Don’t Panic – R2D2 Doesn’t Want Your Job

Robots in Workplace Automated Jobs

As technology and mechanization become widely available and evermore integral to operations in the workplace, a dynamic between human and robotic workmanship has emerged. This clash has lead many individuals and companies asking about job insecurity.

Will my job be taken by a robot?

One of the first breakthroughs in automation in the workplace was a paper written by Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne in 2013. In their paper, “The Future of Employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?”, Frey and Osborne analyzed the probability of 702 occupations being automated. They estimate that 47% of these positions are at high risk (between 70 and 100 percent chance) of being automated. Since then, the internet has spun itself into a unfounded, alarmist spiral of Mother Jones fear-mongering. Frey and Osbourne warn against this kind of behavior in their paper:

“We make no attempt to estimate the number of jobs that will actually be automated, and focus on potential job automatability over some unspecified number of years … we expect [high risk jobs] could be automated relatively soon, perhaps over the next decade or two.” (48)

These probabilities aside, what can robots do in the workplace that make them so worthy of creation? Boston Dynamics has helped pioneer fully-capable robots. Their line of robots are uniquely designed for specific tasks. Atlas, their newest in the line, is a humanoid built robot that has arms and legs, a sense of balance and depth perception. Watch Atlas in action here:

In theory, Atlas could do certain jobs, like delivery or surveying – both of which are singled out by Frey and Osborne as automatable, but Atlas and his cousins lack many human aspects that not make them up to snuff for certain tasks. Frankly, machines still lack the emotional component that made HAL 9000 such a successfully terrifying supervillian, but make humans unmatched for certain tasks. In fact, the occupations with the lowest risk of automation are those that deal with either managing large amounts of people and/or those that handle an emotional response, i.e. upper management, clergy, therapists, and counselors.

Will robots help or hurt?

The apex of the automation debate has been the discussion around replacing cashiers with kiosks in fast-food restaurants. Several chains have replaced traditional ordering with kiosks, automated vending, and mobile apps. Since 2015, McDonald’s has added ordering kiosks in most of their 14,000 locations. While polls indicate that most Americans prefer to order from human cashiers, McDonald’s reports that kiosks cut down on wait times and increase order accuracy. Other reports indicate that kiosks may help keep restaurants and their food cleaner by allowing employees to focus on table service and decreases the contamination of food by those interacting with people and money.

What jobs can robots do?

Robotics can improve more than just fast food companies. In their book, Machine, Platform, Crowd: Harnessing Our Digital Future, authors Andrew McAfee and Erik Brynjolfsson describe three main categories, the Three D’s, of jobs that robots are “taking” for humans:

  1. Dull jobs are tedious or cause repetitive stress injuries to humans.
  2. Dirty, or “Mike Rowe jobs,” are those that most Americans don’t think about, but they need to be done. Australian mining company, Rio Tinto, has already invested in “robo-trucks” to explore quarries of metals and diamonds.
  3. Most robots are being used to complete dangerous tasks. Military and police forces have long used drones, bomb diffusion robots, and, yes, the first Robo-Cop is employed by the Dubai Police Force.

Bonus: engineers and companies have recently used two more categories, “The Domestic” (like the Roomba that self-vacuums your floor) and “The Dexterous” (like the da Vinci system that performs minimally invasive surgeries) to describe areas where robots are also used.

While machines may be doing jobs that humans have done, it’s not quite true to to say that automation is taking jobs away from people. Robots are doing the jobs that people don’t want, and freeing humans to focus on advancing in places robots cannot operate.

Even more promising, Gartner found that, by 2020, more jobs will be created through the use of automation, than jobs automation will eliminate. The research firm found that 1.8 million jobs will likely be eliminated by automation or artificial intelligence, but will create 2.3 million jobs in the same amount of time. In their press release, Gartner posited:

“AI will improve the productivity of many jobs…[and will create] millions more new positions of highly skilled, management and even the entry-level and low-skilled variety.”

How may we help you: robots in call centers

One of the most at-risk occupations for automation are call center jobs. According to the BBC, call centers around the world may be soon using AI to replace millions of employees. On the other hand, T -Mobile CEO John Legere announced earlier this month that the company would be revamping their call centers to employ humans exclusively. In his announcement, Legere referred to the modern call center experience of phone menus, canned phrases and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems, “a massive digital fortress” that fails customers. Legere was so confident in the system that he alluded to customers abandoning competitors Verizon and and AT&T in favor of their customer service. He remarked about his competitors, “They are big. They are really good at sucking.”

While it is true that many companies are beginning to rely more on IVR systems over human representatives, customers still prefer speaking to human representatives than robots. And when 90% of companies say they compete in customer service, it may be more pertinent to keep hiring people for customers to talk to.

