The Robots Aren't Coming, They're Already Here

by Chris Browne

3 ways in which automation demands higher value behaviours from employees.


Thirty years’ ago, heart stent implantation surgery was a significant medical event for a patient followed by several weeks of recuperation. Today, an intracoronary stent is often inserted without a stay in hospital with recovery lasting about a week. Such evolution is enabled by remarkable advances in manufacturing and material technologies, leading ultimately to a fully biodegradable device being used in many operations.  
This remarkable pace of change is matched only by that which has occurred in wider industrial and consumer automation, particularly in the Pharmaceutical and Biotechnology sectors. In addition to product and process improvement, this continuous investment in automation has had significant impact on organisation culture and the competencies required of specialists and leaders in these firms. Here we look at three essential competencies, borne largely from the impact of increasing automation that no new hire should be without. 
1. Being Social and Emotional  

Previously physically challenging roles in manufacturing and other supply chain areas making use of lower-level skills are often the first to disappear through automation. Now some mid-level, knowledge-based positions are also being automated and the new roles that arise have a more sophisticated work content and operate in a collaborative manner. In response, the ability of professionals operating in sales, engineering, IT, and people leadership to create meaningful relationships with colleagues and other stakeholders becomes critical.  
We know that previously, those with high levels of difficult to replace technical knowledge and abilities but poor relationship skills have been accommodated. Firms now understand however, that the cost of losing staff due to a leader’s poor relationship skills are higher than the cost of losing the technical skills the leader possesses. Technocracy alone is no longer workable, advanced levels of communication, negotiation, empathy and conflict management skills are now prerequisites. The general rise in ability and more sophisticated thinking in our organisations mean self-awareness, authenticity and self-regulation, along with the ability to show vulnerability are demanded of anyone who seeks to influence others in our workplaces. 
2. Connected Critical Thinking  

The skill to see the systems and relationships within your industry and craft creative solutions to problems that are yet to appear is fundamental to winning real advantage through automation. People who can turn data into insightful interpretations, that are consumable at all eye levels, are essential to leveraging maximum value from technology platforms. The complexity and interconnectedness of various fields like computer science, engineering, manufacturing and biology mean that full value can only be derived by employees who can surface the most relevant data and evolve it into meaningful decision support.   The fundamentals here are themselves not new ideas. Chris Argyris wrote in the 1980’s about double loop learning, a concept in organisation learning that espoused deep analysis of problems to the extent that they question a firm’s underlying norms, operating policies and goals, rather than simply apply an alternative path or operational level fix to get around a problem (Single Loop Learning). Automation makes this process significantly faster and provides a great opportunity for a reflective employee to ensure the new learning “sticks”.  
3. Cognitive Elasticity  

As many life sciences organisations will already know, one of the many challenges firms with a strong commitment to technology face is how their employees balance engaging in highly innovative work projects with business as usual (BAU) responsibilities. Being invited into a conceptual or early planning project team is an exciting opportunity for many employees. Innovation can be addictive, to the extent that the employee is disappointed to return to performing BAU responsibilities. Organisations that are going through periods of rapid change or whose workplace is consistently presenting intellectually energising challenges to its employees face similar difficulties.  
Naturally, such organisations must avoid hiring new employees who present with a fixed mindset or for that matter, need to consider current employees who cannot be evolved from a static way of thinking. The damage, which is often caused beneath the surface, can be significant and lead to employees with the right traits and values exiting the business.  
Automation is a high impact change process for any firm, with consequences for many stakeholder types. Employees who can contribute to such innovative programmes and return to BAU with a very connected purpose have cognitive elasticity. They can stretch when needed and revert to core discipline thereafter. Shifting gears is easy for them, they are comfortable considering challenges from several perspectives. Most importantly, they take what they have learnt in the new organisation of work, back into their BAU role when the former is completed. These are the employees with the highest stretch potential and who will regularly outgrow their roles. 
While none of us can predict the future nor truly know what challenges we will have to address, we can prepare to exploit opportunities and be in the best position to address challenges, by broadening and raising the competencies we seek to hire. There is a small irony to the fact, that rather than fear for loss of our jobs from automation, the traits and behaviours employees must demonstrate and which organisations must recruit for, are those that give employees a real competitive edge over their robotic competition. 
 For more information, contact Chris Browne today:


Chris Browne

Operations & Technology Practice

Senior Selection Consultant

+353 1 6321886


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