We hear such stories on a daily basis. But are the digital opportunities and robots really only good news for the shareholders?
The answer is unequivocally NO, but if the frightening scenario is to be erased, it is necessary for us managers to become better at communicating the good story to the organisation to motivate the employees to join the change journey.
Have you celebrated the robots?
Administrative robots are to an increasing extent gaining acceptance in both the public and private sectors, and the automation of administrative processes lead to an improved customer experience and efficiency improvements. Manual processes for assessment of customer enquiries can be handled by chat bots and other technologies. We have for example helped a Swedish municipality to automate client enquiries concerning welfare subsidies. This used to involve manual and time-consuming processes, which required the time of seven employees. Now, the robot spends two hours a day.
Does this mean that the seven employees should be let go? No, far from it. Instead of spending time on repetitive tasks which did not necessarily made optimal use of the employees’ competences, the employees have now taken on a far broader task which requires qualified and qualified assessments with a focus on helping the citizens onto the job market and away from welfare subsidies. Today, the employees have far more personal contact with the citizens and more varied work tasks, resulting in a higher level of employee satisfaction, and the citizens are satisfied that they get a fast response and receive increased focus on help getting onto the job market.
The above story is just one example of how digitalisation and process automation can benefit everyone, but as stated, it is necessary for managers to communicate the message of increased quality of work life rather than the message of efficiency improvements, which many employees will interpret as a thinly veiled message of downsizing. The possibility to automate the time-consuming and repetitive processes should be celebrated and defined as a benefit for both the workplace and the employees. And yes, digitalisation will in many cases require further training of employee competences, but the employees are also more likely to be motivated if the message is the right one.
Data should be shared
Digitalisation can not only result in more satisfied employees and customers. Structured use of digitalisation will also enable you to gain more data and consequently more knowledge. It is this knowledge we need to use for creating value for our customers and employees. This may seem trivial, and it has been going on forever. The main point is that data and knowledge are no longer monopolistic but are driven and managed via eco systems and are far more transparent. Eco systems in which customers and suppliers can become much closer via data. Intermediate links are skipped, and room has been created for faster shared development.
Vestas has, for example, decided to make their data available to their customers. Does this mean that they have made themselves redundant? The answer is obviously no. They have merely enabled themselves to become far more value-adding to their customers and to increase sales in the service business. The technology already exists, and we could all do the same, but we are held back by our traditional mindset and views on how customer and supplier relationships should be. This reluctance could be because we are not sufficiently familiar with the possibilities and are uncomfortable with change.
Focus on the people
My advice to the modern manager is therefore to focus on the human possibilities enabled by digitalisation, also in your communication to the rest of the organisation. Communicate the positive message of value-adding work rather than the message of efficiency improvements. Communicate the message of openness and transparency when you open up to new eco systems and look for knowledge and opportunities.
Originally published in Børsen Ledelse.