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As the specter of automation looms over jobs and entire industries, some coders, operations personnel and customer service agents have taken matters into their own hands and preemptively automated themselves — without telling their managers. This has sparked a national debate over the ethics of self-automating, or auto-automating.
The Atlantic recently cataloged the tales of numerous anonymous self-automaters who hid their efficiency-building initiatives because, “automating work can feel like cheating, and be treated as such by corporate policy.” This raises important questions about how enterprises can promote efficiency and innovation in their employees, without punishing them for their ingenuity.
My own company is built around the idea that you can automate almost any workflow, and that employees should always be thinking of ways to maximize efficiency and eliminate rote tasks. We have weekly #NoFilter sessions in which members of the operations team posit ideas to the tech team. We have a road map that ends in most of the daily functions we currently do being almost entirely automated. And we cite our heavy use of artificial intelligence (AI) and automation as one of our most important competitive differentiators.
In order to do this successfully, however, we’ve had to implement cultural and structural elements to truly reward employees who automate themselves and to get the entire company excited about high-level thinking over rote tasks.
Hire people who want to automate boring tasks.
Not everyone has the inclination to eliminate repetitive or boring tasks. One of the key elements in the hiring process for self-automaters should be asking them to solve problems in real time. These problems can be related to your business or completely unrelated, but the employee should be able to offer an efficient solution to the problem at hand. For instance, a classic interview question at consulting firms is, “How would you go about estimating the number of ATMs in Manhattan?”
Another key element of self-automaters is that they would rather entertain themselves than spend time doing mundane tasks. The self-automaters in the Atlantic article kept themselves busy with intellectually stimulating tasks while their code ran through their actual jobs. One secret self-automator who worked in a large hotel chain spent time helping management with bottlenecks in other systems while his code flawlessly performed the job he was actually hired to do. Hire people who need to be stimulated in the workplace and are motivated to eradicate boring tasks.
Build clear paths to promotion around automation.
One of the biggest fears that self-automaters have (particularly coders) is that they’ll automate themselves out of a job. The goal of increased efficiency in enterprise, however, is growth — meaning that the more automated a company is, the more employees the company should need to hire to cover increased workload from clients.
Demonstrate this to your employees by creating clear paths to promotion and including job title distribution as part of the company roadmap/vision. This will motivate employees to work toward titles/salaries that reflect the intelligence and creativity it takes to maximize efficiency.
Reward creativity and high-level thinking.
In 1930, John Maynard Keynes predicted that automation would result in a 15-hour workweek. This prediction couldn’t have been further from the truth: Americans are working longer and longer hours, and many now toil under the fear that their jobs will be taken by robots. It’s crucial for leaders and employers to instill a sense of purpose, not hopelessness and fear, in their organizations around values such as efficiency and speed.
For example, if your employee has figured out a method to reduce the time spent on a particular day’s work, then they should feel comfortable leaving a bit early or taking a relaxing lunch break. If they find ways to do this every day, then they should receive increased responsibility and autonomy to pursue creative ways of maximizing efficiency in other areas of the company.
In enterprise today, the workweek shouldn’t be built around punching in and out. Employees shouldn’t be rewarded for showing up every day — they should be rewarded for creativity and ideas that benefit the company as a whole. So, should you let your employees self-automate? Absolutely.
December 27, 2018 at 09:12AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs