Avoid RPA failure through comprehensive management of change


Some of you might say that management of change (MOC) is one of the least important aspects of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) delivery. That it is a relevant factor, but for sure not the main point to worry about.  Sorry to disappoint you, but you’re trusting mockup when you should try MOC-UP. Let me explain.

I think that one of the most frequent reasons robotics and automation fail is taking change management too lightly, performing it on isolated levels of the organization (only operations or only management, for example) or sending a few emails across the organization and calling it MOC.

I had an experience four years ago at a conference – before anyone was thinking seriously about robotics — that brought the importance of MOC home to me.  During one presentation, sales guys were pitching the breathtaking advantages of using big data. After around 15 minutes, a telecom CEO stood and said, “I appreciate your efforts to introduce us to your amazing big data solutions, but we are still trying to deal with mainframe solutions and around 50 different legacy systems. Can you help us with that? Then we will be more than interested to talk about big data.”  There was immediate silence. Even the sales guys had to think of how to approach this.  One thing became apparent about change management – when you are trying to introduce people to a new technology or service, bear in mind your recipients’ current knowledge and actual needs.

In that spirit, allow me to list a few MOC tips to help you achieve better results:

Start by analyzing the RPA knowledge among senior managers, line managers and ops.  (You can use tools like SurveyMonkey or straw polls). There is a lot to know about RPA, including:

  • Strategy alignment, possible delivery models, legal and security constraints
  • Who is connected to robotics and how — who sells, who delivers and who supports automation
  • How to make proper assessments
  • What is data and process mining
  • Where to report outcomes and how to analyze them
  • How to calculate and quantify benefits

Trust me, RPA is a rather vast area and I agree that not everybody — senior managers, line managers and Ops – needs to possess all those knowledge points, but honestly, it would really great if they did! Imagine a situation where the line manager is suddenly asked to lead a new hybrid team of robots and humans and report productivity and utilization respectfully and, of course, correctly. Those kinds of pressures drive people away from accepting and enjoying robotics and put them under unnecessary stress.

Hence my point – make management of change one of your top priorities. Do not skip levels, do not use sealed groups where someone willing to explore more is hitting a wall they cannot jump over. You might argue that operations should not be invited to meetings where management explores the possibilities of replacing them with robots. I agree, this would be a sensitive matter, but do you really expect that people are blind to the fact that fewer and fewer of them will outlast this revolution and that more empty desks will soon be present around them? For people so threatened by the widely touted fear that millions of employees will lose their jobs, I have a very easy reply – some jobs will disappear, but a lot of new ones will be created. Recently even Gartner flipped its predictions and visions of huge unemployment and now says AI will create more jobs than it eliminates.

That leads me to the next point.

One of the key messages to put in front of people is a list of the huge opportunities that appear along with the change. These opportunities vary by level:

  • Automation enables senior management to become more agile and more cost competitive in proposals to existing and potential clients because with enabled automation, the cost of a single transaction is lower.
  • Line managers become less reliant on the people workforce and are under less pressure when quantities spike during transitions or when human attrition threatens delivery instability.
  • Operations can easily attach themselves to the decentralized robotics structure, support the robots’ development and deployment and enhance their capabilities.

Make good use of the data you have already gathered from all levels of the company on their knowledge around automation and robotics. Approach each group and prepare in-person sessions or webinars tailored to their needs.  Include Q&As and record and distribute the sessions to people who were not able to join. This will empower employees to act as a critical enablement force to permit automation on a large scale.

Try to connect with the communication team and figure out a way to utilize all possible channels.  Leverage emails, dedicated SharePoint/workspace sites and videos showing how tightly automation is aligned with employees and their future job security. Start contests, hold brainstorming sessions and introduce the idea of creating a company automation mascot. Attend automation conferences or even organize your own.

If you think that these efforts all cost money and will not move your automation needle forward, think again. Change requires people and if those people feel threatened, they will not enable you to make the change.  It is the same concept as hiring professionals and complaining about their huge salaries. Yes, good employees cost money, but have you considered hiring cheap and inexperienced graduates instead? Test it and compare the real cost of the second option, I dare you J.  The same goes for robotics. To have people engaged, contributing and benefiting from robotics and automation, you need to invest in their positively oriented perception around this subject.

Communicate clearly on projects and with clients. Stakeholders come to you seeking advice, and sometimes their automation knowledge is built on vendor-sponsored conferences where they actually become a hostage to the notion, “The more you spend on software, the more you will gain and automate.” I see so many of those people in my role. They were briefed and convinced that the only type of automation suite that will work for them is the fanciest option and they believe if they choose that option, they will be able to automate with one click. In those cases you should feel responsible and knowledgeable enough to give them unbiased guidance and a few tips on what options are adequate for their delivery models.

Along the way it is great to have few examples and business cases where the numbers will speak for you. Nothing works better than positive or negative ROIs. Also, people need to properly understand that choosing a vendor and automation suite sometimes is similar to buying a Mac or PC. They are all closed ecosystems and once you invest in something you will be stuck with it, regardless of the real value. Don`t take this lightly – be honest and guide your stakeholders and employees with the good, bad and ugly.

When you are decentralizing and giving the tools to your employees, allow them to participate, present tools next to each other and listen to people’s reactions to the one they feel is most user friendly. This step is quite important, especially since in many cases they will be automating the systems, monitoring request changes and putting AI into production.

During extensive promotion of automation, think how you can make your chosen automation suites available to literally every employee. It is a common misconception that without a proper IT degree, a lawyer (which, for example, I am) or a personal trainer would not be able to build a robot. Far from the truth. Those days are over. Have contests where people create robots that update simple stuff in their daily routines or just follow WorkFusion’s great example of creating really fun open contests where every week people need to automate a little something. This is how people break any barriers and step into this new world without hesitation.

While exploring the world of robotics, you will need to manage displacement in many forms. Part of running any company is to be able to handle any situation, even harsh ones: People being totally replaced by the robots, people transitioning from decentralized robotics into managing and supporting them, managers losing human-led focus to hybrid or totally human-removed operations and my absolute favorite, explaining to operations that being managed by a robot supervisor is a good thing.

Displacement will accompany automation and robotics for decades to come, so the faster you create a well-rounded, well-thought-out strategy, the better grip you will have going forward. Bring it up, consult if needed and stay on top of it when you use it.

During any automation project do not forget to make sure everyone is properly aligned and understands what is taking place and the expected outcomes. While performing management of change activities, keep in mind that lean, analytics and automation practices are close to each other and each influences the other, so walking through them as separate silos will not play for you in the long run.

In case you and your organization are particularly whimsical, try new ways of interactions and engagement boosters like gamification in the workplace. I’m intentionally leaving this section a bit raw as I would like to write a separate blog on it in the future.

In summary, don’t try to mockup management of change. Instead, take charge, strategize all MOC aspects, embrace the change yourself and pass this energy to your company. In short, MOC-UP!

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