Vol. 50, No. 3
Lost Knowledge; more. Lost Knowledge
By David W. DeLong, Oxford University Press, 2004, 258 pages
List price: $29.95, ISBN: 0-19-517097-0
HR practitioners already know that retirement is looming for a whole generation of workers. What HR usually doesn’t consider, according to Lost Knowledge, is the often-irreplaceable knowledge locked in the minds of those going out the door.
David W. DeLong writes about more than demographic changes or the loss of easily documented information; he cites changes in the nature of work and knowledge. Today, work is more interdisciplinary and requires “integration of expertise across a wide range of subjects”—integration that often exists only inside employees’ minds, he says. And knowledge means the combination of information with a person’s experience “to create the capacity for action.”
Lost knowledge affects the whole organization yet is tough to track. DeLong shows how, among other effects, lost knowledge can cut your capacity to innovate, reduce efficiency and hand an advantage to competitors.
DeLong, a research fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s AgeLab, sets out a four-part “knowledge retention strategy”:
- HR processes and practices. HR usually manages skills inventories, succession planning, career development, retirement programs and recruiting. All affect knowledge retention. HR also can influence culture, which DeLong calls “critical” because daily workplace culture ultimately influences retention. HR’s role includes building a “retention culture” that keeps people on board.
- Knowledge-sharing practices. The book describes how interviews, videotaping, storytelling and mentoring spread knowledge. Companies also can build “communities of practice”—networks of employees with similar interests who share knowledge informally. Examples include practices from Shell Oil Co., the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and Delta Air Lines.
- Information technology applications. Warning that employers must not look at technology as the easy solution to knowledge loss, DeLong looks at systems that can, as part of a larger strategy, help support knowledge retention.
- Knowledge recovery programs. Employers can use recent retirees as consultants, or they can outsource lost capabilities. In some instances, companies must re-create knowledge that disappears because documentation isn’t adequate or experts don’t pass along knowledge before they leave.
The Mentoring Advantage
By Florence Stone, Dearborn Trade Publishing, 2004
211 pages, List price: $19.95, ISBN 0-7931-8692-7
In this handbook, Florence Stone lays out detailed considerations for anyone who is thinking about becoming a mentor, who already mentors someone, or who—like some HR professionals—is responsible for implementing a formal mentoring program for individuals or teams.
Stone, an author and mentoring expert, starts with basics, including a checklist to help the reader decide whether he or she is cut out to be a mentor. (For example, ask yourself if you can help people without smothering them. Do you have the self-confidence to help others without feeling threatened?) She looks at mentors’ characteristics and at common mentoring errors, from giving too much help to pushing the mentored person’s career too hard.
The Mentoring Advantage also notes benefits that mentors gain, including “fresh perspectives on your own performance” and recognition from peers and superiors.
Mentors must prepare for three stages of the mentoring relationship, starting with a honeymoon, followed by increased responsibility for the mentored person and ending with that person’s independence. Stone focuses on both the initial meeting and the relationship’s end.
As role models, mentors have to ask themselves whether they exhibit traits worth emulating. As brokers, or links to others, mentors must build their personal networks and make those contacts available to “mentees,” as they are commonly called. As advocates, mentors can learn how to discuss their mentees with others, cheerleading for them yet being honest about their abilities.
The mentor as career counselor learns to gauge mentees’ aspirations and set individual goals that fit in with the organization’s needs.
Stone stresses that feedback for a mentee is different from that for a staff member, and she gives specific guidelines for feedback, including tips on what irritates mentees.
Used carefully, technology can be a useful tool, especially for long-distance mentoring. A detailed “e-mentoring” plan clarifies expectations such as how much time you’ll spend together in the ether. Stone discusses how e-mail’s informality can make a mentee feel like he’s not being taken seriously and how imprecise language masks real meanings. The book looks at pros and cons of supervisors as mentors and advises supervisors on how to empower employees—who may be resistant at first.
