What Evolutionary Psychology Teaches Us About Robotic Process Automation
Modern humans have evolved immensely from our ancient ancestral roots, though some primal features still exist. The appendix and our hypothalamus stress responses (think “fight-or-flight”) are two such examples. While the appendix [mostly] doesn’t interfere with our daily lives, how we respond to stress and our tendency to resist change are ancestral by-products that can impair us personally as well as professionally. 25,000 years of evolution has engrained fear of the unknown into our DNA.
Evolutionary psychology holds that humans have a propensity to act in ways that were adaptive for our ancestors. In the prehistoric era, a change in the environment represented an unknown, and an unknown represented a potential threat. Those who were more cautious, even resistant, to the unknown, increased their likelihood of surviving.
In today’s fast paced global economy, it can be difficult for businesses to keep up to speed, and new technology implementations regularly represents the unknown. However, unlike the caveman days, wariness of change can be maladaptive and could result in your business falling behind. While robotic process automation (RPA) may look like a job security threat (our modern day sabre-tooth tiger), embracing this technology may in fact make business more agile and competitive in the future.
So how do we overcome our caveman instinct to resist change and embrace a new technology? West Monroe Partners has a change management approach to guide employees through organizational change. Here are the five steps necessary for a successful change:
Awareness refers to knowing the business reason for change and seeing the need for change. While business leaders and decision makers may know the reason for the change, this information is often mis- or under- communicated to the impacted lines of business and individuals. Success starts with awareness requires clear communication. As it relates to RPA, awareness ultimately is around the benefits for the business or potential consequences of staying stagnant.
Much like online banking several years ago, as automation becomes more prevalent in the financial industry, it will likely become a differentiator across financial institutions. Banks that embrace automation can achieve any number of benefits, from increased efficiencies and overall accuracy to reduced costs. This addresses the business need for change, but what about the employee need for change?
Awareness of the need for change is only one piece of the puzzle. Those impacted by the change must want to participate in the change process. While business reasons are compelling to shareholders and the bottom line profit figure, impacted employees want to know, specifically, what’s in it for them. That is where the consideration stage comes into play, when employees determine their desire to participate and engage in the change.
Perhaps not surprisingly, bank employees are more interested in why their jobs should change. The answer here centers around capabilities. Banks of the future will be expected to keep pace with technological advancements and on-demand information. Bankers who embrace automation are not only more efficient personally, but they have more capabilities at their disposal enabling them to become more multi-dimensional teammates.
The change is communicated, and people are on-board. Now comes the next challenge – how to change. More than just how to change, understanding relates to how individual jobs will be impacted, what new roles will look like, and how success will be measured.
In the last two decades, banks have adapted to changing lending and regulatory environments. These changes have included increased reporting, new lending requirements, and enhanced due diligence. New duties were distributed, at least in part, based on individual employee or team capacity as opposed to assignment by functional alignment (captured in job descriptions as, “and other duties as assigned”). Needless to say, banking job descriptions could benefit from functional realignment exercises. In other words, banking roles should be reconsidered regardless of automation efforts. Appropriate change management efforts should highlight that a change in duties is not a reflection of an employees’ inability to complete a task, but rather a realignment to highlight individual contributors’ strengths.
Acceptance refers to capability of employees to perform new job tasks or roles. While simple in theory, this requires training, knowledge transfer, and empowering others to make decisions as needed for their role.
Historically, institutional knowledge aided in measuring an individual’s criticality to the organization and it was, therefore, inadvisable to share too much as it limited job security. In the age of automation, knowledge transferred from people to bots allows for streamlined processes and more informed decisions by people. In a bank that embraces RPA technology, it is important to highlight the cooperative nature of the relationship between people and technology. The more information transferred from humans to bots allows the bots to provide more detailed and relevant information for improved decision making.
Finally, the process moves to commitment, where change leaders ensure the change sticks. How can you move from roll-out of a new technology to sustainment? The difficulty here is that when a new process is slow to start or isn’t consistently executed, leaders must encourage change adherence and sometimes even prevent employees from working around the system or reverting to old systems and processes. Consider how people are incentivized (or disincentivized) to perform within the new system or change and make changes as necessary.
New roles – both human and bot – should be evaluated on new criteria. To encourage adherence to this new automation, consider adjusting individual and team performance metrics based on new roles and responsibilities. Team performance should include bot performance as well to further solidify the human-bot partnership.
Remember that successful change requires leadership to be aligned and ahead of the curve to assist moving employees through all five steps. Any change will likely uncover defective or problematic processes and businesses shouldn’t punish people for a bad process. Keep the end goal of improvement in mind and recognize that the targeted change will work to address old, ineffective, and downright bad processes. And don’t forget about the adoption curve – it’s likely going to be difficult upfront before it gets better. Commitment to the change requires recognition of the process. As companies progress through these difficult change processes, acknowledge and accept that real, meaningful change takes time and effort, but the results are well worth the journey to get there!
For more on our approach to change management and RPA, read our latest white paper, Robotic Process Automation: It’s Impossible to Start ‘Change’ Too Soon.