How To Not Needlessly Scare Your Employees When Automating

Jul 9 · 4 min read

‘Buy in’ is the most challenging aspect of any freshly-deployed business technology — because your employees, like most humans, are scared of change.

Photo by Ross Findon on Unsplash

Not many people really understand what artificial intelligence is, and few know what point automation will have reached in 10 years, but they all know change is coming.

Although millennials are more comfortable learning to use new technologies — they’ve been playing around with smartphone apps since their pre-teens — it’s actually less about age and more about tenure in an organization that has the biggest impact on digitally evolving businesses.

Take it from me, your longest-serving people are always the hardest to win over: it is much more difficult to break them out from their deeply-demarcated comfort zones. But why is it so emotionally tough for those who are most entrenched in their working methods to embrace change?

Psychology can explain human fears of new technology in the workplace.

Business psychologist Matthew Emerson is the founder of Blackmore Four, which helps organizations manage change and growth. He says fear of automation in the workplace can be better managed if we look at what it actually threatens.

He explains: “Humans are hardwired to feel fear in reaction to detected threats, and artificial intelligence threatens the three intrinsic human needs that are central to motivating human behavior, according to Self-determination Theory. These are competence, autonomy and
relatedness.

“All three of these human needs play out against the backdrop of the evolving workplace but it’s the first — competence — that explains why tenure is proportional to fear of change. AI threatens our need for competence by seeking to replace the very skills we’ve mastered in the years we have dedicated to our careers.”

Emerson points out that it’s easy to see how this is especially concerning to those who have tenure in their jobs: “The longer someone has been developing competence, the more there is to lose. How easy it is to replace that competence depends on the time left in a person’s career to learn something new.”

He continues: “Meanwhile, automation also threatens our autonomy, by making us less in control of our own futures because we don’t know what’ll be left for us once machines take over. It also threatens to remove the social element of our work, or our ‘relatedness’. All this heightens our fear reaction — and it doesn’t help that most of us have a very limited understanding of how AI actually works.”

While the proliferation of machine automation is an inevitability, most businesses aren’t deploying robots like Amazon, although many are dabbling with cloud software services that can automate simple everyday business processes and repetitive admin tasks like vacation requests, ordering supplies, customer service and marketing functions.

McKinsey research found that 45% of work activities could be automated, now, using already demonstrated technology, across all seniority levels.
This kind of automation can make businesses of all sizes more productive and efficient and make work more meaningful.

Photo by NESA by makers on Unsplash

With that in mind, here are five ways to get staff to stop fearing and start cheerleading new business technologies:

1. Get end users involved early on. Make the business case for investing in new
technology to your staff, and choose representatives from across the business to be involved in the procurement of the new software.

2. There is a reason horror movies only show partial shots of the monster: it’s scarier when we don’t have the whole picture. Being told change is coming, followed by a lengthy radio silence, only intensifies the fear. Engaging with staff and keeping them informed throughout the process will remedy the majority of doubts. Let fears be made public and voices be heard, and the lines of communication between those in the know and those waiting for updates to flow freely.

3. During the rollout, gradually add users in smaller groups. This gives the pilot groups the opportunity to share their experiences with others. Word of mouth can be a very powerful tool that generates both intrigue and excitement. Mark Zuckerberg and co. did exactly the same when rolling out the early version of Facebook, university by university.

4. Create some everyday business processes that can only be done by using the new technology to encourage people to get started with the new system. Perhaps it’s an annual leave request that can only be submitted on the HR employee self-service portal or a purchase order form that can only be created via the intranet.

5. Make it enjoyable to visit. Companies that go big on the social element of internal business technology will have rich company content to draw users in, such as galleries, videos, events and discussions, generated by staff and team leaders. Peer recognition within the new system is another great way to engage people. Even your longest serving people want to hear a ‘well done’ every now and again.

This article was originally published on Forbes

Nigel Davies

Written by

Working hard on researching and creating the ideal digital workplace. Founder and CEO of Claromentis.

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