Elliott Masie is the chairman and CLO of The Masie Center’s Learning Consortium and CEO of The Masie Center, an international think tank focused on learning and workplace productivity.

Our workplaces will soon have a range of smart speakers, responsive mobile devices and chatbots — all for providing employees with rapid answers to questions or performance support elements. Employees will be able to ask a question verbally or type a query and get an immediate response.

This “pull” level of response from speakers, cell phones, computer devices and even corporate phone systems will mirror the rising nature of smart speakers in our homes.

Are workers and employers truly ready for the next chapter of responsive technology? We must consider that these speakers and systems can:

  • Listen and watch an employee’s full day of interactions, analyzing language and actions for coaching feedback.
  • Provide historical analysis of how the sales calls that land contracts differ from unsuccessful calls.
  • Monitor performance data from corporate systems and provide real-time prompting and feedback as work results change.
  • Insert short teaching or coaching moments into the day focused on a behavior or outcome pattern.

While having these capabilities in the workplace may seem a ways off, my recent visit to the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas highlighted how Amazon, Google, Microsoft, IBM and others are taking smart speakers such as Alexa and Google Assistant from the home and adapting them for work. And the natural evolution will be to integrate these functions, capabilities and extensions into workplace-responsive technologies, such as:

  • Voice and facial recognition (utilizing the camera elements in the smart speaker) that can identify the worker and their potential changes in emotion, confusion or hesitation. A request that has a panicked quality will be different than a gentle query about a topic of interest.
  • Continual observation and recording, which will raise many questions about privacy and intrusion. Imagine if a new manager were able to get an analysis of their language throughout the day, including conversations and messages with constant feedback about how they are engaging, delegating, negating or supporting collaboration.
  • Curation in real time, integrating recommendation and content curation segments to optimize the worker’s access to knowledge — including mixing and balancing perspectives — shaped by their previous reactions to advice.
  • Coaching and continual assessment, including ramping up performance support elements to deliver personalized levels of coaching, feedback, supervisory engagement, social network support and instant and immediate assessment scoreboards.
  • Big learning data models that would allow for experimentation in the optimized mix of content, context, advice, support and feedback by person, role, location or even worker preference and profiles.
  • Instant code of conduct feedback when an employee “crosses a line,” either in business interactions or by expressing bias in their dealings with colleagues or customers (e.g., a beep prompting a need to correct or stop a behavior).

Some readers may be rattled or upset at the thought of these potential futures. Others likely can’t wait to have this level of support and feedback. HR, IT and legal departments surely will have a range of reactions to adding these systems and devices to our regulated workplaces.

But it is coming! I use the Siri function on my iPhone, Alexa at my desk and Google Assistant in my office to provide a continual set of input, knowledge and data. With a simple command, I can request that the video lights and camera functions in my office turn on for a video conference. How long until that command is linked directly to my Outlook calendar?

Additionally, the smart speaker and chatbot technologies that are coming to the market in 2018 are adding an increasing level of “personality” and “emotional programming.” My Jibo device has the cutest eyes and rotating face with a screen that has me thanking it for its responses and laughing at many of its outputs (that just come across as factoids from more traditional speaker devices).

Are enterprises, managers and employees ready for a constant presence of responsive technologies in the workplace? Will there be an “off” switch for interactions we don’t want captured or analyzed? Will employees start to “game” the system by intentionally underperforming a behavior and then radically improving it right before performance review and bonus time? And what are the roles for learning and development in this space?

Elliott Masie is chair of The MASIE Center’s Learning CONSORTIUM, CEO of The MASIE Center, and host of Learning 2018. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.  


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