In the pandemic, we continue to see the acceleration of three trends that gained momentum at the start of 2020. The moment “social distancing” became part of the popular lexicon, these trends went from emerging to everywhere – in an instant. They are:
1. The swift shift of employees from working in offices to working from home (WFH), which caused teams to become dispersed, if not displaced or disconnected.
2. The rapid adoption of digital workplace technologies to cope with the WFH transformation.
3. The formalizing of a “gig economy” that lets businesses deal with drastic changes in demand, affording more elasticity.
Immediately managing large groups of frontline employees, the people who interact with customers every day on sales, service, or support, became a challenge for organizations with significant numbers of frontline employees. In this new environment, how can companies:
1. Develop business continuity across new models of customer engagement
2. Maintain – if not improve – frontline employee productivity
3. Decrease employee burnout
Altogether, they’ve created a condition that’s akin to managing with your eyes covered.
Meeting these challenges with eyes wide open to stay competitive and relevant requires your company to become more agile, more transparent, and more focused. The question is, how? The answer lies in harnessing the power of Augmented People Intelligence, which also has emerged at an accelerated pace due to COVID-19 and is creating a “next normal” for business operations.
To be clear, this isn’t Artificial Intelligence (AI). Augmented People Intelligence augments or adds to AI. The research and advisory firm Gartner describes it this way:
“Augmented People Intelligence is a human-centered partnership model of people and Artificial Intelligence working together to enhance cognitive performance, including learning, decision making, and new experiences”
This partnership leverages the strengths of each. AI is phenomenal in dealing with massive quantities of data in real-time with accuracy. And people bring their unique qualities of creativity, empathy, and intellectual capacity to look past the numbers. Gartner adds:
“The goal of AI should be to empower humans to be better, smarter and happier; not create a “machine world” for its own sake. Augmented People Intelligence is a design approach to winning with AI. It employs AI to compensate for the human limitations, and allows people to expand the possibilities for AI. It assists machines to do their best and people to be their best.”
By focusing human attention where it’s needed most and automating work where attention is needed less will allow organizations to achieve the human touch at scale.
Why it matters
With change literally being the only constant in most businesses right now, tackling that trio of challenges – customer engagement, employee productivity, and employee retention and engagement – can, quite literally, be overwhelming. And no single group in an organization bears the brunt of this challenge more than managers of frontline employees.
In many ways, frontline employees are the engine of your company. Their managers, also known as team leaders, are the people who make that engine perform optimally. Give managers the right tools to tune up and manage performance and your organization will see productivity rebound. Managing without the right tools is the equivalent of looking at the stars without a telescope. Much will be vague, if not unclear.
Just imagine a frontline manager puts on a special pair of glasses. A kind of metaphor for Augmented People Intelligence. More than giving her focus on where and how to spend her time for maximum effect and efficiency, it offers clarity on how she should manage her team and assist with the outliers.
Further, and perhaps most important, these glasses help her become an effective coach. Augmented People Intelligence combines traditional 1:1 coaching with dynamic, AI-driven micro-coaching activities and delegates the routine to AI. This blending permits effective human coaching and quick course correction, as needed, for team members. And that results in better customer engagement – and a better customer experience – more revenue as well as the ability to launch new products or services to stay ahead of the competition.
How to Apply Augmented People Intelligence to Improve Managers’ Performance
Focus – Making sure managers’ attention is properly managed
AI provides your frontline managers with insight and directs them to seek out and deal with the employees who are behind on particular KPIs. With that, the managers can give ad hoc, real-time, in-context micro-coaching. This collaboration with AI and the people in the manager role closes a gap. On one side is the inability to see the faltering employees. On the other side is the maintaining of organizational agility, or elasticity, as well as the ability to solve problems quickly.
Personalization – Enabling managers to adapt to the different needs, preferences of employees
With the hybrid work environment taking shape, if not taking hold, team members are working in the office, at home, or in the field. Managers find themselves with employees physically near them while others are working remotely. Those dispersed employees may only meet with their managers once a week, maybe even once a month.
This requires managers to adopt different styles to engage and motivate team members on an individual basis. Here AI reconciles employees’ performance and engagement levels and then provides an actionable next-step recommendation. The ordinary activities, like keeping employees focused on their goals, delivering personalized learning to them as well as course-correcting by refreshing employees’ knowledge, is handled by AI.
When human involvement and people intelligence are called for, managers are notified with suggestions to help the employees. For example, the AI may send a coaching tip or urge her to send kudos to employees to raise their spirits or performance.
Amplifying – Having managers feel better about their own skills
AI can help managers have confidence in their abilities to create a guided and connected experience for employees that – in the process – will make both feel and be productive and successful.
Visibility – Giving managers a clear view of employees’ status
When managers have clarity on how team members are doing, they can optimize their own management skills and coaching effectiveness. AI provides managers with a snapshot of employees’ status. It shows who is getting AI assistance, like microlearning, staying within expected performance ranges, and who needs a personal (and personalized) coaching session or intervention.
Using AI in this manner turns managers into mentors at scale. It leverages their capabilities with AI-derived recommendations on the relevant coaching actions that will most likely have a positive impact on outliers by utilizing AI-produced coaching templates.
The pressure to return to pre-pandemic business performance levels – if not higher – is enormous. Considering how crucial your frontline managers are to getting there, using Augmented People Intelligence can help everyone achieve: Managers, employees, your company.