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Tips for Applying Automation to Work

Reinventing jobs a 4-step approach for applying automation to work.

In Reinventing Jobs: A 4-Step Approach for Applying Automation to Work (Harvard Business Review Press, 2018), co-authors Ravin Jesuthasan and John Boudreau make the case that the right leadership can optimize human-automation combinations to get great results. When designed thoughtfully, these arrangements boost efficiency and performance within an organization. They also equip workers to be more creative and valuable.

To get to that point, executives need to work with HR to establish a culture that encourages the continual re-examination of every job within an organization. Business leaders should deconstruct each position to identify its various tasks. Then they need to determine which components can provide the highest return due to improved performance through automation and artificial intelligence.

Jesuthasan, a consultant at Willis Towers Watson and author of Transformative HR (Jossey-Bass, 2011), believes that the biggest change most organizations will face is the shift from a job-based ecosystem to a skills-based one. Addressing that change begins by recognizing the move away from a traditional one-to-one relationship between a person and a position to a "many-to-many" relationship that continually matches skills to tasks.

He recently talked to HR Magazine's Book Blog.

As machines increasingly do work once done by traditional employees, what can the C-suite and HR leaders do to ensure that they're optimizing human-automation combinations?

Leaders need to understand the different types of automation and the ways they can affect work. In our book [Reinventing Jobs], we lay out a four-step framework that deconstructs jobs and categorizes tasks to determine automation compatibility, assess the return on improved performance, identify the relevant type of automation for a particular task and then determine if the optimal solution should be the substitution, augmentation or creation of human labor.

How can employers expect workers to reinvent jobs and optimize automation without being constantly worried about job security in an organization that's continually in flux?

It is essential for employees to be engaged and involved in the journey of reinvention. Leaders must provide the tools workers need to appropriately analyze their work and the opportunities to reinvent their jobs—as well as reasons to keep doing so. Those could include incentives and access to reskilling options that will ensure workers' continued relevance.

Implicit in this "new contract" is a fundamental shift in the value proposition from one of a promise of work to a promise of continued relevance and access to opportunity, either inside or outside the organization.

Is there a danger that human creativity can be stifled in an increasingly automated work environment? And what are some steps that the C-Suite, along with HR, can take to make sure that doesn't happen?

Actually, as we look to substitute repetitive and rules-based work, augment work that is more variable, and create new types of human work, we have a tremendous opportunity to inject more "humanity" into our organizations. The key is emphasizing the more creative and human aspects of work. These are skills that can't be automated but can be augmented to further increase their value to the organization. For example, natural language processing can be used to recognize emotion in a customer's voice and provide a call center representative with a unique script and prompts to manage a stressful and emotional situation.

Interview by David Ward, a freelance journalist based in North Carolina.


​An organization run by AI is not a futuristic concept. Such technology is already a part of many workplaces and will continue to shape the labor market and HR. Here's how employers and employees can successfully manage generative AI and other AI-powered systems.