There is a lot of talk about automation and artificial intelligence (AI) at the moment. At a time where the repercussions from the 2008/09 Financial Crisis are ongoing, such talk is often unnerving. Fear is a natural response to change. It’s protective, and inherently conservative – the “better the devil you know” effect. When we perceive a lack of choice in such change, the resistance becomes stronger.
So, how can we minimise concern, make change more predictable – and, most of all, beneficial for staff? How can we change “What does this mean for me?” to “This is what I am going to do”?
The Economist recently wrote; “What determines vulnerability to automation, experts say, is not so much whether the work concerned is manual or white-collar but whether or not it is routine.” The bad news is that no level of work is safe; the good news is that all workers are better off redirecting their energies into more creative, changing and soft-skills-focused work. Simply, what can a computer not do?
Indeed, this is very much the prescription in a recently published book, Reinventing Jobs, by Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau. We need to optimise human talent. Not only this, but automation is an opportunity to replace repetitive, isolated and dangerous work with safer work that involves more human interaction, variability and mental challenge.
A step-by-step process of deconstructing the existing job into work activities enables us to see how automation can eliminate the more tedious, often dangerous work. The time and energy saved liberates the worker to engage in more complex tasks. A worker liberated from more mundane tasks is freed to pursue their own development in more complex, cognitive, and strategic tasks.
From a consultant perspective, the onus is on us to ask, how well is this conveyed to workers who are rightly concerned about automation? How well do we afford them the opportunity to share their concerns?
More is required. Putting staff front and centre enhances adoption of change projects. Empowerment is the chance to attain and retain control.
Communications is in everything we do. Authentic, open, and active communication with all staff from the bottom-up and top-down is vital. Both hearing staff’s justifiable concerns, and communicating the benefits to workers in real-world examples of existing automation change projects, is essential.
Fear and anxiety of the unknown is natural. An active engagement with change is a significant part of the solution. Automation will increase – linearly, if not exponentially. Therefore, all staff should be focusing on their human, value-adding skills, and how they develop them. Don’t try to compete on mechanistic productivity, but on creativity, adaptability, and engagement – human engagement. Most of all, take an active approach to developing your competencies.