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In this digital era, where automation could replace up to 800 million jobs by 2030, leadership needs to be more human than ever.

Leaders must communicate effectively and consistently with employees as technology plays a larger role in day-to-day work and possibly requires employees to change roles or re-skill, , says Claude Werder, Vice President and Principal Human Capital Management Analyst  at Brandon Hall Group. It's smart to keep them in the loop, Werder adds, because the more involved they are, the more likely they are to see new technology as an extension of themselves, rather than competition.

“Individuals are motivated by leaders who help them understand their roles and what they can do to adapt and excel as the nature of work changes," Werder explains. To help workers cope with changes driven by emerging technology—be it increasingly automated tasks or new tools—leaders have to be inclusive and transparent to ensure that their workforce feels valued, rather than replaced.

Keep Workers In the Loop

While it’s unrealistic to include every employee in the entirety of a new technology selection process, it's important to involve some employees in the process and communicate progress to all employees along the way, Werder says. Once a company gets serious about adopting a specific new tool, or at least narrows down its list of contenders, leaders should share that information with workers. Explain why the change is coming, share what went into the deliberation and consideration process and, most importantly, outline what the new technology means for certain departments or teams.

New technology can make a worker's life easier by automating a mundane task they waste time on every day. But it's up to leaders to make this connection clear and demonstrate the positive side of tech adoption to start building a relationship between employee and machine. Werder says employees need to learn to see technology as an aid rather than a replacement.

“If workers have a relationship with the technology and they know it can help them do their jobs better, the whole idea of employees becoming disengaged because technology's becoming a bigger part of work shouldn’t be a problem," Werder says. "Once they understand what a tool is for and accept that it's here to help them, their outlook can change from fear to optimism."

Even after the initial technology implementation, it's vital for leaders to maintain transparency and continue to include employees in any technology-driven changes. This is where training plays a central role; ongoing learning that keeps workers up to date on leading practices pertaining to specific tools can help ensure that workers aren't left in the dust while technology continues to mature.

“We have to create an intimate bond between employee and machine, and keep working on it, as you'd work on any relationship," says Werder.

Practice Empathy

Beyond transparency and training, leaders must also learn how to be more emotionally in tune with employees as technological changes occur. The fear that workers may feel about automation—the worry that they'll be left out of a job, or tasked with performing new functions for which they're not prepared—is understandable and justifiable. But leaders are  uniquely positioned to alleviate those fears by clearing up any confusion about how roles will change, or even presenting opportunities for workers to boost their existing skill sets through learning.

To be most helpful, leaders should hone their emotional intelligence skills, particularly around self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and communication, says Werder. The ability to practice empathy is what makes humans different than machines, and it's a skill that's becoming more crucial to the relationship between leaders and employees. It’s important for leaders to have empathy and develop a deep understanding of what their employees are experiencing, be it fear, excitement or another feeling entirely.

“As technology advances, humans have to focus on what differentiates them from machines—their capacity to feel," Werder says.

Photo: Creative Commons