Payments automation won't work without a 'revolution' in corporate culture

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Automation does not, as some fear, signal the demise of the human worker and the ascension of the robot. It does signal a transformational change in our workforces — just as the introduction of powerful tools always have.

It was once thought that the introduction of ATMs would eliminate tellers. The reality is that in the 45 years since their introduction, the number of tellers has more than doubled. With the introduction of automation tools, what will happen is that some jobs will decrease or disappear, and many new jobs that we have not yet imagined will appear.

As payments, retail strategy and card issuance becomes more digital, there will also need to be changes in workforces and workflows. Human capital strategies and the way we define work will need to fundamentally change to support the coming ubiquity of automation. It is not a coincidence that this change is happening while the demographics of our workforce are dramatically shifting.

By 2025, some 50% of our workforce will be millennials — a group that is motivated by continuous learning, frequent changes/increases in responsibility, and the use of “cool tools.” Hmmm. Does that sound like your organization? Maybe not yet.

In our experience, there are four organizational change management activities focused primarily on reimagining your workforce that you must get right to support a successful automation journey.
Mobilizing your stakeholders. Getting the right group of stakeholders on board early in your process is a best practice for success. You need true commitment and alignment — not lip service — for this to work. You’re probably already thinking about your executive sponsor, who carries the automation torch internally; your business process owners, whose processes you’re automating; and your Technology partners, who will play a small or large role depending on a number of factors. But there are other stakeholders you need with you as well.

A few important ones include human resources. Automation nearly always impacts the jobs of existing employees. Involving HR early ensures you have a plan for dealing with the changes that are not only coming, but coming at increasingly rapid intervals as automation expands. Job mapping, performance management changes, career architecture impacts, and upskilling needs are but a few possible impacts that your HR and learning and development partners should be helping you with.

Also, risk and compliance groups very, very much dislike surprises. Involving them early to clarify risk boundaries regarding automation can save you surprises down the road. Building the target state together will help you get there faster. And communications and marketing teams are also vital. Consistent messaging across an organization, and even to external clients and stakeholders can decrease execution and reputational risk. Take advantage of this group’s expertise in touching hearts, explaining processes and rationales, and preventing PR nightmares.

Change stance. Now that you have your crew together, you need to decide where you’re going and how you’re going to get there. We refer to this as your “change stance” and having all parties on the same page is critical to success. Define your purpose. Why are you undertaking this change? It’s unlikely that you’re deploying automation just because it’s an interesting tool, at least I hope that’s not the reason. Are you doing it to create capacity within your business? To decrease costs? To decrease your risk profile through increased consistency and traceability? Are you using it to take a moon shot? You know, that business endeavor you could never do before because the cost of resources was simply too high. What is your purpose? Define it in partnership with your stakeholders, and anchor every aspect of your change program to it.

And how quickly do you want to move? Automation allows change cycles that are incredibly fast — as short as 4 to 6 weeks from start to finish. Is your organization’s infrastructure and culture prepared to move at that speed? What additional risks are generated by moving quickly? Alternately, you can take a more measured approach. This may fit better with your organization’s style, but slow comes with its own risks. Decide on your pace, communicate it clearly, and set your plans accordingly.

Identify and mitigate risk. Now that you’ve decided what you’re trying to accomplish and how quickly you want to get there, identify the risks you’re likely to encounter and put plans in place to minimize the potential down side. We all know that one associate in the department that knows everything — we’ll call her Peggy. Peggy trains all the new hires. Peggy solves all the complex issues that nobody else can figure out. Peggy’s been with the team forever. You need her for your automation journey. Identify the intellectual capital — people — that will be critical as you move forward, and create retention and performance bonus plans to make sure you don’t let it walk out the door before you’re ready.

You may or may not have the skills resident within your group for a successful automation initiative. Plan ahead to re-skill or up-skill people already in the organization, or to begin recruiting for skills you know you’ll need but don’t have. This applies to your leadership levels as well. Just because someone has been a strong operational leader over highly manual activities does not guarantee they can successfully manage a bot-human blended workforce or maintain rapid change cycles. Act early to create retraining and upskilling programs and engage in development activities for your leaders.

Design the “Next Organization.” I’m deliberately not using the phrase “target state organization structure.” As organizations begin leveraging automation tools, the rapid cycles can generate frequent changes to job descriptions, performance management, and even job compensation and career architecture. Traditional organizational infrastructure groups may not be ready to deal with the volume of change, particularly when invited late to the conversation. The importance of working closely, and early, with your human resources partners as you define the “next organization” cannot be overstated.

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