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What Happens when AI Takes Over Some of CEOs’ Duties?


Robots have already taken on many tasks and hence it may not be surprising to think if they can take up the job of the company’s top boss – the Chief Executive Officers a.k.a the CEOs.

CEOs, especially ones that run major corporations, have somewhat of an obligation to face the public in times of crisis or hardship and make a statement on behalf of their organization. Whether it’s about addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, or even just drafting a statement about an important company decision, public perception is hugely important, and these decisions can often make or break how people view a company. As technology advances and AI becomes ingrained in our daily life in recent years, a new study by RMIT Online explores what happens when AI takes over for CEOs when it comes to answering business questions and responding to global issues?

Mental Health in the workplace

Interestingly, when it came to addressing the issue of mental health in the workplace, the AI statement came out overwhelmingly on top. The statement was presented to respondents alongside ones made by CEOs of Verizon, Chevron, EY, and Financial Times, and 42.3% of respondents felt AI made the most effective statement of the group.

What made the AI statement stand out is that it not only addressed the issue of mental health in the workplace broadly, even referencing the pandemic, but it also provided a numbered list of four components that made up a mental health policy. With an issue like this – something that would naturally require a company to implement better procedures to address it – it seems that the AI’s directness and less emotional tone fared better with respondents as opposed to the more emotional statements made by the real CEOs.

The statement that came in right under the AI-generated statement was one made by Verizon CEO Guru Gowrappan, who made it a point to highlight what the company had already done to combat mental health issues resulting from the pandemic.

“Our focus is on breaking down stigmas and encouraging empathy, awareness, and understanding,” Gowrappan’s statement read. Nearly 22% of respondents felt the Verizon statement was the most effective.

Just 7.3% of respondents said they felt that the statement from Financial Times CEO John Ridding was the best. In his statement, Ridding said that the company has “really shifted the focus to the mental well-being of our employees and how we can best provide support.” His breakdown of services and changes made to their mental health policy was much more vague in comparison to the other statements, including the one generated by AI.

The Pandemic  and empathy

As mental health has become a particularly important conversation at the workplace, it seems that AI won out with its statement on the COVID-19 pandemic as well, compared to statements made by the CEOs of Bombas, Amazon, Modera Wealth Management, and BP. Almost one-third of respondents said they felt the AI statement was the best of the bunch, with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ statement just behind (24.6%), followed by Bernard Looney of BP (24%), Tom Orecchio of Modera (13.2%), and David Heath of Bombas (5.4%).

More than 42 per cent felt that the AI-generated response to the question “What are you doing as a business leader to help those impacted by COVID-19” was best. AI’s answer, which 42.3 per cent of people chose as their favorite, included a step-by-step plan, financial coverage
and an intention to continue efforts into the future.

In contrast, Chevron made the crucial mistake of talking about what they have “always done” in the past, which didn’t leave many people having much faith in their future. Only 14.9 per cent of people chose this company’s response as their favorite.

It’s unclear if anybody really knew how to respond properly to COVID-19. Companies filled the world’s inboxes with an influx of (often tone-deaf) pandemic-related responses, while continually changing circumstances made it almost impossible to strategize.

Nearly one-third of respondents agreed that AI had a better response to the pandemic, which was in sharp contrast to their reactions to most CEO.

AI stated, “The best way for business leaders to help those impacted by COVID-19 is to show empathy toward employees …” This statement alone indicated adherence to something other than the bottom line, which may have been the crucial human error demonstrated by other companies. AI knew better than human beings to put morality first and profit second.

The Future of Leadership

The results of the RMIT Online study clearly showed that when it came to most issues, AI had the most impactful and effective statements. Perhaps issues like racial inequality require a more human and emotional reaction, as opposed to AI’s more direct and matter-of-fact tone. But when it comes to detailing a response to a mental health or global public health crisis, it’s clear that AI offered a much more detail-oriented and less hollow approach than that of the CEOs – many of whom focused more on platitudes and blanket statements of support with little detail or more emphasis on their bottom line.

One of the most important things of the study is that businesses may be able to rely on AI for help in certain situations where public responses are necessary. Depending on the approach and the appropriate reaction, AI can clearly be an effective tool to craft a statement that outlines things straightforwardly and boldly with the right emphasis.

However, in truth, the future isn’t robot or human, but a more nuanced way of working to get the best out of technology and ourselves. As a renowned CEO comments, “Automating tasks could not only make me more productive and responsible, it could also improve my business, and it’s bottom line. But AI could also free me up to do more rewarding work – to meet with customers and employees. As leaders, we need to engage, motivate and inspire our teams, especially in times of uncertainty.”

Can a robot energize the workforce and take on the real CEO? We can leave that debate for another day. But for now, researchers see no threat, at least not in the near future.

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