MBA Research

Action Briefs

We learn a lot from the business community and want to share that with you in our Action Briefs that highlight business trends and their impact on the workplace and curriculum.

Executives from across the country have talked with MBA Research staff about the importance of an agile workforce. Many businesses have started to think about flexibility and the ability to embrace change as qualities of primary importance as they hire new staff. Some businesses put qualities of this nature over actual technical skills as they look to build workforces that can withstand—and even thrive—in rapidly changing business environments.

When COVID-19 struck, many companies were thrown into turmoil as they struggled to adjust to a “new normal.” Companies that were already in an agile mindset have had an easier time adjusting to many of the changes they endured, and other companies quickly became more agile to embrace new ways of doing business.

Agile workforces in the business world
What exactly is an agile workforce? Agile workforces are typically made up of small work-teams within an organization. These teams are made up of motivated employees who are focused on sharing data, have diverse skillsets, and tend to be strong communicators and high achievers. The small, focused teams help foster innovation and the ability to change on demand in response to key business drivers.

One of the most recognizable companies in the world that thrives on an agile workforce is Amazon. According to The Guardian, Amazon CEO and Founder Jeff Bezos famously has a rule for the company: if more than two pizzas were needed to feed a team, the team was too big. The idea was to make it easier for team members to discuss ideas and communicate more readily and to focus on company values as they planned and completed their work.

Amazon’s success at developing their analytics service, AWS, is talked about as a success of agile principles. The creation of the powerful data service came out of Amazon’s desire to have teams work independently from each other, meaning Prime Video is separate from Amazon Books. AWS was created so all the data from Amazon could be accessible to any part of the company that would need it.

Another example of agile businesses can be linked directly to COVID-19. Think about how much the restaurant business has changed since March 2020. Sit-in restaurants, bars, and breweries all the sudden lost the ability to serve customers in-house. Many establishments were able to quickly pivot to a carryout model. Others were unable to flex in this way. To adjust, restaurants and bars had to quickly reconfigure. They changed their menus, their business plans, and started to deliver or became carryout only businesses.

Make agile work for you
The Amazon concept of having highly focused, independent teams is a trademark of agile workforces. Agile workforces are much more horizontal than the typical vertical waterfall management structures, according to McKinsey & Company.

Our research found that the following is helpful in building an agile workforce:

  • Teamwork and collaboration. Agile teams share data and other information openly and transparently with each other. Brainstorming and providing feedback to team members is a significant part of agile teamwork. According to Management Study Guide, teams that self-manage working on tasks with “a timeline and tangible objectives” can be an effective way to produce results.
  • A desire to learn. Employees working in an agile organization need to have a thirst for knowledge, and they need to be comfortable learning new things. This is what agile work practices are built on. We found that workers need to be able to try new tasks and feel empowered by their manager and coworkers to complete them.
  • A willingness to try new things. Employees and managers alike should feel comfortable innovating and trying new ways to complete their work. Agile workforces experiment to make their work better. Businesses should also recognize that if a new process is not working, it’s OK to recognize that and try something else.
  • Shared common principles and values. McKinsey referenced this principle as “strategy.” The more buy-in there is for employees to a company’s vision, the more likely those employees are to be motivated workers. The culture, core values, and mission need to be well defined and part of the everyday frame of reference within a company
  • Communication. Employers need to encourage feedback from their employees. Communication and transparency go both ways. If employees feel they are not able to address their concerns with management, they are not working in an agile environment.


Going agile isn’t an overnight transition, but developing agile tendencies within an organization can lead to increased productivity along with greater employee and customer satisfaction.

Classroom implications and questions for students:
How could agile work principles apply at school? What would look different?
Reflect on a current or past job. Can you identify agile or waterfall processes at play?
If you were starting a business, what steps would you take to help ensure workforce agility?

Links for further learning:
https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/organizational-and-employee-development/pages/viewpoint-how-to-develop-an-agile-workforce.aspx

https://www.thebalancecareers.com/are-you-ready-for-an-agile-future-1917754

https://www.breathehr.com/blog/8-characteristics-of-an-agile-workforce-and-why-you-should-take-note

https://hbr.org/2016/02/aligning-your-organization-with-an-agile-workforce

You’re walking down the street when you get a ping from your cellphone. It turns out you just got a coupon from Starbucks which, coincidentally, you just passed.

