Most top executives recognize the need for new skills to accommodate the spread of intelligent machines throughout their organizations. Few realize that judgement work is going to be a key requirement.

Intelligent enterprises are going to outpace and out-maneuver their competitors by drawing on the expertise and experience of closely aligned teams of human workers and smart machines. They’ll delegate routine tasks, such as monitoring, planning and scheduling, to machines embedded with artificial intelligence and assign their employees to strategic and creative work that often requires intuition and ethical reasoning.

To successfully lead these highly dynamic and agile enterprises, senior executives are going to need a wide range of new skills. Our research shows that most top executives recognize that they must acquire new capabilities to accommodate the spread of intelligent machines throughout their organizations. They frequently highlight their need for new digital and strategic skills.

However, most executives overlook the most important requirement for leading an intelligent enterprise – effective judgement skills. Judgement work, such as analyzing, experimenting and innovating, as well as collaborating with colleagues and customers, will become a key business differentiator.

Judgement work is not new. Most managers already exercise judgement when making business decisions. However, routine administrative responsibilities often consume big chunks of a manager’s time and allow little opportunity for much more valuable judgement activities. This is going to change.

As intelligent machines take responsibility for repetitive management tasks, such as compiling performance reports and enforcing standards, managers will be freed to concentrate on more interesting and challenging work. Business leaders will in future spend only about 25 percent of their time on routine control and co-ordinating activities. Around 35 percent is likely to be devoted to gaining business insights, experimenting and innovating, and taking on new responsibilities and acquiring skills. The remaining 40 percent will be focused on people. It will include working with colleagues, engaging with customers and coaching other employees.

Our discussions with business leaders from a variety of industries in many different countries highlighted three important categories of judgement work:

Discernment: Intelligent machines are very good at identifying patterns and correlations in big volumes of data. But they struggle to interpret information. Managers will need to be able to assess and apply information delivered by intelligent machines.

Abstract thinking: When they’re given rules and descriptions, intelligent machines can quickly and accurately identify classes of objects. But they can’t apply innovative thinking to identify new connections that could, for example, enable organizations to disrupt established markets. Successful managers will be able to identify innovative solutions to business challenges.  

Contextual reasoning: Despite the soaring volumes of information available to managers, there will be occasions when they don’t have all the answers they need to make a fully informed decision. They will have to apply contextual reasoning, drawing on historical, cultural and inter-personal contexts, to make key business decisions.

As organizations increasingly deploy intelligent machines in their workforces they need to start implementing programs and practices that will enhance the ability of their managers to perform judgement work.  Nowhere is this more critical than among their senior business leaders.

In my next blog post I’ll discuss how organizations can improve the judgement capabilities of their managers. Meanwhile, have a look at these links. I’m sure you’ll find them helpful.

Judgment calls: Preparing leaders to thrive in the age of intelligent machines.

The promise of artificial intelligence: Redefining management in the workforce of the future.

A machine in the C-suite.

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