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A few months ago, a manager from a global engineering company asked me a thought-provoking question: “How can I use AI to support me as a people manager?” At that moment, I must admit, I didn’t have an instant response. However, upon reflection, I realised that my initial response barely scratched the surface of the potential AI holds for assisting people managers in their roles.

I was curious, and asked how they felt about AI, the answer was a mixture of fear and hope – fear that it might take their job and hope that it might make their job easier.    

The conversation got me thinking and researching. I decided not to ask an AI tool yet. (I did ask but not until I had put my own thoughts on paper and did a bit of my own research, wait for the end of the article to find out the answer.)  

I am specifically thinking about the ‘people’ element of the role, when managers have to communicate one to one, via email, in groups or through formal communications to engage and positively affect the performance of team members.  

I have concluded that both of the expected outcomes of fear and hope are likely to be true – it will take away some of a manager’s tasks (and if you love the detail research bit of your work you may not be happy) and it will make some of your life as a manager more productive.   AI is taking some of the ‘grunt’ work away and this should allow us to turn our attention to other more nuanced elements. And, we all know, as a manager of people there are lots of nuanced elements.  

Each of our team members are unique, with a unique mix of experiences, values, states of mind, preferences, and ways of working and we are too!  People managers constantly need to be aware of these differences to ensure our team is engaged and performing, where individuals contribute in a way that allows them to do their best work, to stretch themselves and to get credit when it is deserved. What if we were able to have this kind of information at our fingertips?  Keeping track of conversations we’ve had, information we know, so that we can read it ahead of one to one meetings – that would be useful, wouldn’t it?   That is now possible via AI – Forbes have shared an article about this in November 2023.

Imagine you need to have what you see as a difficult conversation, you might, as a manager, use an AI coach or you might do some research to set you up for success.  You will get some great guidance from AI about how to have that conversation.  The nature of the information you put in will impact the quality guidance you get.   

So, when you arrive for the conversation that you have planned for – suddenly, you realise your team member has just had some awful news.  You are unlikely to be able to land the message in the same way.  It is here that you pay attention to your own unique set of skills, what do you know already about handling such a situation?, Have you been on the receiving end of such a conversation in the past (even if it was handled badly there is so much learning to be had) what have you learned or practised during training?  You will need to use these insights and personal experiences to navigate what is now probably a very different conversation, drawing on your EI (Emotional Intelligence) to build on what you have learned and know from AI.  

Similarly, when communicating to groups of team members or other stakeholders.  AI might get you the information you need, AI might even give you some feedback as you practise but it is your own understanding of the world and the context you find yourself in that will make the biggest impact.  Imagine, you are about to communicate to the team about a new process but the technology fails on the morning – what learning and experience can you draw on to still deliver an impactful session?  

So, AI will impact you and if you are in the camp where you fear that AI will eliminate the favourite bits of your role – what work can you do now to re-shape the focus of your role? If you are in the hope camp, that AI can make your role easier, what skills can you develop and what experiences can you expose yourself to, to prepare for the bits that AI can’t help you with?  

Useful resources

Check out this insightful TED Talk with Paul Hudson, CEO of Sanofi, discussing the intersection of AI and leadership. You can watch it here: 

Additionally, Simon Sinek is known for his thought-provoking ideas on similar topics. You might find his talk on the same subject interesting as well. You can watch it here: 

5 Conversations from The Oxford Group

5 Conversations by The Oxford Group is a great resource to think about the mindset and skills needed to have some of those challenging conversations in the workplace. 

BTW, here is what ChatGPT said – I could have refined the question even better, but this is a flavour.  

How can people managers use AI to help with engaging and managing the performance of their team? 

A people manager can leverage AI tools for performance management by using data analytics to assess team performance, providing personalized feedback through AI-driven platforms, and implementing predictive analytics to identify potential issues before they arise. AI can also facilitate employee engagement by automating routine tasks, allowing more time for meaningful interactions and professional development.