With countless surveys, reports and articles on the topic of artificial intelligence (AI), one of the things 2017 will be remembered for is the inexorable advance of machine intelligence. Digital assistants like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple’s Siri have established themselves in living rooms up and down the country while automation has continued its march into the workplace.
Popular culture has frequently delivered chilling dystopian visions of the future with television series like Humans and Westworld, in which robots appear to become sentient. Coverage of the subject took a turn for real recently though with the airing of a season of documentaries, the Rise of the Robots, on Channel 4.
As many of you will know if you are a regular reader of this blog, AI is a subject that I closely follow, especially given its potential impact on the world of work. An article on tech giant Cisco’s website caught my eye this week as it gave me the clearest reminder yet of the march of the robots into our own universe: the world of executive education and professional development.
Written by journalist and entrepreneur Melissa Jun Rowley, it reported on a piece of AI software called Butterfly designed to train managers to develop the key soft skills required to evolve into effective leaders. Rowley writes that when the tool collects data, it is also able to determine if problems are linked to stress, work environment or communication issues. Butterfly’s founders felt that everyone should be able to have access to first-rate leadership coaching, not just executives, and that leaders can and should exist at every level of an organisation.
As someone who works in the field of talent and professional development, it was the sentiment behind the software that struck the biggest chord with me: “We turn employee feedback into customised leadership training
for managers at every level.” What a superb use of technology.
The notion of a bot coaching future leaders may cause alarm for some working in the field of executive development but, in my view, technology like this is much needed. The business world is being turned upside down by digital disruption and transformation. Good leadership is required at all levels and if technology can help us to deliver that we ought to fully embrace it.
Indeed, Rialto already offers an AI-driven intelligent learning resource in the shape of VIC (Virtual Interactive Coach) which enables organisations to deploy coaching at scale and help accelerate the learning required to align managers’ capabilities with the goals of their organisations. As they evolve, tools like Butterfly and VIC will enhance and complement management and leadership development offerings, making them fit for purpose for the digital and data-driven future.
Technology is allowing business to gather immense amounts of data to feed into individual development programmes that simply wasn’t possible previously so we need to capitalise on it. And the amount of data available from internal and external sources is only going to increase. We also know when there is too much information available, it becomes unmanageable and won’t be analysed properly.
So rather than fear such tools, we need to work out how to combine them with human skills and capabilities to enrich the coaching and development process. The key to benefiting from automation is to use the time, resources and thinking time that it frees up to do the human stuff even better and in that respect leadership development is no different from any other task being impacted by technology.
My maxim for the future is therefore a simple one: use technology to do things that couldn’t be done before and enable us to do the things we did before even better.
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