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Chief Executive Officer (CEO), TrustedPeer, Inc.
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- CEO, COO, and CFO for seven technology companies resulting in five acquisitions
- Director of Finance and on IPO Team for Electronic Arts
- SEAL Team 2 - BUD/S Class 99
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Removing Barriers: Tapping into the Human Capital of Large Enterprises
Chief Executive Officer (CEO), TrustedPeer, Inc.
Hey, can I run something by you?
Who in a professional workplace hasn't asked, or been asked, this question dozens, even hundreds of times?
Everyone needs a sounding board now and then. It is one of the most common ways people seek to validate a judgment, get a second opinion, or solve a difficult problem. And most people, when looking for expertise they lack or insight they need, turn instinctively to those immediately around them.
This can be good, to a point. Your employee just might find the insight or expertise they need from the familiar coworker, someone they know and feel safe asking for help. But in a large corporation, a vast pool of knowledge teems within the organization, and it is more likely that:
- The expert colleague your employee really needs at any given time is someone they've never met.
- This colleague is disconnected from them geographically or working in a different business unit, out of sight, out of mind.
- The person seeking help doesn't even know who this colleague is, how to reach them, if and when they will respond, and what to expect if they do.
Warning: Barriers ahead.
Technology has allowed large companies to vastly improve the wiring of their internal communications networks so that colleagues in different locations, different time zones, and different countries can connect. Ever-more sophisticated collaboration tools are available.
But the fundamental barriers to connection have not changed. Companies that succeed at lowering or eliminating those barriers will boost productivity and create new value by more effectively harnessing the knowledge dispersed throughout their organization.
These barriers include:
- Difficulty identifying or locating the expert who is the right fit for the need.
- Lack of empowerment to seek expertise across functions or business units and outside hierarchical networks, outside of one's chain of command or network.
- Uncertainty about the protocol for seeking and sharing expertise.
- Lack of incentives for internal experts to respond to fellow employees seeking their expertise.
- Inefficiency in connecting and scheduling.
- From the expertise seeker, lack of understanding how to ask for help.
- From the expertise provider, uncertainty how to respond to those asking for help or uncertainty whether providing help is authorized by the company.
- Difficulty sharing, translating and applying knowledge across functional areas or business units.
- Lack of a structure to capture the shared expertise so that it accrues to the enterprise for analysis and re-use.
- Lack of an end-to-end integrated process to efficiently and consistently arrive at successful outcomes.
Can we talk?
Knowledge experts refer to a particular type of knowledge that is best for making judgment calls and solving problems.
Tacit knowledge is highly-specialized, based on hands-on experience, and difficult to capture in documents. It is best shared one-to-one, in a personalized relationship, customized to the knowledge seeker's individual circumstance.
You're looking for tacit knowledge when you want to validate a position, get a second opinion, or vet a solution to a problem.
You're not likely to find it by reading a white paper or through an Internet search. You may find some helpful factual information, what knowledge experts refer to as explicit knowledge. But what you're really looking for is a one-to-one interaction that goes something like this:
I'm familiar with your problem, so sure, let's talk. You can ask me questions. I'll ask you some, too. We'll take a good look at your particular situation, and I'll give you my perspective based on my years of experience. Then, we'll figure out what makes the most sense for your individual circumstance.
You also won't get this from IBM's Watson cognitive computing system. To the contrary, IBM itself identifies the following attributes of humans as differentiated from computers:
- Value judgment
- Common sense
You can't "run something by" a white paper, a knowledge management system, or even Watson. As Watson's namesake anticipated:
"Computers will never rob man of his initiative or replace the need for his creative thinking.” Thomas Watson Jr., former chairman and CEO, IBM.
Technology is a means, not a solution.
For years, large companies have invested in new and better technologies to harness the aggregate brainpower and talent within their organizations:
- Knowledge-sharing has evolved from the meeting room to virtual spaces, enabled by conference calling, video conferencing, and other collaboration technologies.
- Email and texting have made it possible to communicate in writing asynchronously or in real time.
- Databases, wikipedias, Internet search engines and crowdsourcing have put reams of raw information at everyone's fingertips.
