Employees benefit from digitalization

Supermarket employee teaching customers about produce.

Photo courtesy of Next Step
When workers in one Nordic supermarket were freed from cashier duty by robots, they found higher work satisfaction becoming experts in store sections and helping customers.

Jennifer Vessels
Next Step—Silicon Valley & Oslo, Norway

While robots that vacuum the carpet, mow the lawn, or deliver lunch are cute time savers, their possible entry into the workplace can be scary. Employees who have spent years performing a routine task can be threatened by the idea of technology taking over their jobs. People in customer-facing roles (cashiers, bank tellers, check-in agents) may argue that use of self-service or remote interfaces dehumanizes the company.

Business leaders today know they must digitalize to compete, survive, and grow in today’s world. However, success is often contingent on employee support. A recent Forbes study of two thousand global companies found that 80 percent considered their digitalization effort a failure—due to lack of management support or employee adoption. By investing the resources and time needed to gain employee commitment, companies can avoid the disappointment, cost, and lost opportunity that comes with a failed project.

Increasing employee freedom and value through technology
Gaining support starts with understanding why and how technology can enhance the employees’ work life. This can be a greater ease of completing projects, the ability to work from home occasionally, or opportunities to learn new skills—possibly leading to higher salaries.

In many companies, use of technology frees people from performing mundane tasks such as data entry or manual production line work. They are then able to move up the chain so that their contributions are valued more highly. Consider the accountant who used to simply log expenses and transactions into the bookkeeping system. By encouraging clients to electronically transmit and store this data, the employee has time to analyze expense patterns and provide the client with valuable advice on ways to reduce expenses.

In the Nordic countries, the high cost and limited availability of employees, combined with the need for competitive growth, has led to widespread use of technology from self-service check ins to online banking services. However, digitalization remains a challenge for many traditional, retail, and professional service businesses.

For success, digital initiative needs to meet the following criteria:
1. Engage managers and employees in discussions and workshops to understand the positive impacts of digitalization

2. Provide training or resources for employees to learn the new skills required for future success

3. Be integrated into all employee development and reward programs

4. Demonstrate ways in which employees can benefit from technology

Ultimately, digitalization, whether it is through introduction of robotics or new systems to streamline operations, will lead to more interesting work, greater employee engagement, and increased company value.

Case study: Leveraging digitalization to increase revenue and employee satisfaction
With new online competition, success in the retail grocery market is increasingly challenging. When tasked with implementation of technology to reduce the cost and increase efficiency of customer checkout, one Nordic supermarket leadership team took a creative approach.

As they piloted new self-serve checkout stations, they found customers were both unsure of how to use the kiosks to scan and pay and concerned that adoption would cause the local cashiers to lose their jobs. To address these issues, a few cashiers were trained to help customers use the kiosks while welcoming back customers and encouraging shoppers to visit again for specials.

This led to faster checkouts via the kiosks and more return visits, while the employees found they enjoyed the customer interaction. The store manager then created a new training program for employees to gain in-depth knowledge in a particular product area. They were then assigned to departments of the store (meat, produce, household items) in which they would be available to answer customer questions, provide advice, or guide shoppers to new or promotional items.

The result was higher store revenues, increased customer loyalty, and differentiation as the store where customers preferred shop. However the real benefit was to the employees who were freed from repetitively scanning items, accepting payments, and offering receipts to delivering real value to customers and their company.

All industries are adopting technology, whether its robotics, self-service kiosks, artificial intelligence, or online systems. By committing to digitalization and then facilitating employee adoption and training in new skills, business leaders can increase their company’s results while enhancing employee satisfaction and value.

This article was provided to The Norwegian American by Jennifer Vessels of Silicon Valley and Oslo. She is CEO of Next Step, which has led digitalization for Adobe, Autodesk, Avinor, Nevion, Posti, ShoreTel, and more. She can be reached at jvessels@nextstepgrowth.com.

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 22, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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