What is the future of robots and cobots?

Future-spotting is a key strategic challenge for senior management. For those taking a forward-view, a new priority has emerged … how to react to the rise of the robots. Science fiction is fast becoming reality in manufacturing and service industries in the developed world. Businesses in Africa will have to follow suit if they hope to become competitive.

A 2016 study by the International Federation of Robotics says the number of robots sold globally with double to 400 000 units by 2018, with 70% of the demand coming from China, Japan, USA, South Korea and Germany.

World Bank research says Africa has two industrial robots per 100 000 manufacturing workers and massively lags the developed world, but cannot ignore the trend.

Jobs are a major focus point. A widely quoted 2016 study by Daron Acemoglu (MIT) and Pascal Restrepo (Boston University) suggested bots would merely trigger the creation of new, better jobs.

This year, they finished the first quantitative survey of job losses using real-world data. This less positive study shows bots cost 670 000 US manufacturing jobs between 1990 and 2007. In one local economy the academics scrutinised, each bot cut 6.2 jobs per 1000 workers.

Acemoglu and Restrepo say US bot sales are expected to quadruple, so job losses could mount.

Yet many companies that invest in robotics say they are hiring more as higher productivity drives company growth. People move to tasks with high value creation. Job losses at less automated competitors are hard to assess, however.

Should executives worry? As blue-collar jobs decline, will executive numbers be decimated by machines gunning for top jobs?

Not likely …

Any review of the literature confirms that humans always outscore machines when it comes to thinking, planning and decision-making. We can think ahead. They can’t, however today artificial intelligence needs to be taken into account. It is arguably a “which came first, the chicken or the egg”?

One commentator noted: “We can map out a series of steps that can lead us to a certain goal. This is what robots cannot do. They lack the ability to plan ahead of time.”

Machines are faster, more precise, more consistent and more productive. Pressure on repetitive manufacturing jobs is already evident. But service sectors are not immune.

One robotics application now flips burgers to consistent quality levels, with big implications for college dropouts who assume they can always get a job flipping burgers.

The lesson is simple. A good education and skills are essential for humans.

In a paper to the International Management Conference in Bucharest, D.M. Florian noted: “Studies suggest robots are increasing our wages, not stealing our jobs, though there has been a decrease in the number of positions at some companies. However, the need for more qualified positions has gone up…

“Technology has been proved to make humans smarter … A machine has no ability to assess situations and cannot look at a set of transactions and provide an overall picture of what they could mean.”

Florian concluded: “Robots will only be able to support the problem-solving structure. They cannot replace it.”

Many experts say man-versus-machine simplification is off the mark. Man with machine is more probable.

Growing sales of collaborative robots or cobots are reported worldwide.

Here, one area of development is wearable robotics or exoskeletons that augment human capabilities with technology. ABI Research says about 40 R&D groups currently work in the field – the basis for a “$2-billion global market by 2025”.

Military and healthcare applications are focus areas. So are industrial uses. Many firms are in the market for “motorised muscles” for heavy lifting or for sensor-actuated exoskeleton suits that “protect and serve” humans during dangerous work.

In all cases, a trained and skilled person is needed to operate the wearables, hinting at a future in which humans work with cobots in many areas.

Unskilled employment may therefore fall. You need skills to get the best out of cobots or “smart overalls” representing a big capex investment.

The highly trained, well-educated cobot co-worker will become a major contributor to productivity and profit.

Executives will still find ‘man’ management is a key part of their task, but a new managerial style may be needed in this high-skill, high-knowledge environment.

A very human, empathetic approach will be more appropriate than ‘command and control’. Ironically, the cobots could bring out our human side.

Auguste Coetzer is a Director of Signium Africa (previously Talent Africa).

Who wears the leadership mask?

In my years of training emotional intelligence, I facilitated an exercise where I ask delegates to bring along a mask that personifies the character they bring to work. Through the activity we unpack why they feel they need to wear a different persona at work to that which they are at home. We go further in discussion to understand which of the two is their true self. Some delegates battled to decide. They wear these “masks” for so many hours each day that they disconnected from who they truly are. The question I always end with is: “Do you think the mask you wear at work is effective?” Eventually, true colours reveal themselves and people will perceive you the way they experience you.

