin recital, you’ll have to forgive her: She’s a robot.

Totally automated management may seem far-fetched, and, indeed, few see the day when the authority figure in the corner office is an automaton. But in recent years, a surprising array of managerial functions has been turned over to artificial intelligence. Computers are sorting resumes of job seekers for relevant experience and to estimate how long a potential employee is likely to stay. They are mapping email exchanges, phone calls and even impromptu hallway interactions to track workflow and recommend changes. Widely used software is analyzing customer data for algorithms, which in turn is changing when and where workers are deployed.

Connect the dots, and the image of an objective, all-knowing and fully automated manager may spring to mind. But Wharton management professor Peter Cappelli says that when it comes to being the boss, robots are no substitute for humans. “It is possible for software to provide accounting information –i.e. ‘Here is how you are doing’–but management is still a much more complicated task of making adjustments to the work being performed in order to meet changing demands, diagnosing problems and offering solutions,” notes Cappelli, director of Wharton’s Center for Human Resources. “While it might be true that robots would be better than some managers, robots cannot yet perform these tasks well,” he adds.

Read more: Wharton

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