19/3: The critical role of communications in RPA change management

Words by John Smith

All our evidence gathering at KCP has made absolutely clear to us that the quality of change management is critical to successful outcomes in RPA. Quality is the operative word here. Because of course everyone will tick the box “ change management”. The issue is, how good is it? And too often there is not enough focus on getting the answer to that question. Plenty of energy is spent investigating whether the technology will live up to what is claimed for it . There is also increasing understanding and focus in the user community on finding the skills needed to redesign processes to optimise the benefit of RPA – rather than plugging it into established process design. But then regrettably the people part of the equation can get a bit fuzzy. Good change management practice puts people at the heart of success, mobilises colleagues to get the most from the technology, presents a credible narrative that everyone engaged in the enterprise can buy into. It doesn’t obscure the uncomfortable truths about the need for change and it explains all outcomes for stakeholders - challenging and positive outcomes - equally. Change management isn’t simply about the mechanics of implementation, it has strong, motivating, credible, intelligent and farsighted communications built into it as a vital means of propulsion.

In our case study work at KCP we have seen less communications of this calibre than might be expected in companies that are starting out on a path offering strategic gain. And it leads us to wonder whether tentativeness in communications in change management is caused in user organisations by the climate of debate about intelligent automation in society. Alarm dominates so much of the analysis and conversation in the public sphere about how this new age of technology will shape our lives. Maybe that is inevitable. And perhaps one of the biggest challenges any single organisation now faces when it decides on RPA investment is to chart its own course for change management communications in a turbulent sea of loud opinion that affects every individual away from their work. The real life context in which we individually translate change into impact on our own existence, and make a judgement about whether we want it to happen or not, has many inputs. What a partially informed politician might say, a journalist online or on air might comment with little time to prepare, will be weighed against what our CEO might tell us.

For our partners at KCP evidence is always king. What the evidence from the now hundreds of RPA deployments we have researched shows is that the companies succeeding with RPA, and on track for achieving the value they envisioned, have communicated effectively both the big picture – the why, the goal, the how - and the realities of the impact on their people. They have communicated early in their adoption of the technology, and continued with clear, consistent and regular messages and engagement with colleagues. They have focused on the value to employees, including less repetitive, boring work; co-working for higher productivity; learning new skills and roles; being recognized as innovators; and being able to focus more on customer service. They have faced up to the fact that we all hate uncertainty and have confronted the inevitable potential for downsizing intelligent automation offers. They examine the implications with the individuals and groups involved with joined up human resources strategies in place and have had the courage to set out and adopt all the options available – natural attrition, redeployment, reduced dependency on outsourcing, – and with redundancy or early retirement as a last option. It’s worth emphasising that in nearly half the user companies we interviewed in a recent survey, communications highlighted the opportunities presented by automation to take on more work and grow the organisation.

In the Insight section of this site you will find a briefing paper that examines the whole role of change management in RPA. (Keys To RPA Success - Part Four: Change Management & Capability Development). It has a vital role, and communications is one of its most critical components. Especially as the debate about the impact of intelligent automation captures the imagination of so many people - for better or worse.