How can firms manage ideas?

How can firms manage ideas?
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First Published: Wed, Nov 14 2007. 10 57 PM IST

Updated: Wed, Nov 14 2007. 10 57 PM IST
As organizations attempt to grow rapidly and create business value, employees are required to constantly find solutions to challenges and situations that have not been encountered earlier. Charting unfamiliar territory is the norm and rarely the exception these days. The challenge is even greater for professionals who have assumed new roles or have come in from other organizations, in weaving their way through hierarchical layers and departmental silos looking for value collaborators. In large- matrixed organizations the challenge gets exponential in nature.
Manuals and training programmes cannot equip or train stakeholders in an efficient and timely manner with the tools required to consistently excel. Newsletters often find their way into the trash folder and post-lunch training programmes tend to be an intellectual siesta.
The power of knowledge dissemination lies not in thrusting information down the line but in making it available on demand. Solutions which are sought these days are quite often not covered in FAQ documents or corporate intranets, but lie distributed among the larger workforce.
The matrixed and departmental structure adopted by organizations (for example, marketing, finance, sales, etc.) leads members to seek solutions largely within their silos and often does not facilitate access to relevant skill sets that they may exist within other parts of the organization. In these days of rapid organization changes, managers may not even be aware of the skill sets or prior experience of their team members, leave alone of those in other departments. Compounded with the challenge of employee turnover, most businesses and projects would be well served if the larger knowledge pool available within the organization could be tapped.
Hence, it’s not surprising these days to find solutions at the cafeteria over lunch and other social gatherings where interdepartmental interaction is at a more social and informal level. The quest for reducing dispatch costs may end at a customer services associate who has joined the organization from a logistics organization and not the dispatch department facing the business challenge. And employees who are adept at informal networking within organizations quite often find the required value edge.
An organization’s larger objective of value creation would be better served if it were able to broad-base and place a structure to these informal networks for knowledge accumulation and ease of access to information for a larger employee base. Thus sets in the opportunity for formalized organizational networking.
Networking as a phenomenon has taken on a new dimension with the advent of the Internet. Facebook and Linkedin have been the catalysts for both social and professional networking, enabling professionals across the globe to locate individuals with common interest areas and goals. It is not unusual to locate a resource with desired knowledge or skill set across the globe much quicker than within one’s own organization!
Organizations have already realized the power of networking with external professionals. NineSigma is an organization that has converged thousands of experts and organizations in myriad areas, including food technology to biometrics, and in turn offers their services to organizations seeking outsourced research and development solutions. A relatively young movement which has already delivered significant business value to some of the world’s leading brands.
Hence, a clear opportunity exists in adopting the principles of networking for enabling dialogue and collaboration among employees, to exchange notes, concepts, ideas and, most importantly, address problems together. What would be new would be a deliberate role played by the organization in facilitating a seamless dialogue across layers and disciplines. These networks could operate within the ambit of intranets prevalent across most large organizations.
The structure and approach would be best addressed by the defined objectives and the nature of interactions that could be efficiently managed by the available resources. Individuals and groups should be allowed to invite participation, thus ensuring ease of collaboration. Interest groups could be formed going beyond traditional domain expertise such as marketing and sales to include subjects as varied as microeconomics or artificial intelligence to catalyse creativity and facilitate employees to realize a larger connect with the organization.
Formal networks would allow talented and entrepreneurial resources to constantly share and enhance their knowledge base and translate their learnings into creating organizational value. These networks could also enhance efficiencies and reduce costs as employees would spend lesser time weaving through mazes of emails and organizational hierarchies. The performance metrics and appraisal for such an environment is quite similar to the approach taken in determining the effectiveness of a project team and could provide avenues to identify potential talent pools to address their growth plans.
Networking is a reflection of our inherent social nature and could be quite easily merged into the organizational operating framework. The challenge would perhaps be in identifying the primary torch-bearers for this new realm of management.
(Upendra Namburi is a senior banking and finance professional with a multinational. Comments are welcome at theirview@livemint.com )
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First Published: Wed, Nov 14 2007. 10 57 PM IST