- Enterprise social networks like Slack, Chatter, Yammer and Jive, knowledge management platforms like SharePoint and LotusNotes and crowdsourcing sites like Quora provide open-source environments for knowledge-sharing.
- Cognitive computing makes it possible to find explicit knowledge more quickly from unstructured data that will continue to grow through IoT.
Still, you hear the common refrain: If only we could get our people to talk to each other.
They want to, they really do.
Most employees want to succeed. They want to make smart decisions, devise the best strategies, and pursue the smartest opportunities. And they want to reduce the risk of failure.
So why does it seem so hard to get them to connect with each other, to talk to each other, to share knowledge that could make the difference between failure and success?
An end-to-end solution for leveraging the human capital in your organization begins with responding to typical human behaviors:
- I’m too busy chopping down trees to sharpen my ax. Everyone's under a lot of pressure, with deadlines and the expectation of being plugged in to work 24/7. It takes time to reach out and engage an expert. Perceived time-to-expertise becomes a barrier.
- I already know what I need to do. Leaders can be overconfident. They might have blind spots or could be just plain wrong about a course of action. They can get caught up in the euphoria of success or embrace a bunker mentality with failure. But all but the most stubborn CEO will seek out a second opinion if it is easy enough to connect with an expert whom they can trust.
- I might be wrong, but if I am, we'll learn from it and try something else. The idea of "iterate and fail quickly" is fine, but a better maxim is to "iterate smartly and succeed quickly." Vetting an idea or strategy with an expert can avoid unnecessary failures and save time, energy and money.
- I'm afraid it may look like I don’t know what I’m doing if I seek expert help. Smart companies and their leaders understand that asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It is a sign of strength. "Faking it" can lead to bad decisions and costly mistakes. Asking for help generates success.
Avoiding the "unknown unknowns." The blind spots.
Often, the biggest risk in making a decision or devising a strategy is not the misapplication or misinterpretation of knowledge that is available to you. Instead, it is the blind spots.
These are things you don't know and you don't even know that you don't know.
- Is your new product really new?
- Is your technology feasible?
- Are your delivery dates realistic?
- Is your new VP having a false start or facing a dead end?
- Should you keep pursuing that customer opportunity or are your sales resources better deployed elsewhere?
- Is the new feature patentable and defendable?
The Ancient Greeks were on to something.
Yes, some blind spots can be identified from the explicit knowledge contained in published knowledge documents. But there are limitations. A written knowledge document is static with a date stamp:
- It resides in a library, on a website, Google Docs, Dropbox, Box or some other physical location.
- It is created at a moment in time and is rarely updated.
- It does not accommodate Q&A or facilitate easy communication with the expert who authored it.
- It was prepared by the expert for availability to the many and not to address the specific context of the individual.
- It resides in the expert's head.
- It is as current as the expert's experience; what the expert learned just yesterday, you can learn today.
- Q&A is encouraged as a path to the right decision or judgment.
- The expert's knowledge is directed to the individual and addressed to the specific context or circumstance of the recipient.
Most knowledge management systems focus on explicit knowledge. But they don't emulate human behavior, which more naturally seeks out tacit knowledge.
In life, we ask a friend, "What did you do when...?" Or, "What would you do in my situation?" Your friend is not going to tell you to look up your answer on page 147.
Q: Why did Plato and Socrates prefer speaking to writing as a means of conveying wisdom and understanding?
A: Because it is the most efficient path.
Best Practices for removing barriers.
The barriers of human nature, along with the array of inefficiencies in company processes, structures and systems, can be overcome.
There are solutions:
- Implement a complete, end-to-end, solution that emulates and responds to existing human behaviors.
- Enable knowledge sharing through an engagement protocol that encourages employees to seek out expertise from others, regardless of geography, operational function or business unit.
- Structure your engagement protocol to facilitate access to internal experts and to effectively manage the requests they receive.
- Incentivize internal experts to be available and responsive to expertise requests.
- Design your engagement protocol to encourage a one-to-one conversation and relationship.
- Provide tools and a process that make in-house engagements efficient, reliable, predictable and repeatable.
- From start to finish, capture the trail of knowledge shared within your organization.
Removing Barriers: Tapping into the Human Capital of Large Enterprises: Overview