Follow the techies to embrace cultural change
As someone running a successful business you may not think there is much a software engineer could teach you about management. But one of management's hardest tasks, cultural change, is complex, intangible and often a moving target. These are precisely the types of problems that software engineers have been grappling with since the dawn of computing. For that reason alone, as business owners and leaders we can look to the skills they have been fine tuning for decades and apply them to other business problems. Here are five proven techniques that you can start to apply across your business, but are particularly powerful when trying to accelerate cultural change.
Set up experiments
Facebook is testing a new form of Like button. They hypothesise that this will improve user experience, testing it first with in Ireland and Spain. If the feedback suggests that they were correct, then they’ll roll it out more broadly. If not, they may adapt and test again before going further.
Apply the same to cultural change. We may believe that a new team structure or compensation approach may improve things for our company. Try it out first. Find a team willing to experiment and find ways to monitor and check the results.
Inject a virus - in a good way
Software viruses are generally hated, but can be constructive. Try making a change ‘Guerrilla-style’ and see if it breeds and multiplies. You could throw up a ‘Kudo Wall’ in your team space; or instigate a week-by-week happiness index. Maybe your ‘culture hack’ will spread like a virus or maybe the ‘organisational antibodies’ will kill it. The point is to try.
Make work visible
Coders love the Lean technique of “kanbans”. Get your team’s work up on a wall so everyone can ‘see the whole’. With the knowledge shared, change teams can harness their collective intelligence to resolve ‘blockers’ to progress, spot and discuss dependencies between tasks, or detect when people might be overloaded or have spare capacity.
Software designers have long been sitting together with customers to format screens and agree the workings of online tools - testing each new prototype iteration as they go. Apply the same to culture change. Work out your change plan together. Get those designing, executing and impacted by the change to create the approach. Use highly participative approaches such as Lego Serious Play, or Conteneo’s Innovation Games to get people engaged on an equal footing.
Show & Tell
Software teams use regular ‘Show & Tell’ sessions to show off their latest wares for users and executives to review. Why not a try a Culture Show & Tell? Hold a regular open session for the groups impacted by your change initiative. Perhaps you could play video interviews from staff using a new process, or maybe share a draft outline of a training plan, or the interim findings of an office location strategy. The point is to demonstrate transparency, invite feedback, and build trust and your approach as you move forward with organisational changes.
Richard Atherton is a change consultant who has worked with the BBC, Sainsbury’s, Barclays and City of Westminster. He is running a training session on these techniques in London from 19-20 November in partnership with agile and digital product consultancy Unboxed Consulting. Book here to secure your place on the course.
Image courtesy of Jason Little at leanchange.org
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”