Successful workplace automation requires changing the narrative

Read Time: 4 Min
Misconceptions about automation create barriers to implementing it. Here’s how to break through.

Corporate investment in workplace automation has been on the rise for years, but the trend spiked in 2020 as companies scrambled to combat pandemic challenges. When implemented successfully, automation can raise efficiencies and elevate the workforce. However, misconceptions about what automating means for an organization and what it’s capable of solving can prevent organizations from embracing it meaningfully.

Changing how you view and present automation to your organization can help break down those misconceptions, leading to greater innovation.

Changing the narrative

Automation isn’t necessarily a threat to job security, but this is a commonly held belief. Business leaders combatting this fear in their organization need to reconsider how they tell the story of automation.

"There’s a resistance to change because employees mistake automation for job elimination. But it’s all about the narrative. Automation can boost internal efficiencies and customer satisfaction by allowing businesses to staff other areas that can’t be automated."

Jen Shamoon
Director of Operational Transformation, Huntington Bank

Another misconception is that automation will fix labor shortages by simply filling vacant positions. While automation does eliminate specific job functions – think manual processing or data verification – it won’t immediately lower your headcount. What it will do is change the way organizations hire people and remain competitive.

“Automation can elevate your whole workforce,” says Jennifer Marshalek, Commercial Digital Strategy Executive at Huntington. “Instead of needing people to process information manually, you need them to provide other services that are often more fulfilling and exciting.”

Not a quick fix

Another barrier to successfully bringing in automation is believing it is a quick and easy fix. Too often, automation technology is touted as the solution to everything, from warehouse fulfillment to customer service. While it can alleviate friction in these areas, viewing automation as a cure to all business woes is a mistake.

“Automation is a tool in your toolbox. It can be used to fix problems, but it can’t fix every problem,” explains Marshalek. “You should always know what the problem is first, whether with the experience or efficiency, and make sure automation is the right tool for the job.”

When automation is the answer to a problem, implementing it will not be as simple as purchasing a solution and adding it into a process.

“Everybody wants an out-of-the-box solution, but there is always going to be an element of configuration needed to make the technology fit your process or need,” says Shamoon. “Similarly, too much configuration can lead to an overly customized tool that’s difficult to support and maintain over time. Success lies with a balance between the two approaches.”

Be deliberate

The first step to automating isn’t vetting vendors or researching solutions – it’s simplifying. Organizations must take a hard look at their processes and determine which parts can be adjusted or eliminated.

“Simplification always comes before automation, and that’s the hardest part for businesses,” says Marshalek. “If your process is complicated or involves redundant steps, you’ll end up with a bad automated process.”

Walking through every process and simplifying it should be done thoughtfully. Take emotion out of the conversation and involve business stakeholders who make technology and strategy decisions, as well as those whose work will be affected by the automation.

“You can’t decouple operations from technology, because the people in operations are usually the ones doing the work you’re trying to automate,” says Shamoon. “If you try to separate the two, you’ll make technology decisions that might not be the best for those who actually support the work.”

This first step takes time and patience. The organizations that successfully automate are committed to taking all steps necessary to support it. That commitment results in greater efficiencies, more productive workers, and happier customers.

Pay attention to the customer experience

Considering how automation affects the customer’s experience is crucial, Marshalek and Shamoon agree. Solving customer frustrations and eliminating bottlenecks should be the goal.

“Companies need to decide strategically where they invest in automation,” says Marshalek. “You should never automate for the sake of automation. When you automate for efficiency, better data, or seamless interactions, it ultimately leads to a better customer experience in some way.”

Pay attention to every pain point in the process and use automation to address as many as possible. Instead of focusing solely on the customers for this part, Shamoon recommends turning inward and solving internal pain points first.

“I strongly believe you must lead with risk automation. Protect your company and colleagues first, and the customer benefits from an improved turnaround time to close on their transaction,” says Shamoon. “Customers want speed, accuracy, and consistency. Automating risk activities enables all of that and more.”

Benefits of automation in the workplace

Committing to an automation strategy has additional benefits beyond elevated experiences for employees and customers. Gaining a reputation for investing in automation and other technology can lead to better recruiting and employee retention, says Shamoon.

“It’s become a recruiting tool now. Employees want to do meaningful work. Automation helps remove mundane and repetitive tasks, allowing teams to focus on the exceptions or higher customer interaction points," she says. “Recruiting someone from an automated environment will be nearly impossible if your organization doesn’t match it, especially with remote work. It’s going to become a question that prospective employees ask their interviewer.”

Automation can bring a deliberate shift in your business, your workforce, and your competitive outlook. Committing to building an enterprise strategy that includes thoughtful implementation of automation solutions can lead to success.

Learn how Huntington can support your organization through its digital transformation by reaching out to your relationship manager.

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