The Future of Credentials?

Following the post on the future of work, was thinking about what implications this would have for education, and the most obvious connection between work and education is about credentials. These are the signposts that tell (current or future) employers that a person has a certain set of characteristics. The most obvious example of credentials is the degree which your college/university has given you, telling the world that you meet a certain set of criteria. Often, this criteria is somewhat obscure, and may mean all things to all people, as we can see from the fact that the same credential from different universities mean different things, as seen from the value that people assign to them.

Today, a college degree has immense value for an employer, because the college degree tells the employer that the student has gone through a certain set of courses, and therefore is the right person to meet the requirements of the employers. From the employer’s perspective, the degree tells them that the prospective employee has the skills to be able to build a career. What employers look for is the assurance that the prospective employee has what it takes to fit into the grand scheme of things, to become a part of the larger picture that their organisation represents.

However, as the nature of work changes, as I said before, would such a credential of an ability to learn all things be as important? I believe that in such a scenario, where an individual would be contributing their specific quantum of work in a larger value chain as a ‘freelancer’ the skills of the individual in that particular space would become much more important than their generic ability. This means that organisations would naturally be more interesting in evidence of achievement in that specific area.

Such a shift in focus from organisations would necessarily mean that the ability to demonstrate ability in a particular area would become more valuable than the ability to demonstrate overall/generic ability. Hence, I feel, artefacts generated by individuals in the course of their learning, whether in the form of project reports, or papers authored, or creative work, would probably have a far greater impact than the degree. So, for instance, a paper written by a student on a particular topic, related to the work sphere of the student would likely have far more interest for employers than the degree or the grade would.

In other words, the evidence of achievement, in the form of artefacts, or in the form of eminence would become a far more valuable resource by which to evaluate prospective employees than simply the degree.

The Future of Work?

The way we work has been undergoing massive changes over the last decade or more, but today, I believe, we are at the cusp of a fundamental shift in the relations of work, facilitated by the developments in technology. By relations of work, I mean the role each individual plays in a ‘value chain’ and how the part contributes to the whole.

Before the advent of the modern corporation, people worked not for a corporation (they weren’t around, remember?). Rather, artisans, for instance, manufactured their final product, say a bicycle (if they were around …) as a single entity, and sold their products in a marketplace.

With the advent of the corporation came the concept of people working in jobs where they did specific work, which contributed (often in indefinable ways) to the overall value chain. In this way, the individual would do their part of the work, and pass on their output to someone else, who would do their part of the work (value add) and so on …

This aspect is changing, and, I believe, set to change in bigger ways. As we are seeing there is a trend towards organizations outsourcing their work to freelance contractors. As this grows (and we are seeing this happening more so in the technology sector) we would likely come to a state where instead of many individuals being brought together under the ambit of the organizations, people would work more in their capacity as individuals, being brought together under the ambit of the value chain. This value chain, by definition, would span organizations, which means that we can expect to see, more and more, the value chain being formed as a loose federation of individual freelance contributors, their output orchestrated by a set of organizations partnering together to create a certain set of products or services.

So in terms of work structures this could likely be a move towards towards ways of working the modern corporation replaced, though in ways which are very much the new millennium. This has massive implications on the aspirations of youngsters (I don’t quite rely on the generation nomenclature, partly because I don’t understand it …), in that they can probably no longer aspire to long term jobs and designations may lose their meaning, the content of work, and the satisfaction that generates being the main defining factors there.

In a way, going back in time, but in a 21st century way.

HR Change Agenda

Over the last few days, two pieces have appeared in HBR, about the change agenda for HR. One is written by Ram Charan, which talks about splitting HR, while the other, written by Cathy Benko and Erica Volini, about what it will take to fix HR. At the most fundamental level, both these pieces acknowledge the fact that there is a problem with the HR function in the organization. And since they agree on that, they also agree that something needs to be done about it. And thats where, more or less, they move in different directions, as you would see from the blogs.

Lets step back, and take a look at some of the reasons why these problems are there, coming from the perspective of HR practitioners. The first aspect we need to understand is that in today’s world of business, with a steady level of complexity, and increasing levels of disruptive changes, HR managers need to understand details of the business, both internal and external to the organization. Only then can HR managers play a meaningful role in defining organization strategy. In other words, HR managers need to be at the confluence of business management, and people management. However, most of the HR practitioners I talk to are nowhere close to this point. Most HR practitioners are generalists, and not SMEs when it comes to business operations. This means that they need to take guidance from business managers, and formulate practices based on this guidance.

Because that might sound a bit abstract, let me take an example. Lets say a business manager decides that there are some skills lacking in his team. The manager would reach out to the L&D team, tell them what type of training is required, and the L&D team would search through a catalogue, identify the training, and execute the logistics to deliver the training. The L&D team, in this example, has no understanding of the reason for the training requirement, the objective that is to be met, or the outcomes that should come out of the training for participants. In this scenario, the team is essentially fulfilling requirements, rather than giving strategic inputs into the forecasting of medium- to long-term training needs, how these would help address business objectives, and address employee development.