This is a form of marketing called geofencing, the virtual bracketing of a specific area with the goal of collecting data from either GPS systems or RFID (radio-frequency identification). This is all made possible through location data from location services on cellphones. Geofencing is a very attractive marketing technique for many businesses because it allows marketers to advertise to potential customers who visit specific areas. Many consumers also love the convenience of receiving advertisements or offers to businesses that are close by.

Considerations for the workplace

Geofencing is being used widely in business in a number of different ways. Based on our research, some businesses are developing best practices as they use geofencing. Here is what we found.

First, it is worth considering how long data collected from a geofencing campaign will be stored. Will it be more than a day? A month? Europe has laws that limit collection of data storage through location services, and California has a law that went into effect in January 2020 to do the same. The goal of both laws is to cut down on perceived privacy violations from the marketing practice.

The data storage time frame is just one decision to take into consideration. Another important decision businesses have to make is determining who to solicit. The general consensus on how to determine this appears to be through an opt-in system. An opt-in system means customers can tell businesses they are OK with their location data being used.

Some businesses are only using geofencing to target ads through social media like Instagram or Twitter. This eliminates notifications altogether and could be less intrusive to the customer.

Many companies are working hard to be fully transparent with consumers about their use of geofencing. The opt-in option explained above is one way to do that. Another way is to be specific when ads come to the prospective customer. Businesses can remind consumers that they are receiving notifications because of their expressed interest in these types of notifications or ads.

Ethical Dilemmas in geofencing

Not surprisingly, the practice can be very controversial and can bring up ethical dilemmas, even among marketing professionals that MBA Research has heard from in focus groups across the country. 

While receiving a discount coupon to a favorite store may be seen as a bonus to many consumers, getting an ad for a personal injury lawyer while you’re in an emergency room may feel a little too personal, and a little less comfortable. This was the topic of a story featured on NPR in 2018. The marketing agency behind the ads claimed the goal was to make it easier for patients to find services they may need. An attorney in the story noted that, as of now, the federal government does not have any laws that regulate this type of advertising in hospitals and would not violate medical privacy laws like HIPPA. Patients, however, felt as if they were being spied on.

And, the American Bar Association wrote about a court case involving Monsanto, the manufacturer of the herbicide Round-Up. The complainants alleged the use of Round-Up gave them cancer. As a jury was being selected for a trial for the case, Monsanto purchased and sent ads to people who were inside the courthouse where the lawsuit was set to begin trial. The ads claimed Round-Up was a safe product to use. The people suing Monsanto in the case complained the geofenced ads were a form of jury tampering. The judge in the case disagreed. The judge ruled that the speech in the ads was protected and no different than people wearing buttons with political messages in the courtroom.

Through our research, we found that there is very little regulation related to where geofencing is applied and where businesses send their advertisements, like in a hospital or in a courthouse. In many ways, it may be up to consumers to manage their own privacy settings on their tech devices. But the question still remains: is it ethical to track and target people in a courtroom or a hospital emergency room even if it’s not prohibited by law?

Classroom implications and questions for students 

  • Consider a time when you think geofencing was used to target you with an ad or discount offer. Was this a positive or negative experience?
  • Imagine that you own or are working for a business considering using geofencing. What types of laws would you consider to be fair for both businesses and consumers? Should laws be focused on limiting advertisements inside hospitals, like in the NPR story? Would they seek to limit the amount of information collected or not?
  • Now consider geofencing from the consumer perspective. Do you think consumers have greater rights to privacy in certain situations versus others?


Links for further learning:
 

MBA Research provides a LAP (Learning Activity Package) that provides insight on complying with the spirit and intent of laws. Access the LAP for free here.

https://www.mobilemarketer.com/news/burger-king-whopper-detour-mobile-marketer-awards/566224/

https://businesslawtoday.org/2019/03/power-place-geolocation-tracking-privacy/

https://www.businessnewsdaily.com/10627-geofencing-understand-customers.html

https://www.data-dynamix.com/the-basic-rules-for-geofencing-in-advertising/

A number of business executives that we have talked with over the past year have mentioned the rise of remote working as a top or notable trend. Part of our discussion on this topic sometimes touched on determining which employees are, and aren’t, suited for remote work.

Within the past couple of months due to COVID-19, many employees—ready or not—are suddenly working remotely, and managers are working quickly to figure out strategies for providing extra cushioning and coaching for those who may need it most so they can maximize productivity.

