How Work Gets Done in the “Now” Normal

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ID 156033153 © Andrii Yalanskyi |

Since the dawn of automation, the focus has been on increasing productivity. Frederick Taylor, a pioneer of efficiency, started the automation movement by redefining how workers did their jobs during the second industrial revolution.

Taylor’s focus was to increase productivity and consistency of work through repeatability and standardization of work activities. In the century since his death in 1915, technology has advanced his concepts to a point where it has fundamentally and substantially changed the workplace, companies and economies. Productivity gains from technology have been the primary drivers of GDP.

Within companies, automation has moved from the manufacturing floor and back office to the front office and beyond the extended ecosystem. It has redefined how companies sell, distribute, collaborate with suppliers and partners, interact with prospects and customers, and manage their employees and contractors.

Enterprise software applications like financial systems, enterprise resource planning (ERP), supply chain (SCM), and customer relationship management (CRM), to name a few, perfected Taylor’s concepts of automation by predefining and codifying how routine, repeatable tasks are performed. The goal was to perform each task faster, more accurately with less human involvement; theoretically to free the employee to perform higher level or more creative activities.

Because of how these systems are designed, workers are forced to structure their work around how the systems function. How often have you been told by an accounts payable clerk, inventory manager or manufacturing engineer that they couldn’t do something because of ‘the system’? How often have you gotten a new piece of software only to unlearn the very process you wanted to automate in the first place. A classic case of the tail wagging the dog.

We’ve all benefited from the productivity gains of software but the gaps are becoming expensive and glaring in innovation, actualizing business strategy, and synchronizing company activities in light of constantly changing priorities. The gaps and workarounds build in rigidity threatening our ability to flexibly and quickly respond to the current economic situation and innovate for company survival.

What is lacking is the ability to holistically direct and manage a business from all angles — top-down, bottom-up, and sideways. While existing systems excel at routine task automation, they do not help employees understand their current work priorities or help them to understand their role in the context of the company’s changing business strategy.

Wouldn’t companies be more successful and agile (and fun to work at) if software proactively informed workers of new priorities based on strategy changes and pivots? Wouldn’t managers be more effective if they were automatically alerted to the effect of decisions made by others and how they impact on their group’s milestones?

What businesses need in this economic climate is automation that synchronizes priorities and actions instead of data gathering, processing, reconciling and reporting. It’s a proven fact is that workers are more productive if they understand how their role and contributions relate to achieving company goals. I call that ‘dot connecting’. And employees at all levels understand how top-down decisions impact them directly.

The interesting part is the technology exists today to do this. It’s not AI, AR/XR, IoT or any of the gee-whizzy tech that fills the news headlines and advertisements.

Imagine if a company had an automated framework within which everyone worked. As management decides on particular courses of action, objectives and priorities are automatically cascaded down the organization and shared with employees ensuring company alignment and synchronization. New priorities are reflected not only in employee performance plans but also in their ongoing task lists and in departmental and team plans and goals. As various parts of the business work on actualizing the strategy, managers have real-time status on the progress made across the organization. As customer and market conditions change, the impact on progress and business objectives was automatically assessed, revised, and cascaded down to employees who are alerted in real-time to new objectives, priorities and gaps.

Now let’s imagine that an event occurs that requires the strategy to be changed. That same framework is used to update the strategy and company plans. However, because everyone in the company works within the framework, the revised strategy and new priorities are immediately visible and reflected in every employee’s priorities. Questions, conflicts, inconsistencies and constraints are logged within the system by any employee. These are immediately visible, as well as their impact on target results, to other employees and managers who can collaborate on and resolve gaps and issues.

The claim that managing strategy and organizational alignment is by its very nature what leaders are paid to do just doesn’t fit our economic reality anymore. Yet people stick to these long-held corporate beliefs that “gut instinct” should be the prevailing decider of business decisions rather than data-driven insights and analysis. On the contrary, these are the very areas where automation can have the greatest impact on business growth, profitability, employee satisfaction, and customer preference for the brand.

If these gaps are closed, businesses could be managed with a greater degree of foresight, speed and agility; it could dramatically change the economic cycle we’re in and rebalance employment. And that would make everyone’s life a heck of a lot less frustrating in today’s ‘now’ normal.

Sounds farfetched? I don’t think so. The technology is here with SaaS, MDM, RPA, MMM and innovation systems.