“How can I inspire my employees to embrace automation and AI?”

By Benjamin Chance

Technologies change, use cases evolve, markets are disrupted, but it’s employees who remain the critical constant, underpinning a company’s ability to innovate and create better customer outcomes. As you move from simple task automation through process and workflow automation, the more engaged your employees, the more successful your automation transformation.

But changing to new ways of working with automation and AI — or intelligent automation — can be a complex enterprise conversation. You can find yourself fielding multiple questions or facing a spectrum of emotions, biases and narratives — from job loss to talent gaps. How do you create a virtuous cycle of automation-based transformation that embraces a diversity of thinking and workforce mixes, and doesn’t speed-bump your automation roadmap?

Proven practices for employee engagement

Through hundreds of client automation transformations, we’ve seen what tends to work and what doesn’t when it comes to creating a culture of employee engagement around intelligent automation.

The following five best practices can inspire employees to accept and even embrace intelligent automation, but they only work when there’s a clear change strategy and when everyone’s speaking the same “automation” language (for example, what do we mean when we say “digital worker”?).

1. Include employees in workflow re-imagination — from the beginning.

The perfect place to start the hybrid — humans+digital — workforce conversation is when you’re imagining a to-be automated workflow; ideally, using design thinking. Your employees are your process experts. They know their data, customers, and ecosystem of stakeholders and adjacent processes. Let them imagine how they can work more efficiently with automation. Listen to where they feel automation is most needed or valuable. And discuss the associated risks and opportunities for all employees.

2. Involve employees in design and development.

Using agile principles, employees should be engaged in the design and development of the automation components that comprise an intelligent workflow so they can fully understand the interactions required in the hybrid workforce. If the right skills and opportunities exist, encourage employees to get hands-on, to experience and master new ways of working.

3. Inspire teams with new opportunities to grow their skills. Creating a continuous learning enterprise with structured talent roadmaps and training curriculums can motivate employees to develop new marketable skills and pursue the careers that best fit them and the company.

4. Get employees to participate in workflow deployment and continuous improvement.

Employees can learn the power, and limitations, of AI-driven processes by participating in the delivery and continuous improvement of the workflow. This ongoing interaction with intelligent workflows can create evangelists who provide “word of mouth” testimonials to colleagues.

5. Use AI capabilities to build personalized education journeys.

Scaling any transformation requires targeted, individual training roadmaps. Using employee analytics, AI and chatbots, you can provide better learning engagement and outcomes while demonstrating how you’re “drinking your own automation champagne.”

The best people to engage employees

Although employee engagement is inherently an internal initiative, kickstarting and scaling it across the enterprise may require outside help. Either way, it’s important to understand the key internal stakeholders best situated to successfully lead the engagement conversation.

Executives: Our most successful clients have started with a clear understanding of their change capabilities and roadmap from the top down. Having key executive stakeholders (for example, CHRO, CEO, CFO) collaborate to lead a conversation around change across all levels of the enterprise sets the foundation for positive employee engagement. 

Automation center of excellence (CoE): An automation CoE can be, and usually is, your central source for clear messaging and communications concerning any automation transformation. The CoE should have a remit to handle and shape communications as well as enable business unit and IT-specific communications.

Process and functional owners:  Make sure team leaders understand the potential of automation to move their teams to higher-impact activities through intelligent workflows so they can develop and clearly communicate plans and opportunities.

In summary, inspiring your employees to embrace automation and AI is a critical success factor. Employees are the past, present and future of our businesses. When we can align the right tools with their aspirations and motivations — while decreasing any stress or discomfort — we create space for them to contribute exponential business value in new and existing markets.

To learn more on this topic, download the Forbes Insight report Intelligent Automation: How AI and Automation are changing how work gets done (PDF, 2.3 MB).

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