Digitalization has a profound impact on organizational processes, the way we work. This you probably agree with. But what about motivational factors? When automating a process through digitalization, is there a possibility that the work force motivational drivers are affected? Our experience shows that this is the case.
The essence of our findings is that automation, often a consequence of digitalization, seems to affect blue collar workers motivation
The Blue collar role we define as a role where a person plays an active part of executing a process. For instance moving goods from one place to another. White collar work however we define as a more supervising role, keeping an eye on metrics and analyzing data as how to improve the process.
To shift from blue collar tasks to white collar tasks within the work force you can either hire new employees with analytical and supervising experience, or you can develop the competence of blue collar employees to include the skillsets mentioned above. Many companies tend to keep most of the staff on board when digitalizing their business, since these employees have experience from the business as a whole, which of course is of great value.
Is it a big deal to transform blue collar workers into white collar workers?
We have hands on experience from this and it has proven to be surprisingly difficult. There seems to be a change in motivational drivers when making this shift which we can only assume is a consequence of digitalizing and partly automating a process.
In one of our digitalization projects the goal was to implement a state of the art IT solution. In short this meant much more automation. Rather quickly the management and project team experienced a higher degree of resistance than expected. After interviews and additional research we finally had a hypothesis where the resistance originated from. The results told us that one major motivational factor for the blue collar workers was the gratification from instant problem solving within the process. When a problem arouse in the process, they would intervene and save the day.
The new white collar tasks, which followed the implementation of the state of the art automated solution, included tasks more of an analytical nature and with the aim to continuously improve.This showed up to be much less inspiring. The task required analyzing, reflection and most often a feeling of prolonged rewards as opposed to instant rewards from fire fighting.
The new process didn’t seem to challenge the work force in the same way.
Motivation is something that comes from within, therefore the individual transformation will most likely not simply occur from a lecture or a book on the subject of motivation. The motivational factors in play we found, rather had to be discovered and experienced in order to be integrated within the individual themselves.
So in order to create ownership for the new, more automated solution, leaders and the project team had to spend time with the work force and together discover which drivers had been in place previously and what kind of drivers and motivational factors were available to them through the new automated solution.
When digitalizing your business pay attention to possible work force resistance and pay close attention to a possible shift in employee motivation
Digitalization will require you as a leader to be more attentive to your employees and aware of how digitalization will affect their motivational drive. The business case for digitalization may say one thing but always consider how employee motivation will be affected by the digital initiative.
Lars Jacobi is a Partner at Centigo and specializes in change management. He is co-author of the book “Change – en liten bok om ett stort ämne” A book on how to secure organizational trust and engagement when implementing new digital solutions