A 2009 HBR article called Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions explores two key psychological processes that limit human decision-making: pattern recognition, and emotional tagging. The first refers to the human tendency to “make assumptions based on prior experiences and judgments”, while the second is the process by which we use our emotions to guide our actions (e.g. fight or flight). Since we do most of our mental work unconsciously, it prevents us from checking the data and logic required to make a decision, which then leads to errors.
“Our brains leap to conclusions and are reluctant to consider alternatives; we are particularly bad at revisiting our initial assessment of a situation.”
The authors also say this about organisational leadership: “We can’t rely on leaders to spot and safeguard against their own errors in judgment.”
This is not to say that every leader in every company makes errors all the time. Modern history is full of stories of inspiring leaders who have led their companies through huge challenges, massive reorganisations, and even near-failures. Leading a business is not for the faint-hearted, and many leaders have proved that they deserve their spot in the C-Suite.
To Err is Human
Humans are humans, and we all make errors in judgment or decision-making. No one can forget these massive bloopers that made (ignominious) history:
In 1977, Kodak patented one of the world’s first digital cameras but didn’t capitalise on the new technology, eventually folding due to its short-sightedness.
In 1999, up-and-coming search engine Excite missed an opportunity to purchase a then-unknown company called Google. Excite went bankrupt in 2001, while in 2021, Google is one of the world’s most valuable companies (value: $320 billion).
Between 1998 and 2007, a botched merger cost Daimler over $20 billion.
Between 2006 and 2009, a lack of innovation and below-par leadership led to Motorola losing ground in the emerging Smartphone market – which it has never recovered.
And finally, in 2011, poor management practices led to the demise of MySpace, and the rise of Facebook.
Of course, such huge blunders are rare and usually start at the top. However, even smaller mistakes by junior staff can have a big impact on the organisation in terms of:
- Bottlenecks that lower process speeds, productivity, and efficiency
- Lower customer satisfaction
- Slower innovation
- Higher employee turnover
- A damaged reputation
- Compliance-related issues
- Higher costs and financial losses
Some of these mistakes are knowledge-based, resulting from a lack of accepted standards, procedures, and processes. Rules-based mistakes occur following a major change in the organisation, where employees continue to follow older procedures or policies or struggle to understand new rules. Slip errors and memory lapses are also common, especially in high-stress environments. They may occur when workers forget a step, mix up data, misplace documents, take illegal or unauthorised shortcuts, etc.
However, most mistakes happen in environments with a high degree of manual or repetitive labour. Reason: mundane, boring tasks kill employee morale, so they don’t pay attention to their work, or care much about producing error-free output. Such activities are also a poor use of human intellectual potential. This further entrenches apathy and mistakes, which can be significant and costly, but also to be expected by virtue of what organisations are asking their staff to do every day.
Intelligent Process Automation to Reduce Human Error
Automation can provide the solution to human carelessness, impaired judgment, and poor decisions. With Digital Robots and other kinds of Business Process Automation, you can eliminate errors in many functional areas like:
Business Process Automation (BPA) gives today’s organisations many options to reduce manual work in their processes and workflows. Automation can minimise the need for human judgment or decision-making, which reduces the risk of errors and sub-optimal output.
Going Beyond Error Reduction: Other Advantages of Automation
Automation can also have a direct and substantial effect on productivity. Robotic Process Automation (RPA) bots don’t become tired or fall sick, they don’t “feel low”, and they never need to take time off. They can work 24x7x365 because they don’t have “office hours”. So many of the repetitive, mundane processes we carry out day to day can be automated. Once the automation is running, all you have to do is handle exceptions. In addition to zero errors (unless there are programming or implementation errors), BPA also delivers great results in terms of efficiency, resource savings, and cost savings.
Other kinds of automation tools, when integrated with the org’s existing software or platforms like the ERP or CRM platforms, can also bring many benefits. They help break down functional silos, eliminate data irregularities, minimise rework, and improve communications. They also improve customer-facing processes, which ultimately improves customer relationships, revenues, and profits.
Automation works best when employees have to regularly manage a high volume of repetitive tasks. Other key “red flags” that could indicate automation opportunities:
- When staff are consistently missing deadlines on manual processes
- When more people are required for a task than expected or planned
- When downstream processes are affected due to errors or lags in upstream processes
- When the org requires an audit (or paper) trail, e.g. to meet compliance requirements
Automation is transforming business processes everywhere. However, it does not replace people. People add value to every company since they have capabilities no machine can emulate: critical thinking, empathy, planning, creativity, and coaching, among many others. For knowledge work, people will always be essential, although machines can play a supportive role in helping them meet their goals.
In addition to the advantages we highlighted earlier, automation helps move people away from monotonous, mind-numbing tasks so they can focus on core competencies and more high-value roles that cannot be replaced by any robot. That’s why it’s important for all organisations to be open to automation. At this point, they have nothing to lose, and plenty to gain.