In every list of future trends you are likely to have read in the last year or so, Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Robotic Process Automation (RPA) are whole heartedly in the mix. From inclusion in a list, the lead time to impacting “the real world” is often lengthy. Many of the list entries never quite disrupt as much as predictions suggested. Over the last few weeks I have had a number of client discussions around both AI and RPA, with real intent rather than curiosity.
Some of these conversations have been about organisations seeking to ensnare the brightest and boldest development talent – this isn’t remarkable. Name any ‘hot skill’ and you will find firms seeking to steal a march on competition. Others are corporates thinking towards talent plans beyond automation. What is very clear is that there is more to this than simple market posturing. HR functions are beginning to consider the impact of work force ‘devastation’, their word not mine, which AI and RPA will cause across the middle office of their business.
One senior HR leader from the engineering and technology sector cites the interesting example of the recent movie ‘Hidden Figures’. In this film the heroes are the teams of ‘computers’ who delivered the really challenging mathematics for NASA at the outset of the space race. These exceptional women enabled the launch, and return, of early NASA spacecraft. These computational ‘doers’ were functional back office contributors. The ‘smart’ folk were asking the questions that challenged the perception of what could be achieved, which boundary could be stretched or broken and how?
And so we come full circle. The tech boom of the last thirty years has successively seen the strongest ‘doers’ promoted into management roles. AI & RPA are simply driving a fresh iteration of this to the workplace; a new industrial revolution of sorts. The demand profile for talent is changing, you may say getting smarter. But as ever the ability to marshal intelligent resources; human, artificial or automated, at a well-defined objective or business problem is a key trait of successful leadership. Yes there is a new challenge of knowing how and when to utilise increasingly and reliably industrialised AI & RPA assets. But as we all know, asking challenging questions is never enough, being smart enough to listen to the answers is key. Inquisitive challenging minds will always be en vogue whatever the leadership challenge.