Sunday, October 28, 2007

Hiring people to work

Hiring people, like any other management process, is not new, whatsoever. Today we read many articles discussing the matter, as we are again in a growing environment and companies are hiring a lot. I personally, as much as I hate bureaucracy and always look for the short and practical way to do things, feel that I myself am part of turning the hiring process in my company to being complicated and not so simple at all. Why? As everyone else, I am afraid of a hiring process that is not successful enough. First of all, I see the employee that may be asked to leave. Setting off an employee is always a very unpleasant situation. Companies should not hold people who do not fit in; but we always have to do everything we can to avoid taking people and replacing them. Every time we fire someone, I believe, we leave a scar in his or her heart. I admit that I have fired several people in the past years. When I do so, I try doing it while leaving the employee with their dignity and I try learning a lesson from each episode, in order to make the chances of the next time I'll have to stand in a similar situation, smaller.
Beside the personal sadness, firing people in order to replace them with others is a business loss. It also is a personal loss for the people left in the organization. We encourage our employees to develop an informal relationship one with another. Some of us (like me) call it "family value"; others use different superlatives. Good inter relations develop into good working environments and trust. Trust enables sharing and knowledge development, besides it giving each one of us as a worker a good feeling when we enter the office every morning.
The bottom line- We hire not to fire. Indeed simple. So why to write on it? And what is new looking in a knowledge perspective?
Looking in a knowledge perspective can give us some points to emphasis on:
In an era of knowledge, a worker has to learn a lot during his or her stay in the organization along the years. Sometime, the amount of learning exceeds the practice with which the employee arrived. The ability and desire of the candidates to learn are not less important than their professional experience.
In an era of knowledge it is important not only to know, but to be able to teach others and learn from them. It is not enough to learn from books and from the Internet. The ability to work with others, teach them and learn from them is essential to choosing the right people.
In an era of knowledge the workers choose the place they work in, not less than the organization chooses them. Adequacy between the organization's values (the real ones, not those on the office walls) and the personal values of the worker, will aid contribution of the worker to company's goals in the future. We have to remember that people do not stay for money only. There always will be someone somewhere else that will offer more. Employees want to feel that they are achieving their goals and working the "right" way; Organizations have to have the same feeling regarding the employees working for them: The managers have to have the feeling that each employee is part of the progress of the whole. A personal conversation with the candidate can be the way to test the adequacy. A conversation about goals and wishes; a conversation about what the employee likes to do in his or her free time and what make them happy. Such a conversation should not be held by the HR department. Organizations are built from smaller groups, each with its sub-values and ways of doing things. A conversation held with HR, seems too theoretical. It is better that the manager of the group will hold such a conversation and personally take such a decision.
Yes, there are other points that can help, but I tried to put down in this list the major ones: Learning ability, sharing ability and value adequacy.

Did I fall when hiring people? I sure did. But, I improved. And I'm still working on it.
I would appreciate hearing from your experience too, especially from the knowledge perspective.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Who is the worker that we manage?

Twenty years ago, while in the army. I managed a group of ten employees. I wasn’t trained, I hadn't learnt how to manage, yet I believe I did a fair job. Today I manage people and I feel as if it is an altogether different job; a different type of management. I especially identify with the saying that managing ten people is not 1 times managing 10 but 10 times managing 1 person. Every person has to be managed differently, every employee needs to be spoken to and heard in a unique way. It took me several years to understand that the way I manage my employees is no less important than developing the KM dogma (my profession). What has changed?

At first I thought it was me. Over years I have matured, some would say I grew older. This is true. I look today differently on life and what is important. But I don’t think that explains it all. Workers in the 21st century are not the workers we had 20 years ago. Industry is changing. These workers, that Druker called knowledge workers, act and develop differently from the manufacture workers that were so typical in the 20th century. In this post I shall try to define the profile of the knowledge workers. How did I learn who they are and how to work with them? Partly from experience, partly intuition, a lot of reading (especially in this context from Druker's books) and some things I still do not know. Like many others I also make mistakes. I err and try to improve myself; sometimes with success, sometimes with less.

