• Paul Massie

Change management and RPA: how thinking about people will help you to implement a better bot

While you may be excited about the benefits RPA can bring to your organisation, your people may not be. Preconceived ideas or specific fears about what RPA means for them may mean they don’t share your enthusiasm. Concerns about the impact on jobs and loss of human interaction are common. Many individuals secretly worry that they are not going to get to grips with the new technology and will be left behind.

Managing the people side of change is critical to a successful RPA implementation. Unless people buy-in to the change and adopt new ways of working, the project will not be successful. I’ve seen multiple examples of system implementations where technically the system is ‘live’ but behind the scenes it is hugely inefficient. The users are still relying on old spreadsheets and workarounds; they haven’t fully adopted the change and the predicted benefits aren’t delivered as a result.

Here are five principles of change management that will help you to avoid falling into this trap:

1. Clear rationale

Firstly, it is important to communicate a vision and clear reasons for what you want to achieve (a case for change). People may find change uncomfortable, but they will accept it (or at least be more willing to accept it) if they if they can see the logic behind it. Even better if you can point out how their own lives may directly improve as a result. RPA brings lots of benefits that individuals may not necessarily expect, such as improved job satisfaction. Once the load of manual, repetitive tasks is lifted, individuals can focus on other improvements they have probably been wanting to make for a long time.

2. Visible and co-ordinated leadership

Successful change needs visible leaders who are out there amongst their teams, leading from the front. Leaders need to make sure they are being absolutely consistent in the way they deliver the messages – if they’re not, differences will be unpicked which will create confusion and uncertainty – and feed the rumour mill. Face to face communication is essential to build relationships, to build trust, to inspire, to show empathy and above all to demonstrate genuine leadership.

Engagement means communicating both ways – giving clear, consistent messaging but also listening and creating a culture where it is ok to voice concerns.

3. Patience!

Remember, people go through a range of emotions during times of change. This is neatly captured in the change curve. There might be some anger and emotional reactions before people start to test out, then take on new ways of working. Don’t be lulled into thinking the journey is linear, though. People will go backwards and forwards in their reaction. Some days they will seem to have accepted it, other days they will have slipped back into anger and denial. Patience and understanding are key, as is repeating the reasons for the change.

It takes time for people to build up competence with a new skill or way of working. Introducing RPA will save significant amounts of time relatively quickly. However, be mindful that if you don’t build in additional time and resources while people get up to speed and make the transition, your business as usual could suffer. Think about learning to drive a car. Very few people became proficient drivers overnight, even if they know the basic mechanics of what is needed to drive safely. It takes time to master new ways of working.

4. Put yourself in their shoes

The best advice I can give on managing resistance is to ‘put yourself in their shoes’. Really think about what this change means on an individual level and, based on this, what can you do to help people to feel more involved, more in control and more supported. If you’re not sure, ask them – they’ll soon tell you. It’s a great way to get people involved and they will appreciate being asked. Be careful though not to make promises you can’t keep, and if you do make a promise, make sure you keep it.

Training for line managers in how to support their teams with change can make a big difference. Thinking specifically about RPA; try to demystify it for people early on through demos and case studies from other teams or organisations. Let people see for themselves as much as possible – the imagined is nearly always a lot more frightening than the reality.

5. Create an integrated team – end users, HR, Communications and Tech

Pull on expert support wherever possible and try to create an integrated team where the technical isn’t separate from the ‘people’ element. Particularly if your programme includes changes to job roles, or where there may be redundancies as a result of outsourcing or offshoring, you need to work very closely with HR.

A communication or change specialist will be valuable to help ‘translate’ any technical jargon into language that employees will find easier to understand. If you need to convince your stakeholders about investing in managing change - remember the final product will be much more likely to work and deliver return on investment when it hits the ground if end-users have been engaged throughout.

Proservartner offer a wide range of change management consultancy, delivery and training as well as building it into our standard approach to any project. Please get in touch if you would like to talk about how we may be able to help.