Today, there seems to be an algorithm at work on just about anything you can imagine. Scanning genes for diseases to save lives. Calculating the perfect insurance premium. Predicting customer needs before they arise. Even solving murder mysteries. The possibilities are endless.
But are there times when algorithms do more harm than good?
We’ve covered examples of algorithms gone wild here on the Apex of Innovation, including algorithm bias and the ethics of artificial intelligence, especially when it applies to customers. Below we take a different perspective, examining whether or not algorithms should even be applied to a business process in the first place.
A recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article looked at the application of algorithms for managing people, exposing some of the pros and cons of using big data analytics to get more out of your people.
First, the article aptly points out that using algorithms to manage people in the hands of bad leaders can quickly produce bad outcomes. For example, applying algorithms to skirt employment laws, enforce tight management controls, or over-monitor employees can lead to “alienation and disengagement,” not to mention legal problems. If you think it’s not already happening, the piece points out Amazon’s recent patent filings for wristbands that monitor warehouse workers and “nudge” them to be more efficient.
In this new era where business outcomes can be managed better than ever before, companies are faced with finding the right balance between human and machine, as well as helping employees adapt to changes to the “nature of work, our identity, and how people consider their purpose.”
So, what can you do to get it right at your company?
As the HBR notes, “Algorithms are not inherently bad.” But companies should look beyond functions like surveillance and automation to more positively apply big data analytics to managing people. One example comes from Dutch bank ING, which re-organized departments, including marketing, product management, and IT, into smaller teams united by a common cause or objective. In doing so, the employees felt a greater sense of purpose and the bank was able to simplify complex processes into smaller steps that were easier to manage, creating a “virtual assembly line” with greater efficiency.
Innovative companies are also using algorithms to better match existing talent with new opportunities, impacting service companies like advertising agencies, where winning new business requires pitching the right people with the right skill sets.
With any application of algorithms and data analytics, the human impact must always be considered. Whether replacing repetitive tasks or redesigning existing processes, striking the right balance between human and machine is paramount for success, as well as helping your people adapt with management support and training.