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How to Win Worker Buy-In for Automation

Catherine ConlanScience Tech2018 04 05
How to Win Worker Buy-In for Automation
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According to research by McKinsey, about 60% of occupations have core responsibilities that could be automated. No matter what they do, workers across a wide variety of industries will see their jobs continue to change — and in an uncertain economy, that can make employees nervous.

But according to the 2017 Randstad Employer Brand Research survey, only 14% of U.S. respondents said they expect automation to take their jobs away, while 30% expect it will make their jobs better. And more than half of U.S. respondents say they would be happy to retrain for other roles — as long as they were paid at least as much as their current pay.

So, while there’s uncertainty around automation and AI, workers are willing to embrace change — provided that your organization has a strong and helpful process. Focusing on change-management principles as you build a hybrid workforce can help make the transition smoother. “We have to look at it like a partnership,” says Gokul Solai, CEO of Novatio Solutions, a company specializing in digital workforce technology. “We know humans are very good at reasoning and problem solving, while robots or digital workers are good at analytics and processing data and continuous learning.”

Here are three things employers need to do to build that winning combination.

Show Empathy

It’s always important to consider employee perspectives when instituting new processes, innovations and change. After all, employees are the ones who have to implement the new ways of doing things on the front lines. This is especially important when bringing on new technology or processes that are getting a lot of press, such as AI or automation tools, as employees may make assumptions about how their work will change.

When it’s time to add new technology, be aware of how your communications are perceived, and understand that if your employees aren’t used to change, they may be skeptical. “Managers must be empathetic, acknowledging employees’ concerns and providing answers to their questions as fully and quickly as possible,” says Tim Hird, executive director at Robert Half Management Resources, a senior-level staffing provider.

Commit to Transparency

Successful change-management relies on clear communication. When employees know about the changes that are coming, they feel empowered to make better decisions for themselves and tend to fear change less. “The key for companies is to share the realities of change and be open and authentic with employees about what could come,” says Myra Cocca, founder and principal at Iron Strike, a strategic communications firm that helps leaders navigate change. “That then prepares them to consider their options, such as sticking it out, getting more job training or looking for a new career.”

“Communicate early, communicate often,” Hird adds. “Let people know what changes are coming, potential timelines and questions still to be addressed.” Highlight the opportunities and benefits that change will bring, he says. For example, if a newly automated process reduces the time employees need to spend on routine tasks, that may allow them to focus more on strategic, higher-profile initiatives, he says.

Provide New Opportunities

If you’re implementing some form of AI or automation, it’s because you know it will help your business do what it does best. But employees need to understand the advantages on an individual level, as well. “The workplace shifts occurring from AI are not uncharted territory,” says Karl Giuseffi, director of research at Talent Plus Inc. “Previous generations experienced similar shifts as technological advancements changed their lives. While people are afraid of the unknown, the more they are able to understand it, the more they will be able to embrace change and find ways to drive it.”

Automation or AI doesn’t necessarily mean job losses. “Robots can’t do everything,” Cocca says. For example, advanced-manufacturing employers are facing a workforce shortage in many parts of the country, she says. As new technologies bring new opportunities for employees, establish paths for them to gain new skills and advance in their careers as technology advances.

Those working directly with AI see the positive impact it has on improving internal organizational processes, Giuseffi says, such as helping clients find new insights from their data to make informed, guided decisions or being able to make sense of what may have been less evident before. “AI will inevitably change people’s jobs, including challenging what we know and don’t know,” he says. “However, with guidance and attention, AI has the potential to set us up for success and be able to accomplish more with less.”

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