Intelligent automation technologies make our personal lives easier. Cars park themselves, hit the brakes and will soon drive themselves. Smart home devices can do everything from adjusting the temperature to turning lights on and off to ordering a pizza without us having to get up off the couch.
This level of intelligent automation is starting to affect us at work, too. The ability to automate manual tasks and business processes frees skilled employees up to perform more high-value work, increasing their productivity. For many organizations, their efforts to introduce automation technologies should begin with the HR department.
Those are a couple of the key findings of ServiceNow’s “Today’s State of Work: At the Breaking Point” survey. More broadly, it reveals that a majority of organizations have introduced advanced automation to one or more departments. Nearly half of executives say that they’ll require it enterprise-wide by 2018 to cope with rising work volumes. In addition, a survey from CareerBuilder also shows that 72% of employers expect that some roles within talent acquisition and human capital management will become completely automated within the next 10 years.
The level of automation varies widely depending on the type of business process. For example, IT services are the most automated at 53%, whereas HR services only stand at 37%. Yet respondents most frequently cite HR services — such as employee relocations — as the least efficient. In fact, when asked, executives said that HR was the department most in need of a reboot.
HR departments want to provide great service but too often find themselves saddled with repetitive, transactional tasks. Respondents report that their various HR processes are highly manual with unstructured work processes. This leads to complexity and productivity drain.
Reducing that complexity requires enabling HR professionals to focus less of their time and energies on a number of recruitment activities they have to handle manually. For example, overseeing employee relocations, which can take 14 or more days to process, leaves of absence and onboarding new hires are among the least efficient HR processes.
If your organization’s HR department struggles with these issues, there are five steps you can take to introduce intelligent automation:
1. Identify Areas That Could Be Automated
It’s important to identify the business processes that need improving and whether they’re appropriate for automation. You may identify HR as a prime candidate, but that may not only apply to HR. Evaluate all business units to identify processes that can be made more efficient through intelligent automation.
2. Map It Out
Next, map these critical business services to introduce automation technologies by using a combination of machine intelligence and human skills. This requires determining the process bottlenecks and areas that should prove easy to automate — including purchase order requisitions, submitting IT support or help desk requests — and onboarding new employees with workspaces, computers and badges. Don’t introduce automation just for the sake of doing so. Create a map of the ideal end-state process by investigating whether the existing process can be modified to deliver the desired result. Keep in mind that it may be easier to redesign some processes from scratch rather than trying to modify them from manual to automated.
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Be proactive in communicating with HR employees. Don’t forget that if you’re planning on automating tasks and processes, you’ll be affecting their day-to-day work. Address their concerns and provide reassurance that just the opposite is true. Make sure that they realize the benefits automation will provide to them, such as reducing the time they must spend on administrative tasks and even job creation. Automating jobs drives up demand for so-called soft skills such as collaboration, creative problem solving and communication. Despite the fear that automation of processes leads to job loss, the opposite is often the case. As technology improves, employees are freed from routine tasks so they can focus their time and energies on more creative and strategic projects.
4. Make Sure The C-Suite Is Onboard
This too requires constant communication with employees. Yes, a structured and measurable program plan is essential, but organizational change is more than simply executing a set of implementation activities. The senior leadership team must be visible in its support and its participation in empowering employees to suggest how automation can make them more productive.
5. Teach Skills
Finally, you’ll need to teach skills to help employees succeed after you’ve created an automated environment. So many of us work through days filled with tedious, manual processes like filling out spreadsheets and replying to long email chains. We’re used to automation and efficiency in our personal lives but not at work. So don’t expect your employees to have the skill sets for leveraging automation tools, which can vary among departments. For example, HR professionals may already have extensive soft skills but need help understanding and interacting effectively with automation technology. It may be just the opposite for the IT team.
There are times, however, when companies would not want to automate some HR tasks. For example, sensitive matters around issues involving employee conduct complaints, medical leaves or a death in someone’s family require what’s referred to in the industry as “high touch when it matters” for these types of situations.
Most HR processes can now be automated, and that requires the role of HR professionals to evolve. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of communicating to HR staff that automation will provide them with more time to work on high-value activities such as high-touch employee services, career development and organizational design rather than spending time dealing with routine cases.