But where to start? Our research has uncovered some of the following strategies:

  • Get issues or concerns about remote working on the table. Ask employees what they need from you in order to be successful and talk about concerns on both sides.
  • Set expectations. Agree on what work needs to be accomplished, and when it needs to be completed. This can help eliminate confusion. 
  • Track work progress. A tracking tool could be something as simple as a shared department Google Document or similar service where employees log the work they have completed in a day. This shows work progress, but it can also make employees feel more fulfilled if they see they are being productive.
  • Communicate often. While many managers have regular team meetings, it’s OK to check in more often with employees who may need more direction. Communication is a key factor for workers who may lose focus or struggle with decreased production out of the office. Using live meeting platforms for check-ins can be helpful as you try to replace in-office communication.
  • Choose a tool—and encourage team group chat. Instant messaging software like Slack is useful for less formal, day-to-day conversations with team members and can enhance engagement levels.
  • Look ahead and behind early and often. Some employees may need more help developing their work “docket.” When this is the case, review what has been completed, and talk specifically about what’s on the horizon. If necessary, reiterate the to-do list via email, so the employee has it in writing. Use this list as a shared guide when checking in with this team member.

A chief operations officer for a managed services provider in Ohio described an employee in their purchasing department who is struggling with task management while working remotely. This trait was mild when working in the office but exacerbated when the employee began working at home. The manager discovered a need to spend additional time with this employee developing a task list, and tracking task completion, in order to help the employee and the company be successful.

Remote working has brought about a “new normal” to many companies. The transition has been taxing in many ways. However, if some of the challenges are conquered, workers may be even stronger upon returning to the office.

Classroom Implications: 

Consider asking students what they would like to see in their ideal remote work setup. Do they think they would be more productive in an office or a remote environment? How would they keep track of their work progress? How would they want to communicate with their managers?

It’s possible that they are also adapting to their own version of working from home, as the coronavirus has also led to the closure of many school buildings. Ask them how they’ve found learning from home different than at school, and have them envision whether or not these same challenges would be present in the work environment.

Links for further learning: 

https://business.linkedin.com/talent-solutions/blog/work-flexibility/2020/tips-for-managing-remote-workforce-during-coronavirus?trk=eml-mktg-lts-20200402-covidresources-cust&mcid=6649357697751875584&cid=7010d000001KxJzAAK&src=e-eml&veh=LHS_EMLP_20200402_CovidResources_CUST_global_en 

https://getlighthouse.com/blog/10-tips-manage-remote-employees/ 

https://www.vox.com/recode/2019/10/9/20885699/remote-work-from-anywhere-change-coworking-office-real-estate 

https://www.axios.com/coronavirus-cities-airports-transportation-remote-work-52f3fc23-167f-45a9-ae29-a59345919551.html?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=organic&fbclid=IwAR21rCePLsRIyIuPdY2dgg1YBlUNGwrx5nksQjDXbsE2ksdhZkHtmm25VEg 

https://www.npr.org/2020/03/09/812898220/laundry-between-emails-working-from-home-goes-viral-in-the-time-of-coronavirus 

Or maybe just your little corner of the world? While not a new concept, social enterprises are on the rise and our global culture is adjusting to make room for them. Social enterprises are designed to address identified social problems and can be classified as either for profit or not-for-profit. Some sources indicate that 25% of all new small businesses start as social enterprises. Entrepreneurs want to start them, workers (especially millennials) want to be employed by them, and increasing numbers of consumers want to patronize them. The increase in social enterprises is even making some more-established businesses rethink their corporate social responsibility efforts and policies.

B Lab, an organization in the United States, certifies successful social ventures that have made an impact on the social mission they have selected. As of 2019, 3,000 social ventures had been certified in 71 countries around the world. B Labs requires businesses to be in operation for one year before they get certified, and also requires businesses to publish public reports that show their social and environmental performance compared to third-party standards, according to B Lab.

A business could pursue a social enterprise-like model for a variety of reasons. According to the Harvard Business Review, a social venture’s mission could mean a better ability to grow because more people would want to support the business since it also means supporting the mission.

One example is Bombas, a clothing company that donates a pair of socks to a homeless shelter for each pair of socks purchased by a customer.

