Too many organizations, large and small, take a tech-oriented approach to deploy Robotic Process Automation (RPA).
They diligently evaluate the solutions, research use cases, run proof of concept (POC) pilots, and follow a checklist of other admittedly valuable preparatory activities before initiating their first RPA project. But they don’t consult their employees (much). That’s a mistake.
Too often, RPA initiatives are driven by executives from the top of the organization down, and the workers themselves are last to hear. At least formally. Of course, they inevitably hear through the grapevine that automation is coming. And with that comes uncertainty and fear for their jobs and futures.
Nothing can damage the rollout of RPA more than change-resistant employees. The cultural effects of introducing bots into business operations are becoming a source of interest. To ensure RPA success, consider following these steps to help your workforce thrive when adapting to this new technology. Remember, RPA isn’t just your IT department making a quick add to its tech toolkit, it affects the way individuals and teams work, how your business is structured, and what new opportunities are available as a result of automation.
Step 1: Prepare a dramatic RPA demonstration for employees
Although the benefits of RPA are numerous, the technology will change your employees’ daily activities, so you’ll need to make a good case for RPA to keep employees open to change. Don’t bore them with technical explanations and diagrams of how RPA works or even with your company’s ultimate vision for it (as exciting as that might be). Make sure they know RPA is a tool that will help them personally. Do that with a hands-on, interactive demo, featuring real-life scenarios from their daily jobs so that they can experience the difference. Show—don’t tell—them how RPA will remove the drudgery and repetitive work from their inboxes. Show them how worthwhile it is.
Step 2: Engage them to come up with automation ideas of their own
Some of the best automation ideas come from the front lines—from the workers closest to the problems and best positioned to identify solutions through automation. Engage your workers in small group brainstorming sessions to come up with ideas that could help them do their jobs. Or have an RPA hackathon (a “botathon”) in which they compete for having the cleverest automation idea.
Some of these ideas will be off the mark. Others will likely be impractical. But you’ll inevitably get some that promise real value.
The reason for doing this: If employees have a stake in the implementation from the beginning, not only will they have a better understanding of the technology, but they’ll naturally be less resistant. Remember, your workers are the most familiar with current processes. Depend on their expertise. They’re probably aware of bottlenecks that RPA could solve—so they can help with process re-engineering as well as with building bots.
Step 3: Begin redefining tasks—and communicate, communicate, communicate
The question then arises: What will employees do with their newly freed-up time? The majority of successful Automation Anywhere customers find that employees naturally turn to performing higher-value work. Instead of just rote-answering calls and pulling up records from multiple customer systems, they spend more time talking with customers and understanding their problems. Instead of entering invoice numbers and amounts manually into the accounts receivable system, they use their time to resolve issues or discrepancies, leading to better cash flow.
Although some tasks may be automated, other tasks will be created. For example, bots don’t manage themselves—they need to be monitored, and updated, and maintained, as with other software assets. People will be needed to handle these new tasks (we’ll talk about training next).
Step 4: Start training and upskilling
Now is the time to start training your workers on the new, post-RPA world. What new skills will they need? This can include technical skills such as learning how to configure RPA software or code or taking on more managerial roles now that mundane tasks have been eliminated. For example, delegating authority over bots to front-line workers (as opposed to running bots centrally) can be a terrific way to ensure continuous improvement and employee participation. The one thing that all these initiatives have in common is they empower your employees, making them feel more valuable and valued.
It’s important to do this training and upskilling prior to actually deploying RPA. Make sure you include training in technical and leadership skills. A combination of technical know-how and human-centric skills such as communication, critical thinking, and problem-solving will give workers insight into the technology and the business to make RPA a success.
Step 5: Pick and prioritize first projects—and start small
Again, it’s important to engage your workers when putting RPA in place—especially the first few bots. A great way to start is to let a team identify a single pain point that has caused a delay in a process and build a bot to fix the problem. Employees by now have already seen proof that RPA can help them and they’ve begun training and upskilling. Now they have a chance to really try out the new technology and make their suggestions and provide their feedback. Pick a rule-based process that uses a fairly large volume of data to get the biggest bang for your buck.
Step 6: Evangelize success, acknowledge setbacks, rinse, and repeat
Finally, the entire company should go out of its way to celebrate every RPA success—even the smallest ones. Use newsletters, webinars, internal press releases, anything to spread the word. These kinds of celebrations rally employees and encourage future support and participation.
Focus on people, not technology
Getting people to change the way they work is difficult. It’s tempting to skip the people part and just concentrate just on the new technology. But without adopting an approach that includes these steps, your investment in RPA could fail to get the return you hoped for. Additionally, employees may fail to grow and attain new skills which, in an age in which you have to be extraordinarily innovative and agile, can put you at risk of falling behind competitors.
By following these six steps, you will transmit the empathy, understanding, and preparation that employees require to see themselves as part of your RPA transformation.