The Basics of Change Management: A Conversation with Roots Automation's Darlene Durand

May 12, 2022
Image shows a lightbulb drawn on a post-it note stuck to a corkboard.

The following is a transcript of a conversation between Chaz Perera, CEO and Darlene Durand, Head of Customer Success. The respective Roots Automation executives lend their expertise and thought leadership around change management.

Chaz Perera:

Hey Darlene, I was recently talking to one of our customers about the change management journey that you often have to go through to introduce any type of automation into an organization. Whether it's a bot in the context of RPA, or a Digital Coworker in the context of our company and cognitive process automation, and I thought, who better to talk about this topic with the world in a short snippet than you? Since this is something you focus on every single day.

Darlene Durand:

Oh, thanks for that, Chaz. Change management is something that we definitely have to think through as we start to introduce Digital Coworkers to our customers, businesses and their processes.

Chaz Perera:

So maybe just to start Darlene, why don't we focus on the very initial stages? So a leader at a company has decided that they'd like to introduce the Digital Coworker to an organization. Maybe they’ve already picked a particular department and the particular process or series of processes that they'd like to apply a Digital Coworker. How should they think about the change management exercise at that state?

Darlene Durand:

Yeah, that's a good question. So at the very beginning, a lot of people look for their pain points and where Digital Coworkers can help them with those pain points. Sometimes the processes are painful because they're not optimized. And so, as we think about change management with Digital Coworkers, we need to also think about the current state of the process, and what might need to be tweaked in that process to allow for the Digital Coworker to process items at scale. And then we go through an exercise where, like I said, we're baselining that current state, and then we're thinking through the future state design. And so, as we think about what the ideal future state is for a Digital Coworker, we frequently have to talk with our customers about how they envision initiating the Digital Coworkers work day, and how do they want to interact with that Digital Coworker if it needs help on one of the items that it's processing, and what does that exception type of workflow look like for their team.

A lot of people think of Digital Coworkers as technology that comes in and runs independently, but what's very different for our team and the things that we do is that we're expecting teams to interact with the Digital Coworker so that after we're in production, the Digital Coworker continues to learn - much like a human continues to learn on the job.

Chaz Perera:

Yeah, it's interesting because I do think that, often, when automation is introduced, people focus on the happy path - the things they know will work well. And I certainly think it's very much in our ethos to focus on the things that often don't work well, and ensure that we architected the user experience – the employee experience – with the Digital Coworker to really focus on the exception handling. I suppose, our theme here is the Digital Coworker never hands work to a human, it's only going to ask for nudges, like “Push me in the right direction, but let me handle the work, so I can use that as an opportunity to learn.”

Darlene Durand:

That's right, most automation programs don't have the tools – like the Roots Cockpit that we do – which shows the Digital Coworkers production for a day, or shows where the Digital Coworker needs some assistance. Part of the change management that we go through with our customers is designing how they would like their cockpit to report to them about the Digital Coworkers activities, and then what fields - or what pieces of data and information - can they give the Digital Coworker so that next time when it encounters the same type of problem, it's been trained, the way that their experts on the team are handling the items.

Chaz Perera:

You brought up an interesting point which is there's a future state process that looks different from the current state process, and certainly what I interpret there is this idea: that if you have a bad process, and if you choose to automate that process the bad way, essentially all you're doing is exacerbating the problem you already have. The real idea here would be to improve the process, put the Bot or Digital Coworker at the middle of the process, and try to look at humans, so that it makes their lives easier.

Darlene Durand:

That's right. Digital Coworkers, if they're working on a suboptimal process, and they have not been trained correctly, they will produce a lot of volume, but it will be wrong the entire time. That's one of the pitfalls that we tried to avoid when we're working with our customers. Digital Coworkers can get through much more volume in a day than a person, because it can work 20 hours a day, and so it's really important for us to optimize the process, make sure that we're building a future state solution that is very smart and clear for the human workers.

Chaz Perera:

Why did you say 20 hours a day, and not 24 hours a day?

Darlene Durand:

Because we need to do things like maintain a Digital Coworker. You know, we can run probably 22 to 23 hours a day, but we try to give some time to our maintenance team. If they need to do some patches in the middle of the night, we want them to have the opportunity to do that without impacting the Digital Coworker’s schedule.