Another example of a social enterprise is Hot Chicken Takeover in Columbus, Ohio. This social enterprise hires people who are homeless, people who have been incarcerated, or people who are perhaps caught in the cycle of addiction. Not only do they hire those at risk, but they also provide supportive services to help stabilize other aspects of their lives.

Younger generations want to give their money to businesses that want to make the world a better place, according to an article from Forbes. These customers want to feel like they are supporting their communities. If a local venture’s mission is to invest into community organizations and issues, that venture’s mission aligns with these customers’ values.

There are several different types of social ventures. One type is the one-to-one model, like Bombas or TOMS, which gives a pair of shoes to people in need for every pair of shoes sold. TOMS has also promised to donate $1 for every $3 it makes.

Other social ventures do not operate under a one-to-one model, but either give money to causes they support or make pledges to be environmentally sustainable. One example of this type of business is outdoor-clothing company Patagonia. Patagonia has given itself a 1% “self-imposed Earth Tax” since 1985 and donated that money to environmental groups who support protecting the natural environment. Patagonia has said it has given $89 million in social causes under this social venture model.

Challenges in Social Enterprise

Social enterprise startups face many of the same hurdles as non-social enterprise startups. But they are also faced with additional challenges in finding investment funds and managing their revenue producing venture, along with their social venture. Certain types of social ventures are required to provide metrics—often referred to as social return on investment (SROI), which can be complicated and time-consuming. Social entrepreneurs also face a fairly high rate of burnout. On the other hand, a large part of almost any venture is the willingness to learn from initial failures. So many social entrepreneurs come back for more and are finding success a second or even the third time around.

In Real Time

It wouldn’t feel right to end this Action Brief without mentioning some of the things that businesses are doing right now to help ease the pain of COVID-19 in their communities: Distilleries are making hand sanitizer, Keen is giving away 10,000 pairs of shoes to frontline workers and others, and Amazon donated $1 million to a new Seattle Foundation fund for people in that region affected by COVID-19.

Classroom Implications:

Consider asking students what they would do if they were going to start their own social venture. Ask them to think about what social mission they would support. Why would they choose one social mission over the other? After they have selected a social mission, ask how they would sustain the business. What product or service would they sell? Would it be a one-to-one business like Bombas? Or would it be more similar to Patagonia, who gives a percentage of money to support causes it believes in? Click here for a more detailed description of different types of social ventures.

Links for further learning:

https://www.businessinsider.com/b-corp-retail-companies

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-global-business-social/purpose-over-profit-are-b-corps-the-future-of-sustainable-business-idUSKCN20K2H1

https://www.fundera.com/blog/corporate-social-responsibility

https://www.fsg.org/blog/it%E2%80%99s-time-companies-imbed-social-purpose-their-business-strategy

Personal branding—is everyone doing it? The answer is most likely yes—even if we are not being intentional about it. Managing one’s personal brand, especially in the form of an online presence, is almost obligatory in today’s professional world.

In the past, personal branding was thought of more as reputation management—and was something that politicians and high-profile personalities and executives considered, but not so much the rest of us. But with today’s plethora of online communication tools, personal brands are much more widely developed and easier to ascertain.

Implications for Business

Employers are using information accessed through personal brands to help with recruiting. Some use the information to find candidates that are aligned with their goals and values. In the current hiring climate, where many job postings receive hundreds of applicants, a personal brand can help employers narrow their focus. They can more easily find the candidates who are the best fit. A personal brand can demonstrate a potential employee’s interests, initiative, and drive. Also, an employee who has a strong personal brand will most likely represent the company’s brand well, too.

Job seekers, likewise, can use personal brand to attract employers’ attention and interest. A strong personal brand helps candidates stand out and puts their best traits in the forefront. Recruiters often use social media to find potential employees, so a profile that promotes a personal brand can be beneficial. Also, the actions taken to build a personal brand can be valuable work experience. For example, if a job seeker writes a blog to build his/her brand, that skill might come in handy for a future position.

Entrepreneurs need to understand and build personal brands, perhaps more than anyone else. Often, an entrepreneur’s personal brand and company brand are one and the same. A great example of this is Seth Godin, a writer, entrepreneur, and marketing guru famous partly because of the personal brand he built through his blogs and various websites. When trying to build a company and increase a customer base, entrepreneurs need to promote themselves and the purpose of their companies. This can help them to grow and attract investors.

