Do you think in your visit to McDonald's in the future, you will be greeted by a machine that will take your order, bag it for you, do the transaction and see you off? Seema Arora Nambiar, VP - Business Excellence and People Resources, Hardcastle Restaurants doesn't foresee this happening in the near future at McDonald's India.
Here is how she feels the automation strategy will impact business of the Indian arm of the world's largest burger fast food chain positively, and will not act as a deterrent to job creation, let alone eliminate jobs.
Some of the best excerpts from the interview:
By any chance, do you see your future automation strategy as a threat to the people who are currently taking orders, or are handling the back-end processes, or maintaining restaurants at nights?
I don’t see a threat to people at all. Our philosophy is re-skilling and hence people will get absorbed into newer jobs and roles that will add value to them and the business. We multi-skill our people. All our crew members, at any point in the restaurant, are capable to handle multiple processes, like making the food and order-taking as well as dealing with customers. Technology will only add to the existing capability and allow the crew to indulge in other activities.
But doesn’t it curb job creation? You might not be outplacing people, but wouldn’t it deprive you of the need to create jobs?
No. While automation will make some activities redundant; the reality of life is – you would still need people to do work, because it is a necessity. If technology creates redundancy, it also has a non-linear effect on job creation – technology itself gets created and operated and maintained by people. So that is one new avenue where it creates jobs.
How do you decide which roles are to be automated?
We like to build the organization thinking about the future. We try to understand which job roles really need to be permanent. Some roles might be temporary in nature and it would make sense to have short-term partners/consultants do such jobs instead of employing people full time. Hence you would take a decision on roles to be added vs. technology to be deployed together. Decisions like these can’t be taken in isolation of the business need and hence is taken on a situational basis.
Isn’t that exactly where the dilemma really lies for business? Doesn’t it make business sense to have a machine perform a job if it is both cheaper, and much more efficient and effective?
Actually, sometimes if people are engaged in a repetitive job and doing something which they don’t enjoy, then it is normally the hotbed of discontentment and leads to disengagement – something which isn’t conducive to the business.
In the long term, do you see automation replacing people at fast food chains? Going back to the ex-McDonald’s USA CEO Ed Rensi’s comment, that a McDonald’s will “not hire an employee for $15 an hour for bagging French fries when it could buy a $35,000 robotic arm.” Do you see that level of automation activity happening in India?
No. I don’t see it happening here in India in the mid to long future. A robot arm might work if you are in a transactional business. But if you are in a community restaurant business, where relationships drive business, it isn’t an optimal move. A large part of our sales comes our strong relations with the community.
Has there ever been a case of any outplacement at McDonald’s India due to automation?