Within the ‘hot topics’ discussed in Boardrooms across the UK right now, they probably include staffing challenges and automation. And whilst the two might first appear quite separate elements, managed by separate departments, they are actually interlinked. Even in one of the most visible ‘business’ issues of the past few months, the RMT rail strike, the two are front and centre of the discussion as the companies look to automate more (and cut costs!), and employees look to protect their jobs.
Seeing as within the French Duncan family we are lucky enough to have both an HR consultancy AND a robotic process automation business (FD Intelligence), FD People MD Louise McCosh and Andrew Guy, MD at FD Intelligence, recently took part in an interview to see what they had to say on the matter. So, is automation the solution to staffing challenges?
Louise, let’s start with you first and the people side. Just what are the headline staffing challenges right now?
LOUISE MCCOSH, MD of FD PEOPLE:
Well, ultimately there is very low unemployment and a bit of a scrabble to recruit new staff, which in turn means companies are making even more effort to keep hold of the staff they’ve already got. There are various reasons for this war for talent; one could cite Brexit, COVID, a shift to hybrid and remote working – but personally I think they all play a part in the current job crisis in the UK, and to different degrees depending on the sector.
So Andy, can automation help here?
ANDREW GUY, MD of FD INTELLIGENCE:
Ultimately yes. What we do with RPA (Robotic Process Automation) is automate mundane and repeatable processes, meaning that businesses that may have previously needed three people to sit and process invoices or booking enquiries, might now only need one person to do that.
That’s interesting Andy, and actually I think it’s wider than that from a people perspective. If you can automate the boring stuff that an employee has to do, that will make their job more interesting – and in turn make them happier and more likely to stay. And as I said at the start, staff retention is key with businesses just now, with many increasingly focusing on culture, job satisfaction, improve working life etc. – primarily with the objective of retaining good staff.
You’re spot on Louise, and that’s exactly what our clients nearly always do. Yes, automation can cut costs, but when we cut time for businesses they very seldom end up the fewer employees. You see, the businesses that we work with are usually entrepreneurial and forward-thinking – so once we automate processes they see that as an opportunity to redeploy staff to more customer facing work. They can now spend their time keeping customers happy and contributing to growth, rather than staring at a spreadsheet or hitting copy & paste constantly!
And of course cost savings can still be seen, in terms of the money you aren’t having to invest either in recruiting new staff such as agency fees, or in fact in other employee retention initiatives which we are aware do often cost money. What about timing though, as I know your robots often run overnight don’t they – in which case business could even start to look at changing working patterns, and reduce the need for shift work etc.
Exactly that Louise. I think overall we are seeing automation change entire business operations, as well as the role and value that people bring. We use a phrase “take the robot out of the person” – meaning allow your people to do what people do best, which is talk to folk, make judgement calls and the like. Plus robots are actually far more accurate AND quicker at handling data anyway – so businesses see fewer mistakes and productivity or even client response time can improve because robots are simply quicker at doing stuff!
That’s perfect, because it’s actually very in-keeping with how staff, especially younger staff, now think and want to behave. People always ask me about ‘millennials’ and how they are looking for different things from previous generations, and indeed the Gen Z’s are another evolution again. But overall I tend to think that there has really just been a shift to a slightly more holistic view of employment… just like the generations before them, younger people do care about money and stature, but they also place importance on making a difference, enjoying themselves and the culture and values of the company.
In that case Louise, automation may be able to help in an even more over-arching way as well then. Because we talk to our customers about taking a more automation mindset to everything that they do, and encouraging staff (in all departments and from junior to senior) to behave more entrepreneurially and think of further potential for automation. In doing this, I think it helps overall company culture because the business becomes more innovative, encourages more ideas and generally becomes a more exciting place to work.
Perfect then Andy. And I’ve an ideal example – it was a junior member of my team who suggested we build our Employee On-boarding bot. And now, rather than the HR team’s new start process being centred around getting IT set-up or details into various systems, the team can let the bot do most of that work, meaning they can focus on the more value add side of the new-start process….making sure they meet the right colleagues quickly, helping them settle in socially and things like that.