Managing people in a time of automation

Managing people in a time of automation

As the presence of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) in today’s workplaces continues to grow, the topic of job security and displacement becomes increasingly important for managers to consider.

With a widely held misconception that technology is a threat to traditional workforces, employers have an imperative to consider how RPA and AI will affect people and organizational culture when determining where and how these technologies should be used in their organizations.

Regardless of how well designed an RPA or AI strategy is, if the human side of implementing change is not a focal point of that strategy, it stands to fail. This article explores some tangible ways companies can approach change management, ensuring employee buy-in.

Automation, after all, is less about replacing employees and more about streamlining work processes. It allows an employee’s role to be redefined from a focus on mundane and repetitive tasks to one that is more complex, more value-added, and ultimately more meaningful.  Managed properly, automation can lead to a more engaged workforce.

Based on our experience designing and implementing broad-scale automation programs, we’ve identified three strategies that every organization should consider when adopting RPA and AI.

 

Prepare not just for automation, but for a cultural shift

When preparing for an automation project, managers are often tasked with developing a list of processes that AI and RPA can quickly improve. During this discovery phase managers also need to blueprint the broader impact of automation on people and culture. Such a blueprint can help to navigate the transition towards automation, identifying required changes to employee mindsets and behaviours and building an effective communication and change management plan.

By positioning automation and AI as employee allies—put in place to help alleviate staff from repetitive and mundane tasks—organizations can rally employees to become champions for technological advancement. For this to work, transparency is key. Conversations reminding employees that these technologies are tools that are supposed to work for them are fundamental to ensuring a smooth transition. Employees of all skill levels are better served when they understand how and why their work landscape is changing.

 

Encourage ongoing learning and development

In typical employee onboarding, time and resources are committed to ensuring staff are trained on the skills that are required to work effectively and efficiently. For many organizations, this is where learning and development starts and ends.  However, organizations that thrive know that ongoing learning is essential to both employee and company growth.

Automation and AI provide an excellent opportunity for organizations to re-invest in the skills and capabilities of their employees.  With the capacity that automation and AI unlock, time can be invested in training employees on more advanced skills.  Staff can be redeployed to work on more value-added activities, including customer-facing interactions and revenue-generating initiatives.  Automation and AI initiatives also require employee oversight and support, and current Subject Matter Experts are often well positioned to transition into an Automation or AI Centre of Excellence.  With a thoughtful approach to training and upskilling employees and designing new value-added roles, a transition to automation and/or AI can lead to a more rewarding work environment that motivates staff and boosts morale and engagement in the workplace.

A Burnie Group client recently illustrated how to positively engage employees while embracing automation. In addition to clearly communicating their automation strategy, our client gave employees the opportunity to be trained in automation core skills and join the automation Centre of Excellence to participate in the automation implementation.  Employees were also encouraged to identify automation opportunities in their work area, with the commitment that capacity released through RPA would be repurposed towards growth initiatives in the organization.   This approach made employees feel that they were a part of the automation transformation and resulted in a very positive attitude towards the change.

As AI and RPA become more prevalent in the workplace, employees that are equipped with future-proof skills will be less fearful of automation and better prepared to work alongside this technology.

 

Position your company as an innovator

People want to work for organizations that support and empower their employees, and automation can be a tool that enables this. An organization’s investment in technology can help position it as an innovator in its field, helping it to attract and retain top talent.

When organizations embrace innovation and build it into their “DNA” to —continuously reinvent work,  they reduce barriers to change and create an innovative culture where everyone wins.

One Burnie Group client implemented Robotic Process Automation as part of a broader strategic focus on innovation.  With innovation being core to the values of the company, RPA was viewed as a natural fit.  Rather than challenging the implementation and resisting change, employees sought ways to build RPA into their day-to-day work and leverage it to spend more of time with customers and on growth-focused initiatives.

 

Conclusion

Introducing AI and RPA into the workplace is no small undertaking. While most leaders address the effectiveness and efficiency gains that these technologies can deliver, truly successful leaders take a broader view to consider the best way to engage employees in the change.

Successful companies take the time to understand how automation can complement the work of employees and then invest in building a workplace where people and automation live in harmony.


Managing people in a time of automation


 By: Jenya Doudareva, Senior Associate