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How to manage automation - without alienating employees

From smarter AI to better robots, automation is becoming more and more widespread. While improvements in these technologies will help our societies become increasingly productive and efficient, their arrival could displace millions of workers worldwide, with big consequences for the corporations who hire and fire them.

Written by Chris Zacharia |

Person using a tablet for supply chain management.
Skills previously thought to be immune from robotic intervention, such as writing, marketing and teaching, are increasingly being automated.

Automation poses two challenges: to successfully adopt the technology, and to do so with as minimal disruption to the workforce as possible.

Experts are almost unanimous in their agreement that automation is poised to make sweeping changes, not just to the world of work but to our global society as a whole. According to research by Oxford University’s Martin School, almost 50% of US workers are at risk of being replaced by machines.

Yet when people think about automation, they tend to imagine blue collar workers being liberated from repetitive production-line work by robotic arms. However, unlike previous spurts of automation, this time many middle-class, white collar jobs will be at risk. Skills previously thought to be immune from robotic intervention, such as writing, marketing and teaching, are increasingly being automated through big data and better AI. The question is how fast and how deep this new form of automation will reach.

For many organisations, the temptation to automate is impossible to resist. Automated systems don’t need pensions or annual leave, and neither do they take sick days. In some cases, they can offer faster, more accurate, and more reliable outputs. For organisations who refuse to automate, the possibility of being out-competed by robotic rivals is very real. Often, it’s not merely a matter of upgrading - it’s about survival.

So what can business leaders do to make this transition as smooth as possible? One priority is to plan carefully for the introduction of innovative new systems. The University of London’s Global MBA offers a complete overview of today’s most pressing business challenges, including modules that offer a thorough investigation of how to manage innovation as a process.

The Global MBA’s ‘Innovation and Change’ module begins with teaching you how to prepare and organise for strategic change of the kind automation brings. The module then focuses on how firms can critically analyse the implications of how they engage with strategic change, before showing you how to evaluate how different technology strategies affect businesses.

The module also gives you the communication skills necessary to make automation a success. Without strong verbal and oral communication - both horizontally between decision makers and vertically between managers and employees - automation becomes far riskier. As with any large scale strategic change, the organisation must be fully aligned as to the expected goals and the process of obtaining them. That’s why the Global MBA teaches you how to hone your writing and presentation skills with which to formulate credible plans and strategies for innovation.

Ultimately, successful automation depends upon having a strong understanding of the uses and potential of new technologies. It’s no good ushering in a successful automation strategy if the actual automation itself doesn’t make you more effective. The ‘Innovation and Change’ module empowers you with the frameworks you need to critically assess and evaluate the drivers of change, equipping you with the tools needed to succeed in a business landscape where rapid automation can reshape organisations beyond recognition.

Once you can identify the core areas of technological innovation and the internal and external environments which fosters it, you’ll have the vision and strategic awareness necessary to successfully lead your organisation through the difficult process of change - fast-tracking your career as you do so.

Find out more about how our Global MBA could give you the tools to help manage innovation and change.