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Overcoming cultural resistance to RPA adoption

(Image credit: Image Credit: Advanced)

Starting all the way back in 1927’s hit film Metropolis to the friendlier yet still all-consuming WALL-E, the media has latched on to our irrational fear that robots and technology alike will take over the world and overthrow us. With modern day technologies advancing by the minute so does the cultural and organisational resistance towards it, reflecting our prevalent fears.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is hugely impacted by the irrational fear that our jobs will be taken away by robots. ISG found in its recent survey of European RPA adoption that it was one of the most prominent barriers to the growth of RPA, with 33 per cent naming ‘organisational resistance to change’ as the main hindrance. So, how can we ease the resistance allowing us all to become technologically advanced with little to no anxieties of our fate.

Why is cultural resistance an issue?

Automation has already changed our lives for the better, from simple spellcheck software on our phones, to hoovers that will clean houses without any assistance. We see new developments helping ease mundane tasks in our personal lives, so understanding why we don’t want to implement these ‘bots’ to help out at our work is the first step in tackling the matter.

In 2016, Forrester conducted a study called ‘The future of white-collar work: Sharing your cubicle with robots’, investigating how the workplace will change after the introduction of RPA and other technological advances (via Deloitte). In this report they predicted that RPA will replace 16 per cent of jobs by 2025. While this makes it easy to understand why the workforce might adopt an uneasy attitude towards RPA, it does not go on to explain how automation will create value and enable more purposeful work for humans. 

Impacts upon the UK job market

It is uncommon for employee’s time at work to solely consist of repetitive tasks throughout the working week. Automation will remove these tasks from their time period and outsource the tasks to ‘bots’, giving them the ability to complete more valuable creative tasks.

The workers can be upskilled, this would allow for organisations to insource creating a cheaper and more efficient process. Upskilling the workers could open up new paths for their career setting them up in roles that consist of expertise knowledge, developing their work and personal life.

There was once a time where we would have grimaced at the thought of withdrawing and collecting money from the bank via a machine, but now it would seem far too tedious and time wasting for us to go to a human to complete this task. People who worked within banks at the time of ATM implementation panicked and thought they too would lose their jobs to these machines, but they didn’t. ATM’s allowed people who work at a bank to retrain for other skills, benefitting themselves and the overall efficiency of the banks.

Overcoming Cultural Resistance

The first step is to prepare for the implementation without causing discourse and upset from the employees in the organisation. A report by Forrester found in 2016 that only 12 per cent of organisations are prepared for the people implications, which suggests the lack of knowledge of how to get both humans and ‘bots’ to work in hybrid (via Deliotte).

Most business leaders are aware of the benefits that RPA brings to organisations, yet there is a clear lack of communication of these benefits filtered down throughout the rest of the employee workforce. In fact, a recent study conducted by Microsoft found that 96 per cent of healthcare employees said they have never been consulted about the introduction of automation technologies by their boss.

Communication is key, and this statistic clearly exhibits that it is lacking, which has a knock-on effect, making employees feel tentative and anxious about what the future holds. Employees need to be involved with the adoption of RPA at every step of the way in order to overcome cultural resistance.

Market Automation Projects

Internal marketing campaigns could be used to get staff onboard prior to, and during the adoption of RPA. Before adopting the ‘bot’ explain to your staff exactly what it will do in the role such as taking away their mundane daily tasks, therefore easing their heavy work schedule giving them time to focus on more valuable tasks.

Hold employee briefings or events explaining to them just what RPA is and what exact roles it will take away from them, this way they can fully understand future developments of the company and can take steps to prepare for the changes this might bring.

Make Bots Human

When you hire a new member of staff the employees are excited and want to get to know them in order to build a work connection, this could and should be done when organisations adopt a new ‘bot’. By intertwining your ‘bot’ within the workforce, it will essentially become a ‘cobot’, and through referring to digital workers using this term organisations can create an environment where their workers view the ‘cobot’ as just another co-worker.  You could enhance this by naming your ‘cobot’ and throwing a welcome party, this would engage employees in the onboarding process and inject some fun into something they may deem too be boring to bother them. You could even make the ‘cobot’ a LinkedIn account, to allow the employees to feel like they are just another member of the team.

Humanising your ‘bot’ will assist hugely in combating the barrier of cultural resistance. By involving your employees, it will enable your organisation to scale the use of ‘bots’ and improve efficiency, without resistance from the workforce as they will no longer see ‘bots’ as a threat against their jobs and futures. 

Organisations who use RPA and want to remain as leaders in their fields must be open with the rest of their company and engage them in the changes to come. With the next decade nearly upon us there will be many new developments and changes, but even with RPA, human workers are here to stay.

James Ewing, Regional Director UK & Ireland, Digital Workforce