To summarize, it is at the intersection of business and people management that there is a gap, and filling this gap is the need which needs to be addressed. To address this, we need people who have a sound understanding of the complexity and challenges of business, and how people practices can help to address those challenges and meeting that complexity. Whether this is to be achieved by splitting the HR function, I dont know, though the debate throws up more questions than just that. It raises the point that I am talking about here … that in stead of HR practitioners only taking guidance and fulfilling requirement, HR practitioners need to be in a place where they can add strategic value, and that this requires a change in the way HR managers look at the intersection of business management and people management.

Social Supply Chain

Came across a post by @SameerPatel about Enterprise 2.0 conference … What i found cool was the idea of different tracks which brings to focus the idea that social media is the tool which can help bring more effectiveness into various parts of the organization. This is welcome because with this we are moving to the application aspect from the concept aspect.

When coming to the concept of social for supply chains, this is something which can help an organization bring about quite a bit of efficiency in the supply chain. While supply chains have always been about collaboration, without the social aspect, supply chain management tends to look at supply chains as business processes and the collaboration is assumed to be happening as part of the process. In theory this is nice, but keeps the people out of the collaboration picture, with people only coming in as users of systems. With the social aspect, this part comes to the front.

What i am trying to say here is that when supply chain partners collaborate, it is the people in these supply chains which collaborate, and the context (content, if you may) for the collaboration comes from the SCP, CPFR and other tools. The social aspect of supply chains, by bringing together people driving the supply chain processes in these partners to interact and collaborate could bring in the sticky knowledge which is relevant to specific parts of the supply to the fore. In a way, brings the concepts of SCM and KM together, would you say?

Knowledge Supply Chain …

I recently read a post by @nickknoco about the Knowledge Supply Chain. Nick draws a useful analogy with the concept of the Supply Chain, to describe how we could look at the flow of knowledge in the organization. Quite agree with Nick that when talking about supply chains, we dont start from the supply side, rather, we begin with the demand side, and this translates into first defining what it is that people need, and then creating a product (here, it would be a knowledge product, but the idea is similar) to satisfy that need. What i find more important is the analogy, because it recognizes the fact that knowledge flows through a value chain (or in an organization) quite analogous to material flowing through a supply chain.

Central to the idea of the knowledge supply chain is the understanding that knowledge flows, and that in any flow, like that of material or information in the supply chain, there are participants who enable the flow, and need to be at the focal point of any study of the flow. In the knowledge supply chain, it is the people, participating in the supply chain who are analogous to the organizations in a material supply chain. This is something KM practitioners already understand (KM is about people is the most written about, least practised theme), so this gives us a sense of how looking at a supply chain perspective of KM would lead us to things we are already familiar with.

So where does the organization come into the picture. The way I see it, the organization provides the backdrop for this supply chain or flow. I wouldnt go so far as to say that the organization is the reason for this flow, because knowledge flows span organizations, and there is no reason to assume that there was no knowledge-sharing in the pre-modern organization-era. Having said that, the organization does provide the context for the flow, and that is one of the aspects that I meant by backdrop (which is a clever thing to write, given that I havent the foggiest idea about what else I meant). In addition to providing the context, the organization also sets the tone for a knowledge-marketplace. Any supply chain is a series of marketplaces which define the optimum value exchange (pricing of products or services being only one component of value), and have a more-or-less well defined set of participants. In other words, the supply chain and marketplace views of KM are quite analogous, and I have since long been supporting this way of looking at KM.

Hierarchies, E 2.0

This is a topic which has been discussed for a while, and one which we still dont know much about. The dynamics of how hierarchy and community would interplay with each other are being figured out. And maybe thats why this question keeps coming up from time to time. There is an interesting post written by Andrew McAfee where he writes about the thought that the millennials wont change work, rather, they would get changed by the organization structure as they get settled into the working environment. While at first glance Luis Suarez in this post seems to disagree with Andrew (he says so too), i think he is trying to refine what Andrew says.

The question here seems to be, put more generically, what would be the kind of impact millennials, with their worldview, would have on organizations. Whether they would have their worldviews changed by organization structures, or whether they would influence organization structures to an extent where community, collaborative working, distributed decision-making, and distributed leadership would get a different meaning from what they have now.

I feel the two are neither very probable. What i feel would be the evolutionary path would be some kind of middle route, where hierarchies would impact the millennial’s way of working, their worldview, and millennials would impact the way organizations are structured, and to an extent, the way organizations work. I have written about this earlier and i feel that change in this scenario would be gradual, and the impact would be seen only after maybe 20-30 years. This is the time it would take (just a guess, please write a comment if you dont agree with the guess) for the interactions of the two different ways of doing things to play out and enable the new form to emerge.

