Yesterday I had the pleasure of taking part in a workshop on the digital workplace in a Danish municipality. I had been invited as an external ‘expert’ to challenge the conventional thinking. It was a really positive session and I found the invited people very committed to the task and the end result was not bad at all. Of course it is limited what you can achieve in a 2-hour workshop but in the end I’m sure it provided some good input for the process going forward.
One thing that stuck with me and that I thought about in the car on the way home was a specific situation. The participants were divided into three groups of four each tasked with describing a day in the life of a pre-defined persona – great stuff. The group I was a part of got the classical admin person who are abundant in all companies – also local authorities. Well into the process of describing “A day in the life of….” one of my fellow group members paused and reflected for a second about the very first question that was asked in the workshop:
How has the digital workplace changed the way we work in 2019?
“Well,” he said, “…have you thought about that if you ask our persona this question in 2019 she is likely to answer that she really doesn’t care much for the digital workplace as it put her out of her job around 2017 if we succeed with our vision?”. A somewhat nervous laughter spread around the table after realising that the participants were involved in putting themselves out of a job….
As an external observer this was quite interesting. I’m of course fully aware about the fact that a well designed and integrated digital workplace will result in process improvement and speedier resolution of tasks but I have rarely come across cases where layoffs are a direct consequence of an improved digital tool. This is either because successful businesses always are in need of a pair of hands somewhere else or because the change in resources is handled as a part of the project. This may very well be the case in public administration as well, but increased efficiency is much more likely to mean redundancies as admin functions are automated.
As a tax payer I am happy since this is bound to result in better service at the same or lower cost, but I can’t help but to think a little about the people who essentially are busy putting themselves out of work. Here it becomes very important that any change management focus on the people aspect very early in the process and that you handle the outplacement at a very early stage. If this is not done – and because the development is so obvious that the people spot at the very first workshop 5 years before the end – you run a risk of creating a high level of uncertainty in the organisation and it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in psychology to come to the conclusion that you are likely to have a number of people working against the very promise of the digital workplace and that is certainly a situation you don’t want to find yourself in so make sure to communicate openly and honestly as early as possible – in the end this is the very foundation of all sound and good change management.