As the co-founder and CEO of a business that uses AI to help people automate tedious procedures, it probably won’t surprise you to hear that I believe all businesses should embrace automation in order to free up time.
What might surprise you is that I’m also interested in making sure businesses don’t waste that time. Why? Because the success of products like Pleo hinges on what happens after they’ve been used.
If you’ve invested in automation it’s likely that you’ve already spent some time researching a product, pitching it internally and ensuring your team is interested in the benefits of said product. But you also need to ensure you have a clear plan for what you’ll do when it’s introduced. If you don’t, then you may never see the true benefits of reclaiming time through technology. This is something I’ve witnessed working across a range of industries, so I wanted to share some of my personal learnings to help others make the most of automated platforms and products.
Start with a plan - employee empowerment
Empowerment might not be the first thing you think of in relation to automation, and may not even be a priority for many product marketers, but it’s an often-overlooked benefit that can define the success or downfall of a product.
Before we think about what to do with any time we might save, it’s key that we know why we’re trying to save it. If you free up an employee’s time by taking a task away from them, there’s a risk they might not reinvest that time efficiently. They may feel undermined as a result of being stripped of responsibility or that you don’t trust them enough to do the task well. Yet if you pair automation with increased autonomy and responsibility, you not only empower staff by giving them less repetitive work to do, but you give them more opportunities to undertake high-level work that can result in praise and recognition.
I know this to be true from a rather unfortunate first-hand experience. In a previous role, I decided it would be a great idea to give everyone a company card. We wanted our employees to feel trusted and empowered while the finance team could free up time from lengthy purchase requests and sign-offs. And it worked… to some extent. People loved the system, and our employees relished the opportunity to work independently. Staff worked harder on their own initiatives, which benefited the business, and because they had more time to do this, it didn’t impact their existing workload. The only problem? Legacy expense processes and traditional corporate cards meant we were up to our eyeballs in paperwork.
While my old finance team never quite forgave me, it was clear that automation and autonomy made for a heady combination and could offer teams so much more than a few hours saved.
Stay switched on
So you’ve paid for a new piece of software, trained everyone up, and the whole team is feeling empowered. What’s next? You need to stay switched on. Workflow changes throughout the year, and it's vital that good business leaders manage and allocate time and resources accordingly.
To do this effectively, you need to continually assess how a product is performing. Machine learning has reached fantastic heights in recent years, but it still needs a helping human hand. It’s not enough to just turn on a piece of software and let it run unchecked in the background.
Parkinson’s law states that ‘work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.’ This is a useful (and overused) truism, but ultimately a little misleading, as it implies that work is a constant.
We know that our customers save an average of 11.5 hours per month by automating their expense tracking and analysis. That’s a nice round number, but we all know that these hours are abstract. 11.5 extra hours do not suddenly appear in your calendar. It’s also an average, meaning some will save more time, and some will save less, and that this number will change on a monthly basis - so while automation emphatically does save you time, it’s important that you keep on top of how much time it saves in order to avoid wasting it. By assessing and reassessing the success of the products and tools you use, you’ll have a clear and accurate idea of where and how you can make improvements across teams.
Keep planning, and do it better!
Once you’ve started saving time and keeping track of it, you can start to really make automation work hard for you, your colleagues and your business. Remember all those things you’d do if you only had a little more time? It’s time to start doing them.
If you’ve started with a clear goal and are keeping track of workflow, you’ll be armed with better insights, allowing you to make informed decisions. If your team is embracing it wholeheartedly, then they’ll also be able to make these kinds of decisions too.
Technology is moving in one direction, which means we’re likely to see more automation across teams and businesses in the future. For a long time, many thought this would lead to a more robotic, less human workplace. But as I’ve seen first-hand, the opposite can be true. By using automation to empower employees and offer autonomy to your staff, you’ll not only avoid wasting the time you save, but you’ll create a more creative, inspired and efficient team.
At the risk of sounding corny, it is genuinely uplifting to see this happen. I know that many people approach automation with the goal of saving time, but once they look beyond the initial (and most obvious benefit), they begin to unlock so much more than just that.