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Lead Your Team Managing

For Managers, Future Success Will Depend on Soft Skills

For Managers, Future Success Will Depend on Soft Skills
Credit: Wichey/Shutterstock

While frontline workers have long faced the prospect of machines replacing their jobs, managers are now being forced to confront the same possibility.

With intelligent machines and cognitive computing now capable of handling more upper-level jobs, managers will need to display a different skill set in order to prove their worth, according to a study from Accenture.

The study's authors believe that many of managers' daily tasks — planning and coordinating work, problem solving, monitoring and reporting performance, maintaining routines and standards, and analyzing and sharing information — will be best suited for intelligent machines in the future. This will free managers to focus on "judgment work," such as complex thinking and higher-order reasoning, the authors said.

"The workforce of the future needs to have more intuition, creativity and emotional intelligence," David Smith, senior managing director for Accenture Strategy, said in a statement. "Intelligent machines cannot provide that but do give managers the time to bring these attributes to the [forefront] and allow them to experiment, innovate and capture new growth opportunities."

However, many managers are worried they might not have the talents needed for these types of responsibilities. Specifically, nearly 60 percent of those surveyed are uncertain whether they have the skills to succeed in their role over the next five years, while 35 percent fear that cognitive computing and intelligent machines will threaten their job. [Technology and Inclusion Will Shape the Future of Remote Work ]

As they consider their prospects for the workforce of the future, many managers are underestimating the interpersonal skills they will need to hone. Of those surveyed, only 21 percent think people development is the skill that will be most important for their roles in the five years, and only 20 percent think collaboration will be a critical skill.

Instead, managers think their technology, data analysis and strategy development skills will be more important.

"Managers are not entirely sold on the benefit of intelligent machines, and it is up to senior executives to address their concerns," said Bob Thomas, managing director of research on leadership and the workforce for Accenture Strategy. "They need to help their managers not just improve their technology skills, but develop greater interpersonal skills to lead the workforce of the future."

Accenture offered three tips for employers to help their managers prepare for the changing landscape:

  • Boost the human edge. To ensure managers have the proper skill levels and capabilities, employers must revise their talent development and coaching programs, as well as their individual performance criteria.
  • Build trust. It's up to company leaders to get their managers to trust that this change is for the better. To build that trust, leaders must not only communicate clearly and honestly, but also involve managers in the transition process.
  • Create a happy marriage. Company leaders should develop a union of managers and machines that does more than automate tasks or augment managers' performance. The best long-term relationships will multiply the value that managers or machines can deliver on their own.

The study was based on surveys of 1,770 first-line, middle-level and executive level managers from 14 countries, representing 17 distinct industries.

Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.