There\u2019s a new drinking game that is sweeping across after-work corporate watering holes.\nEveryone takes turns guessing how long it will be until their job is automated out of existence. After every guess, everyone drinks.\nThere is a steady drumbeat of news and analysis that predict a certain demise of much of modern work. You could even put my last CIO article, \u201cThe \u2018future of work\u2019 in the digital era may not be what you think,\u201d in that category.\nThese predictions have left many rank-and-file corporate workers trying to sort out what\u2019s really happening and what to do next.\nBut while they sit at the bar drinking and commiserating, their managers are sitting somewhere in the corner feeling slightly sorry for their employee's predicament and then silently toasting their good fortunes to have worked their way up the corporate ladder to safety.\nThe safety of corporate managers, however, may not be quite so assured.\nIn \u201cAre you ready for the data driven management revolution,\u201d I discussed the fact that as we continue to instrument every facet of modern work, it is beginning to enable what I called data-driven management.\nThe flip side of this data-driven augmentation, however, is that it may make the act of management the prime target for automation.\nCould it be possible that it will be the managers that go first?\nThe chatbot manager\nAt least one company is already going down this road.\nZerocracy has introduced a chatbot it designed to manage programmers. And it believes that it may represent the future of management.\nThe company\u2019s CEO, Yegor Bugayenko, explained that many of the problems that he and his co-founders saw in their prior work with development teams had nothing to do with bad code and everything to do with bad management.\n"Only about seven to ten percent of failures are caused by technical problems, by technical incompetence," Bugayenko shared. "The rest of them are caused by management mistakes. People just forget stuff. They miss deadlines. They don't remember something, they don't synchronize information."\nMoreover, as they reflected on past successes and failures, they saw that there were two parts to being a good manager: leadership and project management. They further realized that most great leaders struggled with project management and that even the best project managers often let emotion and politics interfere with getting the best work out of people.\nThey figured they could automate the management part of the equation.\n\u201cI'm not talking about things like meetings, conversations, and motivating people \u2014 leadership \u2014 all that stuff stays,\u201d said Bugayenko. \u201cBut the routine parts like planning, risk analysis, risk quantification and qualification, time management, scope control \u2014 we can teach a computer to do that.\u201d\nAnd so they did, starting with themselves. The company uses its management chatbot, what it calls Zerocrat, for its internal development.\nThe transition wasn't always easy, but to Bugayenko's thinking, it also made clear to him which workers would thrive in an automated future and which might not.\n\u201cWhen new programmers join us, they expect to be in the office and to be managed by people. They are used to being micromanaged,\u201d Bugayenko explained. \u201cWe say, look, you have no managers anymore. You're completely free. Just talk to the computer, and the computer tells you what to do and evaluates your results. The computer knows whether you're good or bad, you don't need to please your manager anymore. Just focus on your results and satisfy the requirements.\u201d\nIt\u2019s unquestionably a different way of working. The question is, will it work?\nA holocratic future?\nThis vision of a chatbot manager brings to mind another idea that has been bouncing around for some time: the flat, manager-less organization.\nPerhaps beginning with Gary Hamel\u2019s provocative 2011 Harvard Business Review article, "First, let\u2019s fire all the managers," there has been a continuous fascination with the idea of the so-called holocratic enterprise \u2014 a self-managing organization.\nImmortalized by companies such as Zappos, Gore-Tex, and Morning Star, leadership experts and pundits have celebrated this movement toward a self-managing future. Still, the widespread adoption of holocratic principles has failed to take root in any serious way.\nPart of the reason for this limited adoption is that while self-organization sounds good on paper, it is complicated to accomplish and sustain in practice.\nIn a recent Aeon article, \u201cNo boss? No thanks,\u201d professors Nicolai Foss and Peter Klein make a case for why this heralded manager-less approach doesn't work.