“We tend to give up on our employees too quickly”

by HRD23 Feb 2018

There is an inherent assumption in Australian workplaces that people won't - or can't - change for a new role when it comes to job redesign as a result of automation or restructure, according to Dr Edwin Trevor-Roberts, CEO of Career Management firm, Trevor-Roberts

“We tend to give up on our employees too quickly,” he said.

Dr. Trevor-Roberts argues that approaches like that which NAB has taken are often the least effective. NAB is set to cut 6,000 jobs due to automation, with 1,000 announced this week to go over the next six months.

Dr. Trevor-Roberts said if a significant part of a job is changed due to automation, most organisations believe it is quicker and easier to retrench the person in that role and hire someone new with the skills required.

“There are a few trends that, if taken together, suggest that a better outcome could be achieved if we focus on our existing employees.”

“Firstly, employees are capable of learning new skills: Whilst early scientific evidence suggested that our brains were 'fixed', recent evidence has refuted this belief showing that the adult brain is 'plastic' and can re-wire itself to learn new skills.” said Dr. Trevor-Roberts.

“Secondly, whilst this seems obvious to say, employers must believe in their employees.”

Indeed, research by Rosenthal and Jacobson found that simply believing in your employees made them improve.

Called the Pygmalion Effect, staff with leaders who believe they can change and improve will in fact change and improve.

This study shows that if organisations and leaders believe that employees won't adapt to the new technological environment and can't learn new skills then they won't. Organisations tend to give up on their employees too early, thinking they can't, or don’t want to, make the change.

“This is a profound leadership lesson and one that is highly relevant in today’s everchanging workplace”.

Thirdly, there is so much talk about the changing nature of jobs that people expect their job to change. Dr. Trevor-Roberts explains that there is an acceptance (albeit a reluctant one at times) that employees will have to adapt and learn new skills.

“People largely acknowledge that they must take some responsibility to adjust to these changes.”

The most common reasons for job redesigns are new technologies or processes that enhance the customer experience.

Dr Trevor-Roberts added that that change can actually motivate employees, as these changes can foster an employee’s desire to help others, which is one of the key motivators in the workplace. This is because it provides a sense of meaning for individuals.

“Few organisations appreciate how valuable this rationale is and how much people will adapt and invest discretionary effort to help customers.”

Dr Trevor-Roberts explains that there are two discrete steps involved in bringing people along on the journey to reskill employees rather than retrenching them.

“The first is to build employee’s adaptability. Career adaptability is the capacity to think of oneself differently and be open to changing contexts. It is a mindset of being open to learning new things, exploring new ideas and being willing to try (and fail sometimes!).

"This step often missed in culture change processes where the emphasis jumps straight to the technical learning rather than the mindset required to succeed with the acquisition of new skills.

“The second step is to build the new skills that are required. The great advances in combining adult learning principles with technology now allow for innovative delivery mechanisms for learning. Two of these are micro-learning and augmented reality.”

“There are unlikely to be many jobs that won't change in the next few years because of the impact of automation and technology. As jobs are redesigned on an increasingly regular frequency, it is more important than ever to not give up on employees too soon,” said Dr. Trevor-Roberts.

“Organisations much help employees to adapt and evolve to the new roles first and only use redundancy as a last resort.”

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