Leadership is not an ‘act’; if leaders are ‘acting’ they should not be surprised when their people don’t trust them, don’t buy-into them and can’t really wait to work for someone else. I don’ believe that leadership in the twenty-first century requires you to be born with particular traits to lead and neither do you need to be seated at the top of the corporate ladder to lead. Leadership today is about authenticity.

Authentic leaders have a story to tell, a story that demonstrates vision, initiative, influence, integrity, and impact. In the words of Michael Hyatt “Influence and influenza come from the same root word. Real leaders are contagious.” These leaders are self-aware and genuine, willing to acknowledge their limitations and surround themselves with individuals who can create the strength where they fall short. They work for something bigger than themselves. Their pursuit it not just for personal gain but rather results that touch the lives of others. They lead with heart, unafraid to express their emotions.

This by no means makes them “soft” leaders. Instead, they can be assertive without “breaking” the spirit of people. By breaking a person’s self-worth, you fail to mobilise a person into becoming the best version of themselves. Authentic leaders are long-term focused. They work with the understanding that people as with an organisation needs to be nurtured over time, through hard work and patience. Feeding a child non-stop for a day will not make them an adult the next day. Time is an important asset and the way in which it is used is just as important.

Leaders today need to strive to become the kind of leader that people would follow voluntarily, with or without a title. The greatest act of courage that a leader can make is to be and own all that they are, without apology and excuses and without any masks to cover the truth of who they truly are.

Anisha Patel is the Chief Human Capital Officer at Fundi.

9 ways employees want companies to beat the challenges of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

First there was water and steam. Then there was electricity. The Third Industrial Revolution introduced electronics and IT. Now the fourth is digital. Each stage has been characterised by its respective disruptive force that shook the foundations of society. This new earthquake moment will be successfully navigated by businesses that focus on long-term strategies instead of short-term distractions.
The key to unlocking successful strategies begins with, not just listening to, but also hearing employees. At the coalface are those same employees who daily run up against the changes brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution – and they’re afraid. What happens to their jobs in increasingly automated work styles? When will artificial intelligence (AI) put them out of work? How will they cope with employers who increasingly expect them to be available and online versus their families and rejuvenating personal activities that increasingly tug them away from the office?
Ricoh commissioned research from Quocirca and Coleman-Parkes to find out how employees go about their work today, what they fear from the future, and how they want their employers to help them cope and ultimately succeed.
Today, 39% of South African employees work in small teams with their own individual tasks versus 17% who do the same in large teams – for a total of 56%. However, 19% work in small teams and collaborate on tasks while 11% do so in large teams for a total of 30%. Contrasting this are those few 10% who work independently or in silos. Just 4% today work in virtual teams that collaborate across geographical boundaries. But that’s changing.
In the next year 62% of these same South African employees believe that they will have more work to do and 40% that their roles will include more functions or activities for them to perform. While 29% interpret that and other changes as providing better job security for the future and 28% that they’ll have more opportunities to progress in their careers, 25% or one-quarter, actually perceive less job security.
So how do they want their employers to help them deal with these pressures? A whopping great 61% of employees want technology to help them be better at their jobs and be more productive. 37%, more than one-third, perceive the opportunity to work more flexible hours as both an imperative and a benefit, while a third (33%) want to use technology to collaborate and communicate better with their colleagues.
As a result of that 27% expect they will spend less time in the office. However, 13% of those surveyed think this may be a challenge for them. But just 8% think they’ll spend more time in the office and less being mobile. One-quarter want to work more on individual tasks and 16% in larger teams. The belief that change is coming is almost universal; only 7% of employees think they won’t see any significant change in their work style in the next year.
So the nine headline ways employees specifically want their companies to help cope with these myriad complexities:
1. Improve employee productivity through collaboration technologies – 44%
2. Improve customer communications – 43%
3. Improve communication with employees around business plans – 41%
4. Attract more talent – 38%
5. Use digital technologies and data to streamline and simplify business processes – 36%
6. Invest in devices to improve mobile working – 35%
7. Invest more in R&D – 35%
8. Create new and differentiated products and services to grow revenue – 34%
9. Introduce digital technologies and data to make more informed business decisions – 30%
In addition, employees also seek out several attributes from their employers. Asked what they would find most attractive in new employers should they switch, respondents put businesses with solid financial backing first at 39%, followed by job security a close second at 38%, larger businesses at 35%, companies that use technology to aid productivity fourth at 35%, and lastly businesses with more international focus from 29% of respondents.
Business leaders challenged to deal with these trials must devise clear strategies. Fortunately, employees are quite clear about what they’re looking for and, being in the trenches, are best positioned to divulge the crucial issues they face and, more importantly, how to rise above them.

