Implementing Robo-advisor in a Danish Bank: The role of the middle manager

Implementing Robo-advisor in a Danish Bank: The role of the middle manager A critical perspective

Anne-Christine Rosfeldt Lorentzen, Aarhus University,


Intelligent machines are continuously being implemented in various types of organizations providing better performance (Davenport & Ronanki, 2018), generating new occupations and making existing jobs evolve (Manyika et al., 2018). The machines are also filling more roles in management (Fuchs, Silverstone, and Thomas 2016). Fuchs et al. (2016) categorize three such roles by their degree of autonomy and proactivity: Assistant, advisor, and actor (table 1). This paper-in-progress focuses on an advisor, which bank managers use when talking to customers.
Assistant  Advisor  Actor 
Creating scorecards Maintaining reports  Monitoring the environment  Answering questions Building scenarios Generating options  Evaluating options Making decisions Budgeting and planning 
Passive¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† ¬† Active¬† Table 1: Accenture Strategy analysis, 2016: 2¬† We do not know much about the middle managers‚Äô role in implementing systems based on artificial intelligence (Marr, 2018;¬†Saphir, 2018; Felten et al. 2018). However, middle managers play an important role when implementing change in general. The literature traditionally¬†describe¬†middle managers as change agents responsible for aligning subunits with the organization (Hrebiniak¬†&¬†Joyce,¬†1984;¬†Nonaka¬†&¬†MacMillan,¬†1986;¬†Nutt,¬†1987;¬†Raes,¬†Heijltjes,¬†Glunk¬†&¬†Roe, 2011). Disruptions are often perceived as active resistance (Bower, 1970;¬†Ketokivi¬†&¬†Casta√Īer, 2004) driven by individual middle managers (Courpasson, Dany, & Clegg, 2012; Zoller & Fairhurst,¬†2007)¬†based¬†on¬†their¬†rational¬†self-interest¬†(e.g.¬†Guth¬†&¬†MacMillan,¬†1986;¬†Meyer,¬†2006).¬† ¬† Taking a less linear and sequential perspective (e.g. Carter, Clegg &¬†Kornberger, 2008; Chia & MacKay, 2007; Chia, 1999;¬†Tsoukas¬†& Chia, 2002) disruptions are less deliberate and caused¬†by¬† e.g. social embeddedness (Regn√©r¬†2003); difference in sensemaking between top and middle (Balogun and Johnson 2005;¬†Mantere, 2013;¬†Mantere¬†&¬†Vaara, 2008); middle managers‚Äô emotional stress (Thomas &¬†Linstead, 2002); and in¬†general¬†the difficulties of being a middle manager (e.g. Harding et al., 2014).¬† Both perspectives provide a basis for understanding disruptions related to the role of branch managers¬†and¬†department¬†managers¬†when¬†implementing¬†robo-advisor.¬†However,¬†they¬†fall¬†short¬†in explaining the role of the IT Director: Preliminary observations depict both the IT Director and the employees as wanting¬†robo-advisor to solve specific time-consuming tasks. Still, the employees¬†are¬†very¬†frustrated¬†interpreting¬†the¬†quality¬†of¬†robo-advisor¬†negatively,¬†even¬†though¬†it¬†is state¬†of¬†the¬†art.¬†Taking¬†a¬†point¬†of¬†departure¬†in¬†both¬†the¬†ethnographic¬†data¬†and¬†brief¬†literature¬†review, this¬†paper¬†seeks¬†to¬†answer¬†the¬†following:¬†What¬†is¬†the¬†role¬†of¬†the¬†middle¬†manager¬†when¬†employees¬†become¬†critical¬†of¬†the¬†quality¬†of¬†a¬†well-functioning¬†robo-advisor¬†that¬†they¬†do¬†want¬†solving¬†time- consuming¬†tasks?¬† ¬†


