Nov 23, 2016

The Changing Ecosystem of Work

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Aging subject matter experts, youthful tech whizzes, and a mix of cultures and genders mean you can't assume knowledge transfer is taking place.

Reading the business press and networking with the diverse community of project management leaders at events like the PMO Symposium, one can't help but be struck by the changing dynamics of the workforce. In the developed nations, we have an aging workforce that possesses critical expertise and stories, tacit knowledge and insitutional memory that often exists only in the minds of senior experts. This is true across industries. At the same time we have a younger generation of workers for whom new technologies have been learned as fluidly as young people learn new languages. Compared to a few decades ago, the workplace has also changed with regard to gender balance, as women have gained leadership roles and brought their differing experiences to bear on management and innovation.

In the developing nations, which have over the years depended upon expatriates to bring in knowledge and skills to accomplish large, more complex programs, such as in the UAE, they have the opposite challenge: youth comprise the vast majority of the population.

Companies run the risk of losing tacit knowledge, as well as poorly integrating younger perspectives, if they do not develop proper knowledge management and transfer practices. These should be anchored in transparency and openness and coupled with meaningful reward mechanisms, in order to abolish fear in the workplace and break down silos. This isn't an academic issue: some industries are at a critical point where knowledge could be lost forever with the generational change dynamics.

Thinking about these issues, I've conceptualized the structure we need to create as having four cornerstones:

1. Knowledge Management and Transfer

A corporate culture that is supportive to creating an environment for the free exchange of knowledge requires an open mindset that some of our backgrounds don't prepare us for very well. To overcome this, a Knowledge Management System (KMS) could be used as a central hub, not only for disseminating knowledge, but also to drive training, coaching, and mentoring, as part of a wider People Strategy with the support of the PMO. This system and the lessons learned, project diaries, and benefits repositories it contains should be integrated with project management tools so that learning can be seamlessly extracted as live project experiences are encountered. This would enhance organizational transformation to a learning culture. IT's challenge is to become the educator / communicator, moving the organization forward. The executive body's role is in identifying the strategic metrics that all activities, including KM, must be anchored to.

2. Agility of Mindset

Knowledge management used to be a static process of compiling and storing information (think shelves full of notebooks!) but today, with the light-speed available for data analytics and the vast information sets available, agility is required in order to make knowledge a defining component to the success of the organization. Instead of creating a discrete "library" of data, we must reshape the ecosystem so that knowledge is part of the DNA of the ideal employee in every part of our organizations. Since “attention” is the scarcest resource in today's economy of today--and will only become more scarce in the future--finding ways to articulate meaningful knowledge via digital technology, and to create organizational culutures where the ownership of knowledge as well as its useful expression is central to work is going to be a key differentiator. At present, our ability to execute strategy is hampered by a lack of agility in the way we think about the work we are engaged in.

3. Shared Vision

We have got to be passionate about our work, and communicate that passion to everyone around us, engaging teams and customers. This is nothing new -- it has always been what set great organizations apart. But now, as mentioned above, their attention can be harder to gain due to information overload. Storytelling can become a key thread for constant communication about what matters in organizations, for example.  By adapting flexible and diverse approaches to KM to various communication appetites, we can involve a wide range of stakeholders in furthering our strategic vision.
Vison provides the dedicated strategic backbone for the organization, anchoring knowledge management and transfer to strategic objectives of the organization and drives talent management decisions (how we invest in our people and in our leaders). 

4. Commitment to Value

You can be agile in your approach, engage employees with a stirring vision of success, and skillfully manage data to create useful knowledge ... but if you are not capturing measurable improvement data so that you know what value your activities create, all is for naught. The new emphasis by PMI and others on realizing benefits, rather than just meeting targets, is a long overdue foundation for success and value. The new trend is therefore old news: begin with the end in mind. And the end must always consist of adding value.

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