As featured in Consultancy.uk
Despite the scaremongering headlines, automation and digitalisation are already having an impact in the workplace. From manufacturing to administration functions and beyond, the so-called 'rise of the robots' has already begun.
From IT to manufacturing and more, automation is driving business efficiency. For employees, it's not all doom and gloom. Countless studies have shown that people won't be put out to pasture once the robots have completed their enrolment. Research from Gartner for instance suggests that while 1.8 million jobs might be lost by 2020, another 2.3 million jobs will be created.
Analysis of readily available salary data for various industries reveals a significant drop in new workers prepared to enter low-paying jobs. Those same menial, unsatisfactory jobs are exactly where automation is being applied, as demonstrated by recent research by McKinsey & Company, which shows that robots are chiefly expected to eat into the job market for predictable and routine work.
Graduates emerge from their studies having picked up technical skills that are required in the industries they have chosen to pursue a career in, so automation needn't be feared. Yet those working in the industries where automation is taking hold will require a new style of leadership – the use of automation has a significant impact on the way an organisation operates.
Leaders therefore need to be able to understand technology and its impact on business at the same time as being able to recognise what this means for the people they lead and the customers they interact with. Being just a technical expert is no longer enough to perform.
The changing role of leadership
With automation increasingly holistic – cutting through business functions – and complex, traditional command-and-control leadership doesn't fit in today's organisational structures. To help organisations understand the internal and structural disruption posed by technologies like automation, its arrival has been likened to the role of social media during the Arab Spring.
Twitter, Facebook and other social networks were essential tools in the mobilising of masses of people more efficiently that governments were able to mobilise their own military forces. The point isn't that traditional business leadership operates like a dictatorship, but that similar to social networks, these new technologies are flattening organisation structures and decentralising authority in traditionally hierarchal organisations.
As such, leadership has to be transparent with those in leadership positions accessible to those they are working with. They cannot be seen to be working above their staff but alongside them. They must still be seen as an authority, but one that is there to guide, not govern. “In this new automated world, leaders will need to have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and people leadership skills.”
In this new automated world, leaders will need to have high levels of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and people leadership skills. They will need to be able to embrace technology and to encourage others to see both its value and its limitations. They will also need to be able to operate effectively within a constantly changing environment, going as far as to embrace the change and inspiring others to operate in the same way.
Transitioning to the new style of leadership
There are various steps organisations must take to successfully approach the transition from traditional leadership to leadership fir for the age of automation and this begins with ensuring the right talent pool is in place. As organisations become increasingly reliant on technology, they must identify young, experienced people who are passionate about technology and have a proven record.
Where organisations have already placed individuals on leadership programmes, they must assess their current skill levels against the skills required to lead in the new world. Then appropriate training and development pathways can be established. Where gaps in competence are identified, expertise needs to be tapped to facilitate change.
Most importantly, organisations must ask themselves whether they have a deliberate and documented strategy in place for making sure their leadership pool is fit for the future. This is where a sustained learning journey should come into play, enabling the development of desired skills and behaviours in bitesize chunks over a sustained period.
As automation continues to alter the way businesses and entire industries operate, the shapes of hierarchal structures will continue to shift. The need for leaders who can adapt and accommodate for such significant changes will continue to grow, therefore organisations must assess and then address their options for nurturing effective leadership sooner rather than later.