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Want to retain your employees? Then you better start automating!

John Appleby Profile picture for user john.appleby September 28, 2022
Hyperautomation is coming, but will it solve the great resignation crisis, and deliver much-needed economic growth? John Appleby of Avantra thinks hyperautomation could be the key to both - but the reason why may surprise you.

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I’ve noticed a spike in the amount of airtime that improving the employee experience is getting these days. The ‘Great Resignation’ warnings that consultancy firms have made over the years are, I suspect, finally coming home to roost.

Up until quite recently, pay was top of the list of reasons to quit a job. Now, however, the experience of going to work is under greater scrutiny. Being able to bring your whole self to work - and getting a sense of fulfillment - are ranked just as highly as pay; PwC predicts 20% of people will quit this year because they’re unable to achieve these things at work.

The bar has been raised: for many employees, managing complicated processes, using outdated software, repeating the same tasks and dealing with intermittent outages have become too much.

The consumer experience is driving the employee experience

It’s easy to see how this has come to a head. The consumer market has reacted brilliantly to the challenge of helping people carry out important transactions during lockdown. It’s reset customer expectations as to what’s possible. From neo banks reducing the time it takes to complete financial transactions and online grocery apps that remember your favorites, through to video consultations with a doctor or ordering food at a bar with a QR code, brands have worked hard to introduce the technology that keeps life running smoothly.

In effect, it’s created a new version of reality and as a result employees are now taking their consumer expectations to work. They want the tools and technology that make life easy at home to be replicated and form a part of their lived experience at work too. The numbers say it all - 42% of people would go as far as to buy their own technology to improve their working experience. It underlines how important an employee’s ‘total experience’ is to them in terms of job satisfaction and how it could influence a person’s loyalty to a company.

From the conversations I have had, there’s an interesting dichotomy emerging; brands are going out of their way to improve the customer experience to drive brand value and loyalty. It’s now a competitive imperative. Yet at the same time they are struggling to deliver tangible growth or improvement to brand value.

Delving deeper, it’s clear that many are neglecting to ensure that the processes and tools their employees use to deliver the customer experience are just as good. The shiny front end the customer sees is at odds with the persistence of manual workarounds and clumsy handovers between different systems. In these circumstances work is a chore.

It’s a dangerous position to be in. I don’t think you can avoid the fact that great customer experience and great employee experience are now inextricably linked. In the future it will be impossible to be successful if you don’t set a strategy that revolves around delivering both.

Automation needs to be a part of employee retention

For those companies that are struggling to see a way ahead, there are two options. The first is to look at the productivity tools that will help improve how people communicate, make decisions and share information. The market has exploded and there’s really no excuse not to at least trial some of the apps available. There’s plenty of evidence that even the smallest of changes can make a tangible difference to delivering business goals, plus it can positively shift employee mood as people start to achieve and contribute more. 

The second option is to look at automating repetitive and manual tasks and move the business along the path to hyperautomation. The more processes that can be digitized and automated the more agile a business can be and the more data it has available to act on to drive continuous improvement.

Avantra customer, The Coop Group, one of Switzerland’s largest retail and wholesale companies, has taken this approach as part of its migration to HANA. The company took the opportunity to review how automation could be used to perform monitoring checks and auto-detect potential failures. Now its team is fully informed of everything happening across a complex SAP environment and alerted by alarms to problems and risks. It has brought a new level of agility to system management.

I’d also say that the companies leading the way on automation, like the Coop Group, have also understood the opportunity to take competitive advantage not just from reduced overheads and greater productivity, but also through innovation. Their teams have more time to explore new avenues or launch new product ideas and service models and will, as a result, contribute more value to the company strategy.   

These firms are also proving that the scaremongering on redundancy as a result of automation isn’t wholly true. I don’t think jobs will disappear overnight - there will be a proportion that will go, but many will change and even exist to complement the technology and will become more interesting and fulfilling. Where automation is already happening, people are more engaged and have a chance to develop their skills and capability so they can step up the career ladder or move across into different roles and use untapped experience and talent.

I’m even hearing that some clients are starting to attract a new calibre of candidate, people who offer a different mindset and approach to doing business that moves ideas from the drawing board to market. For some, that’s been an unexpected benefit, but one that is boosting their brand as an employer and helping them achieve strategic goals with more precision. 

It leaves me to believe that as we move through 2022 and into more economic uncertainty, there’s even more reason to assert that linking automation and employee brand will pay dividends for companies of all sizes. This year the UN’s Innovation Index has emphasized the correlation between brand value and innovation for economic recovery. If that doesn’t further strengthen the argument that the great resignation is as much an opportunity as a threat, then I don’t know what will. 

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