One of the best lines in any movie ever (which just happens to be from “Office Space”) is, “We don’t have a lot of time on this earth. We weren’t meant to spend it this way. Human beings were not meant to sit in little cubicles staring at computer screens all day, filling out useless forms and listening to eight different bosses drone on about mission statements.” It’s true: human beings are capable of so much more than manually managing mundane tasks.
Yet, in real life, I often hear from clients that if the manual processes they perform everyday were to be automated, even just a little, there may not be a need for their job. When you ask most employees, they may tell you that automating manual processes will take away their ability to truly control the process and maybe even make them less valuable as employees. Sometimes, there can be a sense of primal fear that surrounds moving any manual process to an automated way of doing things. When I hear this, I see opportunity on many levels.
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First, the idea that employees are primarily valuable because they execute manual processes is a skewed perception. Employees are not valued because they can run a manual process. They are valued because of a commitment to excellence, their desire to help their teams and because they care about the company for which they work.
The employee performing manual tasks could be doing other things in the company to make things better enterprise-wide. Rather than execute the same manual process every day, they could be resolving the exceptions/errors that may occur in the automated process. They could learn a new skill and become the workplace “hero” in a different way, such as the administrator of a system that provides the automation.
Further, the concept of having control over a process only if you execute it yourself raises all kinds of red flags. There is something to be said for knowing how a process works. The idea that you lose control when a process is automated, however, is just not true. You can build all of the controls that you need into the automated process and perform spot-inspections whenever needed. Micro-managing a manual process is not what makes the employee valuable: again, it’s their dedication to the job that’s valued.
It’s a different way of thinking to want to remove the manual tasks from one’s job. Some people will never see the opportunity because they are too afraid of what the change could mean for them. Others who feel like hamsters on a wheel—performing the same mundane and manual tasks everyday—are desperate for help. They know there is a better way, they just don’t know where to begin. The first step to achieving an efficient and dynamic office environment and, ultimately, a better work culture is acknowledging the “insanity” and working with a partner to start examining how to work in a better way. The right combination of process and technology can be a game changer to a company’s bottom line, and one’s career.