While it is clear that a personal brand can benefit individuals and businesses alike, it also presents challenges. If someone’s personal brand doesn’t resonate with a certain audience, it could alienate customers or employers who otherwise might have considered working with that individual. S/He may be counted out before being given a fair chance. Personal branding also brings risks when it comes to maintaining the brand image over time. If you do not actively work to build your brand, or if you make a mistake or engage in something unsavory, your personal brand could be damaged irreparably. Finally, building a personal brand takes time, effort, and sometimes financial resources. It may not be worth the return on investment.

Implications for the Classroom

A personal brand is the way someone promotes and establishes him/herself to be marketable to employers, clients, colleagues, and other audiences. It can also be a tool for communicating your core beliefs and values. Your personal brand is the way people remember and recognize your identity. It is influenced by the person’s focus and goals. A strong personal brand can help you stand out. It sets individuals apart from the crowd when they are seeking a job, obtaining clients, networking, or growing their careers in other ways. Personal brand is conveyed in the way a person presents him/herself visually, in his/her communication, and in his/her actions. Social media plays a large part in crafting personal brand through the content that is posted and shared.

Students should consider the personal brand they are already building. Is it one that would be attractive to employers? Why or why not? Students should also consider ways they can start to build a personal brand now. Encourage students to think about people with strong personal brands and how these brands have led to success. Students should also discuss the negative effects of the current emphasis on personal branding. Is personal branding genuine? Does it reduce a person’s individuality and personality?

To help students consider their own personal brand, have them form groups of two, with each partner sharing their perception of the others’ personal brand. Students can also share ideas about how to promote certain aspects of one’s personal brand.

To learn more about personal branding, consider the following resources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/goldiechan/2018/11/08/10-golden-rules-personal-branding/#677ca24c58a7

https://www.quicksprout.com/the-complete-guide-to-building-your-personal-brand/

https://www.northeastern.edu/graduate/blog/tips-for-building-your-personal-brand/

http://www.bbc.com/capital/story/20170723-the-case-against-personal-brands

Reader Comments

Rusty Poeppelmeier, a Bond Manager with Liberty Mutual Surety in Cincinnati, Ohio had the following comments after reading our Action Brief on personal branding: 

The proliferation of social media has provided new platforms and made it easier for individuals to brand themselves.  LinkedIn has also digitized the résumé and made it easy for job seekers and fillers to connect.  For students, the most important thing is to avoid branding themselves with a virtual livestock brand—a permanent mark that follows you everywhere.  Overstating your experience and skill set can be equally as problematic.  A good interviewer will easily see right through that so don’t assume you can slip it past them.  It is all too easy to make a joke or comment that could come back to haunt your image later that can’t be taken back.  It is easy to be pulled into the politics of the time but hard to explain a profanity-laced rant five years later in an interview. 

I would learn to use these new tools to brand yourself in a positive light rather than turning it into a report card on the quality of your opinion and temperament.  What you choose to not say is just as important as what you do say.  It is also a good personal report card on how well you collaborate and communicate.  You can’t win your way in the board room with intimidation or profanities.  It might win the occasional battle but eventually you will sink your brand like the Titanic.

Do you have questions or comments? If so, drop me a line at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

No business, regardless of size, is immune from mistakes, accidents, or even crises that can affect day-to-day operations. In extreme cases, these incidents can even threaten the very existence of a company or brand. Although the possibility of such events is not new, the speed at which information travels is ever-increasing. The fact that news can elicit reactions worldwide in a matter of seconds leads to heightened risk and sensitivity when responding to these crises. However, the same social media platforms that amplify and give voice to these reactions also provide the opportunity for quick and constant communications throughout the crisis management process.

One PR management firm suggests that “59% of businesses have experienced a crisis, but only 54% of businesses have a plan in place to deal with them.” While preparation is crucial in managing controversy, the types of crises businesses encounter are unforeseen. Whether it is an exploding shoe on a soon-to-be-pro athlete or a data breach affecting millions of customers, a matter of seconds can threaten the short- and long-term health of a company. When these events do occur, quick-thinking and response times are critical to managing an onslaught of online criticism. A consensus among PR firms recommends that two rules be followed throughout the response: be quick and be human.

The need to respond quickly can be a double-edged sword, however. Respond too slowly and a company risks allowing online reaction to shape the story; respond too quickly and risk making statements before all the facts are known. It can be trickier still to assess whether an event requires a response at all. The last thing a company wants is to extend the life of a story that would have otherwise been short-lived. Unfortunately, there is no clearly defined test to determine which problems are likely to stick around and which are temporary wrinkles of the ever-shifting landscape of social media.

