And as manager, you have to address the uncertainty that your employees will naturally feel when their work for example is to be replaced by a robot, i.e. some form of automated process. Do you really think that the robot can do the job as well as I can? I have worked like this for 15 years, and now you suddenly expect me to work in a completely different way? Will I become redundant?

Regardless of whether your company is considering or has implemented AI, RPA or a complete digital transformation, there is one issue that applies across all types of change. And that is the need to handle the emotional responses from the people of the company, which give rise to questions such as the above.

 It begins with you

But before you can help your employees find their role in a new digital work life, you have to come to terms with your own role, which is sure to have changed at least as much as the roles of your employees. Do you feel sufficiently competent to advise your employees on your new digital tools and processes? Are you clear on the strategy defined by the executive management, and do you know how to communicate it your employees? Will you become redundant in a digital workplace?

You do not necessarily have to have all the answers to the above questions, but you have to be able to understand your own reaction to the many unavoidable changes before you will be able to help your employees handle their own feelings of uncertainty. In times of constant change, it is an impossible task to have all the answers, and as manager, you have to come to terms with the fact that this is okay. You can thus help your employees understand that they also do not have to know all the answers.

In other words, if we are unable to find the courage to act and lead both in and outside our comfort zone, we will instinctively seek to gain control, manage, plan, predict and protect us from the changes, which is an impossible task.

 The human factor in change

It is actually misleading to talk about change as an external influence. Real change happens from the inside out, meaning that the change will only truly take place once it has been accepted by the individual. And we are unable to create this accept among our employees, we cannot expect them to change, no matter how much pressure we apply!

Let us take a quick look at the traditional view on how people respond to change. We all have six core needs which must be fulfilled in order for us to feel safe in our everyday lives (Source: Being First Inc.). Of course, the weighing depends on the nature of the individual. But you do not need a doctorate in psychology to understand that the majority of these core needs are under constant pressure in a time characterised by the buzzwords disruption, agility and transformation.

If I were to give an example of how some of the human core needs are challenged, it could look as follows:

Security: A far higher degree of changing organisational structures, forms of cooperation, roles and basic changes to the “core service” I am used to providing.

Inclusion: It is the “situation” and the specific problem/solution that determines my participation and not my role.

Power: I first and foremost prefer to have shifting influence on the processes, and the result will in many situations be unpredictable.

Control: I will not be able to control the result, and as manager, I must be able to rely on the framework set up by me to ensure the expected effect. I will increasingly not be able to established traditional waterfall-based development processes.

Competence: Information on new technologies, changes, etc. will to an increasing extent challenge my feeling of “being good enough” at keeping up.

It is about feelings

Just as we all share the same core needs, we also basically react emotionally in the same way. Whether or not we are talking large or small changes, we all go through the same emotional stages as illustrated in the “traditional” change curve (Source: Being First Inc.). It is human to feel more secure when you know the direction of the change taking place, and when you can  clearly see the road ahead. You would traditionally lead the change by engaging and communicating throughout the individual stages of the change process to ensure that the employees make their way through the change curve as quickly as possible. But in a context of 4.0 and disruption, you may find yourself leading both yourself and your employees through many change curves while having to construct both the result and the path to getting there as you go along.

How do you learn to feel secure with uncertainty and change?

In other words, we have to be able to understand and work systematically with the human dynamics as both managers and employees. But you cannot do this without understanding your own emotional response in the different change processes. How else would you be able to understand the emotional response of others?

Begin by understanding the resistance

The first step should therefore be to accept that it is perfectly normal to react with resistance to change. This is only a natural reaction to the threat that the change constitutes to our core needs.

Create acceptance of the change through dialogue

The second step should be to create the same level of acceptance among your employees and to show understanding and empathy for their natural resistance. Create a space for dialogue on the consequences of Industry 4.0 and the specific changes that are facing you as both a workplace and as individuals, and do not think that you will be able to take care of this during the annual appraisal interview.

Create motivation through incentives and ownership

The third step should, in my view, be to focus on how you as manager can create motivation and incentives for innovation and the great ideas. Set up brainstorming sessions and workshops in which employees across the companies are encouraged to provide input on how your company should handle the technological challenges and opportunities. Idea boxes or groups on the intranet are also ways of creating drive and making the employees (and yourself) accustomed to thinking in new and unconventional ways. The challenge to the manager role is to make the employees feel that their input and ideas are taken seriously, and that it is not merely an exercise in engagement for show. Honour the best ideas, and engage your employees in realising them. By giving your employees a feeling of shared responsibility, you are also helping to fulfil their core needs inclusion and power.

Make sure you have the right competences

The last but no less important step is to create a feeling of security among your employees by seeking to fulfil their (and your own) core need to feel competent. Continuous development and further training of your employees (and yourself) has never been more important if you are to ensure that your competences match the new ways of working and tools that a digital workplace can offer.

So when the executive management team in your company gets the great idea to buy robots, and they are surprised that the employees are not cheering with excitement, you can always explain to them that it is perfectly human.

This article war originally printed in the magazine “Ledelse i udvikling” under the name: “Husk mennesket i den digitale ligning”.