We are a product of our environment, they say. And they’re right. Throughout time technological innovations have shaped the way we live, companies operate and how people manage work & other employees in the workplace. It’s a cycle of adoption, adjustment and adaptation. In the end, technologies are our supplement that empowers us to get to the next level.
My day is a delicate balancing act of internal meetings, crisis management, writing emails, product & R&D discussions, and everything else in between. And sometimes, if I'm lucky, I manage to sneak in a quick caffeine boost. The funny thing is that this is me in good shape. Things were worse before we went all in on AI. Back in the day, I was also drowning in overwhelm, chaos and unnecessary notifications.
I remember life before AI. And I don't want to go back there. These tools help us optimize workflows, streamline communications so nothing is missed, autonomously manage team action items, busy work and data supply chains, personalize customer experiences, and even forecast potential risks. Integrating AI into our operations was a real turning point for the company, for managers, right down to entry level reps and account managers.
I know a lot of companies are skeptical and even fearful of AI. But for us, it's been a game-changer. And I don't use those words lightly. AI has taken our processes and overall approach to work from noisy and inefficient to something a superhero would be proud of. We lean on AI-based tools so much that it would be easier for me to tell you where we don't use them. It’s changed my role as a manager and how my employees approach new workflows, projects, and even how we tackle challenges.
You know, to understand how AI has shaped company management, it’s important to look back at how other major tech innovations did the same.
There's nothing new about the manager role. There was always a need for top dogs who made the hard decisions and had the final say. This role actually came into being more than 100 years ago, and in that time, it has changed and evolved time and time again. What’s new is what's expected of the modern manager & how necessary they are for companies to grow and succeed.
At no other point in history have we expected as much of management as we do today. Timothy Quigley, associate professor of management at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business, points out that a CEO in the 1950s probably had to make what are considered business-critical decisions once or twice a year. Today's CEO is faced with these kinds of decisions many times a year. No wonder executive burnout is now a thing. And I have the high blood pressure to prove it.
A lot of people ask me what has changed. When and why did the more laid back manager’s role become so demanding? A large part of it is that the modern manager role is no longer just about personality management or delegating tasks, and simply reporting up the chain. Those were managers in the days before the internet & before mass production capabilities or a more globalized world. Now, the stakes are so much higher, and competition is fierce, which means companies are more aggressive, managers are forced to be more hands-on and take on more projects and create more teams to succeed.
AI is to the modern manager what mobile phones were to the 90s manager, or the printing press was to a 15th-century one. Yes - this technology is new and powerful. But managers like me have been dealing with new technologies for as long as there have been companies. We're nameless superheros, battling against yet another tectonic technological advancement. And that's the part we so often forget.
From the steam engine to the assembly line, technological innovations throughout history have disrupted industries and manufacturing, shaping the way people manage companies and teams in unimaginable ways. These technologies made businesses more efficient and productive, and opened doors to new opportunities like accessing new markets, building more products, hiring more people, as well as increased competition. All of which required more of company management. There was no longer room for a lowly manager who couldn't think beyond what's-for-lunch, they were forced to be hands-on and strategic. All this caused expectations from shareholders, employees, and customers to soar and meant companies had to optimize processes and products.
Take the steam engine for example, 'one of the most powerful ideas in the world". This changed not only how factories operated but also made shipping on a global scale possible. For companies, it meant they were no longer confined to their local neighborhood, which introduced a whole host of other challenges. Then there's the electric telegraph. It's one of my favorites. This was invented at about the same time as the steam engine, and as a company, it changed a lot about how it operated. Thanks to this invention, money could be wired across great distances. It also meant companies no longer needed to rely on delivery boys to hand deliver messages to suppliers, vendors, and business partners. The humble telegraph laid the foundation for much of what came after it, from telephones and faxes to the internet. So yeah - it's a pretty big deal.
If we fast forward to the 20th century, we had the assembly line. This was the ultimate workhorse. It reduced the time needed to manufacture a car from more than 12 hours to just one hour and 33 minutes. This was the beginning of the golden age of manufacturing. Products of all types could now be mass-manufactured, making goods more affordable and accessible to a broader customer base. This sounds like a game-changer. And it was. But it also complicated the management’s role. This shift required a more organized approach to management, prompting the delegation of tasks and responsibilities to specialized departments and managers. The CEO's role, for example, expanded beyond individual decision-making to overseeing specialized functions within the organization.
As we approach the turn of the 21st century, the digital revolution takes center stage. That's the stuff you're probably more familiar with. I'm talking about modern technologies like the internet, personal computers, and, later, smartphones. These revolutionized communication and connectivity. Suddenly, I could engage with stakeholders and customers globally in real time. In the digital age, I'm wasn’t just a leader but also a visionary. My ability to harness the power of the internet, data analytics, and later AI becomes essential. Talk about pressure. And all this transformed the business landscape before my eyes. Start-ups, fueled by technological innovation, disrupted established industries, challenging companies and company management to be more agile and forward-thinking. Move over management class. I now need some sick tech skills to keep up.
And that's where tech like AI comes in. After being overflowed with multiple tools, apps and systems meant to help me manage better, the integration of AI has allowed for renewed focus and gaps to be filled that actually empower my ability to manage my teams and stay on top of my work game. This tech into various aspects of business operations has also redefined the expectations and complexities associated with the manager’s role. I'm talking about how AI makes the complex simple. Things like data analysis, automation, and machine learning are suddenly part of a manager’s toolkit, thanks to AI.
AI has accelerated the ability to make decisions and introduced a level of data-driven insights that was previously unimaginable. And while this technological leap presents opportunities for efficiency gains and strategic innovation, it has changed what it means to be a manager in some ways. Company management bold enough to go there, and not all are, are using AI to accelerate and streamline their decision-making processes. Perhaps it's research from Ernst & Young that summarizes this best: While more than 70% of CEOs surveyed felt the need to act quickly and adopt AI to remain competitive, at least 68% of CEOs admitted feeling overwhelmed and unsure how to get started.
I hope you see what I've been saying all along: You can't understand how AI has shaped the role of the way companies manage teams without understanding how innovations in technology have changed the way companies operate. It's all part of the same story. Or, to be more specific - the innovation that came before is what got us here. From the machinery of the Industrial Revolution to the hyper-connectivity of the digital age, each era brings with it unique demands and challenges that shape what it means to be a manager. This is as true as it was during the 19th century as it is for the manager of tomorrow.
And perhaps that's what I find most fascinating about my role. As much as my position is about workflow management and growth metrics, it's also about navigating change. Managers are here to serve as stewards of technological innovation and disruption. And in so doing, our roles change, adapt and evolve. Technology is an ever-evolving and unstoppable force. And that's not a bad thing. I know I wouldn't be sitting here chatting to you if not for technological innovation.