5 Important Questions to Help Preparing Employees for Robot Implementation

24 September 2020
The willingness amongst employees is crucial for the success of automation initiatives. But how is such willingness and motivation achieved? Here are 5 questions you need to answer in order to prepare employees in your organisation for automation.

The willingness amongst employees is crucial for the success of automation initiatives. But how is such willingness and motivation achieved? Here are 5 questions you need to answer in order to prepare employees in your organisation for automation.

More than ever before, physical robots are being explored by companies globally as an opportunity to work smarter and safer with a financial gain in return. An increasing number of companies decide to invest in automation and end up buying physical robots. 

And as most people know, successfully implementing robot solutions can be a challenge. The technical site of implementation requires in-depth knowledge and careful planning, and a proper business case has to be worked out in order for the robot investment to actually pay off.

Having taken care of such factors, the investment might look good on paper. However, another hugely important factor is the people side of robot implementation. If employees in your organisation are not prepared for automation, the initiative might fail regardless of its promising technical or financial prospects.

Answering five main questions

Having made a decision to invest in a robot solution, there are 5 main questions that need to be answered and communicated in order for the workforce to support automation and work with the change rather than against it.

1.    Why are we doing this? 
2.    What is expected of me? 
3.    What training will I receive? 
4.    How does automation change the way I work? 
5.    Will I lose my job?

Why are we doing this?

If you fail to communicate a compelling ‘why’ to the organisation, lack of understanding of the project may lead to distrust, and employees will work in different directions. Simply communicating a ‘why’ helps getting everyone on the same page.

Such a ‘why’ could be the goal of relieving employees from manual tasks to have them focus on more complicated processes like quality control or supervision. If employees don’t know about this end goal, how could you blame them for thinking that the company is just trying to cut jobs?

Communicating the ‘why’ means painting the picture of the end stage. What does success look like? Make sure to involve the workforce early, as this helps you assess the readiness for change and estimate the needs for upskilling and training.

What is expected of me?

Organisations often do not clearly communicate what is expected of employees during and after the robot implementation.

Organisational engagement fails because the implementation team and the leadership focus primarily on the technical solution rather than the people side. In fact, we sometimes see that organizations simply expect employees to just ‘figure it out’ themselves. 

For automation projects to be more successful, employees need to have their questions and concerns answered, especially in the implementation process. Employees need to know where they can go for support and where they can raise their concerns.

What training will I receive?

Automation initiatives fail because employees receive insufficient training or support. In larger change implementation projects, we need to train the change-affected employees, as the handling of automation solutions might require whole new skills and knowledge.

If this is communicated and carried out properly, automation will present itself as an opportunity for employees to better their qualifications and strengthen their profiles. So, for every affected employee, make sure to devise clear training plans and programmes. What do they need to know? What new equipment must they learn to handle?

It should be noted that training in many cases might not require too much. For example, it might amount to instructing employees to not cross certain lines on the floor when a mobile robot is near-by, or making it clear when it is safe to enter the fencing of a robot etc. In any case, employees need to be properly equipped for handling the task.

Leaders too need to be trained. Properly understanding the frustration and uncertainty and being able to spot red flags and potential issues from a technical as well as a human perspective is a must. Automation changes the workways, and employees need to have their competences keep up with these changes.

How does automation change the way we work?

Automation almost always leads to changes in processes and workflow. It might also lead to structural changes freeing up resources or changing the expectations to team leaders and production workers. The jobs typically become more data driven, and workflows go from being manual to more digital and automated.

Production workers might end up having to be more flexible in their work, for instance going from overseeing one process to supervising a couple of automation solutions rather than one. Prepare your employees for these changes before they happen and give them time and opportunity to adjust to their new role.

Will I lose my job?

Most often, we see large-scale terminations and the fear of losing your job leading to resistance from the workforce. However, robots can be implemented for many other reasons than job cutting, and obviously, if this is the case, it needs to be communicated from the beginning.

In some situations, however, introducing automation will lead to layoffs. In such cases, it is very important to be honest about what this means and what the company can offer employees in terms of retraining, other job possibilities etc. at a very early stage.

These are five general questions that can help prepare your employees for robots. Of course it is not all done with 5 simple questions, but they form the foundation for a successful change implementation plan from a people perspective. As the employer, you need to have the answers in order to avoid that fear of the unknown will lead to speculation and change resistance. 

As no two organisations are the same, and because each robot solution is different, there is ’no one size fits all’ solution for implementing change. The better prepared you are, the better you know your organisation, their concerns and capabilities, the more well defined your strategy for automation is – the higher are the odds for a successful implementation in your company.

Embrace the automation and process change, but do not underestimate its significance in your planning for its implementation.