Don’t leave your pearls in their shells

Andrew Morris offers some advice on how firms can take advantage of the true worth of their people

Is your business truly aware of your people’s hidden talents? Many fail to harness their intellectual capital and are unaware that the contributions employees could make can far surpass their job descriptions. To paraphrase a former HP CEO, “if only we knew what we don’t know”.

In today’s knowledge-based businesses, being able to harness this intellectual capital and creativity has a direct effect on the bottom-line. But all too often, systems and processes fail to identify valuable insights, let alone support the sharing of social capital and wisdom that gives a business its edge.

Create a sharing culture. Sharing should be engrained in the everyday values of the organisation, so that it becomes expected. The very act of sharing knowledge encourages discretionary effort, even in competitive workplaces. It’s the opposite of the silo mentality: it brings departments together and allows people to walk in others’ shoes for a while. Make it clear that there is kudos attached to sharing knowledge and that it’s in everyone’s interest to seek out the go-to people for expertise and input.

Get every employee to create a profile of themselves on the company intranet (you do have an intranet or an enterprise social, network system for sharing, don’t you…) that goes beyond their job description. Hobbies, talents, experience – all may be useful in future. Maybe an employee has lived in Germany and the company needs to understand the nuances of working there. Go through people’s CVs and dissect them, highlighting skills and interests that may be valuable. This then becomes a ‘Knowledge Bank’ for future reference.

The harder part is capturing learning. Shy, humble Brits may be too modest to crow about their talents, so capturing the material you need might be a case of push and pull. A more likely source of insight will be colleague recommendations. Those ‘water cooler moments’ may yield a discovery about someone’s knowledge around a particular issue, which can then be added to the knowledge bank.  Colleague endorsements are also a powerful form of encouragement and will help to reinforce that culture of collaboration.

A constantly updated knowledge bank is a visible demonstration of a company’s intellectual assets and, as such, it can add value to a business in search of a buyer or investment.

Discourage hoarding, reward sharing. Incentivise sharing behaviour through rewards: if a tender process is successful because of effective collaboration, make sure the team leader acknowledges the unsung backroom heroes who helped to make it happen. It isn’t necessarily financial rewards, but recognition, that matters most. People are spurred on by the knowledge that their contribution is valued.

The older generation may find a sharing culture tougher. They may be more protective of their knowledge, which they associate with their job security. But if it becomes the norm, they’ll start to conform or risk standing out for the wrong reasons.

Let your stars shine: Stars often reside in the junior ranks of an organisation. It’s up to department heads to identify and push forward these people so senior executives are aware of their talent. Monthly round tables with the CEO are one way of bringing stars to the attention of the senior team and allowing them to have a voice.

These stars may be influencers, experts or disruptors. Influencers are often big, vocal personalities who know what’s going on at the grassroots of the organisation. Experts are wizards at what they do, or have a specific set of talents that make them a ‘go-to’ person for particular situations.

Disruptors are another group who regularly go the extra mile. They are the people who keep asking, ‘why, why, why?’ They want to get things done, even if that means knocking down accepted norms.

Often, organisations cannot cope with disruptors because they need to be managed differently. They are often motivated as much by change as by financial incentives, and they need to be listened to, or their drive turns to negative behaviour.

All your stars should be encouraged and fast-tracked. Allowing relatively junior stars to rise quickly sends a strong signal to others about the potential for career progression in the company.

Career progression and recognition: Take a structured approach to the development of your people and support them in their career progression. As a leader, create an environment where people can expand and flourish – perhaps they will discover hidden value within themselves.

Identify a raw talent that you can refine. Consider buddy schemes, mentoring or coaching to draw out people’s talents. Ask individuals about their ambitions for the next few years and take the time to understand the underlying driver that motivates each person you’re managing. Some may need more pushing than others. Assigning people to an outcome-focused project can give them the opportunity to use (and hone) specific skills.

It’s important to stretch people without stressing them — you don’t want to dishearten them by taking them beyond their limits. Don’t blame people if they make a mistake, but encourage them to learn and move on. It’s only if someone makes the same mistake repeatedly that it becomes a problem.

Monitor comings and goings: Joining a new company can be daunting. So buddy schemes, where an employee is assigned to take care of a new recruit for the first few months of employment, should be an integral part of onboarding. This is a powerful way of instilling values from an early stage. Meanwhile, the buddy benefits from knowing they’ve been entrusted with new people – it should be seen as an honour.

At the other end of employment, exit interviews should be universally applied. Outgoing employees are more open when they are leaving, so you can find out a lot about the way things really work in the business during an exit interview.

They also engender goodwill that helps to keep business relationships in good order. There is every possibility you’ll encounter departing employees again. Both onboarding and exit interviews cost nothing, yet they offer powerful and lasting value to the business.


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