When an event does merit an official response, companies sometimes struggle to respond with an appropriate measure of even-handedness and decency. Sometimes, defensiveness or overreaction can bring on additional difficulty. The routine advice to “be human” means trying to establish some empathy with the people affected by the crisis. While some online vitriol is part performance, some reaction comes from sincere offense or hurt. One of the worst things that a company can do is belittle those expressions. Insisting that concerns are unwarranted or that pushback is an overreaction never helps the healing process and can significantly exacerbate the problem.

There are best practices and strategies for what steps to take in the aftermath of a crisis. While many PR firms and crisis management companies offer slight variations on the theme, the general approach involves these steps:

  • Acknowledge. Ignoring or attempting to cover up a crisis will only make matters worse. Speed and transparency are crucial here. State clearly that the company is aware that an issue has occurred and that information will be provided as it becomes available.
  • Apologize. Not only is it OK to apologize—it’s a must. Even if there is internal debate about whether the company is to blame for the incident, taking some responsibility is easy to do—and when done quickly, can sometimes nip a problem in the bud. On the other hand, apologizing late can be costly.
  • Investigate. People want assurances that steps will be taken to “get to the bottom” of what has occurred. Letting the public know that an investigation into the incident has already begun can also have the effect of buying some time to develop a full response, if needed.
  • Act. This final step may be the most important. It’s one thing to release a marketing campaign that promises change, it’s another to actually enact those changes. People will be looking for evidence of it; and subsequent crises that suggest “business as usual” can really set as wave of negative reactions in motion.


It may be useful to see some of these strategies at work. Nike’s swift response to Zion Williamson’s shoe explosion closely follows the first three steps and promises the fulfilment of the fourth. On the other hand, in April of 2017, United Airlines waited a day before responding to a customer being dragged off one of its airplanes. By the time the airline issued a statement, the viral video had already been viewed millions of times, and United had to scramble to try to stay ahead of the story.

Classroom Implications

There are a number of useful lessons that students can take away from this topic. Perhaps the most important for their future success is a lesson about what (not) to share on social media. Business leaders can share countless example of well-qualified candidates who were not offered a job after a quick check of their social media accounts. Furthermore, publically posting negative comments about current employers can easily cost people their jobs. Negative posts like these could create a crisis similar to those mentioned above. Students need to ascertain employer policies about use of social media, whether it be a personal or a company account. One way to teach these lessons to students is to link their current use of social media to the kind of problems that companies have had with these platforms.

Most students today are all-too-familiar with the ins and outs of social media. Many of them will have had an experience online that they felt the need to respond to or make amends for. As long as ground rules are set about respect for classmates and what subjects are in-bounds, it can be a very useful exercise to ask them about their strategies for responding to social-media accidents or the online “crises” that they have seen. How did they attempt to put out the fires of their own mistakes? How did their friends respond? These kinds of questions can really help establish a connection between students’ lives and the business world they encounter.

Have you ever thought: “If I just didn’t have to spend so much time on (insert dull, routine tasks here), I’d have time to really excel at my job”? Soon, many of those mundane activities will become automated. Automation saves time, effort, and money. The ability to automate tasks and processes is increasingly important to businesses’ efficiency and competitiveness. Plus, with advances in technology, it’s becoming much easier to do so.

What does automation look like?

The level of automation varies, depending on technology and the complexity of the tasks. It could be as simple as setting automatic replies to emails, or as complex as programming robotic process automation software to analyze data. About half of the activities that workers do today have the potential to be automated. Current technologies are best suited for routine tasks that require little creativity or higher level thinking. These include physical labor, data processing, and data collection.

Who does it affect?

The first fully-automated businesses have emerged—businesses that have no human employees at all. Read more about these businesses here: https://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/how-organizations-will-produce-in-an-autonomous-future/. While this isn’t possible for most companies, automation has affected or will affect most occupations and industries. Financial services, customer service, manufacturing, and health care will be particularly impacted. Employees at all levels, even at the highest levels, will see their jobs change due to automation.

