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Why AI Employee Tracking Can’t Build a Great Company

Employees, knowing that an AI is tracking them, start filling in boxes instead of creating or innovating for success

Earlier this year, we learned about the best employee tracking software for 2022. (The Head Office can know if you went to the washroom or phoned your dog’s vet … )

Not everyone thinks that total surveillance by management is the best way to get optimum performance:

But technology is not a replacement for what good managers do. They pull disparate groups of people together and build camaraderie, share a vision, grow trust, and—over time—create cohesive teams that achieve big goals. They get to know their team members individually and work carefully to set expectations, be supportive, understand context, and give feedback and direction.

They take into account the nuance of uniqueness, inherent both in the person and in the job itself. For example, a content lead isn’t going to be typing 100% of the workday; thinking is a big part of writing, and it may mean they’re interviewing a subject matter expert, sketching out an idea on paper, or taking a walk to loosen up some writer’s block.

Ama Richardson, “Why this tech leader thinks employee tracking software is a really bad idea” at Fast Company (September 25, 2022)

Richardson asks a critical question: “Do you really want to create a culture in which people go through the motions of being active while not accomplishing anything?”

When employees are monitored by methods that don’t and can’t take the ways that ideas and relationships really develop into account, what do they do? Many — with, maybe, a mortgage to pay — surrender to the machine. They just fill in the automatically generated blanks. The more obstinately creative ones leave and start formidable competitive companies, determined never to replicate what they once fled.

We get sidetracked by a need to view and demonstrate statistical results in a way that natural circumstances don’t reward. Sometimes the statistics represent a reality worth noting and sometimes they are artifacts of something irrelevant.

A thousand cold calls may yield three customers. But the fact that a senior employee goes to Trim Swim with a potential client may yield the biggest return ever. What algorithm predicted that result?

If businesses choose statistics and surveillance over natural relationships and meeting human needs, they may succeed only among abstractions that nature does not know.

Note: That’s actually a law. It’s called Goodhart’s Law: Once a policy becomes a target, it loses all information.


You may also wish to read: Oh, not THIS again: “AI will rise up and destroy mankind.” The advance of AI raises a number of issues, yes, but the intelligences behind the advances are not artificial at all. The AI doom paper from Oxford and Deepmind is interesting to think about. But shouldn’t we be paying more attention to the looming practical problems?


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Why AI Employee Tracking Can’t Build a Great Company