As engineers, we are technically driven. We put a strong emphasis on the technical aspects of a solution and often neglect the softer, political and people issues that come with change.
Humans don’t like change. People are afraid of new technology. These paradigms are all built on people’s beliefs about their own skills and abilities (or lack thereof), the complexity of technology, and the perceptions of the company’s underlying motives. It doesn’t matter how well an automation system is designed and built – it will fail if you don’t address these beliefs and win over the hearts and minds of the people.
Why are you putting robotics? People need to know. If they don’t know, they’ll make-up a reason and it’s usually not favorable.
Be up front and explain the reasoning straight-up. They watch CNN and know the realities of today’s global economy and the need for North America to be innovative to compete. What is the vision for your company? Where do you need to be in 5, 10 years? If you paint a clear vision of where you are going, people will be much more tolerant of change if they believe it is as a logical step to get there.
Step #2: Identify 3 Champions (a person per shift)
You know who these people are. They are the guys (and girls) on the floor that are the early adopters of change and ring-leaders amongst the troops. They are the most respected people on the floor and the most capable. If they’re involved and engaged early – their ownership is much higher. Most importantly, it means you respect them.
Engage your champions into the design team. Make it a priority to have them part of the planning from the initial concept, all the way through design, build and runoff of the equipment. The more they are involved, the more it becomes the group’s solution and everyone has a stake in its success. This isn’t just lip-service either. These guys (and girls) know the process better than anyone. Some of the most discerning process observations and innovative ideas I’ve seen, have come from the people on the floor.
Step #4: Education
The people on-the-floor that are new to robotics often have the paradigm that robotics/automation will be beyond their skill level , it will highlight their weaknesses and skill gaps and they’ll be embarrassed or found out.
Education is about breaking down this paradigm. When done right, automation is not complicated. It’s intuitive, robust and simple to operate. In this day and age of X-Boxes, Ipod’s and Facebook, people are generally capable of operating a robotic cell. The sooner they realize it’s simpler than they thought, the sooner the fear and resistance goes away.
Good education or training needs to come in chunks. Don’t dump it on people all at once – they’ll never retain it. Build a training and education program that gives people bite-sized chunks and touchpoints throughout the course of the project. Each touchpoint reinforces the last and helps make the training stick.
Step #5: Follow-Through, Follow-Up
Just like forming a good habit takes time, you need to keep the champions and the people floor engaged after the equipment is installed. They appreciate the follow-up and they’ll also help you diagnose any problems or intermittent issues that come up. You’ve now also got your best people on the lookout for the next process improvement or project that can further improve productivity. It’s a win-win!