Lauren Timmer-Somer is the head of Marketing and Technology Services at Ricoh SA.

5 creative ways to boost employee morale

In an ideal work environment, everyone would love their job, enjoy coming in each day, and put in 100 per cent effort from the moment they walk in until the moment they leave. In the real world, however, all sorts of things can interfere with work and quickly drop morale. Employees get burned out, team members have trouble getting along, and the environment no longer functions as a place where people can get their jobs done.

In order to get your team’s morale back up to where you would like it to be, you will probably need to take a few steps. To help you along, here are a few tips on how to give your employees just the boost in morale that they need to keep on going each day.

1. Give your employees feedback — both positive and negative

Employees like to know whether or not they are doing a good job. And that doesn’t mean you should only offer praise to them. If they need to correct something, they actually appreciate hearing that, as well. In fact, in one study, only 43 per cent of respondents indicated that they would prefer praise or recognition. Meanwhile, 72 per cent of those same respondents said they believed their performance would improve if they were given corrective feedback.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should yell at your workers any time they happen to mess up. In the same study, almost all respondents (92 per cent) agreed with the following statement: “Negative (redirecting) feedback, if delivered appropriately, is effective at improving performance.” Make sure that, when delivering negative feedback, your attitude is one of correcting behavior and improving performance, and not one of anger or punishment, or in any way demeaning. Correct the behavior, but continue to respect your employees, and both morale and performance will improve.

2. Hold casual events where workers can get to know each other in a non-work setting

It can be very draining on employees if they come into work and feel like they are surrounded by strangers day in and day out. Part of management’s job is to find ways to grow a team, rather than a group of individuals who happen to work in close proximity to each other. Give your team plenty of opportunities to get to know each other in a non-work capacity. Events such as parties, movie nights, or outdoor barbecues all allow your employees to socialise and relax in a setting without deadlines and quotas hanging over their shoulders. These events can occur during the day, or they can take place outside of office hours. Consider bringing in a food truck for an hour and have the company spring for lunch one day. Host a company picnic on the office lawn on a Saturday — just make sure that you engage a nearby lawn care service a day or two before to make sure the venue is pleasant. If it feels like very little care went into planning, events like these can backfire and make employees feel unimportant. Just give them a wide variety of opportunities to get to know each other and build relationships with their co-workers.

3. Embrace worthy causes beyond making money

As a rule, employees want to make a difference. They want to be a part of something bigger than them that is working to make things better for the world. If your company embraces charitable giving and encourages the same behavior as part of the company culture, it can have significant boosts to morale. Not only will team members be happier as a whole, improving performance in general, but they will also be less likely to lose productivity due to illness or absence. A company that gives generally benefits from a more positive attitude overall, because people know that what they are doing is promoting a positive change in the world. Even if your company’s main business isn’t focused on charity, by promoting a giving culture, you can help your team to feel they are giving back.

4. Small benefits add up to big rewards

Not all benefits have to be grand, sweeping things. A few small (and even inexpensive) benefits can really add up to improve the feeling that runs through your company.

Companies can work with other businesses to provide company – wide discounts for a variety of goods and services, from movie tickets and theme park admission to airfare and vacation packages. A small allowance to help pay for public transportation each month makes commuting a much easier task for some employees. You don’t have to provide a fully-stocked company gym, but paying for employees’ $20–30 gym fees each month makes a much bigger difference to the employees than the relatively smaller dent it will put in the company’s budget.

5. Promote from within

It’s important for employees to know that there are opportunities for them to advance within the company. Get to know your employees and find out what sorts of talents and skills each member of your team possesses. Look for ways for them to develop those skills in ways that will help your business. Help them to develop leadership skills to allow them to rise in the ranks. If your team members know that they have options to advance their careers within your company, they will be less likely to look elsewhere, and they’ll be much happier in their current positions.

