How managers can use AI to boost productivity

Revelo looked at research by McKinsey to see how AI can enhance managers' productivity.

Wade Zhou
Posted

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In 2013, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael Osborne, two academics at the University of Oxford, published an influential study assessing the likelihood of various jobs being automated. Based on their research, they concluded that "routine jobs" for low-wage workers were the most likely to be automated. Their analysis, based on the technology available at the time, conjured up images of factory workers being replaced by machines on assembly lines.

Over a decade later, the image of automation has changed. Modern AI systems have proven adept at generating text, computer code, images, and more, putting the jobs of graphic designers, programmers, writers, and other professionals at risk. Contrary to Frey and Osborne's conclusion, recent developments in AI systems are more likely to impact white-collar workers while having relatively few implications for how blue-collar work will be done.

Professionals will have to learn to adapt to these new technologies—as will managers if they want to stay ahead of rapidly evolving AI systems. Although managers are not likely to be replaced by machines any time soon, they can still benefit from their use. Revelo looked at research by McKinsey to see how AI could enhance managers' productivity.

By automating mundane management tasks, AI helps managers lead

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McKinsey's analysis found that much of managers' time is spent on fairly mundane and automatable tasks. Based on a survey of 706 middle managers conducted in 2022, they found that less than a third of bosses' time is spent leading people. The remainder of the time managers are busy making individual contributions, such as writing reports, tending to administrative tasks, and working on strategy.

Current AI systems can assist with the latter group of tasks, allowing managers to devote more time to high-value leadership tasks. Managers could, for instance, use AI to write the first drafts of reports. AI can also help with management by recalibrating roles and responsibilities to use people's time better.

Managers can use AI tools to track their teams' performances or gauge how well different groups of people are collaborating. Writing performance reviews is another task where managers could improve efficiency with the help of AI, which can synthesize performance feedback from multiple sources. According to a report by Axios, managers at tech companies are already putting this into practice.

AIs have surprisingly good social understanding

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The McKinsey report also notes that AI can help managers become better leaders. For example, managers can speak with chatbots to gain more perspective on different career paths and outcomes rather than relying solely on their personal experience to provide employee feedback.

The prospect of AI reliance to help brainstorm career advice might not be as far-fetched as it sounds. One of the more surprising aspects of the current generation of AI is the ability to understand people's emotions and social behaviors.

In a February 2024 study published in Frontiers in Psychology, researchers asked 180 psychology students at King Khalid University in Saudi Arabia a series of questions to test their social intelligence, then compared their answers with those from three major AI systems: ChatGPT (based on GPT-4), Google Bard (now known as Gemini), and Bing. The academics found that while Google Bard and Bing performed similarly to the psychology students, ChatGPT actually beat every single person tested.

In a September 2023 essay for The Economist, Frey and Osborne considered how current AI systems might impact the job market. They noted that one thing distinguishing the recent AI innovations from past developments in automation is their unreliability—AI systems still need a human to oversee their work to ensure quality.

The takeaway: Managers who can effectively use AI tools will be able to spend more of their time on tasks they are actually needed for.

Story editing by Alizah Salario. Copy editing by Paris Close. Photo selection by Ania Antecka.

This story originally appeared on Revelo and was produced and distributed in partnership with Stacker Studio.