\nThey explain:\n\n\u201cUnfortunately, the bossless-company narrative is dead wrong\u2026Despite big changes in technology and demographics, and increasing globalization, the basic idea of a firm, the nature of ownership and responsibility, and how people coordinate tasks are the same as always\u2026Decisions have to be made about what to produce and how to produce it. Workers need information, tools and equipment, and motivation. And some individuals or groups need to bear the final responsibility and be held accountable for the firm\u2019s actions \u2013 the buck has to stop somewhere. All of this is as true today, in our knowledge-based, networked, empowered, startup economy, as it was during the heyday of the large industrial corporation of the 20th century.\u201d\n\nBugayenko, of course, agrees with the parts about the need for motivation and accountability. I'd guess that he also recognizes that workers need someone to decide what to produce and when, to coordinate tasks, to deliver information, and to allocate resources.\nThe issue, it would seem, is if it\u2019s better for a human or a computer to serve that role.\nPerhaps what has been missing from the conversations around the self-organizing enterprise is the chatbot?\nA ready workforce\nThe general perception (and one that I shamelessly pandered to in my opening) is that people are already afraid of computers taking their jobs and will, therefore, be even more reticent to take orders from a machine.\nI admit that when I first heard Bugayenko\u2019s description of the chatbot-managed workplace, I shuddered a bit. Won\u2019t workers recoil at the idea of a machine reducing them to no more than a means to get a job done?\nMaybe not.\nOracle and research firm, Future Workplace, conducted a study in the middle of last year in which a stunning 93% of people said that they would trust orders from a robot. The study makes it clear that despite the fear-mongering, most people are embracing a more measured attitude to the encroachment of robots, artificial intelligence (AI), and automation in the workplace.\n\u201cAs this study shows, people are not afraid of AI taking their jobs and instead want to be able to quickly and easily take advantage of the latest innovations,\u201d said Emily He, SVP, Human Capital Management Cloud Business Group, Oracle. \u201cTo help employees embrace AI, organizations should partner with their HR leaders to address the skill gap and focus their IT strategy on embedding simple and powerful AI innovations into existing business processes.\u201d\nBugayenko believes that the reactions from his employees \u2014 both good and bad \u2014 validate this point. Not everyone likes it, he made clear \u2014 particularly those employees who prefer being micromanaged. But he also found that his best employees love it.\n\u201cOur programmers really enjoy [being managed by a bot], because everything is predictable,\u201d he explained. \u201cIf you fail, you know exactly what's going to happen\u2026and it\u2019s not because your project manager is in a bad mood. All the bot cares about is the metrics. So you can effectively complete the jobs it gives to you, and be the best programmer you can be.\u201d\nTurning work upside down\nHaving a chatbot as a manager will, unquestionably, introduce a host of new workplace paradigms. Organizations that adopt this approach will replace often-political corporate cultures with algorithms, strict rules, and the elimination of emotion.\nIn many cases, this by-the-numbers, automated type of management model will make it easy to compare performance and result in a gamified culture that will have its own motivational effect. Whether that will be good or bad remains to be seen.\nThis approach will not replicate the way a human manager might manage a team \u2014 but perhaps that's a good thing.\nA study by MIT\u2019s Computer Science & Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) found that not only did workers prefer a robot to a human in directing work, but that it resulted in better team performance.\nThe research team created an experiment in which two humans and one robot had to collaborate to complete a series of tasks. The team with a robot in charge and the humans doing the work was not only more effective, but also one in which \u201cthe workers were more likely to say that the robots \u2018better understood them\u2019 and \u2018improved the efficiency of the team.\u2019\u201d\nThere are two big messages when it comes to the automation of management.\nFirst, no one is immune from the transformation of work \u2014 even, and maybe especially, managers. The only way to ensure continued relevance is to perpetually adapt and evolve your skills. Moreover, you should focus your energy on developing and refining those skills which are the hardest to automate.\nSecond, as we continue down this road, the rules of work will change forever. Whether we eventually see full-fledged holocratic enterprises develop or if it is whole new automated management models that evolve, it is becoming increasingly unlikely that the traditional methods of organization and management will survive unchanged.\nAs an enterprise leader, the question for you will be if you have the courage and fortitude to reimagine everything \u2014 even if that means automating yourself out of a job.