Ethnography (see Spradley 1980) proposed itself as a helpful method, because studying people in their¬†everyday¬†activities¬†help¬†the¬†researcher¬†to¬†understand¬†the¬†complexity,¬†intricacy¬†and¬†mundanity of¬†organizational¬†life¬†(see¬†Ybema¬†et¬†al.¬†2009).¬†Scholars¬†as¬†Whyte,¬†Goffman¬†and¬†Beckman¬†(Chicago School) stated that fieldwork, participant observation, and native interpretations are the essence when investigating the empirical world (Becker, Hughes & Strauss, 1961; Blumer,¬†1964).¬† The¬†empirical¬†setting¬†of¬†this¬†ethnographic¬†study¬†is¬†a¬†middle-sized¬†Danish¬†bank.¬†A¬†‚Äėtypical¬†instance‚Äô (Cunliffe¬†&¬†Karunanayake,¬†2013)¬†because¬†banks¬†are¬†one¬†the¬†many¬†types¬†of¬†organizations¬†in¬†which functions are continuously being automated, and an emblematic case (Silverman 2014: 73) in which¬†involvement,¬†dialogue,¬†motivation,¬†continuously¬†educating¬†managers,¬†and¬†the¬†well-being¬†of employees are of high priority, resulting in the organization often being nominated as one of the best places to work in¬†Denmark.¬† Building on Cunliffe‚Äôs (2015) recommendations, data collecting methods include observing, informal¬†conversation¬†(see,¬†for¬†example¬†Fenton¬†and¬†Langley¬†2011)¬†questions¬†at¬†meetings¬†with¬†top management, middle management, and employees. Interviews, participation at events, participation¬†in¬†strategy¬†seminar¬†for¬†the¬†top¬†management,¬†and¬†document¬†access.¬†Furthermore,¬†data consists of posters made by middle managers and employees. Notes were made during the activities or as soon as possible. The ethnographic data consists of approximately 292,5 hours (table¬†2):¬†
Participant observation Approximately 211,5 hours  Non-participant observations Approximately 56 hours  Informal conversations As part of the observations:  Workshop (big focus group)  Approximately 8 hours  Interviews    Approximately 17 hours 
Meetings with top upper middle management/shadow  5 x 8 hour meetings with all middle managers (35)  E.g.:    During coffee breaks from  Workshop with employees representing all departments in  Branch managers: 3 hours (1h40m, 20m, 1h) 
advisory board:¬†75¬†hours¬† ¬† Meetings with¬†top management: 25 hours¬† ¬† Lunch with different ‚Äėcolleagues‚Äô: 45 hours¬† ¬† Strategy¬†kick off¬†event: 8 hours¬† ¬† New¬†years¬†party:¬†9 hours¬† ¬† Meetings and workshops with external consultants and top management/upper middle managers: 21 hours¬† ¬† Every day work in the organization:¬†+ 38,5¬† ¬† 5 x¬†1 hour¬†morning meetings in branches¬† ¬† 1 x¬†8 hour¬†internal course on¬†communication¬† ¬† 1 x 3 Meeting with union people¬† meetings in the top management, and with the middle management group.¬† ¬† During transportation with upper middle management when meeting consultants, and with employees to parties/activities¬† all 16 branches discussing strategy¬†and in that regard¬†also Robo-advisor.¬† ¬† Union people: 2 hours¬† ¬† HR director: 3 hours (6 x¬†30m)¬† ¬† Communications¬†director: 2,5 hours (5 x¬†30m)¬† ¬† Head of¬†business¬†development: 1 hours (2 x¬†30m)¬† ¬† IT Director: 4¬† hours (2 x 1h + 4 x 30m)¬† ¬† IT¬† Implementing consultant: 45 minutes (1x)¬†
As is it often the case with rich ethnographic descriptions the paper-in-progress is encountering the problem of presenting it briefly (Van¬†Maanen, 2010). Vignettes presented itself as a way to solve this issue, as it is a well-established way of communicating the context and ‚Äėfeel‚Äô of ethnographic data (Barter & Renold, 2000). Therefore, the paper will present data through vignettes, and findings will be discussed in relation to the literature on change and middle management.¬†


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