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Which Jobs to Automate – Which Must Stay Human

According to a recent article in Fortune Magazine, the brokerage firm USAA noticed that when the stock market recently plunged everyone stopped using their online services and called on the phone. How do you plan or staff for that?  What is the right level of automated services for efficiency v. losing the personal touch?  It is a challenge that faces virtually every industry.

Safety and Efficiency

One clear factor that argues for automation is safety.  For example, in manufacturing, an increase in workers’ compensation claims could be a symptom of an inherent risk in the manufacturing process that can be automated to reduce strains and accidents. Further, a business case can often be made that significant efficiencies can be gleaned from the right kind of automation.  Tesla is a shining example of how improved process design, the right level of human interaction, and robotic technology can efficiently produce a world-class automobile.  But what about service industries?

Three Cases Where Human Touch Matters

  1. The Customer Values It – In the service industry where advice is required, such as making a medical decision, a legal decision, or where to invest, the human touch is critical.  Experience, objectivity and wisdom are extremely difficult to automate and customers are not willing to accept an electronic answer in these situations.
  2. Where Multiple Factors Must Be Represented and Considered – In complex organizations where there are different factions, points of views and stakeholders, it is extremely difficult to automate decision-making or the process.  It is one thing to automate processes, it is another to gain agreement on the path forward.
  3. Holding A Single Person or Team Accountable – Once a system is automated it becomes a hardware or software issue.  Often, in order for there to be high customer satisfaction, there must be a group that is accountable.  Judges, managers, coaches – all these roles cannot be automated because someone must be ultimately accountable.  This holds true for top level decisions as well. Every successful organization knows that leadership matters.  It matters because some human must exercise good judgement and must inspire others to follow.  Automating that secret sauce is quite a way off.

So as business becomes more technical, automated, and enamored with big data trends, each organization will have to use some judgment about what can be automated and should necessarily remain human.  it is probably better to debate this is in a planning session (with other humans) before automating the wrong process and driving your customers to the competitor.

Paul Finkle SPHR, CMC – Executive Vice President, Practice Leader

Disclaimer: Some information contained herein has been abridged from numerous sources and may be protected by various copyright laws. Such information should not be construed as consulting or legal advice. Please contact our office for specific advice and/or referrals.

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