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The East African : Dec 29th 2014
38 The EastAfrican BUSINESS DECEMBER 27, 2014 - JANUARY 2, 2015 MANAG E R How to p≥event expe≥ts f≥om hoa≥ding skills A sked if he would be willing to share his hard-earned knowledge with others in the company before he retired, the engineer laughed. “Why would I do that?” he asked. “First off, I don’t owe this company anything more . I’ve given 35 years to this outfit, and I hope they miss me when I’m gone. Or,” he added with a bit of a twinkle, “hire me back at double pay as a consultant.” There we had it in one concise capsule: A few of the reasons why retirees refuse to share their experience-based, business-critical knowledge — what we call deep smarts. By definition, those deep smarts are still valuable to the organisation and underlie future as well as current success. They may be technical, as in the engineering example, but they can also be managerial, as when an experienced manager has hardearned skills in problem identification and solution, crucial relationships with customers, or a detailed understanding of how to innovate. If such knowledge leaves with retirees, it may be lost for good. In our research on knowledge transfer, we have seen companies greatly disadvantaged, if not crippled, by knowledge loss. Certainly, some expert knowledge may be outdated or irrelevant by the time its possessors are eligible for retirement, but not the skills, know-how and capabilities that underlie critical operations — both routine and innovative. Organisations cannot afford to lose deep smarts. Lack of time or resources can, of course, constrain knowledge transfer. But one barrier to passing deep smarts along to the next generation that is often unaddressed is the expert’s inclination to hoard knowledge. Financial incentives, personal ego and discontent or frustration with the company are three of the top reasons individuals choose to keep their expertise to themselves. But they are also three issues that managers can actually change. Let us start with financial in- centives. Many companies hire retirees back to do the same jobs they have always done but with double pay: Consulting income tacked on to their pension. In the survey we conducted as part of our research for Critical Knowledge Transfer: Tools for Managing Your Company’s Deep Smarts, 42 per cent of respondents reported that this kind of revolving door was a typical way of retaining knowledge. The moment that the time limit restricting rehiring of retirees expires, the retiree clips his ID badge back on — and heads for the same door he has been walking through for decades, again with little or no incentive for mentoring successors. Hiring back retirees to run critical operations is shortsighted. Not only does it cost the company more financially, but it also does not guarantee the successful transfer of knowledge. Eventually, those deeply smart people will depart for good, leaving the same knowledge gap behind them. There are precedents for elim- inating the financial motive to hoard. GE’s Global Research Centres, for example, now hire back pensioners almost exclusively to mentor and share their knowledge with more junior colleagues, not to return to opera- on certain kinds of know-how — set systems in place to prevent it long before the individual is due to retire. In some organisations, employees cannot be promoted until they can prove that they have mentored a successor. Personal reputation therefore depends not only on how skilfully people do their job, but also on how good they are at teaching others to do it. At other companies, compen- sation is based on how well the team is performing. That dependency breeds the necessity to help each other and for experienced operators to transfer their expertise to other team members. Strategies like these force knowledge sharing and interaction as part of the culture; in fact, hoarding invokes built-in penalties. Possibly the toughest expert to Experts are recognised as the “go-to” person in some capacity, and their deep smarts are strongly linked to their identity and their standing in the organisation. Picture: File COMMENTARY DOROTHY LEONARD “Hiring back retirees to run critical operations does not guarantee the successful transfer of knowledge.” tional positions. This was a relatively recent — and contentious — change. But it was essential to pass on to the next generation those deep smarts that had led to thousands of patents underlying GE’s products and reputation. In addition, GEGRC put a knowledge transfer programme in place for those still working within the company to institutionalise knowledge sharing. Beyond financial incentives, experts may have personal reasons behind their impulses to hoard. Many experts are widely recognised as the “go-to” person in some capacity, and their deep smarts are strongly linked to their identity and their standing in the organisation. It is satisfying to have colleagues seek them out to solve problems and offer solutions, and they fear that passing along their hard-won expertise to more junior colleagues would diminish their own stature. Why would they let that go? As a manager, do not wait until an individual has a monopoly persuade to share knowledge is someone who is dissatisfied with the company. The retiring aircraft engineer felt his work had never been valued. The lives of pilots and passengers depended on the skills and dedication of maintenance engineers, yet they were low on the totem pole. “We were invisible. No managers ever even knew what we did,” he declared. This bitter observation may have been based more in perception than reality, but it was no less powerful as a motive to refuse to pass along his own deep smarts. Take notice of those who may be bearing resentment. Individual managers wield an inordinate amount of influence over whether or not experts feel their work is valued. Acknowledging good work is the first step. As Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have demonstrated in their research, small acts such as providing frequent positive feedback, celebrating small wins and removing obstacles to progress can pay huge, immediate dividends in productivity and creativity. Do≥othy Leona≥d is the William J. Abe≥nathy p≥ofesso≥ of business administ≥ation at Ha≥va≥d Business School. You≥ most impo≥tant ≥elationships begin with chance meetings By RICHARD BRANSON NYT Service I LOVE bumping into people and finding out who they are and what they’re working on. You never know who you’re going to meet. Such encounters can be valuable: If you think about how your most important relationships began — with business partners, your spouse, with friends and mentors — the stories will almost all involve chance meetings. My curiosity about others and ability to connect with people have helped me to succeed — after all, if people don’t know who you are, they are not going to do business with you. Many people think that an en- trepreneur is someone who operates alone, overcoming challenges and bringing his idea to market through sheer force of personality. This is inaccurate. Few entrepreneurs — scratch that; almost no one — ever achieved anything worthwhile without help. To be successful in business, you need to connect and collaborate and delegate. Finding ways to meet people in the real world and build business relationships is becoming ever more important in the digital age. While in some industries it’s possible for employees to limit their communications to e-mail and, if they wish, avoid interacting with colleagues (and their managers), that is not possible for entrepre- neurs, since relationships built on trust are vital to doing business. This is why I make a point of at- tending the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, whenever I can. The event is ridiculed in some quarters for its sheer The people who gathered in Davos, Switzerland for the annual World Economic Forum 2,622 scale — according to The Economist, 2,622 people gathered in that small town in January, including 46 presidents and prime ministers, representatives of firms with a total value of $12 trillion on the stock market, and many celebrities and journalists. Steve Jobs is remembered as a talented maverick and a loner, but that is simply wrong. The Apple cofounder turned his personal vision into reality with the help of trusted, talented teams. How did he and his people come up with their ideas and solve the technological and design problems they encountered as they worked on Apple products? By spending time together. As Steve said to his biographer Walter Isaacson: “Creativity comes from spontaneous meetings, from random discussions. You run into someone, you ask what they’re doing, you say ‘Wow,’ and soon you’re cooking up all sorts of ideas.” This is part of the reason why communities of entrepreneurs can turn into creative hubs. Look at Silicon Valley in California, BoxPark in London and other areas where like-minded people have banded together. Technology allows us to con- nect at the click of a button, but companies will still pay premiums to be near their competitors and others working in the same industry. When you are thinking about launching a start-up, you should always look at whether setting up in one of your industry’s creative hubs would be a good choice. Richa≥d B≥anson is the founde≥ of the Vi≥gin g≥oup of companies.
Dec 22nd 2014
Jan 5th 2015