K Street Newsletter :: Directions

November 2017    |    VOLUME 15, ISSUE 11

Who Are Your 20-Percenters?

There's an old adage in Knowledge Management that says 20% of a given workforce holds 80% of its collective knowledge. They are a company's Subject Matter Experts, the folks who've worked long and hard at their respective careers. Very little surprises them. If something goes wrong, the odds are they've seen it before. And they can either recall a solution based on direct experience, or mine that experience for a new, creative approach. The bad news is they’re moving steadily toward retirement, leaving a dangerous skills gap. It's not a new problem, but as the Baby Boomers move into their golden years, it's going to get worse.

This article suggests that business leaders need to take this problem seriously. The first step is to identify the SMEs in your organization, then find ways to leverage their experience for training other workers. Some of that happens organically, as the experts mentor younger employees. But mentoring relationships are often informal and have no particular learning objectives. SMEs don't necessarily know anything about training, and can be more effective if they're empowered with the right kind of train-the-trainer programs. It's not just an HR concern. Making it easy for your experts to share their expertise is a strategic imperative.

 

Improving the Meeting Experience

Elsewhere in this newsletter, we point to a survey about the special challenges faced by virtual work teams. And while the wrong technology can make a bad situation worse, better technology can make meetings more efficient and less of a time sink. Surveys show that meetings take up a good part of the typical work week, so it's certainly worth some effort to get more value from them.

The right technology should address four problem areas. It needs to be easy to use, ideally with one-click access. It should be wireless. It should allow sharing from any device, and it should have a simple video conferencing option. It should also support the full meeting life cycle. Before a meeting begins, participants need to understand how to join, and during a meeting there should be plug-and-play sharing for screens, windows and applications. After meetings, the technology should be able to generate analytics around effectiveness, or support the sharing of recordings and screen captures that can be used for future reference. However, the most important factors for a successful remote meeting are the same ones for a face-to-face session: leadership, clarity of purpose and a spirit of collaboration.

 

 

Street Smarts 170: Get yourself heard.

Feeling shut out of the conversation at a business meeting is a frustrating experience, particularly if you believe you have a contribution to make. It's not entirely within a person's control, since the group dynamics of a typical meeting can be both subtle and complicated. There may be issues of seniority, scope limitations and reporting relationships, all of which can interfere with the free exchange of ideas. But there are things you can do to establish your position and raise your profile.

Timing is the most important thing. You need to anticipate the natural conversational gaps that will let you speak up without seeming disruptive. If you don't have something to contribute at that point, you can help by summarizing what's been said so far. That helps the whole meeting work more efficiently. And if you get good at it, you'll find that people will naturally start turning to you when they need a reboot. You need to be a good listener, and focus on what other people are saying. But it will establish that you're looking at the big picture, and help your own ideas be heard. You'll find more ideas in this article.

 

Understanding the Remote Worker

Whatever work you might be in (with a few exceptions), the odds are that at least some of what you do is virtual. Even if you're in a very hands-on trade, you'll probably rely on remote resources for research and training, or use platforms like LinkedIn to connect to professional networks. And if you work in marketing, communications and technology (like we do), you may interact regularly with customers and colleagues that you never actually meet in real life. It's the modern age.

Remote workers have the freedom to live and work where they please, but it comes at a cost. A recent survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review looked at the experiences of more than 1,000 remote workers and found many of them felt they were at a serious disadvantage. It's unavoidable when human relationships are mediated by technology, since working through and with others becomes more challenging. Many in the survey group felt they were treated unequally. They worried that in-office workers didn't understand their priorities, would criticize them behind their backs or lobby against their interests. The remote workers also reported negative impacts on productivity, morale and general stress levels. The point isn't to end remote work programs, but managers who supervise a remote staff need to take extra steps to build trust, connection and a sense of shared purpose.

 

Creating a Connected Culture

You may know that when Marissa Mayer took over as CEO of Yahoo, she ended the company's popular telecommuting program. It was come to the office or hit the road. That was in 2013, but it hasn't meant the end of remote work. In fact, the company that owns WordPress recently closed its San Francisco office in favor of an entirely remote workforce. It wasn't a cost-saving move, just an acknowledgement that only a handful of people were working in the office anyway. Most had already decided they preferred working from home. They just liked it better.

Employers need to recognize this trend, and do what it takes to develop connected cultures for their remote workers. They need to understand and develop countermeasures for some of the psychological factors that can make remote workers feel isolated. And they need to provide the structure and resources that will let remote staff feel connected to the business. Wherever they plug in, workers need to feel they're part of a team with common objectives and clear individual responsibilities. This article offers some practical advice for making that happen.
 

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