Organizational behaviorist and author Kelly Monahan has dedicated much of her career to helping solve big workplace problems: Such as the misconception amongst employees that all organizations care about is creating profits for shareholders—at any cost. As the lead of Accenture Research's global talent and organization research, she focuses on demonstrating how companies can use advanced technologies to design work in a way that empowers workers and complements their inherent capabilities while helping organizations reach their business goals.
"We are on the cusp of a great opportunity to redesign work to leverage human capabilities in a way that we have not seen before," says Monahan, whose research appears in the book, How Behavioral Economics Influences Decision-Making: A New Paradigm, as well as in journals like MIT Sloan Management Review and Journal of Strategic Management.
As organizations implement new technologies designed to simplify work, it's easy to let old paradigms shape employees' perspectives, according to Monahan. It's tempting for an employee to think: "this technology can work faster and better than I can. It's here to replace me so that my employer can cut costs." But this is faulty reasoning, and the onus is on organizations to demonstrate to their workforce how technology can help them work better, rather than make them obsolete, Monahan says. Below, she explains how to shape a relationship between humans and technology that makes work more productive and enjoyable.
A Framework for Finding Meaning
In her book, Monahan introduces business executives and HR leaders to an effective new framework for the best ways to develop relevant management skills for hiring, performance management, change management, employee engagement and goal setting, all of which are designed to cultivate a healthy, mutually-beneficial relationship between human and machine. Fundamentally, Monahan's framework calls for a shift in managerial mindset from a mechanistic-industrial worldview that favors planning, controlling, directing and organizing to one that seeks to motivate, coach and develop intellectual capital.
It can be challenging for managers and HR teams to fight the notion that technology is here to steal jobs. But technology is not the enemy—in fact, Monahan stresses that technology can give leaders the freedom to hand off some of their administrative and routine tasks to automated systems so that they can not only focus on tasks that require critical thinking, but also take time to gain new valuable skills and impart them onto others.
In practice, this means that rather than blindly rushing to assign tasks out, managers can use the time that automation saves to identify workers' strengths and cater to them, as well as find opportunities to challenge and develop them through learning initiatives and mentorship. Simply put, this technology-enabled "Brave New World" gives executives and HR leaders the ability to change the dynamic of work from meaningless to meaningful at a faster pace.
If leaders continue to rely on humans to tackle mundane work, worker morale will plateau and company output will suffer, Monahan warns, adding that today's advancing technologies can do the "soul-less work" much better than humans anyway. Redesigning work in the favor of humans, on the other hand, will enable them to add more value and meaning to the customer and the organization.
What does this "redesign" look like? Monahan says managers should aim to deliberately give humans more opportunities to use their cognitive and social skills to engage with their colleagues and customers, tackling the tasks that simply can't be automated. Instead of having a bot take customer service calls, for example, have an employee tackle conversations with customers who are having problems with your product. No bot can show empathy the way a human can, but approaching a sensitive conversation effectively can mean the difference between a repaired relationship and lost business.
As new technologies continue to disrupt work, Monahan cautions organizations against overlooking the "people part" of the technology implementation process. "We know from research that people are the lynchpin to a digital transformation's success. Leaders who are able to actively engage their people are much more likely to experience not just success—but greater satisfaction throughout the change."
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