Managing a Blended Workforce
Financial Services organisations are under pressure to modernize, digitize and transform their offerings and operations.
We all now accept that machines work alongside humans in the world of manufacturing and this is becoming increasingly commonplace in the world of back office operations. Perhaps in the 21st Century we need to a consider the challenges and opportunities presented by the growth of robotics in the Back Office.
In some areas of the back office, robots may replace some of the jobs – maybe even a lot of the jobs – but across the whole of the back office we can expect to see humans and robots working together.
By considering the effect on the human workforce we can embrace the opportunities presented by RPA without falling into the trap of yet-another-magic-bullet-technology- solution. Optimising back office operations will require thinking through and managing the relationship between these two co-workers, people and robots, not merely replacing some people with some robots.
Implications for human talent management
RPA is inevitably targeting some of the simpler, more repetitive work that is currently done by people in the back office. Indeed this is often heralded as a human benefit – taking away the drudge work leaving people the opportunity to do more interesting and challenging work.
This may well be true but we also need to consider the potential changes to the labour force:
– Take away the “bottom” third of employees from the lowest pay bands and your average wage bill goes up. You will have a smaller, higher paid work force.
– Similarly, the average educational requirement may well go up as staff are focused more on exception handling, problem solving and human contact.
A better paid, higher educated workforce can bring challenges. There may be increased competition for the best resources, stronger negotiating position for key workers and a general rise in the expectations of the way that staff are managed. Interestingly, it could be that a rise in RPA
will lead to a resurgence in interest in leadership and talent management.
For some time now the world of operations management has been schizophrenic. On the one hand, there has been a continuing trend for decades to emphasise employee engagement, wellbeing and the power of good leadership. On the other hand, the increasing availability of data and computational power has led, in some operations, to a return to old-style centralised “command-and-control” management. For example, much of the Workforce Optimisation space is dominated by tools that support the centralisation of planning and the removal of initiative from front line leadership.
It could be that this brief resurgence of command-and- control management could come to an end with the rise of RPA. Operations Performance Management of the human workforce will have to become more sophisticated, with greater emphasis on leadership and talent management, while the scheduling of the robots will have to be blended in to work alongside the human system.
RPA in operations management
Much of the current WFO technology supports central planning teams through a decision making process, based on running capacity calculations though sophisticated models and then monitoring actual trends to make “real time” adjustments to optimise workforce efficiency.
It is tempting, therefore, to ask why not apply RPA to the management process. Indeed, this is already happening with increasingly “intelligent” workflow systems distributing work based on skills, capacity, priority and such like.
But, hopefully we have now made the case to say that, on its own, such a step would be fatally flawed. Until back offices are completely “lights out” operations with all work being carried out by robots, the real world will contain a blend of people and robots. The effect will be to raise the requirement for great leadership of a more confident and capable workforce.
Some of the back office workforce optimisation solutions that largely treat optimising capacity as a numbers game, may well become automated but the requirement for improved Artificial Intelligence in the world of human management is more likely to be “decision support” rather than “decision replacement”.
Features that help managers to lead could include:
Neil Bentley has been helping organizations to improve their front-line operating performance for over 20 years. Originally qualified in Psychology, he went on to work at Lucas Industries in the 1980s, gaining experience in manufacturing production management, before focusing on financial services and the public sector, first with PA Consulting Group and then as a partner with specialist consultants OCP.
He launched ActiveOps with fellow OCP partner Richard Jeffery in 2005. Neil brings with him an unparalleled understanding of the mix of the human and the technical aspects of performance improvement.