The first step into the Robotic Process Automation (RPA) journey for many organizations is the cost-benefit analysis – looking into the costs of the implementation against the benefits, or cost-savings RPA is expected to bring. As with every innovative technology, RPA represents a major change in the way people work. To achieve most of its benefits, business leaders should also think about how the adoption of RPA will be affected by the people working in the functions that will be automated.
Examples of Employees Pushbacks
A major fear among employees is that instead of just helping them it may evolve into taking their jobs. With robots being able to work 24/7/365 without a break, with greater accuracy, and much faster than people, employees may not be too keen on supporting the automation efforts. Pushback from employees is one of the main reasons why automation projects do not realize the initially intended benefits. Driven by the fear that they will not be needed anymore, employees may sabotage the RPA implementations in several different ways:
– Choosing easy-to-automate processes that have a minor impact on the business. By choosing processes that are desirable but not economical the full potential of the RPA technology can`t be demonstrated and the savings from the automation in most of the cases are not greater than the costs. Further, the benefits of automation will be almost intangible if the processes neither improve the bottom line, nor the chosen productivity.
– Trying to automate processes that are too complex. The issue with automating processes that are too complex is not only that they take time resulting in higher planned costs, but also a lot of redesigns which will cost unplanned money, and repeating training for the employees to run the RPA, which will cost unplanned time and money.
– Choosing processes that have restrictions by customized in-house solutions that are known to be slow in performing transactions. Such processes can`t justify the spending on RPA because of the performance limitations of the systems. The RPA productivity or speed of execution is the same compared to being executed by a human.
– Inconsistency when showing to the RPA solution consultant how the process workflow is performed. This means that multiple meetings may be needed between the people doing the work and the RPA solution consultant, which may inflate the cost a lot in the end.
– Automating poorly designed processes. It doesn’t make sense to automate a process that does not work well in the first place. So before jumping into the automation journey it might be worthy to re-evaluate your processes and get rid of the waste in them.
How to Overcome the Pushbacks
All these can lead to automation projects with prolonged time for execution, exceeding the budget and limiting the ability to reinvent processes in ways that create more value than simply speeding up what people have done. To avoid that there are a few strategies that business leaders could adopt to ensure people would be supportive of the automation efforts and would not feel threatened by their robotic colleagues.
1. Start with ensuring that people understand what RPA is. If people understand what RPA is and how it works, they may not have so many concerns about job security. RPA is all about helping people do less admin work and more interesting work, like collaborating with clients and colleagues, solving problems, and communicating. It is all about reducing the admin work that nobody likes anyway. But if you skip that step, you’re allowing misconceptions to fester.
2. Communicate the vision. Outlining and regularly communicating what the expected future state of the organization is and what are the expected benefits may reduce employees’ anxiety. Knowing it in advance also gives them time to prepare mentally for the change that is about to happen in the way they do work, which helps decrease the resistance. People don’t only need to hear the vision, but they need to be regularly reminded of it. And when the first deliverables come to life employees realize that there is no catch – what you said would happen is happening so they can expect they would be affected in the end in the same way that you have communicated in the very beginning.
3. Involve your employees early in the process. For any change to be successful people need to be involved from the very beginning. That way they not only feel they are part of the process but also, they feel responsible to make it happen. And with RPA it is easy to keep people involved as they need to show how the process is executed so the robot can learn how to do it. Just asking them to help by only showing the process, however, might not be enough. For an RPA implementation to be successful people should be involved in the decision-making process, especially when it comes to what part of their roles will be delegated to the robots. For employees, it should be clear that the robots are not here to replace them, but to help them with the repetitive admin tasks, but also that helping on such projects provides them with the benefit of developing the skills they would need for the future as they face this technology.
4. Make sure people understand the benefits. Solely talking about the benefits of RPA may not help you enough but showing your employees how RPA helps them is far more powerful. If you start by automating the most time-consuming and mundane tasks that eat up the biggest chunks of their time employees will naturally open to discovering more opportunities for automation. Employees need to see how RPA supports their transition to roles which they enjoy more and require their unique human skillset.
5. Record the journey and create evangelists. Once your first few processes have been automated and the people involved in them can see the benefits, ask them to record a short video or write an article and include it in the company newsletter. Ask them to outline in it what were the key milestones, along the way, how did the process of RPA implementation go, how RPA helped them bring back their work-life balance, or do more purposeful work, or let them learn a new skill. This makes employees connect on a more human level helping them understand even better the value automation offers not only to the organization but to them personally.
6. It’s important to clearly outline who is managing what, what the RPA will handle, and how each employee will be involved with the RPA implementation process. You can start by thinking about the following questions:
- What steps of the process are being assigned to a bot and will not have to be completed by people?
- How to manage the remaining workload?
- How to identify and handle exceptional cases that the automation cannot complete?
- How to find and interpret periodic reports that the automation creates to summarize the work it has done?
- How to identify and report when the automation is not functioning or not functioning properly?
- How to maintain the automation and request updates/improvements.
7. Think of training and educational opportunities to develop skills that the company needs. In the long term, job roles will shift away from their traditional remits and evolve to meet the needs of the modern, automated workplace. Some employees that for years have performed the tasks which are now performed by robots may not feel comfortable transforming their role, as they may realize they haven’t sharpened the skills they would need in their new role. Outlining a development plan for those employees including providing them with training and e-learnings to support their educational needs will help them look forward to the change instead of resisting it.
8. Give the bots friendly names. Working along bots may be a bit creepy for some people, but if their digital colleague is called “Peter” for example, their anxiety goes away. Even better, let the people on your team do the naming, let them assign human characteristics to the bots, and even if they want to – put them in the organizational chart.
Of course, a lot of hurdles can be overcome if you trust an experienced external consultant to guide you through the automation journey. Having the in-depth expertise required to ensure success can not only help you avoid the failure of the RPA project, but also simplify your journey and help you manage the politics inside your organization, so your employees don’t lose motivation and learn to work together with their new digital colleagues. If you want to know more contact us at .