In a recent focus group with executives from the financial industry in Kentucky, a debate broke out about the future of bank tellers. Some in the group felt the job would become fully automated; others saw an even more important role for tellers beyond automation. The Wall Street Journal frames the issue by identifying a trend in which some bank tellers are getting raises as they deal with higher level consumer issues. OceanFirst now has a “certified digital banker” course to help tellers become more comfortable with automation and prepare themselves to help customers address increasingly complex financial issues.

The idea that jobs will be replaced by automation has sparked fear. It is true that 15% of the global workforce could be displaced by 2030 due to automation. However, only about 5% of occupations could be fully automated with current technology. It is much more likely that certain tasks will become automated, freeing up workers’ time to be more creative and strategic. Less than half of all companies expect to decrease their workforces due to automation in the next five years. Furthermore, many new jobs and industries will be created, leading to labor demand growth of 21–33% of the workforce. The growth will presumably offset any jobs lost. Around 3% of the workforce will need to change their occupations by 2030 to fill the opportunities created by automation.

Benefits of automation

  • Improved efficiency
  • Reduction of errors
  • Better understanding and use of data
  • Reduced costs
  • Ability to focus on higher level tasks, creativity, and innovation


Challenges to implementing automation

  • Mastering the technology
  • Retraining workforce
  • Cost
  • Integration with existing processes and systems
  • Resistance to change


What should businesses do to prepare?

  • Fully understand the processes that are being automated
  • Involve everyone who will be affected
  • Plan ahead
  • Focus on biggest opportunities for ROI
  • Consider security risks
  • Stay dynamic and promote growth
  • Invest in education, learning, and retraining employees
  • Develop employees’ higher cognitive skills, social and emotional intelligence, and technological abilities


For more: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/future-of-work/ai-automation-and-the-future-of-work-ten-things-to-solve-for.

Classroom Implications

Students should understand the ways that jobs are going to change with widespread automation. This will help them focus on developing the skills that will become even more important in the workforce. These include creativity, interpersonal communication, emotional intelligence, and strategic thinking—as well as the technological skills to work with automation.

Links for further learning:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbestechcouncil/2017/05/15/15-smart-tips-for-introducing-automation-to-your-business/#3c2f18e02c71

https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/digital-mckinsey/our-insights/four-fundamentals-of-workplace-automation

https://www.sage.com/en-gb/blog/ai-and-automation-business/

https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/307286

Rusty Poeppelmeier, A Bond Manager with Liberty Mutual Surety in Cincinnati, Ohio shared the comments below in relation to this Action Brief. Do you have other thoughts, or questions for Rusty? Let us know—we’ll keep the conversation going!

Automation will continue to move into different areas of the economy.  It is important students understand it isn’t all bad.  Some areas of the economy have historical labor shortages that are ripe for the investment of more automation.  I have seen it move into areas such as a farming and customer service. 

There are other areas where automation may create significant cost savings that ultimately could be passed on to the consumer.  The more complex the task the longer it will take to implement but the payoffs could also be larger.  Picking fruit in a variety of conditions is going to be more challenging than painting the same object over and over again in a controlled environment.  

We also have a demographic issue with the baby boomers headed into retirement creating a labor shortage.  So there will likely be job opportunities in this area, as the need for this technology will increase during the coming years.  That said, there is a cost to implementing this technology and one of the items difficult to overcome is change.  It takes the average industry a long time to adapt and change partly due to the cost of development and implementation.  Sometimes implementation does not work out as planned.  Customer service being one example.  Some things are not quite ready for AI but with time and resources those challenges can be overcome. 

I think the biggest piece of advice I have would be don’t let the pursuit of automation or process efficiency undermine the success of whatever business you are in.  It is very easy to start down this path and compromise too much ultimately putting the business itself at risk.  Change is hard but blind change is deadly. 

A supposed great system with a dwindling customer base has the same probability of failure as a poorly managed business.  So don’t let the pursuit of automation or a “better” process cause you to lose sight of the business itself.  If it is truly a great idea, you won’t have to sell it.  People like to finish things and claim success but don’t be blind to the reality of the actual needs of your customers.  Remember, you need the customer, the customer doesn’t need you!

Have you heard the phrase “the Internet of Things” and wondered what exactly it meant? This term has grown increasingly popular in the last five years and is an important one to know. The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to the digitalization and connectivity of any item or device. Your smart phone and laptop aren’t the only things that can connect to the Internet anymore. Anything from your refrigerator to your lightbulbs can be enabled with internet access and controlled wirelessly. These types of devices have been around for several years now: smart watches, at-home security systems controlled via app, and virtual assistants such as Amazon Alexa and Siri are now in millions of homes.

