Replace your boss with an app

By on March 31, 2014

It is a fact of office life that many people feel they are badly managed. If your work is largely predictable, and you spend the majority of your time online, why not turn your boss into an app? Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic considers the issues.

Admittedly, this would only work in fairly simple contexts with jobs that are repetitive and where computers can quantify employee performance rigorously.

Imagine your job as a video game, where you are the player and your manager is not the enemy but the scoring system embedded in the game. Importantly, there may be many different ways to achieve the same objectives, but your score would measure how well you accomplish these objectives compared to your colleagues.

A common complaint of employees is that their managers make biased evaluations of their performance. Surely machines can do it better (read: More objectively) than a human boss? But there is a catch; if your boss can be replaced by an app, it is likely that your work can also be performed better by a computer, which makes you just as disposable.

Most jobs involve not only managing tasks, but also emotions and politics. And critical organisational goals are not accomplished by individuals, but by teams. In line with this, the key to effective leadership is the ability to build, motivate, and manage high-performing teams.

Although team-building is more science than art (for example, individuals with similar values but complementary skills work well together), team management is still more art than science. This is why so many managers struggle, but also why good managers will always be better than computers.

The fundamental difference between managers and computers, it seems, is that computers can manage, but managers can lead. Ultimately, what employees want in a leader is somebody who cares about them, and computers don’t care about anything.

Rationality is not as desirable as we think, especially when it comes at the expense of love.

  • • Provide encouraging feedback when something is done right.
  • • Provide critical but constructive feedback when something is done wrong.
  • • Provide a mission or high-level action plan.

Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic is a professor of business psychology at UCL, VP of innovation at Hogan Assessments and co-founder of

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