How are CEOs dealing with automation and robotics?

How are CEOs dealing with automation and robotics?

INSIGHTS: from the Naked Headhunter


During the past set of election cycles, primarily in the United States, but also in other countries around the globe, we’ve seen a lot of debate about strategies for job creation. This has ranged from the repatriation of jobs in the manufacturing sector to calls for a renaissance of jobs in the coal industry. Having led an international business and talked to business leaders in both the energy and manufacturing segments, I’ve had discussions about how current technology disruptions are changing business models and on the need to be candid with workers about how labour markets are changing. Over the past year, I feel that perhaps Elon Musk is one of the few business visionaries who has been most honest in stating that a new era of automation is upon us and traditional jobs – be it on car assembly-lines, in clothing manufacture or in the mining industry – simply aren’t coming back. Indeed, a bigger concern for many business leaders (alongside their employees) will be how the incorporate automation and robotics into business models.

We’ve seen automation slowly grow as a supplement to standard work processes over the past few decades. You see it at your self-serve petrol station, or at newer self-serve kiosks in fast food restaurants or at self-check-out in grocery stores. Increasingly, machines and robots will take over the more mundane tasks in service and manufacturing industries and jobs dependent on human intelligence will move to other domains.

Having browsed through a number of articles on this topic, I’ve included some highlights below and tips that I believe business leaders and company executives need to think about over the coming years as they develop strategies for automating parts of their business processes.

1. Help employees understand automation in a positive light. Automating processes or using machines to replace some routine activities is not about killing jobs. Rather it helps businesses refocus employee intellect and talent on areas where they are needed more (i.e. automate data entry so that employees can focus on more difficult scrutiny processes and strategy development).
2. Underscore that automation impacts us all: CEOs included. New studies by PwC and McKinsey show that up to 20% of tasks carried out by company executives could also be automated. So business leaders have their own interest in studying automation processes and assessing their impact across the business.
3. Invest in helping your workers adapt to automation. McKinsey’s research shows that “creativity” and “emotional sensitivity” are skills where human workers can help supplement and boost the positive impact of automation. However, on the US market, for instance, “just 4 percent of the work activities across the U.S. economy require creativity at a median human level of performance. Similarly, only 29 percent of work activities require a median human level of performance in sensing emotion.” This means there is likely a future benefit to training your best managers to develop skills in these areas.

Automation, robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are terms we will increasingly hear across all business sectors in the coming years. I see it as the role of a visionary CEO to accept these processes as a given and make it a priority to facilitate and ease the growing pains of adopting automation in the workplace.

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