However, the future of IoT goes way beyond what we see today, and that future is coming soon. According to a HubSpot report, there will be 31 billion IoT devices in the world by the year 2020—more than four for every person on earth. Clearly, Internet-enabled devices are here to stay, and the possibilities are endless. Businesses that can capitalize on this trend will be better prepared for a future where everything is connected. IoT is already impacting business in several key areas.

Product development. Almost any business has the potential to add internet connectivity (and, therefore, interactivity) to its products. Appliances such washing machines and dryers, coffee machines, and cash registers are being programmed to sense and respond to the environment around them. Medical devices, factory equipment, and transportation are all areas that are delving into the realm of IoT as well. Businesses that are able to find creative ways to implement IoT into existing products will be a step ahead as consumers start to expect their devices to be “smart.” Technology from companies such as Arduino make it easy for anyone to add interactivity to existing products.

Production and inventory management. Manufacturing and inventory management are already incorporating IoT. For example, sensors on packaging automatically alert employees about changes in temperature, weight, condition, etc. Also, inventory tracking can be automated, which means that companies can more efficiently get products to consumers and keep track of shipments. Order fulfilment is another aspect of the IoT that will likely be prevalent in homes within the next couple of years. The Amazon Dash Button is a Wi-Fi-connected device that automatically reorders products such as soap, toilet paper, and plastic wrap with one press. As these devices become smarter, they will be able to automatically sense when a reorder is needed. Companies will need to have the ability to manage this type of instantaneous order fulfillment.

Data. Data generation is another aspect of IoT that has massive implications for business. Every device that is connected to the internet is constantly collecting data about usage and users. For example, if a washing machine can automatically sense that your family uses a load of detergent every two months, companies could use that to market detergents to you right as you run out, giving you a promotional discount right when you need it. This type of data increases the level of customizability of marketing campaigns and the ability to directly target customers. IoT will help companies get to know their customers better than ever.

Marketing. One example of IoT in marketing is in the retail space. Technology called “beacons” send notifications to shoppers based on their location. A shopper walking by a department store might receive a notification telling her/him that the store is having a 20% off sale this weekend. This can help improve sales and get customers through the doors.

Customer relationship management. The current state of customer relations is fairly passive—customers come to companies when they have a problem, and companies attempt to solve the issues. However, with the Internet of Things, companies will know when service is needed. They can reach out and solve the issue without customer involvement or action. This will build customers’ expectations that their needs will be fulfilled before they become aware of them.

Increased efficiency. The Internet of Things also offers companies improved internal efficiency in areas such as energy savings, employee effort, and productivity. Businesses can monitor processes and operations digitally, determining where productivity and costs can be made more efficient.

Need for employees. If the Internet of Things becomes as prevalent in the workplace as anticipated, most companies will likely see a need for fewer employees than they currently have. Many of the routine tasks completed by people will become automated. Meanwhile, employees who are skilled in IoT processes and knowledge will become more valuable.

Security concerns. The Internet of Things, with all of its benefits, also leaves us more vulnerable to hackers and malware. As the Internet of Things amasses more information about people and businesses, this information becomes vulnerable to hackers. It is important to consider the country (or countries) in which the product is made. Many supply chains are global, but regulations around technology are local. Products are often not made with security features in mind, which can save time and money. This past September, California enacted the United States’ first Internet of Things security law which mandates “reasonable” security features on “smart” devices.

Classroom Implications

Ask students what types of IoT devices they have in their homes. How have these devices changed the way they live, shop, or complete routine tasks? What IoT devices are used in school or in their workplaces? Use these questions to spark a discussion about the potential for new “smart” devices. Ask students to brainstorm products that they think could be effected by the Internet of Things within the next few years. Also, lead the class in a discussion about the ways that IoT can improve business operations and efficiency.

Links for further learning:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/michelleevans1/2017/01/24/5-ways-the-internet-of-things-will-influence-commerce/#76d6184f4a0f

https://www.kidscodecs.com/what-is-internet-of-things/

https://www.businessinsider.com/internet-of-things-definition

https://www.networkworld.com/article/3270961/internet-of-things/10-hot-iot-startups-to-watch.html

https://internetofthingsagenda.techtarget.com/definition/IoT-device

Page 1 of 5