Friday, April 17, 2009

Training and cost reduction

Training plays a central role in shaping up an individual to the requirements of a job and the organisation. As can be observed from the above statement training must have twin focus viz. requirements of job and requirements of organisation. Lack of training for job performance is easily detectable whereas lack of training for orgnisational requirements hardly shows up unless one digs for it. Even then it is hard to establish.

The diagram given alongside captures various issues that are associated and caused by poor or lack of training. In the diagram, ‘Delay’ and ‘Poor Quality’ issues are caused by poor training for the job while ‘Wastage’, ‘Cost’ and ‘Poor Control’ issues are caused by lack of training to integrate people with the organisation. As mentioned before it is difficult to spot, track and remove wastage, cost and poor control issues arising out of ‘poor or lack of training’. Therefore it is important for every company to ensure comprehensive training for all. It should be continuous and reemphasizing. A comprehensive approach to training is given below.

Training framework

1. Right way of doing things

1.1 Work
1.2 Reporting / communication
1.3 Feedback

2. Responsibilities / Authority

2.1 Outcome of work
2.2 Quality of work / Timeliness
2.3 Team performance
2.4 Decisions / Actions

3. Knowing and relating with the organisation

3.1 Organisation structure / businesses / locations / people
3.2 Organisation mission / vision
3.3 Work process
3.4 Work goals / performance measures
3.5 Work - Interacting departments / functions / roles
3.6 Organisation systems and practices
3.7 Cooperation / coordination
3.8 Overall role in the big picture
3.9 Compensation - Quantum / breakup / methods / criteria / systems
3.10 Rewards - Methods / Criteria / Systems

4. Upgradation of knowledge / skills

4.1 Technical training

4.1.1 New developments
4.1.2 Changes in methods / process
4.1.3 New machinery / tools etc
4.1.4 Improving work performance

4.2 Management training

4.2.1 Methods and topics
4.2.2 Soft skills

4.3 Company / Topical / Industry information newsletter

5. Being a value adding employee

5.1 Delivering on work goals / performance targets
5.2 Owning up responsibility for decisions and actions
5.3 Sharing and using knowledge and ideas
5.4 Complete cooperation and coordination as required
5.5 Questioning and improving work practices / methods and ideas
5.6 Open mindedness to new practices / methods and other changes

Structured approach has to be adapted in order to provide well rounded training to people at work.

1. Initial orientation at the time of joining
  • Right way of doing things
  • Responsibilities / authority
  • Knowing and relating with the organisation
2. On the job training
  • Right way of doing things
3. Periodic training needs assessments
  • Job requirements
  • Organisation requirements
4. Corporate newsletter / blog / KM system
5. Programs to help people align with organisational interests

Hope you find it helpful. Give me your feedback.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Supporting ideation in a business environment

"We are ideating"

These are the words uttered in an IBM ad by a person in response to a question raised by another person who walks into a big hall where many people are lying down. Now this itself is an idea of allowing people to take time to ideate. A senior executive in one of my client companies quipped, "if we follow this, then rest assured we will have lot of people volunteering to ideate; only that it will generate more snoring". Not that he is not impressed by the idea but just that he is far from impressed with his people. There are two things here, one you don't need to have a big hall for people to come, lie down and ideate and secondly ideation is not something to be thrown open for people take up voluntarily.

Ideation in business

Ideation is a process of forming and relating ideas while Ideating refers to forming a mental image of something that is not present or that is not the case

Businesses know the value of ideas but often they don't promote conducive environment for ideas to grow and get nurtured. Ideation process helps companies to generate ideas to address and solve business problems and support innovation. Knowledge management system helps a business to generate ideas as long as issues concerning sharing of knowledge are well addressed and people are open to share and use knowledge. In a way a KM system is a prerequisite for ideas to come through and surface.

Supporting ideation

Like many other things in a business, ideation requires necessary infrastructure, facilities and conducive environment for it to work. It may not be a continuous process and certain steps can be skipped if the motivation is greater. The diagram given below capture things those are necessary for ideation to take place in a business environment. It however does not cover the cognitive process that creates the idea. Click on the picture to enlarge it.

Some tips to kick start ideation in your organisation
  • Encourage people to ideate and share their ideas
  • Put in place a comprehensive knowledge management system
  • Set up a full fledged central corporate library (Provide both hard and soft resources)
  • Find ways to encourage people to use the library. Discourage people taking resources home.
  • Encourage people to set up knowledge or say even Idea clubs to meet (online or in person), communicate, share and discuss issues, ideas and knowledge. Integrate it with the KM system.
  • Set up corporate blog or publish periodic internal newsletters. Encourage people to contribute and reward valuable contributions.
  • Add some fun element, wherever possible, bring together people, help them think and act

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Analysing wastage

Every business model has a value proposition and to create this value cost is incurred. If the cost incurred shoots up disproportionately then the whole picture will change and could affect the profitability of a company. Value should be there for both the company and its customer. If either of them suffers then the value will be distorted. One aspect of poor performance that can alter the value significantly is 'Wastage'.

