Automation Decision Makers – Know Your Audience

By Gary Forger

When most people get to the approval steps on an automation investment, they look up, you know, CFO, CEO, Chief Supply Officer, even the Board. After all, these are the people who control the final thumbs up/thumbs down decision on your cap ex proposal. But they are only half of the playmakers. The other half are the people out on the floor. Unless your automation project is going to replace every one of them, you still need people to turn that expenditure into a success. Without their buy in, automation of any sort will never become a part of your culture. That can be just as damaging as proposing a flawed ROI to the C-suite. 

“To make automation fly day-in and day-out, you’ve got to be very strategic in how you approach both groups of decision makers,” explains Jeff Hedges, President of OPEX Warehouse Automation, “Underestimating the importance of either group will risk the success of your project…maybe even your career.” 

What does that mean? Quite simply, know your audience. 

In a previous blog, we talked about learning how to translate your metrics into ones that your CFO prizes. That’s an important step. It’s also only a partial answer. Last week Troy VanWormer, Director of Warehouse Automation at OPEX, said “automation has a broad reach and has to fit into the company’s long-term objectives and priorities.” In other words, know your company and where it wants to go. Ride the wrong horse and expect to be alone on the prairie. In addition, don’t hesitate to speak with colleagues who have already gone through the process. Find out what worked or flopped in their proposals. And, remember, it’s not just about the company approval process and hot buttons, but the individuals involved too.

The C-suite is full of people not just titles 

And that’s just as true for your DC and manufacturing floor. As you know all too well, these people are a completely different audience than the C-suite.  Fortunately, you probably know them better. You’re with them daily. You solve problems together. You suffer disappointments together. Build on that rapport. Tie them into the automation decision making process, ask what they think and respect their views. And start early.  Ultimately, they will make or break the success of automation. Not the C-suite.
“You want them to understand the value of automation to the company and to themselves,” explains Josh Helfand, National Account Manager at OPEX.

“Typically, automation frees up people from unpleasant and highly repetitive tasks. More importantly, it opens the door to learning new skills and increasing their value to the company when reassigned,” adds Helfand.

That reassignment is a key success factor 

Guaranteeing people up front that their employment is not threatened is a powerful force, as others have found. In fact, those three points – end unpleasant jobs, development of new, more valuable skills and assured employment – are the hat trick of making automation appeal to people out on the floor. And like in hockey, automation hat tricks don’t just happen. It always come down to a lot of hard work on your part. Basically, however much you have already done to prepare people, do some more. The most successful managers in this transition often say they should have done more upfront to make it easier for automation to become a part of the culture. And that’s not false modesty. 

One last thought. Even when everything is up and running and people want to be a part of it, all of the automation decision makers still matter. A lot. You’ve got to keep both the C-suite and the people on the floor in the loop on all that has been achieved and can be achieved. Know your audience(s).   

Next week, we’re going to take a look at the metrics of successful automation.   

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Gary Forger is the former editor of Modern Materials Handling magazine and the Material Handling & Logistics U.S. Roadmap to 2030. 

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