June 2013

Helping the Medicine Go Down

I am constantly amazed at the amount of inconvenience and under performance people are willing to put up with.  At any given time in an organization there are performance issues being neglected or ignored.  I’m not referring to issues that are temporary.  I’m referring to significant systemic issues that will persist and eventually become unavoidable.

One example of this is temporary vacancies.  Every organization had a vacancy, has a vacant position, or will have vacancy.  Its a fact of life in a large organization.  People come and people go.  It often seems that supervisors would rather act like the vacancy does not exist or let other people pick up the extra workload rather than develop a coverage plan until the position is filled.  I can’t explain why this phenomenon exists because it goes against my nature to let this kind of issue go unaddressed (which is why I’m writing this post).

These types of issues performance issues persist because the perceived consequences of ignoring the problem are less than the benefits of resolving the problem.  However, there are hidden consequences to these types of issues.  Ignoring a problem undermines morale.  It creates conflict.  It causes people to question their upline supervisor.

My job title is Organizational Performance Specialist.  My background and training is in performance improvement.  I have a master’s degree in instructional design.  My employer hired me to identify and address issues like this.  My job is not to intervene and fix the problem.  My job is to come along side the stakeholders and work out a solution.  The first step is for the stakeholders to realize something is not working and must be addressed.  My advice is to stop and take your medicine.  Its not always pleasant.  It might even make the problem seem worse but in the long run its the right thing to do.

I’ve repeatedly written in this space that effective collaboration requires more than shared responsibilities.  To truly realize the benefits of collaboration, or to actually collaborate, a team has to value learning.  In this article in Talent Management magazine the author cites three building blocks required for collaboration, people, process, and tools.

People: According to Jay Cross, CEO of Internet Time Group, “most people only know 9 percent of what they need to know to fulfill their jobs.  The other 91 percent, he said, gets fulfilled by other people.”  That is a striking observation and I don’t know how to verify that.  Even if the ratio is less than 1:10 it is likely that the average employee depends greatly on the knowledge, experience and perspective of others.

Process: “Due to its organic, social nature, collaborative learning is not process- but people driven.”  The author assumes that employees are given the freedom to seek new opportunities to grow their business.  Based on that assumption, employees “will ask for what they need, will find meaningful information, and have fun while doing it.”  If the assumption is incorrect, then what motivation does anyone have to ask questions or seek meaningful information?

Tools: “Content management systems, social networks, instant messaging or cloud computing technology that is easily accessible to everyone.  A video, podcast, or audio file are just a few examples of tools people can use to get quick answers.” [Emphasis mine]
I’ve long maintained that the key to effective collaboration is a willingness to share and seek information.  Everyone is an expert in something.  You wouldn’t have your job if you weren’t an expert at something.  Sharing information in its raw form is useful.  Adding your perspective adds even more value.

Don’t wait for the training department to write objectives and set prescribed learning outcomes.  That should be saved for big initiatives that will advance the cause of the entire organization.  Everyone has a stake in the collective knowledge base of an organization.  Contribute!  The training department can take the lead on creating and maintaining a platform where information is stored.  Its up to everyone to participate in the dialog.