In essence, yes, automatons and AI are being used more in work environments. Whether it’s a threat to humans or if they are aiding human advancement in the workplace is uncertain. As much as half of all occupations may be subject to robot replacement, but to do so would be costly. While it may be pertinent to keep an eye on the growth of robotics, an alarmist attitude towards robotics is unwarranted. Look forward to more mechanical advances in the workplace. Sooner than we think, we could be working alongside C-3PO, WALL-E, or Jinx.


Worklogix Worklogix partners with clients to plan, configure, develop and integrate HR products and custom applications. We have assembled a global team with years of experience implementing HCM solutions. Our team is dedicated to understanding your business challenges, helping you leverage your technology and implement solutions that deliver results.


Baraniuk, Chris. 2018. “How Talking Machines Are Taking Call Centre Jobs”. BBC News. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45272835.
“Boston Dynamics | Changing Your Idea Of What Robots Can Do”. 2018. Bostondynamics.Com. http://www.bostondynamics.com/.
Drum, Kevin. 2017. “You Will Lose Your Job To A Robot—And Sooner Than You Think”. Mother Jones. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/10/you-will-lose-your-job-to-a-robot-and-sooner-than-you-think/.
Frey, Carl Benedikt, and Michael A. Osborne. 2013. “The Future Of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs To Computerisation?”. Oxford Martin Programme On Technology And Employment. http://www.oxfordmartin.ox.ac.uk/downloads/academic/future-of-employment.pdf.
“Gartner Says By 2020, Artificial Intelligence Will Create More Jobs Than It Eliminates”. 2017. Gartner.Com. http://www.gartner.com/newsroom/id/3837763.
Johnson, Hollis. 2018. “We Tried The Kiosks That Analysts Say Could Help Mcdonald’s Win Back $2.7 Billion In Sales. Here’s The Verdict.”. Business Insider. Accessed August 23 2018. http://www.businessinsider.com/mcdonalds-kiosk-vs-cashiers-photos-2018-3.
Marr, Bernard. 2017. “The 4 Ds Of Robotization: Dull, Dirty, Dangerous And Dear”. Forbes.Com. http://www.forbes.com/sites/bernardmarr/2017/10/16/the-4-ds-of-robotization-dull-dirty-dangerous-and-dear/#950aa473e0df.
Sorofman, Jake. 2018. “Gartner Surveys Confirm Customer Experience Is The New Battlefield”. Gartner.com. blogs.gartner.com/jake-sorofman/gartner-surveys-confirm-customer-experience-new-battlefield/.
Vanian, Jonathan. 2018. “T-Mobile CEO John Legere Wants To Make Customer Service Something People Don’t Hate”. Fortune.Com. http://fortune.com/2018/08/15/tmobile-customer-service-wireless/.
Witsoe, Craig. 2017. “Self-Ordering Will Be The New Normal In Fast Food”. Linkedin.Com. http://www.linkedin.com/pulse/self-ordering-new-normal-fast-food-craig-witsoe/.

Performance Reviews: Can’t Live with ’em, Can’t Operate a Productive Workspace Without ’em

Performance reviews give feedback

Companies large and small are recently being asked to forgo employee evaluations. When industry giants like Adobe, Cigna, Microsoft, and GE give up on performance reviews, it’s easy to assume that it’s all for the good of the organization, but the evidence is mixed. Why, suddenly, are organizations passing up performance reviews and what good is it really doing?

Why ditch the performance review process?

According to the Harvard Business Review, by 2015 thirty large companies had either altered and reduced their performance reviews or had thrown them out altogether for their combined 1.5 million employees. These companies claimed that performance reviews were failing. Failing how, though? The four major reasons employers say they have replaced or removed their performance review process are:

  1. Numbers lie: Reviewers are increasingly finding it difficult to quantify work done by employees, especially when an emphasis is put on team projects – where does one person’s effort end and where does another person’s effort begin?
  2. Cohesion and collaboration: Performance reviews aren’t like grading a test, only a certain amount of As, Bs, and Cs can be given out. This hurts team cohesion when employees feel they did more work but received a poorer rating than a coworker.
  3. Limiting engagement: Annual performance reviews mean that, often, managers only meet with employees and discuss their progress and performance once a year. Removing performance reviews, apparently, encourages employers to speak to employees more often.
  4. Honesty and Openness: Both reviewers and reviewees report that they can have a more open and honest dialogue about tasks and workload when they don’t have to justify a rating come performance review time.

So, how do ratingless performance reviews work? 

If performance reviews don’t work, then what does?