I agree with Andrew that:

If all these articles were accurate, we would have witnessed almost nonstop convulsions in the workplace over the past sixty years, and knowledge work environments that look nothing like they did a few generations ago. But instead we still have org charts that mean something, jobs with narrowly defined responsibilities, promotions, bosses and subordinates, and most of the other longstanding trappings of organizational life.

Having said that, i also agree with Luis that:

To me, work happens around you; the workplace is no longer a physical location where you would go to do your working hours, report to your boss and project team and then back home. To me, work happens around you AND those knowledge workers, across the organisation, you connect and collaborate with in various social networks and communities. Not just traditional organisational structures, like in the past; business work has become a whole lot more complex than that lately, don’t you think?

Having said that, i feel that the change would be somewhere between the two. Where between the two it would be, would depend on the environment in which the change is happening. This environment would include the culture of the organization, the nature of work the organization does, and the demographics of the organization (these are just the variables which come to mind first off, there would be more, so if you can come up with some, please leave a comment).

Knowledge Hoarding

My friend Dinesh Tantri recently shared a piece over at K-Community about knowledge hoarding knowledge in Indian companies. The reasons for why the ISB found employees not sharing knowledge can be found on the link. The article looks at Indian companies and the reasons why employees in Indian companies tend to not share knowledge but probably the idea of hoarding knowledge is a global one. Question is why. And while the reasons mentioned in the report make sense we may want to look behind these reasons.

A few thoughts on how i think about this. I believe that over the period of the last few centuries (maybe the advent of the industrial revolution?) there has, with the formation of the modern-day model of the organization a mindset of scarcity. This mindset works on the assumption that there isnt enough for everybody. What this means is that is someone gets more then that would be because someone else would get less. If we look at the idea that the industrial revolution was based on material resources this is actually true. If someone gets more coal then that is because someone else gets less. If someone gets more machinery then thats because someone else gets less. If someone makes more money then thats because someone else makes less. This is the reason behind the century or more of colonial expansionism starting with the 18th century.

Once we agree with this idea then the next step would be to understand that in addition to the material resources another resource which is important to convert material into finished products which can be sold to customers is knowledge. So if you read the textbooks on management they talk about the M’s … i think Man, Money, Machine, Material. The Man part of this comes from the understanding that people are the source of labour but that cant be the only reason. Whatever the reason, if there is a thought of scarcity and there is the understanding that peoples knowledge is an important ingredient, the idea of knowledge is power cannot be too far. And this is the scenario we live in.

Coming to the 21st century where more and more value creation is based on knowledge. The basic difference between the knowledge-economy work and industrial-economy work is that the critical input to creating value for customers is different, knowledge and material respectively. Lot has been written about the structural difference between knowledge and material, namely that knowledge doesnt reduce by sharing, rather it increases by sharing, unlike material resources which reduce by sharing. As we see more and more work being done revolving around knowledge and knowledge playing a more and more critical role in value-generation we are also seeing more and more the idea that knowledge shared is knowledge shared, and this is where new ideas about knowledge and knowledge-sharing seem to be emerging.

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?).

Big KM …

There is a rather interesting post by Patti Anklam about three forms of KM … i am looking forward to the post about little KM, but at the moment, thought i would blog about this post. For a few reasons. First, this post is a wonderful way of introducing the subject of KM to someone who maybe has not interacted with the formal structures of KM as a practitioner. In addition, it describes well the possibilities which are available to us with a KM toolkit. Which is why i would recommend this post.

In addition to that, one aspect that Patti brings out:

Set of services provided by or through a central KM organization to business units.

This describes the scenario quite well. At the same time, one thing to see from here is that in most organizations (the ones i have interacted with), KM is seen as an external entity. This is something which someone from corporate has decided must be “done”, so they ask folks to fill out some templates and upload them on portals. Are they useful? How does that matter? Does anyone use them? Again, how does that matter? While a consultative approach may be helpful (something Patti mentions), i feel that the important challenge we as a community of Knowledge Managers face is to understand that KM is a wonderful thing, but that KM is a tool which is part of the managers toolkit for solving business problems, and for meeting some requirements. Once we look at this, its easy to derive that the positioning of KM must as a solution to meet specific requirements, not as an additional activity which needs to be done. Rather, you may find that not using the term KM, but rather, terming and positioning it in terms the business users understand, and can relate to, is an important aspect of selling the ideas of KM, leading to larger adoption.

Another aspect that needs to be looked at … what is the impact of having KM as an external entity, vis a vis having KM as a part of the business units themselves. While i dont have much experience of the latter, one way to look at this could be to position KM as a part of the business unit, for operational perspective, while at the strategy/planning level, this could be something which could be centralized (with inputs from business units), because while a KM strategy must be synchronized with corporate requirements, the implementation of this strategy must be aligned to the business requirements of business units, because at the business units is where KM is actually going to find engagement, and create value. And since in different business scenarios KM could deliver value in different ways, the implementation of the strategy could be something which could be worked out by a KM team within the business units. If you would like to share a thought, or an experience you have come across, please do comment.