Vanessa Akhtar, principal with management consultancy Kotter, offers advice for manufacturers on the right path to automation — one that includes human workers in the equation.
Employees today are feeling tremendous anxiety about their job security in a time of pandemic. But even before the coronavirus hit, they were worried about the impact of automation — whether it would replace them, or compel them to learn new skills in order to stay employed.
Employers need to proactively address that anxiety, involving workers at the very start of an automation initiative, Akhtar says, “so that they feel part of the change that’s coming, rather than waiting for the doomsday they’ve imagined.”
Instead of recklessly jumping on the technology bandwagon, companies need to first determine what they want to accomplish with automation. How will the business look different, and how will the move impact both workers and customers? Only then should they proceed to acquire the right digital tools to achieve those defined goals. It’s more than a question of simply trying to keep up with the automation efforts of competitors.
Workers can offer valuable insights into how their jobs might be done more efficiently. Too often companies overlook that asset, preferring instead to automate without consulting existing staff. “Getting their voices and perspectives early on is only going to help you,” says Akhtar. “So when you bring a tool in, people are primed for it. You can move ahead more quickly, and reduce resistance.”
The decision on what to automate, and which human-staffed positions will be affected, should be carried out with as much transparency as possible. In the event, companies can alleviate much of the anxiety that accompanies any major change in how businesses operate.
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