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Technology and the Future of Advisory Work

Produce better results for your advisory practice with integrated technology strategies.

4 min read

Thomas A. Kochan is the Emeritus Professor George Maverick Bunker Professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and a faculty member in the MIT Institute for Work and Employment Research. He focuses on the need to update America's work and employment policies, institutions, and practices to catch up with a changing workforce and economy. His recent work calls attention to the need for a new social contract at work, one that anticipates and engages current and future technological changes in ways that build a more inclusive economy and broadly shared prosperity.

Through empirical research, Mr. Kochan demonstrates that fundamental changes in the quality of employee and labor‐management relations are needed to address America's critical problems in industries ranging from healthcare to airlines to manufacturing. His most recent book is “Shaping the Future of Work: A Handbook for Action and a New Social Contract” (Routledge, 2021).

Each year, our SPDR® MasterClass program draws on the expertise of leading thinkers like Mr. Kochan to help advisors grow their businesses, keep pace with change, and better satisfy clients’ evolving needs.

How will technology shape the future of work? Will AI outsmart all of us? These are pressing questions for advisors, and precisely the ones that MIT Sloan School of Management professor Thomas A. Kochan has spent a lot of time researching and thinking about.

Here we share insights into how advisors can improve the effectiveness of new technologies and, as a result, shape the future work for their teams and their businesses.

Technology Too Important to Leave to Technologists

How can we use technology to build a more broadly shared prosperity? This is the great opportunity and the great challenge of our time, from Mr. Kochan’s point of view. As we begin to wrap our arms around this challenge, he believes it’s important to recognize there is no absolute law that determines the shape and consequences of innovation.

We can all influence where technology takes us. But to do that, we need to be in the room, our associates need to be in the room, the technologist needs to be in the room, and the people on the front lines using the technology need to be in the room, too.

Giving Wisdom to the Machines

It’s people who design technologies to achieve multiple purposes. As such, the goal should be to direct the development of future technologies so that they complement rather than replace us, says Mr. Kochan.

By recognizing this dynamic, we can help ensure new technology pays off in terms of productivity gains and in other ways too — like improvements in job quality. Technology should be designed to augment how people work, so they can apply their human skills toward the things they’re best equipped to do.

The Japanese have a fitting phrase for this: “giving wisdom to the machines.” Mr. Kochan’s research shows that wisdom comes from workers through an integrated approach to technology design. He encourages organizations to respect the fact that today’s workers understand their jobs better than anyone and to engage them when designing and implementing new technologies. Those that do will be best positioned to give wisdom to the machines and benefit from technological change, like the AI revolution.

How to Implement an Integrated Technology Strategy

A simultaneous and integrated technology design process produces better results for both companies and workers than a typical sequential strategy, which involves designing a technology and only later considering its impact on a workforce.

So, how can your team implement an integrated technology strategy? Mr. Kochan highlights three fundamental steps.

  1. Start by discussing the problem and be inclusive. What are we trying to do? What are the opportunities? How well do we understand the business problems? Organizations that are inclusive during this part of the process get much better results than those that rely on externally driven, far-removed technology design.
  2. Ensure technologies are designed alongside correlating work systems. Communicate with front-line users early and often.
  3. Invest in continuous training.

To achieve the best return on your technology investments, ensure your workforce is ready to help influence, use, and adapt to technological changes. Mr. Kochan makes two important points about this. First, training efforts need to begin before new technologies are introduced. Second, workers need hybrid skills that combine technical knowledge with aptitudes for communication and problem-solving. Companies whose workers have hybrid skills are likely to see greater returns on their technology investments.

How to Shape the Future of Your Work

Mr. Kochan encourages advisors to play an active role in technology design and offers some simple suggestions for how to do that effectively:

  • Get out in front and learn about technologies, so you can add value.
  • Help define the problems technologies can solve. How can new technology help you and your team work better?
  • Prototype and test in small experiments. Don’t wait for the full designs to be delivered.
  • Experiment with new uses to add even more value.

Above all, never forget that it’s people who give wisdom to the machines. All of us can — and should — play a role in shaping the development of new technologies and the future of work itself.

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