Feb 13, 2018 Lauren Ruef
Automation isn’t just a “nice to have” option. It’s an indicator of workplace satisfaction.
The world is changing, and don’t we know it. Artificial intelligence, robot process automation, and Blockchain are making big, future-focused promises, leaving menial tasks up to the machines, and humans scratching their heads at what’s next.
Rumors of the coming automation revolution is a compilation of what we’ve seen in futuristic movies about robot empires and dystopian social networks. And whether it’s accurate or not, the fear is that automation is coming for our job next. So the natural question is—how soon?
Illustrated by Ryan Mason
Despite what Hollywood would have us believe, automation isn’t a scary outside force coming for our jobs. Rather, it’s a facilitator for human flourishing and a driver toward the good kind of change —a job that employs our truest potential.
Automation is the key to workplace satisfaction, and it begins with planning a trajectory for growth to move your team away from menial, rote tasks, to rewarding strategic engagement.
Wholesale automation is a false alarm
The McKinsey Global Institute released a lengthy report in January 2017 called A Future That Works: Automation, Employment, and Productivity, where it measures and projects the effects of automation on the world’s largest industries. McKinsey Global Institute Partner Michael Chui shares insights on how to prepare for automation’s impact on millions of jobs.
“The right way to look at automation, the right way to look at the potential for automation is at the level of individual activities, not entire jobs. It’s very rare we found in our research, less than 5 percent of jobs can have all of their activities automated by adapting currently demonstrated technologies.”
So before you hit the panic button, consider that it’s highly unlikely that all aspects of your job are eligible for automation if you are in accounts payable. But there are tasks associated with your job that could be. Maybe it’s stuffing vendor checks into envelopes at the end of each month, chasing approver signatures in or outside of the office to complete a payment batch, or undertaking the tireless effort of updating vendor banking information to ensure payments are sent correctly. This may be functional now, but it won’t last.
Autonomy, mastery, purpose
Left-brained, highly predictable activities like data entry and crunching numbers are the widest target for automation, and for more reasons than one. It’s easier for algorithms to replace human activity in a spreadsheet than it is to hand over something like management responsibilities to automation. Software can do tasks like data analysis faster, and much more efficiently, saving its human counterparts from rote functions that are otherwise just necessary evils of the job.
But if this is true, why haven’t we automated menial tasks in the workplace already? As Author Daniel Pink says, “there is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.”
Ouch. So that means we’re behind the times? Probably.
In Pink’s best-selling book Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, he shares three primary drivers in any workplace that motivate people: autonomy, mastery, and purpose. He defines these three values in his TED talk on workplace motivation in these exact words:
- Autonomy: The urge to direct our own lives.
- Mastery: The desire to get better and better at something that matters.
- Purpose: The yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
The best managers know, and care, that their teams are engaged and contributing on their terms (autonomy) express a clear desire to incrementally improve in their work (mastery) and most importantly, care why they’re doing it (purpose).
However, if Accounts Payable, is too heavily mired in manual processes, these motivators all but disappear. Regardless of the job description, there aren’t many people who truly enjoy the painstaking details of data entry, or dealing with the printer when it jams for the third time in a day or fielding an angry call from a vendor whose payment is late, again. These are not fun, rewarding perks of the job, which begs the question: Why are so many of us still doing them?
Workplace satisfaction > menial tasks
Automating parts of the job that are stressful, frustrating, or tedious shows that a company’s leadership cares to leverage their teams’ strategic skill sets, instead of just expecting them to fill in the gaps of immediate needs.
Increasingly, tasks in AP are falling outside the bounds of what’s reasonable with the automation opportunities available. Running checks between buildings, shipping off batches in the mail to get signed by a remote approver isn’t exactly what your AP team signed up for, and if they don’t have to do those things at another company, they might just move on.
McKinsey Global Institute Partner Michael Chui shares the importance of leaders seeing automation as need, not a luxury.
“As a senior leader, as a general manager, as an executive you need to start to understand these technologies themselves, and find out what’s actually possible, and how these technologies are advancing over time. Because there’s no industry, there’s no role there’s no function that could not be potentially impacted by some of these technologies. And by the way, if you don’t understand how that might happen, your competitors will.”
Learn to elevate your accounts payable staff to strategic roles through harnessing the power of front-end automation, electronic payments, or vendor management services. By automating menial, repetitive tasks, your company can move at the pace you desire, and your staff will happily automate rote tasks they’ve outgrown.