What would robots do if humans took over?

Takeaways from the Global Drucker Forum


I recently attended the 10th annual Global Drucker Forum held in Vienna, Austria. The Drucker Forum is the preeminent global management leadership conference named after Peter Drucker, the father of modern management practices.

My takeaway from the event was the stark realization that for us in the enterprise technology industry, especially in the US, that we are superficial when it comes to being human-centric. Our technological innovations, especially automation and AI have a profound impact not only in the business world but humanity. Now more than ever, we need to take a human-centric approach to bring innovations to market.

First, a little background. Although I found Peter Drucker’s work midway through my career, I developed an immediate connection to it. He was the first business thinker to question and scrutinize conventional management practices. He believed that management was first and foremost—not a science, as was commonly held—but instead a liberal art. His observation was that management gets in the way of people achieving their best due to the inherent hierarchy, bureaucracy, and unnecessary red tape in common management practices. He believed that management should exist to empower employees: to provide the right objectives, guidance, and tools to deliver the greatest value to the customer.

Management is a people discipline, then. Revelations like these were far ahead of their time in Drucker’s day. After his death in 2005, his colleagues wanted to preserve his groundbreaking ideas, and bold thinking about business—the Drucker Forum was born in his hometown of Vienna in 2008.

Every year, the Drucker Forum presents a singular theme that drives the conversation throughout the two-day event. A diverse and impressive collection of business leaders, top business academics, news people, philosophers, government officials, and contrarians come together to explore the theme.

This year’s theme was exploring the human dimension of management. The corresponding question to the theme was, “What would robots do if humans took over?” I welcome you to take a moment to reflect on that before you continue. I’m curious what first comes to mind when you consider that question.

Technological advancements driving automation in business represent a paradox: automation creates efficiencies that will deliver better outcomes. Automation will reduce or eliminate the need for human intervention for many roles across many, if not all, industries. Automation of tasks and processes in business will require fewer people. It’s possible that every job will see a decent percentage of its roles and responsibilities automated. What if 70% of your job was automated?

This was the heart of the discussion. We have the opportunity today to think differently when it comes to our roles in business moving forward as automation continues to increase. What if we put humans in the center of business? That question may sound pedestrian, but within five to ten years, it may be the most critical question humans have ever asked.

This year’s theme compelled me as it aligns with my company’s vision. Sappington’s vision is to make business more human and to make it better. We do this by working with the world’s great technology organizations to ensure that their most advanced technological innovations—including AI, security, and collaboration—are solving authentic business needs. We work hard to ensure we’re asking tough questions as new technologies are brought to the business market. We advocate for the customer and the people who will benefit or be affected by new technologies—not the technology itself.

This was my lens as I attended the conference. I wanted to hear what global business leaders, academics, and international thinkers had to say about the big question. I wanted to listen to a business voice outside of the American one. Honestly, I wanted to hear what business voices outside the US had to say about technological advancements coming out of the States.

What I learned was that technological advancements, and those organizations that create those advancements, have an obligation to contemplate the effect that those technological advancements will have on the people in business and humanity. It’s only recently that most technology companies have begun thinking about their customers. Customer-centricity is a very new concept and one that is often merely being deployed as lip service. Terms like empathy and compassion are tossed around but rarely used to direct product planning or product marketing investments and activities.

While sitting at the Forum listening to these leaders, I felt a deep and powerful sense of urgency to address the challenges faced by organizations when it comes to dealing with the effects of technological advancements like AI. Putting people at the center requires a wholesale reformation of business: its purpose, structure, and desired outcomes. Many forward-thinking companies are already making dramatic changes to empower their people – radical changes that allow people to collaborate and be inspired by the newfound time provided by automation to work on the most important things.

Enterprise technology companies need greater awareness and understanding of the impact that their technological advancements are having on business, and to fully commit to being human-centric when it comes to planning for, developing, and marketing new capabilities. Now is the time to put people in the center of everything they do.


I leave you with some questions to consider as you continue to plan and market new technological advancements:

•   Why are we creating this innovation?

•   What real business problem is this innovation addressing or solving?

•   How will this innovation affect the people involved with or who will use it?

•   What impact will this innovation have on the customer’s organization?

FutureTim Goggin