Consulting firm ETS tracked the performance review changes from 6 major corporations; Accenture, Adobe, Amazon, Deloitte, Google, and Netflix. Each of these organizations has a specific replacement for traditional performance reviews. In 2015, Accenture CEO Pierre Nanterme traded performance reviews with a process of “selecting [and] hiring the best people” and “[to] get people to their very best.”

At Adobe, they’ve replaced performance reviews with “check-ins,” where managers are given a budget, salary range and where each employee’s compensation sits within that range. Based on this information, managers make recommendations in a “pay-for-performance” philosophy.

Deloitte utilizes a performance snapshot which asks four yes or no questions about an employee’s performance at the completion of every project (around 4 times every year).  According to the firm, this process saves over two million hours that would have been spent on rating performance.  Where Deloitte’s goal is efficiency, Amazon focuses on data-driven results. Amazon has faced criticism for both its Anytime Feedback Tool and its Organization Level Reviews which created an environment of negativity and where one poor performance review could lead to firing.

Google and Netflix have championed the 360 peer review process. Google asks its employees to evaluate their coworkers semi-annually. These reviews ask employees to tell their coworkers “…one thing the reviewee should do more of and one thing that they could do in a different way.” These reports go anonymously to the reviewee and their manager.

Netflix however, has no guidelines as to how to review the employee, nor has anonymity to the reviews. Netflix utilizes a “keeper test” wherein they ask their management, if a member of their team were leaving, would the manager try hard to keep the employee? If the answer is no, the employee is cut.

What is the global perspective of performance reviews?

While American companies have thrown the metaphorical baby out with the bathwater in ditching performance reviews, abroad, companies have yet to adopt these radical changes. While each organization has their own evaluation system, most European-based companies are sticking to the traditional approach. One exception, SAP, comes at the cross-hairs of European and American influence. Since 2014, the German-based HR giant has been under the guidance of American CEO Bill McDermott. In 2016, McDermott announced that SAP would be scrapping their annual performance reviews. SAP’s shift is not just internal, however. Senior Vice President of Human Resources for SAP Wolfgang Fassnacht announced in February of 2016 that SAP would continue to market their traditional performance assessment software as well as a new “continuous performance management” software for those companies seeking to modernize their performance review process.

Are performance reviews here to stay?

Overhauling the performance appraisal process may aid in improving efficiency, team cohesion or even employee satisfaction, but these replacements have their own issues, including, in many cases, how to award compensation. Other cases, like the Netflix and the Accenture models, are unsustainable in their philosophies: just hire the right people or just remove employees who in any way underperform. 

It’s easy to forget, too, that as much employers and managers rely on performance reviews, employees also benefit from these processes. In a case study of pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly, HR.com host Edie Goldberg found that employees who received high marks on their performance assessment felt, on average 70% more engaged with the company over the next year than employees who received low marks on their performance assessment. And in a survey conducted by CEB, now Gartner, found that:

“…employee performance drops by around 10% when ratings are removed, and less than 5% of managers can effectively manage employees without them.”

Performance review ratings will always be tricky, no matter how they are approached, but managers, employees, and companies rely on the ability to track performance and progress. Determining how to best go about designing an approach to performance assessment requires introspection, not only on what information is expected to come from evaluating the individuals, but also from evaluating the organization, as a whole. In the end it all comes down to the simple fact that employees are incapable of meeting, or exceeding, expectations, if management does not themselves know what those goals are.


Worklogix

 

Worklogix partners with clients to plan, configure, develop and integrate HR products and custom applications. We have assembled a global team with years of experience implementing HCM solutions. Our team is dedicated to understanding your business challenges, helping you leverage your technology and implement solutions that deliver results.


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Sloan, N. (n.d.). Performance management: Does your process serve your strategy?. Deloitte United States. Available at: http://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/finance/articles/cfo-insights-performance-management-process-strategy.html [Accessed 16 Aug. 2018]
Soper, Taylor. 2016. Amazon To ‘Radically’ Simplify Employee Reviews, Changing Controversial Program Amid Huge Growth. Geekwire. Accessed August 16 2018. http://www.geekwire.com/2016/amazon-radically-simplify-employee-reviews-changing-controversial-program-amid-huge-growth/.
Stone, M. (2015). Amazon employees reportedly slam each other through this internal review tool. Business Insider. Available at: http://www.businessinsider.com/amazon-employees-reportedly-slam-each-other-through-this-internal-review-tool-2015-8 [Accessed 15 Aug. 2018].
Wiles, Jackie. 2018. “The Real Impact On Employees Of Removing Performance Ratings”. Gartner.Com. Accessed August 17 2018. http://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/corporate-hr-removing-performance-ratings-is-unlikely-to-improve-performance/.