How the Change Management profession needs to progress

Subscribe to Melanie's Agile Change newsletter?

One of the things that can be guaranteed when I am with my change management colleagues at the UN is the thought provoking discussion about what we need to achieve with change management courses. One of the themes we have debated is re-purposing of people as a result of RPA – robotic process automation.

When I look across all my clients, those in the private sector all have RPA projects underway. Wherever there is inputting and analysing of data, there is the opportunity to replace people with software. Two interviews in the Financial Times last week from the heads of Deutsche Bank and Citibank give an indication of the trends. The CEO of Deutsche Bank said “if your job involves tapping a keyboard all day, you have an uncertain future” and the head of Citibank referenced the 20,000 staff in operational roles who are likely to be cut to 10,000 over the two years.

The challenge for Change Managers is how we help people transition to the roles that are left after automation. My experience of RPA so far has been positive, because the organisations involved are growing. Therefore, those whose jobs are automated are being given the opportunity to move to new roles and are not losing their jobs.

These roles involve much greater levels of customer interaction. Moving from behind the keyboard and screen to talking to customers, helping to solve their problems, building up relationships so that their levels of engagement increase, leading to revenue increases.

The changes this brings are seismic because the staff impacted have to learn customer relationship skills, and adjust to a new picture of their contribution, their status, and their prospects for the future. None of the people I have been working with would have put themselves forward for these types of jobs. They didn’t want front-line customer contact, they enjoyed the regularity and sameness of processing information, easily tracking their progress each day by the amount of work they had completed.

Now they experience the vagaries of human nature, where some conversations go well, and the customers are happy, and others where more problems arise, customers are angry, things take a long time to solve and leave them feeling upset and doubting their abilities.

Coaching is an obvious change management skill needed to help with this transition, but increasingly I am adding emotional resilience to the agenda of any training course, as well as looking for opportunities to create cohorts and informal groups who can offer each other support as they transition to these new roles.

I think we need to put emotional support on the agenda of any changes driven by RPA if we are going to enable staff to move into new ways of working. As Change Managers we need to sharpen our techniques in positive thinking, reframing the negatives into positives, understanding how the brain copes with change through neuroscience so that we can provide the help that is needed.

This is a big move from being responsible for a Change Management process, creating the Change Plan, carrying out impact and readiness assessments. Do you feel equal to this task? Do you think this is how the Change Management profession needs to progress?