The Great Resignation is still raging. SHRM reports an average of almost 4 million people quit their jobs in each month of 2021, far outpacing the previous record holder 2019’s paltry 3.5 million. And the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary data say we’re looking at another 4.25 million quitters in January 2022.
Business leaders across America are up at night wondering, “Who is going to help me do all this work?!”
My standard answer: Workforce Mixology. In this metaphor, you’re the bartender inventing the craft cocktail of employees, contractors (e.g., consultants, vendors, freelancers), gig workers, and automations that best serves your business.
Outsourcing – the use of contractors and gig workers – is often the first line of defense in tight labor markets. In the tech industry, outsourcing has become synonymous with the “as a service” trend driven by the decades-long rise of cloud computing; infrastructure as a service, software as a service, platform as a service. This type of outsourcing makes sense. You are hiring outside experts to build/manage/maintain the tech tools your business runs on top of. You are NOT outsourcing what you do, your daily business operations, the value you put out into the world every day. Never outsource your core competency.
“Your core competency is the one thing you do better than anyone else in the market. In the emerging AI economy, where our humanity and creativity are our biggest differentiators, your core competency is only going to increase in importance.“
What’s My Core Competency?
Your core competency is the one thing you do better than anyone else in the market. In the emerging AI economy, where our humanity and creativity are our biggest differentiators, your core competency is only going to increase in importance. If you haven’t already, you need to get crystal clear about what it is. Define your essential value so you can make plans to grow it.
Workforce Ascension℠ & Enhancement (WAE) is our framework for empowering people as individuals and teams to achieve their potential. Through WAE’s four stages, we determine what value your people are bringing to your business processes and then build human-centered automations that free them to focus on it. But before we can get on our WAE, we need to know the overarching value or purpose driving your company. So, we offer a free exercise to help you discover your core competency.
Your core competency is a stable concept, even as how you deliver it changes and evolves. Look at Netflix. They are still providing on-demand home entertainment, even though they stopped mailing out DVDs long ago. Like Netflix, you will adopt new technologies to become more efficient and meet your customers’ ever-changing needs and expectations. But your identity and purpose in the market endures.
Can I Outsource Automation?
If you’ve heard the catchphrase “Automation as a Service” buzzing around the content marketing world, you’re probably wondering, “Can I do that? Automation isn’t my core competency. It’s a tool to save me time and money, especially right now when I can’t even find enough warm bodies to do all the busywork.”
Outsourcing automation is tempting because you have mindless, repetitive tasks crushing your team’s innovation and productivity. But you know the project of automating can be a heavy lift, documenting each process “down to the click-level” and then programming the bots to do all that clicking. Why not contract with some tech geeks to come in and do that stuff? They can fix it, and you can forget it, right?
The high-volume, rule-based processes that immediately jump to mind here (e.g., invoicing, accounting, HR requests/forms) are great places to start building your automation competency. They are the “quick wins” we start with when MOM partners with you to begin building your automation Center of Excellence (CoE). But these tasks are still your business processes. You own them, their history, and their foibles. While process documentation is laborious, it’s the inevitable process optimization – or full-blown process reengineering – that defies outsourcing. Only the business users who run these processes every day know what change is possible and desirable. Only process owners know how to handle exceptions and adapt when changes upstream impact protocol. My point here is even your seemingly basic business operations are not akin to a room full of servers you can just hand off the keys to and walk away.
Do I Have to Make Automation a Core Competency?
We all know tech has fundamentally changed business. You can’t just serve food or sell sneakers anymore. You have to have a digital mindset and track your customers’ spending behaviors. For the last decade, business news headlines have admonished “Every Company Now a Digital Business” and “Every Company Is a Data Company.” Does every company need to become automation experts now too?
Don’t think of automation as a second, separate core competency you must cultivate. Think of it as a component in the evolution of your core competency. Only you and your team know what you do well enough to determine how automation can best serve your mission both now and in the future. Netflix didn’t outsource the innovation that took them from DVD shippers to streaming video pioneer to global industry leader (paywall). You can’t outsource the strategy that is going to take your company into the AI economy.
Automation isn’t just a tool; it’s a collaborator. As I wrote for Forbes, it can empower employers and employees, providing the agency both crave right now. But that must start with all parties determining their human value and how machines can best support it. You will design a future of work where humans and machines pass tasks back and forth, each doing the work they are best suited for. Automation is going to become so entwined in how you deliver your core competency that – like the core competency itself – you could never outsource it. And you wouldn’t want to.
A Healthcare Case Study:
One of our large healthcare clients is working these steps right now. They came to us with a backlog of denied claims to process. Their market research had turned up niche vendors willing to take over several patient accounting procedures. But the CIO realized outsourcing revenue cycle automation would deprive them of defining and developing their own internal competencies. They would be forfeiting future automation efficiencies beyond just the finance department. Instead, they chose to invest in themselves, ready and willing to create new ways of working.
We taught the healthcare provider how to document and optimize processes and then build the automations. They cleared their claim backlog in a week. That initial pilot project cut the process cost by 93% and saves them 60 hours a month. This is just the beginning of what’s possible as the CoE and self-service automation technology matures. Instead of becoming dependent on a vendor, this healthcare provider has positioned itself to remain in the driver’s seat.
Own Your Destiny
In the current economic climate, it’s tempting to outsource anything that can save you time and money. But you owe it to your business and your employees to learn what automation can do and then figure out how to harness it to serve your core competency. Automation is a critical component in the future of work. If you use it to enhance and evolve your unique value, you will stay in control of your destiny.
Tim Kulp is the Chief Innovation Officer at Mind Over Machines. He’s trying to change the world. His mission: Stop the automation apocalypse by empowering humans. With years on the front lines of automation, Tim leads workers and business leaders to realize the potential of a human + machine future and disavow Sci-Fi’s human vs. machine dystopian nightmare.
Kulp’s publication credits range from the technical (MSDN Magazine, 2600 Magazine) to business strategy (CMSWire, Forbes, SHRM.org). In addition to his writing, Tim frequently presents all across the Mid-Atlantic region. He speaks about how AI is changing the workforce and the world at internationally recognized institutions (Johns Hopkins University), national conferences (ASAE, MTForecast), and government economic policy agencies (Federal Reserve).
Kulp holds a B.A. in Religious Studies from McDaniel College, an M.S. in Applied Information Technology from Towson University, and a post-baccalaureate certificate in Information Security, also from Towson. He is a member of the Forbes Tech Council.