Making the H more important that the R

Published on in Robotic Process Automation by Cristian Ignat

The Increasing Need for First Class HR Management

Never has it been more important for HR leaders to become a critical part of the corporate management. The workplace is changing substantially. Employers are struggling to get and keep the right people. Talk of attrition and resignation as trends are consequences of the way we have developed the workplace over the past 3 – 4 decades. The best positioned leaders to help guide employers back to a better work environment are the HR Leaders.

Much is being made of the trends in attrition and resignation across our workforce. Some see this as a manifestation of social media influences on the millennial population. Others see it because of the pandemic and the trend exposes a simple refusal on the part of the employee, to be told where to work.

The truth is that it is probably caused by both of these together with a culmination of several decades implementing various technologies focused on the systems.  The combined impact on our employees has now reached a tipping point.

Goldman Sachs are amongst those who published reports on personal productivity rise and fall from the 1980’s and how that peaked in 2000 and has fallen ever since (Byrne Oliver & Sichel Dept of Labor – Goldman Sacks Investment Research). The causes of this are too many to examine here.  Suffice to say technology has consistently been implemented to address the business process and not the needs of the employee. The impact has led to a substantive decrease in personal productivity output for the past 20 years.

Software solutions have been implemented over decades to carry out the heavy lifting of processing data. Since 2015, enterprises have grown the number of software solutions they use by 65% (Source).

This has most certainly helped to maintain business productivity. At the same time, however,  personal productivity fell as the software became the principal engine for processing of business data and the duty of the employee was increasingly focused on pressing the keys and filling the boxes.

Business Process Reengineering is a phrase that many became familiar with 10 – 15 years ago. And indeed, some businesses re-engineered some of their processes. However, there is no statistical information to support what that benefit was or is. In many respects, digital transformation, a term we hear referred to time and time again, actually took place when manual processes became the workload of software. With this transition however there was no ‘re-engineering’ of the processes – rather we mimic’d our manual processes and had the software carry out the tasks in the same way we had been doing it manually. Did any ERP project across an enterprise take less than 2 years? What took so long? We saw the software working in the demos and the presentations and we ok’d the return on investment as a three year or even five year project.

What we did was to make the software vendors, and many very wealthy implementation businesses, transform the software to run the way we did things ourselves. We even helped the major and less major consulting businesses rename their genre and gave birth to the Global Systems Integrators. These GSI’s embraced what many businesses wanted – for the system to take on responsibility and to run the processes that everyone had become so familiar with. Customising the software meant we did not have to retrain the workforce to work a different way.  Instead, we would teach the workforce how to use the software.

It was at this point we started the movement toward whatever it is we have today – attrition, resignation, displacement, obstinance.

People are happy to change, happy to embrace new technology and new ways of doing things. But there is an un-stated condition they should be included in or drive the change process.  Placed in the position of being a subject of change is a different thing. When we consistently change our work practices and organisation, its goals and objectives, we consistently disenfranchise our workforce and tell them in subtle form, that their job is to obey the transition and ‘fit in’.

Decades of software installation, implementation, re-engineering and more has made most of us slaves to the software. The GSI’s are now being employed in many instances to unravel the spaghetti of processes which have been deployed in our software and help the business understand what they are actually doing. One example being a UK telecommunications provider which spent £6m over a nine month period for the output only to be a description of what the processes deployed within the software now do. This is common place. Re-engineering of processes is a high-cost activity and it’s not entirely possible to determine if the money spent doing this yields a return. So, we continue to re-invent manual processes in an ever increasing portfolio of On Demand and SAAS services. So what?

Throughout this entire time, we have made the resource and the return more important than the people that do the jobs. How often do we hear businesses promote their employment record and contest to be “Best Place to Work’? Cynically, it is possible to interpret these sorts of programs as a realisation by the employer that the work is generally boring, so they have decided to run programs which counter this. Are they conscious that these jobs are dependent upon how the software works and that there is little dependency on the employees? We like to be depended upon, don’t we?

To compensate for the uninspiring nature of so many jobs, there are nights out, employee workshops, team building exercises and many other forms of encouragement to accept the work as it is and enjoy it more for the ancillary activities that come with it. In short, a lot of work has become boring. We know it has. And finally, we have reached the tipping point I mentioned in the second paragraph.

Throughout this whole term, from simple business processes to software to web and SAAS services we have focused on making the software fit the processes we created for business to function. Little thought has been given for the people on whom we will ultimately depend. The R has been more important that the H.

Intelligent Automation is our way out of this conundrum. We made the people a slave to the software however, we also have the technology to make the software take care of itself and have the humans take on more creative, more challenging and more innovative roles. All that investment that Customer Services said they needed to look after customers better can now be invested. The new products and services the business has wanted to bring to market but could not because of the costs they have for running the business today, can be brought forward. Thousands of employees across thousands of businesses can be freed from the monotony of typing, cutting, pasting and data entry.

Will this alleviate the attrition or resignation? Well, it will certainly help. Examine the key reasons for employees leaving their jobs and you will find that money is rarely the driver.  Neither are good working conditions or the number of nights out in the year. People are bored and feeling under-valued.

Process Automation is a means of ‘teaching’ a digital agent what exactly a business processes is for, and how the human normally interacts with it. The Agent learns how to do the jobs where there is high degrees of repetition and the where ‘rules’ are applied by the employee. We have hundreds of these positions in almost any business you can imagine.

Tied up on cutting, pasting, typing and running reports every day, the employee is tied to a routine and dictated to by how the systems work. Their work is measured by the volume of transactions they process, the level of accuracy they achieve and the commitment they show to achieving goals (set mainly by the systems). Process Automation releases this time spent completing robotic tasks and gives time back to employees and employers. This is time that can be used to ask employees for advice, to re-design the processes so that business, create new products, serve customers better and to deploy people into roles to which they are suited – an opportunity to tap into personality & cognitive skills for example. And when we tap into these things, we create more valuable work and the opportunity for higher salaries.

At the grass roots of almost any business is a cohort of people who understand what the business is trying to do. They are able and qualified to comment on what does and does not work well and will happily engage, within the right structure, to make it better.

In this context, the role of HR leader has never been more important. Businesses have been very quick to maintain the cliché “Our employees are our most important asset” and “We are a People company”. But few have demonstrated this clearly internally. And it is this that has driven the Attrition and Resignation. Today’s HR leader must not only seek to improve the lot for their own HR employees, making on-boarding and off-boarding and assessments slicker , faster and more accurate. He or She must play an integral role in helping the business understand how making work more inspiring and engaged is the key to tomorrows more productive workforce.

The HR leader is responsible not only for the processes around pay hiring, firing and payroll etc but for the entire workforce. They owe business a service to demand more inspiring and motivating work activities and to work tirelessly to create a working environment where the employee is no longer a slave to the software. The HR leader needs to be first in line to explain the attrition and resignation to the other business leaders. Strategically there must be a program to automate the processes than can be automated, and free up time for employees to make a greater overall contribution.

We all like change, provided we have some control and contribution to make. We all dismiss change when it is being enforced upon us.  Automation is a means of cutting out the type of work that is of no human interest or development potential. It is a means of creating a working environment that nurtures employees once more and can help bring an end to the attrition / resignation debate.

We need a strategy to make the ‘H’ more important that then ‘R’ and who better than HR leaders to drive this?