The knowledge worker is an independent worker. He makes most of his decisions by himself and first of all he decides every day whether to continue to work in the same place. If in the past people came to earn their living and were dependent on the organization, today we stand in a totally different situation. Salary is not enough for the knowledge worker. Don't misunderstand me they indeed get a nice salary. But the knowledge worker is seeking for more: professional satisfaction, a nurturing environment and possibilities for the future (see Herzberg's theory on hygiene conditions for work). Druker states that we have to treat our knowledge workers as volunteers. We have to convince them, almost on a daily basis, to continue and work voluntary with us. This is definitely not an easy task and one that we would be happy to reject but probably that choice is not ours.

What else can be said about knowledge workers?
A knowledge worker needs a lot information and knowledge in order to perform his job. This of course is no surprise since he is named "knowledge worker". Yet it should be clarified that the information and knowledge are not static. What characterizes the knowledge worker is that his knowledge is developing constantly and not just from doing his job. We must leave time for the knowledge worker to read and learn: to learn from professional magazines, from reading books, from wandering in the internet and from conferences and inter-organizational meetings. A knowledge worker who does not develop his or her knowledge will eventually experience difficulties in achieving success. I must confess that even 5-6 years ago i tried to maximize the business working hours for all of my employees. LAter on, I learned to include professional training on a monthly basis. Today I know that this also is not enough. I encourage my people to write articles. Working on an article includes in addition to the writing itself also reading, analyzing, arranging thoughts and materials, and building a concept. I doubled the training hours; I include other types of learning in addition to lectures and probably all of this is still inadequate. Is this only because I deal with an innovative developing profession (Knowledge Management)? This is partly correct. Around me I see my customers all of whom are dealing with developing professions and innovative aspects: Hardware engineers are dealing more and more with software and integration; pharmaceutical researchers are constantly developing chemistry expertise knowledge and also knowledge from biology, genetics etc. Insurance agents, who used to offer me exactly what was told them from their Insurance companies, work today with many insurance companies. They offer different types of life insurances, loans, health insurances and other financial products; all, working with various companies and offering me the best suit (for me or for them). One of my customers, dealing with child fostering, spends important time learning the models of fostering that work best in other countries. I can continue and give many more examples from various content worlds. The picture is clear: Workers are knowledge workers and those that do not constantly develop, no matter how experienced they are, will find it hard to continue progressing. Without relying on existing wide knowledge future success is not guaranteed.

An interesting fact, deriving from the above, is that the knowledge worker knows, for his or her specific tasks, more than the manager in charge. Even if managers have grown in the same area, they cannot be experts on all of the sub-areas within their responsibility. Always there are some in which they have no experience, always the knowledge they have was correct at the time it was learnt, but is not necessary enough today. As is well known, the world is developing fast. This indeed is a challenging situation. Most of us managers, up till today, have our managing authority based on professional authority. For myself, I can say that I learn from experience and actually know knowledge management methodologies (my professional expertise). I have learned at university math and computers. I always lack the knowledge of my employees who learned industrial engineering or organizational behavior. I always lack the knowledge that my employees developed yesterday and the day before while I was busy managing the company.
The knowledge worker is autonomous. Even though surrounded by teams, each one has to specialize in specific tasks, collecting, filtering, analyzing and deciding according to the information and knowledge gathered. But the knowledge worker has to know how to share. Not only share decisions but to share information and knowledge that can help others perform their job better. Sharing, and even teaching, is part of the knowledge working job. It helps others and it also helps the knowledge worker who understands better his or her knowledge after discussing it with those who were taught.

Knowledge workers manage their own time; they make their own decisions; they multi task much more than in the past.
In more than one manner we, the managers, manage managers. This of course changes the way we ought to manage.

Is this good? I believe it is. Not because we don't have any other choice but to adjust. I believe that we, as managers, develop personally from this challenge of managing knowledge workers. I can say for myself that I do.
And I know that when I succeed the satisfaction is enormous. And so I also benefit.
Tired but satisfied (and now you know why).