TM & SCM – Contd

Continuing from this post, I was thinking about more details about this parallel between Talent Management and Supply Chain Management. The first principle, from which I am trying to derive things here is that in both cases, there is a demand (in one case for talent, and in the other case for products), which needs to be met, and frameworks or processes put into place to match supply with demand. With products, the source of demand is simple to visualize. Not so with talent. So lets begin by taking a look at that.

The need of strategies, processes, and practices in the organization is to meet the business vision of the organization. To meet this vision, some work needs to be done by some people, and therefore, there is a need for people, equipped with the talent to do this work. So, the demand for talent arises from the work to be done to meet the strategic goals of the organization. Add to this the fact that there is specific talent available within the organization, and from there, its a question of trying to match available talent to the demand for talent, and based on this, determine what talent is required (in which area) to meet this demand. The supply of demand comes from employees, contractors, applicants, and L&D. I say L&D because learning is one way for creating talent supply to meet the talent needs of the organization.

Having said this, the basic concept which is the core for SCM is the concept of the part number. This is the unique identifier which tells anyone across the supply chain which specific material or product is being talked about. There needs to be a concept similar to this, something which uniquely identifies the attributes of the talent required (somewhat like part number which uniquely identifies the specifications of the material being spoken about). Different organizations meet this requirement in different ways. As you will read here, IBM solved this with the concept of JRSS, the Job Role Skill-Set, which is a composite of the job role, the role that an individual performs, and the skill sets that the individual has. This is the common identifier which can uniquely define what talent is being spoken of in the talent planning process.

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L&D Aligning with TM

Whether you are a Talent Management practitioner, or a Learning & Development practitioner, you would have the question about how these two should align. The question is one of how one can enable the other. To answer this, one must explore the source of L&D initiatives, with which L&D initiatives must be aligned. This source is higher people performance. If we take this as the premise, then it stands to reason that L&D must be strongly aligned with TM strategy.

People performance is defined based on the performance management framework the organization would have in place. Broadly, the levels of this framework (in a theoretical scenarion, and many organizations differ widely from this) could be seen here, and one can also see the levels and ways in which L&D can align with, and enable this TM strategy.

As you can see, the inputs from L&D initiatives at different levels need to be aligned to the requirements of that level, and the learning objectives which need to be met at that level.

At the level of KCAs, where the need is to build behaviourial capability, the training requirement primarily is for soft-skills, the details of which are based typically on a combination of role and the level in the hierarchy of the employee (commonly called band).

At the employee-goals level, the requirements are either in terms of organization needs from the employee, or in terms of employee aspirations, and these are primarily met in the form of technical training, or in form of training designed to meet the needs of succession or progression. From the perspective of succession or progression, organizations usually have programs aimed at equipping people for meeting specific roles, wither at the same level or at a higher level, and these would typically form part of the training needs at this level of the framework.

At the project/operational level, the training needs are primarily project-focused, to build capability inventory aligned with the requirements of the project or operations, and this forms a large part of the training requirements, mostly technical or functional.


Of Definitions …

This is the season of discussing and describing some of the fundamental aspects of Knowledge Management. On similar lines is the post by Luis Suarez about using stories for defining KM and e2.0 … interesting reading.

Beginning with the idea of definitions, there is the important part about defining KM. This is where i believe we need to do a bit of rethink. I believe that there is no single universal definition of KM, simply because there is no single, universal definition of knowledge. What i am trying to say is that if we dont know what we are managing, then the definition of the management process itself must be a little hazy. Hence, the starting point for this has to be a definition for the concept of knowledge. Now, this is not to say that i claim to have come up with a definition. And i am not even trying. All i am trying to say here is that if a universal definition eludes us, then we must look for definitions which are specific in nature, from the perspective of the world of business, and then try to build up a somewhat universal definition, which covers ample ground.

