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Brain circuits

How to assess whether it’s time to automate

IbyIMD+ Published 20 January 2022 in Brain circuits • 4 min read

As employers grapple with labor shortages in some industries and countries, and the challenges involved in the recruitment process, it’s a good time to consider whether you should be looking at automation to fill some of your staffing gaps. But it’s important to consider the full implications of automating any aspects of your operations.

The first step you should take is to assess the maturity of your shared service operation.

Level 1: If you are at the sub-optimized stage, you are just starting to think about a service delivery model that optimizes your non-core business processes, such as finance and accounting, or human resources. You have probably recognized that fragmented processes are holding you back and are costly, as well as unreliable, and the quality could be improved. Therefore, you should start with a limited number of functions to develop processes that will service the business with limited governance. 

Level 2: If you are at the rationalized stage, you already have a consolidated service delivery model and are able to leverage economies of scale from transactional services across a number of functions, with a delivery center set-up where you might benefit from wage arbitrage. There is likely to be variation in terms of inclusion of processes and supporting technology. You are using outsourcing models tactically, but you still need to further develop governance.. 

Level 3: If you are at the strategic stage, then you have a shared service model that seeks to be at the stage of continuous improvement in terms of process optimization, leveraging of technology, and governance with global process owners.  

Level 4: If you are at the stage of having integrated business services, then you have a multifunctional service delivery model with coordinated and technologically supported processes, and a governance system that allows smooth interaction with the business. Typically, this also means having found a balance of capabilities internally and externally that deliver services with clearly defined global process owners.  

Before you proceed with implementation of any digital shared services, do a check for the following:

1) degree of process change

2) degree of technological change

3) degree of standardization of process

4) degree of internal capabilities – the greater the process and technological change and the lower the standardization of the process and available capabilities, the more you need to potentially re-evaluate your ability to deliver on your business case.                              

Also, keep in mind the social responsibility of business leaders to ensure training is available for low-paid workers in highly automatable sectors who are unprepared to move into the new roles technology will create, along with advising government policy on education that would boost workforce development.

Here are 5 questions you can ask yourself, to help initiate activities that will support this: 

  1. Have you(re)created your “safe space”? 

If you are working in an office that you haven’t seen for a year you might want to add things that help you relax and make you feel good: plants, photos of loved ones or pets, or your personal favorite mug. Make an effort to eat lunch with colleagues you already know so that you feel safe and among friends. Engage in office chatter again. 

  1. Are you helping your colleagues? 

I need a break – or even more importantly: “you need a break”. In the military you call this “to command sleep”. We are predisposed to thinking about leadership as commanding action – doing something.

However, battle psychology tells us that “commanding inaction” – rest, skipping a routine, staying put – is just as important 

You become stronger by helping others. From battle psych we know that those soldiers who do best help their friends. So, try to think of something that would be helpful to your colleagues. For instance, call five colleagues and have a 10minute conversation with each about their wellbeing – asking not ‘are you OK?’ but ‘are you really OK? 

  1. Find and visit your sanctuary 

Leading through a crisis you need sanctuary where you can reflect, re-energize and recalibrate. 

It’s about connecting with the activities, relationships and hobbies that give you pure joy and energy and allowing others space for the same. 

Sometimes those sanctuaries are the first we give up under pressure. In NATO units it was mandatory to exercise and especially during crises.   

  1. Are you dealing with survivors’ guilt? 

Feelings of guilt are very common right now based on questions such as: Why didn’t I get sick? Why did I keep my job when others didn’t? You may even end up believing that your actionsor inability to actled to someone else’s distress.   

Don’t try to deny that the feeling of guilt is there. Instead ask yourself: Is the amount of responsibility I am assuming reasonable? Could I really have prevented lay offs? Did I do my best at the time, under the circumstances? 

  1. Are you moving your body? 

It’s so obvious yet so often neglected and so powerful: reconnect with your exercise regime if you haven’t done so. Start slowly to ease yourself into a new rhythm. 

Remember, healing doesn’t mean that you’ll forget all about the pandemic. And it doesn’t mean you’ll have no regrets. What it does mean is that you’ll come to see the part you played in perspective.  


Bettina Büchel - IMD Professor

Bettina Büchel

Professor of Strategy and Organization at IMD

Bettina Büchel has been Professor of Strategy and Organization at IMD since 2000. Her research topics include strategy implementation, new business development, strategic alliances, and change management. She is Program Director of the Internet of Things program and the Strategy Execution course.


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