Chaz Perera:

Talk to me about this: we talked about how business leaders need to make decisions around how the process should run. What type of communication should business leaders have with their teams up front about this change?

Darlene Durand:

Most people, when they think of automation - depending on how old they are - they think about Rosie and the Jetsons, or they think about something like Skynet.

Chaz Perera:

A lot of different very different experiences – yeah, a lot of people are afraid of automation.

Darlene Durand:

And so I think it's important for teams to be transparent about introducing a Digital Coworker so that they're not scared about the introduction of it, and they understand that a Digital Coworker will make their work more human, because they will not have to do the repetitive, redundant type of tasks that aren't creative or exciting. And it gives the team members an opportunity to train their Digital Coworker to be the best - and hopefully, eventually, their favorite - coworker.

Chaz Perera:

Yeah, I think transparency is ultra-critical and frankly ultra-critical with any type of change that's happening. And I see your point too, that there's this exercise in clearly articulating how this is different. When the Digital Coworker shows up for its first aid, how it will be different to the team and the way the team works, and critically, how valuable that people still are in the exercise.

Darlene Durand:

Absolutely. Everyone's being asked to do more with less, this is the environment that we're in. So people and teams don't need to be afraid of adding a Digital Coworker to their team. They should be excited because there would be somebody who's available to work in the evenings, on the weekends - time that they might have had to put into the office they don't have to put in anymore, because once the Digital Coworker is introduced to the team, it's there to pick up those mundane tasks that we were talking about.

Chaz Perera:

Let’s talk about the training exercise. How should leaders think about change and change management during that period of time that we are all working to train the Digital Coworker, much like we would train a new employee?

Darlene Durand:

I think it's getting the team ready to think about the best practices for the Digital Coworker, getting the team ready to think about how they would like to be notified in the process, either if things are going really well or if there is some sort of issue that comes up. And it's also getting feedback throughout the training, so we typically have some demos that we use to show the Digital Coworker at work. It would be good for business teams to observe those demos, have a reaction to it, so that before we get to user acceptance testing, we've had the input from the broader team as to what will really work for that team.

Chaz Perera:

One of the things that we certainly pride ourselves on - and I think just generally in the in the world of automation people aim to do - is you know personifying bots and Digital Coworkers so that they're less scary. What do you think companies should be thinking about doing there, and what's the most effective way to do that?

Darlene Durand:

One of the things we love to do as we get through user acceptance testing is to have a competition or a contest to name the Digital Coworker. We asked business teams to vote and then recognize the person who gave the name to the Digital Coworker as the Digital Coworker is rolled out to the team. Frequently, we're producing maybe a sheet of frequently asked questions, and helps them understand how this Digital Coworker is integrated in their team.

Chaz Perera:

Any favorite names from our customers?

Darlene Durand:

I like Stewart - and his last name Stewart Smalls, and so when our customer is unhappy, he says, “You're killin’ me, Smalls.” It makes me laugh.

Chaz Perera:

Yeah, I guess - like people - Digital Coworkers aren't always perfect every single day, right?

Darlene Durand:

Well, this is why we want to think about change management as a longer-term exercise. So it's not about just training the Digital Coworker, it's about maintaining that engagement through testing, through the push to production, through maintenance. Once we get into a stable state, we want to keep improving the Digital Coworkers capabilities as it's on the team. So our engineering team is constantly looking for ways to make that Digital Coworker faster, to make it smarter, to reduce reliance on your eyes, if possible, going through APIs. So as technology changes, our Digital Coworker changes, much like your best team teammates.

Chaz Perera:

Awesome. Last question, if there was one piece of advice you'd give to a company that's just about to start this journey of automating their business processes with an RPA Bot or Digital Coworker, what's one thing you think they should all be thinking about?

Darlene Durand:

They should consider how to incorporate their experts’ feedback on what that Digital Coworker should be doing, and from a change management standpoint, think about how transparent they can be about what that Digital Coworker will do to minimize people's fear of the automation and maximize the benefit that it has for the team.

Chaz Perera:

That was great. Thank you Darlene, we'll chat more on change management soon.

Darlene Durand:

Thanks Chaz.

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