Last year I described the Ollie’s Ostrich Burger scenario which explores the ways in which the gains from technological automation in the most routine, manual processes can be spent.
You can read the initial post here, but the summary of the scenario is as follows:
Ollie’s Ostrich Burger has 10 (non-managerial) employees per restaurant. A new robot is introduced that can get the same work done with only 5 employees. How many employees will each Ollie’s restaurant have after installing the robots? Show your work.
I’ve spoken about this scenario in client calls and workshops and received some valuable anecdotal insight into how people think. But wouldn’t it be great to do a large, broad survey of workers across industries to see how cynical they are about their management?
Done! I’m happy to report we put some meat behind the OOB scenario (pun intended) in the form of a survey of 2,432 workers in the U.S. and U.K. The results were surprisingly encouraging!
We offered four multiple choice options as to what course of action upper management of their organization would take:
Fire the workers and executives/shareholders to keep the profit
Fire the workers and pass along savings to consumers
Keep the workers and expand output or number of locations
Keep the workers and use the extra time to improve products and services
It turned out that, by far (44%), workers thought their executives would choose employee- and customer-friendly option #4: keeping the workers and improving their products. The bad news is that the second choice (25%) was #1: fire the workers and keep the profits. It was quite a bit above firing the workers and passing the savings to consumers, which, while still cruel, would at least provide some public benefit. #3, expanding locations, came in at 19%.
So let’s pick apart the cynics – the ones that chose option #1. Where are they? Energy and utilities companies reported the highest likelihood of greedy execs pocketing the cash (39%), followed by insurance and transportation. Being older or male increased the cynicism rating. Income and education had no discernable effect.
The optimists? Those working in healthcare, education, and wholesale trade.
This results actually mesh pretty well with what CEOs told us about their priorities. In our 2016 CEO survey on top five strategic business priorities, 54% listed growth compared to 31% customer, 16% profit and 13% cost management. 11% said product improvements, 10% quality improvement. Keep in mind option #4 can relate to growth or customer strategies.
I’ve thrown a lot of numbers out there, but the summary is that on a measure of cynicism about how management might use AI to the detriment of their workforce, the workers are fairly optimistic that a path will be chosen that benefits consumers and maintains jobs. That’s a rare bit of good news to counter an otherwise dismal outlook from many mainstream outlets.
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