What this means is that we can define knowledge in the context of a particular scenario. Now, this definition may not be applicable outside of this context but thats ok, because if we look at a series of contexts, then every scenario, within the organization, that is, forms a context. This is akin to looking for a working definition, rather than a precse one. And once this definition can be found out, then the definition of Knowledge Management can get derived from there. Again, by definition, this definition would be contextual, but again, being a working definition, this gives us a good starting point for building up KM initiatives. And if we look at enough of these definitions, we could come up with something which is generic enough to cover ample ground, which is why i quite like the definition which Dave Snowden has given at his blog.

Having said this, this kind of working knowledge can be built up using the art of story-telling as well. However, this probably doesnt take away much from the need of a definition, because i believe that what you cannot define in two sentences is something you havent understood. But, yes, i do believe that stories can be an excellent way of building up this understanding, which in turn can be quite a good way to approach a better understanding. For example, i use stories, too, rather, examples, when trying to define Knowledge, and from there, define Knowledge Management when i am running sessions for this. I like to distinguish between three terms before proceeding:

Data: Meteorological data, collected from across the world by weather satellites.

Information: Its going to rain in Kolkata

Knowledge: Better carry an umbrella if you are travelling to Kolkata.

This also bring up the idea of relevance of knowledge, illustrating the idea that what is considered knowledge by one person may not be so by another. What i like to take as an example of this is the incident from A Study in Scarlet, where, when told by Dr Watson, that the earth revolves around the sun, Sherlock Holmes informs him that now that he knows this, he will try to forget it, because this is not relevant to him. While it is true that its very difficult to say what information, from which sphere, could lead to what new discovery, in which sphere, it is impractical to have access to all knowledge on the world, and hence, the notion of knowledge being that which is relevant comes into the picture.

These ideas can be refined by the audience to arrive at a definition of Knowledge Management, which, while being different each time, usually comes to something like:

Knowledge Management is the management discipline of facilitating the flow of knowledge in the organization, ensuring relevant information is made available to the relevant people, in a timely manner, to enable them to perform their job more effectively.

As you can see, this definition is something which is specific to the working context, like i said that probably its better to create something which is contextual, and then build upon it. Any ideas of where this definition might lead you?


Defining … Some Thoughts

This seems to be the season for fundamental re-thinks. It began with Dave Snowden’s post about alternative to CKO, which delved into the relationship between business units and KM. I had published a poll about the same topic (which is open till 10th October), and blogged about Dave’s thoughts. And something i have been thinking about for a few days (the reason i havent been able to blog about this earlier is simply laziness) … how could one define KM. And came across this post by Dave Snowden, defining KM, which i think is a very good description of what KM should be doing in an organization.
I think the definition Dave gives describes KM quite well:

The purpose of Knowledge Management is to provide support for improved decision-making and innovation throughout the organization. This is achieved through the effective management of human intuition and experience augmented by the provision of information, processes and technology together with training and mentoring program.

Improved decision-making … this is something which was promised by information systems more than a decade back. Though decisions did improve, there is still the possibility of decision-making being more improved. How, one may ask. Till now, the paradigm of decision-making hasnt considered that decision-making is not a perfectly rational process. In other words, decisions arent always made on perfectly rational assumptions, or on information available, and that, even if theoretically, all possible information were available (which it cant), there would still be that factor x which is not totally definable, and which cannot be externalized, which influences decision-making. Could we call this tacit knowledge? Probably. Could we call this experience? Maybe. No matter what we call this, this remains the major aspect of Knowledge Management.

Add to this the aspect that it is not usually possible for everyone to have access to all possible information required to make a decision. Not only is this because of systemic constraints, but also because there is usually no single definition about what information is relevant, or required, for making a decision. In some scenarios there is, but not in all. Given this, one aspect of KM is also to get people connected with sources of knowledge, whether repositories, or people, and to get them access to knowledge, whether directly or indirectly, which may be relevant for decision-making. This is the essential value-proposition for tools like social networking.