Lindsey Patterson works as a director of marketing at a tech firm in Utah.

What is dominating the country right now?

Whether we know it or not, all human behaviour can be distilled down to being driven by one of two states. Some people think of them as emotions but they’re actually the result of other emotions. These two states are love and fear. Let me clarify that, when I speak of love, I’m not talking about a creepy kind of love that has sexual overtones. I’m talking about a genuine acceptance of others for who they are and an interest in their wellbeing, growth and best interests.   

Briefly and simply put, love is a state that we experience only when we feel secure and safe. When we feel unsafe and insecure we experience fear. Fear is very necessary for survival. It prompts us to act in a way that protects us from possible injury or death. Sometimes, however, our fear is misplaced or prompted by selfish interests.

Each of the two states results in our behaving in certain ways according to the level of the state we are experiencing.

For example, when we experience safety and security, we are able to express love. This is not necessarily always the case but usually the case. When we experience the state of love, we act with kindness and consideration for others. We are concerned for their wellbeing and happiness because we feel secure and happy in ourselves and we want what’s best for them. Love therefore results in positive actions and behaviour.

On the other hand, when we feel insecure and unsafe, we experience and express fear. This is almost always the case. When we are in a state of fear, we act in our own interests only in order to ensure our survival and safety. We are therefore not concerned about the welfare of others because we are primarily concerned about our own welfare. And we will do anything to make ourselves feel safe again, even if that means taking actions that may injure or harm someone else we perceive to be a threat to our safety.

With that by way of background, let’s look at what’s happening in our country …

On the one hand, we have people who have been exposed for engaging in corrupt activities. People are inclined to think this is confined to the public sector. That’s a fallacy. Private sector companies are just as implicit in corruption. For example, there are companies which have been granted tenders they know they should not have been given, but they have accepted them nevertheless. That amounts to their being engaged in corrupt activities.

Then there are death threats being issued to political role players who have taken a principled stand on some or other issue.

Lest you think I am justifying or defending the actions of corrupt people or people who are making death threats, let me state quite clearly that I am not. Corruption in both the public and private sectors must be rooted out and dealt with comprehensively. People who make death threats should be identified and dealt with by law enforcement agencies. I am however seeking to explain why these people are doing what they’re doing. Explaining their actions doesn’t make their actions right. It merely offers a perspective as to why people do what they do.

Simply put, people engage in corrupt activities or issue death threats to others because of fear. In the case of corruption, they are afraid that they will not have enough money. You might think it’s a case of greed. You’re right – greed is the step-child of fear. When someone feels unsafe and insecure, no matter how much money they amass, it’s never enough. That’s why they will never stop grabbing for money and cheating others to get more, because they never feel secure.

In the case of the death threats, the people issuing the threats are afraid they (or those who they perceive are looking after them) will lose their power and they will no longer be safe. So they will threaten the lives of those who are making them feel unsafe.

You may think this is far-fetched, but that’s how it works. That’s what fear does to people. Start looking at other human behaviour and categorise it either in terms of love or fear. You will be surprised at what you start seeing.

Judging by the behaviour we are witnessing, our country is therefore dominated by fear, not love. And until we change the national psyche by changing the mind-set of our leaders, both in business as well as in government, we are doomed to go down the road that leads us to self-destruction.

Fear is experienced because of an impending sense of loss – of safety, of life, of means, of lifestyle, of anything and everything people hold dear. Of course, the tragedy is that much of the sense of loss is actually based on a faulty perception. People actually think they’re going to experience some or other loss when they may well not. But perception is reality.

How about you? Are you living your life in love or fear? If you want to discover the answer, look at your actions and behaviour. That will quickly reveal the truth to you. I want to encourage you to deal with your fear because it takes you down a dead end street.

You want to sweep down the highway of life, not stagger down some dead end street. Choose to love not fear.

Alan Hosking is the publisher of HR Future magazine, www.hrfuture.net, @HRFuturemag, and assists executives to prevent, reverse and delay ageing, and achieve self-mastery.

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