Implementing workflow automation is, by nature, making a change in established practices and processes within an enterprise.
When that happens, other changes occur that reverberate beyond the processes themselves: job responsibilities, departmental or organizational structures, performance criteria, stakeholder engagement and customer expectations all may be impacted.
Employees will ultimately need to change how they do their jobs, and their success in that depends on change management provided from managers on up. Without it, workflow automation – like nearly any other major technology – can create negative disruptions.
Avoiding what’s unintended
A lot of companies aren’t prepared for managing technology changes. A 2017 survey of UK firms by Deloitte found only 13% were ready to respond to digital disruption and create “the organisation of the future,” though 88% believed it’s a priority.
While they admitted they weren’t prepared, many were still going all-in on disruptive technologies. 42% had adopted robotics and AI to some degree, and another 42% were running pilot programs. But just 16% claimed to be ready to manage a workplace where humans, robots and AIs are working together.
In other words, they’re practically begging for unintended consequences and disruptions to present themselves. The first to feel the pain? The workforce, as usual, but that includes everybody from the C-suite to the rank-and-file.
If an enterprise values its human capital, then it’s imperative they consider the effects of any new technology on its people. While very few workers would ever emulate the example of Mr. Ned Ludd and his followers, it doesn’t profit anyone to have a disgruntled workforce that feels it’s been left behind as a company moves forward, and not given the training and opportunity to make the most of new advances.
For a company or government entity that’s deploying workflow automation, it’s in their best interests to anticipate and navigate change. In our experience, most of those changes are very positive for everyone. Still, it doesn’t hurt to consider some of the areas where it may make an early impact:
- Employee utilization: Freed from repetitive tasks, employees will now be able to take on more challenging and productive work. So those projects and tasks need to be put in place, and staffers assigned where they’ll be able to make solid contributions.
- Re-training: Employees who were immersed in routinized jobs may need training to take on different duties.
- Offboarding or onboarding: The fact is, eliminating manual workflows may require an organization to offboard some employees. Or, in other cases, it’ll need to bring on others with different skillsets to handle new opportunities or demands created by automation.
- Account management: Workflow automation can result in significant acceleration of responsiveness and customer/client service. Being able to deliver faster service may create new expectations and opportunities with those customers, or even issues as both enterprise and customer make the transition. Controlling that transition and evolution is important, even if it seems like there are nothing but benefits on both sides.
- Infrastructure concerns: If workflows and critical processes are automated and expedited, is the rest of an organization’s operational infrastructure able to keep up? If an insurance company uses forms automation for quick intake of customer claims, for instance, then policyholders may gain an expectation of having their claims handled just as frictionlessly. So every other stage of the claims resolution process may need to be accelerated, too.
Controlling changes to enterprise culture
The biggest effect of widespread workflow automation may be how it may shift the very culture of your organization, not just how work gets done or how people are utilized. Profound changes may take place that can happen beneath the surface, or so swiftly that nobody is quite ready for them.
- Let’s say a Legal Operations department is built around the shared expectation that a certain workflow will take XXX amount of time and consume XXX amount of attention and resources from various personnel, from senior counsel on down.
- When the changeover to a workflow requires only X amount of time and labor, it will demand alterations in how that department operates and in the resources it utilizes to get its work done.
- Moreover, a relatively slow-paced department has now become quite agile, and adapting to that newfound agility can be a worthwhile but bumpy ride, as some of our clients can attest.
Before large-scale deployment, therefore, team and enterprise leaders need to get out in front of these potential shifts by analyzing just what effects automation may have on their enterprise’s basic culture.’
This way, they can be in a position where they’re proactively directing those changes so the organization does more than just optimize workflows, but optimizes and evolves the workplace in a good direction, too.
Otherwise, they can be victimized by unanticipated, unmanaged changes that damage their culture. Leaving them with the pretty poor excuse that, “well, shifts happen.”