Anatomy of wastage

Wastage takes many forms and prime among them are

  • Material Wastage
  • Time wastage
  • Knowledge / Skills wastage
  • Technology wastage

These aspects are in turn caused by various operational issues and problems as given in the diagram below. This diagram (OIP - Wastage) is built keeping manufacturing industries in mind. It can however be easily adapted to other sectors with modifications where necessary. Even for the manufacturing industry, the diagram below can be expanded and enriched further. Click on the picture to expand it.

Deep analysis of each sub aspect will help us unearth deeper and finer reasons why wastage happens. But even at this level (as given in the diagram above) it is clear to us on what is causing different types wastage and where to look at for each of them. For example Rejects, Rework and high material consumption points finger to process and quality management while high inventory, idle stock and storage loss points to materials management. Outmoded systems and bureaucracy points finger at poor management practices while unused or poorly used technology speak about the work culture and people attitude. Like this each sub-element can be localised and further analysed for exact reasons why they happen. It will lead to uncovering the roots of different types of wastage. Once the root cause is identified and understood, solution to set things right would be much easier.

Less tangible wastage

Traditionally material and time wastage attracted much of management attention. Knowledge/skills and technology aspects of wastage rarely attracted time and energy of managements for the simple reason that they are less tangible. Even today some companies do not accord necessary importance to these two types of wastage. It is criminal, in a business sense, to use a comprehensive ERP system for just transactional purposes. But still many companies do that, spending millions on a ERP system but failing to use the analytical and informational power of it. Like wise there could be different technologies that are not fully utilised to their potential. This type of wastage is less tangible and hence escapes attention. The best way to measure technology wastage is to figure out different usages for which a particular technology is intended and how much of it are put to no or sub-optimum usage. By quantifying benefits missed we will get a fair idea on how much a company loses due to technology wastage.

Knowledge/skill wastage is another aspect that was long ignored but gaining importance now. People are more aware of the potential of Knowledge/skill inventory that an organisation in possession of and therefore emphasise on better utilisation of it.

Removing wastage

  • Focus on all aspects of wastage
  • Identify various forms of wastage in vogue, term and specify them
  • Tolerate 'zero' wastage and make it known to everyone, clear and loud
  • Collect data, analyse and interpret
  • Implement necessary changes to systems and processes
  • Link it to performance of units / departments / individuals
  • Make wastage data known to all and invite suggestions to remove it
  • Reward and encourage sharing of best practices, suggestions and actions
  • Penalise inaction and continued poor performance on this front

Try to modify the generic OIP - Wastage diagram given above to reflect your own industry / company. Give me your feedback and inputs.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

KM - Setting direction

Helping people to share and use knowledge is central to the success of a knowledge management system. However it is just not enough to have people who are willing and enthusiastic to share and use knowledge. What will you do when you have everything but clues in a treasure hunt? Not much, I guess. It is important for the top management of a company to set the direction and make people aware of the purpose of the whole effort and the way forward.

State the purpose

Sharing and using Knowledge can be very loosely understood if the purpose is not clear for people. What the system is set out to achieve must be answered in unambiguous terms. There cannot be many different purposes for a KM system but to harness knowledge assets that a company possesses to enhance business performance and achieve greater growth. But how well this message is carried across to people is important. It should clearly spell out that the KM system is in place for the common good and rewarding for all stakeholders. Efforts should be made to make people understand that it is a friendly system that encourages rather than the one that forces people to use it. When a KM system starts from here in unambiguous terms, it will have more passengers with it than is the case otherwise. Start it with a bang and make everyone aware of the KM mission.

Set the focus

Once people see the purpose half the job is done. But then not all that people know are important or needed by a company. There will be a chaos and waste of energy and effort if the focus is not set. A KM system in a company could have multiple focus areas but then not all will be focusing on everything. Depending on the role people / departments play and expectations of the management focus should be set for different groups and individuals. More details within each focus area would further help people to come forward and contribute to greater benefits of the organisation.

Clarify 'Knowledge'

Purpose is clear and focus is there, can people still get it wrong. One is tempted to assume that people will know what to contribute. But then it's worth the time and effort to clarify what knowledge is, to people who matter since the term knowledge is often used in a very broad sense. KM literature is full of definitions of 'Knowledge' and how it is different from data and information. It is important that Knowledge as claimed should be actionable and result in benefits for the organisation. The diagram given alongside captures the knowledge gaining process and when the edge can be gained.

If knowledge, as claimed, passed through the above process and passes the 'actionable and benefits' test then it will sharpen the competitive edge of an organisation.


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