When Robots Train Managers, Don’t Be Surprised at the Management You Get

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EVEN I GET SURPRISED when I see something like this: According to The Wall Street Journal, companies are now turning to robots to train and coach young managers.

Please insert your “bad manager” joke here.

According to The Journal, the training comes in the form of a bot, “a manager-training app powered by the artificial intelligence of IBM ’s Watson.” This app has a name — “Coach Amanda” — and it gives management tips by phone in five to 10-minute videos and texts that the trainee can read when they have time during their workday.

Coach Amanda app from LEADx

I’m all for leveraging technology like AI-driven apps for training, and this is simply another high-tech tool in the training tool box.

Frankly, we can use all the help we can get to improve the terrible state of management in America today.

It’s a pretty critical need. As the WSJ story notes,

“As more Millennials move into management jobs, many are finding they lack basic training in such supervisory skills as delivering feedback and delegating work.”

A new crop of AI-driven coaching apps and platforms are aiming to fill the gap, including Butterfly, Qstream and LEADx, the Philadelphia-based maker of Coach Amanda.”

Apps are nice, but not for primary training 

That all sounds good, but there’s a problem here and it’s not with these AI-driven apps.

It’s this: new managers need to get trained by senior managers — preferably, their supervisor. Apps can supplement training, but if that’s the primary training young managers are getting, everybody is in big trouble.

Here’s a quote from The Journal story that drove this point home.

“Coach Amanda isn’t as good as a human coach, says Kevin Kruse, LEADx’s founder. ‘If you can afford $250 to $500 an hour, go get a human,’ he says. ‘But AI is democratizing leadership training.’ The cost is far less — $30 a month for individual buyers, and $20 a month for employees (or less for larger employers). Several employers and about 600 individuals are using the platform, and several consulting and accounting firms are testing it.”

Let me get this straight: Your only options for training new managers are either A) personal coaching at a whopping $250-$500 per hour; or, (B) an AI-driven app?

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what “democratizing leadership training” is all about.

The elephant in the room

This marketing pitch for AI-driven training apps seems to miss the elephant in the room — that younger managers learn faster, and better, when they can draw on the experience of people who have seen it and done it all before — the senior managers they report to.

I’m sure that all these companies that make training apps will try to tell you that senior managers are too busy to spend much time working with trainees, and while there may be a little bit of truth to that, it’s mostly BS.

Anyone who has spent much time in management knows that managers learn best when they learn from other managers. They need to be put into situations where they can experience a wide variety of management challenges under the watchful eye of leaders who have done it before.

You don’t get that kind of guidance from a management app, and it doesn’t cost you upwards of $500 per hour for a pricey coach either.

Remember management by walking around? It’s a time-honored management practice I highly recommend for any new manager, but you won’t get much help from an app with that.

You need more than what Coach Amanda can offer

I’m happy that bots like “Coach Amanda” are around to help remind new managers of the little things they should be thinking about. There’s value in that.

But, the state of American management will get a whole lot worse — if that’s possible — if we delude ourselves into thinking that AI-driven apps are the big answer for management training. I’ve seen way too many managers who don’t understand that management is a constant process, and that the people they manage can’t ever get enough of their guidance and time.

So, consider training apps as a nice supplement to your hands-on feedback your newbies are getting, but if you want your rookie Millennial managers to learn things like how to deliver feedback and delegate work, well, you’re going to need a lot more help than “Coach Amanda” has to offer.

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