Synchronize Your Tech & Human Journeys for Automation Success
Proactive companies are eager to automate. It’s the next big thing. It saves time and money while potentially mitigating risk and disruption (by, for instance, helping us socially distance amid global pandemic). But have you thought about how automation will impact your employees’ morale and development?
Just as technology roadmaps are essential for successful digital transformation, human roadmaps are essential for successful automation. Maps tell you where you are, where you’re going, and how to get there. What skills do your people have right now? Which future skills will your staff need – or will you need to hire – for your company to move forward? How will you get from A to B? That is your human roadmap.
Your work force – the raw potential and vital impetus your humans bring to work every day – is your most valuable business asset. Automation isn’t going to change that. Business processes channel your work force on a day-to-day micro level. A human roadmap will channel it on the macro level, ensuring professional development is aligned with long-term business goals.
When you undertake automation, your tech roadmap & human roadmap are inextricably linked. Digital assistants are “learning” (via programmers’ agile development) to enhance and empower human employees. Human employees are learning how to delegate tasks to their digital assistants and move beyond those menial tasks to build business value. All this learning is happening synchronously, so it helps if you plan for it ahead of time by developing your tech and human roadmaps simultaneously.
Here’s my roadmap for devising your human roadmap. It’s a plan to make a plan:
1. Communicate Early & Often
Nothing can thwart a tech project as effectively as botched adoption. That’s why Mind Over Machines prioritizes adoption coaching. We always say adoption planning must start at project inception. Building a shared vision is crucial. Everyone, at all levels, must understand the why and how of the proposed change. This is particularly true with automation. If you let news of impending automation trickle down in rumors and rumbles, employees will jump into a “Robots are coming for our jobs!” panic. Do not be forced into reactive mode. You need to initiate and guide the companywide automation conversation.
Engage your team early on with direct, transparent communication. Explain why you are automating, what the technology can and cannot do, and how it will empower employees. My last blog has plenty of talking points on why human employees should not fear bots and how they can make digital assistants work for them.
2. Deconstruct All the Work
Mind Over Machines is human-centric. It’s one of our pillars that sets us apart from the competition. In the discovery phase of every project, we gather human and technical requirements simultaneously. What do people need, and how can we design the tech to meet those needs?
The first step in developing both your automation and human roadmaps is identifying the skills your business runs on. Break each job title down into its work responsibilities. From there, further deconstruct the work into individual processes. Which skills are needed for each process? You are building a skills inventory for your entire operation. This exercise is also a great way to find processes ripe for automation. Automation-ready processes are the ones that are high-volume, stable, rules-based, digital, and don’t require much skill at all.
3. Perform Companywide Skills Assessment
Now that you know which skills your business requires, determine who has them. Here you are matching employees to critical skills. There are many tools to help you accomplish skills assessment. Running staff through a series of standardized exercises may lead to some pleasant surprises. (“Hey, I didn’t know Finance Bob has a natural aptitude for development!”) Do you currently have the right people overseeing the right processes? If you uncover misalignments, view them as opportunities. This is your chance to recalibrate operations. Make sure you are playing to employees’ strengths, using people to their full potential and helping them develop that inherent potential.
Pay special attention to the people at the helm of processes you’ve identified as well–suited for automation. How can you help them make the mental shifts necessary to work with a digital assistant? Often, this requires migrating to an exception-based model of work where they get to focus on the more complicated outliers. Post-automation, an employee may be interacting with fewer customers, but the quality of that interaction increases. They will be able to devote more time to understanding and addressing tougher cases and/or more complex asks. If planned automations will leave certain employees underemployed, do they possess skills applicable to a different or expanded role?
4. Encourage Creativity & Growth
This is an all-along-the-route edict for your human roadmap. AI is prompting us to fundamentally change the way we think about work. We must learn to specialize in uniquely human skill sets like empathizing, problem solving and creating. That shift starts with helping your human employees see digital assistants as partners and opportunities, rather than threats. People can delegate the mundane aspects, the parts of their jobs they don’t like, to bots and grow what they love. At both the individual and organizational level, we can deconstruct and reconfigure our work to be more personally fulfilling and more valuable in the marketplace.
The promise of automation is freeing humans to explore what may now be possible. Sure, that will probably require upskilling, which is why my colleague Tim Kulp advocates a shift from Chief People Officers to Chief Learning Officers. But self-actualization is the ultimate destination on every human roadmap. You get there by pushing ever onward, consistently rising to meet and conquer each new challenge, even and especially the ones we invent for ourselves.
Jeff Kalb is an artist, which makes him a visual problem solver with an eye for process and detail. He started out as a graphic designer back when print designs had to be sent out for typesetting. Then, Apple revolutionized desktop publishing, the internet revolutionized everything else, and Jeff shepherded his team of designers through the transition from analog to digital. Since then, his career has grown right alongside the web and all the emerging technologies it’s made possible.
Give him a whiteboard and clients with a vision, however fuzzy it may be, and Jeff is an innovative, visual thinker. As an independent consultant, tech firms hired him to help prospective customers flesh out their project ideas, making them tangible enough to actually be able to estimate. Over the years, Jeff evolved his early information architecture skills into full-blown UX design expertise that has taken many forms, from boutique enterprise branding to accreditation process automation. Now, as Mind Over Machines’ new Senior Director for Product Management, Jeff takes a holistic approach to solving our partners’ long-term business needs.
Jeff and his wife, Terri, are poised to embrace the empty-nest life with one daughter already working as a mechanical engineer; the other, who chose to follow in dad’s footsteps, will graduate next year with an art and design degree. Now there will be more time to landscape, grill, and continually curate Jeff’s 1200+ diecast car collection. (Interest piqued? You’re gonna want to see the Hot Wheels Redlines. They’ll take you back.)