It seems that wherever you go, in business and in daily life, evidence of our rush toward automation is rife. Whether that be through artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, the internet of things or simple process automation, automation is everywhere and our expectations of its effects are growing exponentially. In the tech world, you only have to slap an “AI” label on a product and it sells: good or bad.

For business control this makes some sense. If your primary need is to control risks, then the easiest way is to remove human error and replace it with machine certainty. Similarly, if your need is to control costs, there are ample opportunities to remove expensive people with cheaper software.

But What if Your Need Is Performance?

It also makes sense in some areas of analysis and discovery. Algorithms don’t get tired, nor do they make mistakes. So, we should expect an effective AI program to uncover a complex pattern from deep within a huge text document much more effectively than a human.

But what if your need is performance? What if you are a CEO who needs to grow rapidly, integrate a newly acquired team, change the business culture, transform the value your company provides to your customers or launch a new product range? Or you are a COO who needs to embed excellence into all of your operations?

There, the people-avoidance strategy of automation doesn’t work. It disengages and disenfranchises people – causing them to stand back from achievement, let the machinery do the work, grumble when it doesn’t work and ultimately to move on. Because from an employee perspective, automation can all too often be soul-destroying: reducing the will to work and removing that deep feeling of value through contribution, which every modern employee seeks.

Embrace Engagement with People

For a business to perform, for it to excel in its market and beat its competitors, a people-engagement strategy is required, along with a mechanism for enabling it. That might involve anything from the visible clarification of goals, targets, processes and personal contributions to a structured means for enabling the constant and continuous improvement of everything the business does. Wherever the business’s needs sit along that spectrum, one thing is clear: None of it can be achieved without the understanding and buy-in of the people who work there.

So, while we are well and truly in the age of automation, with shiny new tools entering the market every day, it is important to realize automation’s aims and limitations. Automation is designed to avoid and replace people, not to win hearts and minds. If your goal is control at all cost, or faster and deeper analysis, it might be just the strategy for you. But if you need to retain and motivate your people to boost business performance, such a strategy of people avoidance is likely to come to a sticky end. The only way to achieve business excellence is through people engagement.

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