It is often said that the human element could never be removed from the workplace by a machine or artificial intelligence. The old adage is that if you create a machine to do a person’s job, you create a job for someone to operate the machine. However, it does not require the inquisitive mind to realize that there isn’t exactly a 1 to 1 ratio in most cases. Most businesses see new technology and automation strictly in terms of productive inputs. By integrating new technology and automation within current processes, a company can reduce their compensation expenses by reducing the necessary amount of employees needed to operate. However, with a bit of imagination, this could be an opportunity for much greater things.
Brutus the Farmer grows the barley that feeds the population of the Roman Republic. His fields are vast and typically require five experienced farmers, six horses, and a plow to turnover the fields within a reasonable time frame. However this year, Gaius Cassius Longinus the Engineer gifts Brutus with a new type of plowshare that will allow him to turn his fields over in half the time and will only require a single experienced Farmer.
If Brutus were to approach this situation as most contemporary business would, he would choose the best farmer he has on staff to operate the improved plow and send the remaining four farmers to peripheral farms or to the local unemployment office (to be with all the water couriers that lost their positions when the aqueduct was developed). The implementation of new technology in pre-existing processes enables Brutus to widen his profit margin by reducing productive inputs necessary for job completeness (this is a principle of Cost Leadership).
Is there any way that Brutus can reap the benefits of new technology and retain the top talent that he himself developed?
The answer is...of course he can, and in addition to that he can use this as an opportunity to expand his business. The critical component to this concept is essentially evaluation and training. Similar to the previous scenario, Brutus will inevitably choose the best farmer on his staff to run the plow. However, instead of telling the other four farmers to hit the bricks, the conversation can go something like this:
“With that new plow, your position with us has become redundant and unnecessary. However, it is immensely clear that with your motivation and skills, you can be trained to do …”
Rather than simply releasing good talent, contemplate reinvesting in it to expand your business. Perhaps one of the farmers can be trained to mill the grain (allowing Brutus to vertically integrate closer to the end consumer) and another could assist transporting the finished product to the bazaar. This concept, introduced in a lighthearted anecdote, is the fundamental reason as to why many companies are often in support of continued education/training.
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Michael Chiovitti, Chief Talent Strategist
Eden Resources, LLC