Before discussing the merits of workflow automation, let’s use some dirty words. Two of them, to be exact: Red tape.
Whether you’re working in a company or standing in line at your county licensing bureau, you’ve probably bemoaned the paperwork and excruciatingly-extended process involved in getting things done, whether it’s an H.R. onboarding, a legal filing or a construction variance.
We tend to blame the people involved, so we mutter to ourselves about “the lawyers” or “those human resources people” or “those lazy bureaucrats,” the primary malefactors in holding things up and forcing us to cool our heels or gnaw our fingernails.
What we rarely extend their way is any sympathy, but sympathy is definitely in order. If you’d fought through the ponderous ancient workflows and processes they have to endure, you’d give them the benefit of the doubt.
Manual processes and paper-based workflows create delays, errors, logjams and episodes of pure frustration for everyone concerned: the customer, the internal stakeholder and, yes, even for the functionaries who catch the blame for those holdups and headaches.
They, more than anybody else, know the pain of antiquated workflows, because they’d much rather be spending their time doing more productive things than searching for a misplaced document or spamming gatekeepers for approvals.
Driving collaboration, not conflict
At CLOC Institute 2017, we got to hear the testimony of plenty of people in legal operations teams who spoke of how workflow automation had made a revelatory difference in terms of efficiency, precision and, yes, even morale. It’s why Mary O’Carroll said introducing workflow automation had taken on the quality of a movement or a revolution for its adopters, making it far more than just an operational expedience.
Workflow automation has rescued the organizational reputations of legal operations teams and H.R. departments, among others, by accelerating processes that were previously bogged down in bottlenecks and errors:
- By streamlining operations, eliminating redundant tasks and processes, they not only speed things up but also make stakeholder interactions frictionless, not frustrating.
- By introducing transparency and centralized access and reporting, they build bonds of trust between everyone involved.
- By reducing or eliminating errors, they help everyone save face or even look like a superstar.
- By boosting productivity and applying analytics to drive operational excellence, they make the C-suite very happy.
All of which helps further cross-enterprise collaboration, which is the holy grail of any organization that hopes to stay alert, agile and responsive in this day and age.
The pioneers and heroes of this new paradigm? The same people who were once pariahs: legal and H.R. professionals who understood the impact workflow automation would have on their workplace, their co-workers and the bottom line.
Credit them with unintended consequences
Connie Brenton of CLOC first coined the phrase “unintended consequences” as it relates to workflow automation. They’re the very real yet often unforeseen benefits from that we can thank its advocates for, too:
- Positive morale: Legal firms that have deployed workflow automation have seen employees, especially Millennials, acquire a more positive view of the organization, as younger attorneys feel they’re being supported by their firms and made part of a collaborative team.
- Stronger client & customer ties: Teams have been able to establish stronger ties with clients and customers, once repetitive tasks have been automated, removing burdens on everyone involved. More examples of this have included more attorney/client partnering on pro bono work and greater transparency in budgeting and forecasting thanks to automation tools, both helping with client retention.
- Job creation: This has happened as departments have moved tech- heavy jobs in-house to customize tech tools to fit specific needs. By creating in-house roles, creation and deployment of these solutions is accelerated, equaling better collaborations with clients, employees and end users.
- Higher-quality work: A 2006 review of healthcare providers who had installed workflow automation found that not only were there expected benefits like time savings, reductions in staff stress and improvements in morale, but the actual quality of care being given to patients had improved.
At CLOC Institute 2018, we’ll probably hear even more good news about workflow automation in legal departments – about efficiency, about benefits we haven’t even imagined yet, and about how it’s breaking down the walls that keep people from working together and finding joy and satisfaction in their jobs.
That’s not a blue-sky dream when it comes to workflow automation. It’s happening for real, and it’s happening right now.