Another aspect which Dave mentioned is about the positioning of KM in the organization. The essence is that at a centralized level, KM needs to be synchronized with the strategic imperatives of the organization, while implementation should be done at localized level. Implementation of KM initiatives should be within the context of the localized business requirements. This has a number of benefits. One, this ensures that while overall KM is aligned with strategic requirements, at the point of implementation, KM is aligned with specifics of business requirements. Two, this also creates a level of ownership for  KM initiatives among business units. Three, it is easier to measure the impact of KM initiatives in highly localized context, where it is easy to define the way KM can impact the business, rather than at a generic level.


Knowledge Management Team …

There is a wonderful post by Dave Snowden discussing alternatives to CKO. I would put this post as one of those which is a must-read for anyone who has some interest in the realm of Knowledge Management. This is because the post gives a very clear picture of the way a KM team should be structured, and what should be some aspects of the role of a CKO in the organization.

I agree with Dave that with the current model, of having a CKO as being distinct from the “business units” or LoBs in the organization, KM is seen as being something which needs to be done by someone else. This is one of the reasons why KM initiatives in a lot of organizations face a scenario of low engagement with business units. Unless we can come up with a scenario where KM is not seen as being something has to be done by someone else, this seems as though it would continue. KM, in other words, needs to be the responsibility of everyone. However, an important part of this is that KM must be relevant. KM today is seen as a set of practices, and platforms which can be used by everyone in the organization uniformly. This is where i believe there must be a change. That different people in the organization need KM to solve different problems, that different people would engage with KM in different ways and scenarios, and that different people need different things from KM is something which needs to be understood well. If KM is something additional which needs to be “done”, probability is that it wont get “done”. Which means that KM needs to be more and more a part of the day-to-day work of people. In other words, we need to look at a scenario where KM practices are integrated with the business processes in the organization, as i have written before (and still looking for inptus, folks).

Another important thing that Dave says is that central support is a must-have, though it should not be the driving factor, but rather, the supporting the factor in KM initiatives. The way i look at it, the KM initiatives should be driven by the business units, with some form of support which comes from a centralized KM function, which can leverage their expertise at KM initiatives to support the KM initiatives being run by business units. This will ensure that the KM initiatives are synchronized with the business needs of the business unit, while at the same time, ensuring that the business units own the KM initiatives. A small example … When you are talking to a team to introduce the KM portal to them, are you able to introduce the portal as a KM portal, or as their portal, which, by the way, is hosted by KM, being the facilitator. What this means, i believe, is that the KM function in the organization should look at a form of a federated structure, with a central KM team, which are the facilitators, or rather, i would look at them as being consultants, who are also facilitators, supporting the KM initiatives decided and run by business units, with their own KM teams.

Dave also says that the role of the CKO should not be rotating role, with people from the different functions and business units taking up this role for a period of time. This would ensure that there is no drying up of new ideas to take KM to the next level, and also that the KM initiatives are synchronized with business needs. Another way, though, i feel, could be to create a clear distinction between the ownership for KM initiatives, and the facilitation for these KM initiatives. If the CKO should be someone from business units, then the career path for people who are part of the central KM team seems to lead to the bogs. On the other hand, if you have a dedicated, full-time CKO, and he happens to be a CKO 1.0 (please pardon the pun), then that, probably, is the surest way of taking your KM initiatives downhill. A large number of organizations, for example, have CKO’s who dont really appreciate the power of web 2.0 in knowledge-sharing, and this is a sure way of getting the KM initiatives going the way i mentioned before.

In a nutshell, KM should be a two-tiered structure, with a central, support team, and a business unit-owned team, which actually formulates, and drives the KM strategy, and the resultant initiatives. While on this topic, please look to the right of the screen, and right below the beautiful picture of the Victoria Memorial, please do take a moment and post your opinion on the poll i have posted (isnt this the season for KM team structure?).