A chapter guides mentors through problems such as giving a mentee advice about his or her personal life, sticking with a mentee whom you dislike or feeling like you’re competing with your mentee. Mentors may have to navigate tense situations when mentoring someone of the opposite gender, or mentoring a subordinate’s subordinate. And mentors can set unrealistic goals for mentees or even be too hard on them because the mentors fear allegations of favoritism.
A section of special interest to HR covers how-tos of formal mentoring programs.
A checklist is designed to help in determining if a program would work in the reader’s company.
One chapter includes 20 points that can be used in proposing a mentoring program. Formal agreements can help clarify expectations, set a timetable for the relationship, outline the types and frequency of meetings, and give both parties a no-fault “out” if the relationship doesn’t work.
By Christopher Novak
CornerStone Leadership Institute, 2004
93 pages, List price: $14.95, ISBN 0-9746403-8-7
Can one man’s profound personal loss become a source of professional inspiration for others? Christopher Novak’s answer is yes.
In Conquering Adversity, Novak tells readers how he lost his wife and unborn child in a sudden accident—and how the lessons he learned from shock, grief and recovery can help readers deal with personal and professional change.
The changes Novak found himself making after his loss—from needing to clarify his values to learning to communicate better—can apply to anyone moving a team through tough times, he says. At the end of each chapter, Novak provides exercises to help readers apply his ideas to their specific needs.
Novak starts with affirmation: knowing what you value and what’s at stake when adversity hits. He urges readers to “identify bedrock values”: What are you committed to achieving? Values create stability that anchors people in crises, he says.
Change or adversity also can make you feel that all is lost, he notes, but instead you can recognize what truly is lost and what remains. For Novak, his 9-year-old son reminded him that he still had a family, and that kept him going.
Creating realistic expectations “refocuses our vision” during adversity. The first tenet of expectations: “Life is not fair, so don’t expect it to be,” Novak says. The workplace is unfair, too, so give people the benefit of the doubt, be optimistic (see things as they could or should be) and avoid harping on the “whys” of life: Why did we lose that customer? Why was she hired? Why wasn’t my raise bigger?
Good communication makes both affirmation and expectations real to those with whom you work. Novak wants readers to communicate feelings, not just words, and to do so it’s essential to overcome awkwardness. Tell the team you’re proud of them; tell them about your passion for your work. Communicate at the first opportunity so you don’t let congratulations or compliments slide until it’s too late. Part of communicating is asking others for help, too, reaching out to colleagues rather than struggling on our own when help might be available in the next cubicle.
Crises can paralyze teams or individuals, but Novak says the need to push forward can make action possible. In his personal case, he and his son traveled together often, using motion to keep themselves from freezing with grief. Profes- sionally, teams can develop a “travelers’ mind-set,” meaning they’re ready for change.
Collaboration means involving others who can help during adversity. Their trustworthiness, compatibility and availability are crucial. Readers can examine their own “collaboration circles” or networks.
Celebration plays a part in helping teams through difficulty. Celebration doesn’t mean ignoring a situation’s seriousness, but it does mean recognizing what is going well, using humor to defuse tension or creating downtime for a stressed team.
Celebration can create positive outcomes from negative events, as Novak did when he established a scholarship in his late wife’s honor. Organizations in the throes of downsizing or other upheavals can increase their work with charities or the community to emphasize that they are part of the larger world despite their own adversity.
Tools for Team Leadership
By Gregory E. Huszczo
Davies-Black Publishing, 2004, 300 pages
List price: $28.95, ISBN: 0-89106-201-7
The best teams are leaderful, not leaderless,” Gregory Huszczo writes in Tools for Team Leadership, a “self-study training guide” for use by individuals or whole teams and by managers who are thinking of creating teams.
This manual provides tools such as focus group questionnaires, checklists of responsibilities, exercises for teams, chapter reviews and pithy “commandments” to improve teams.
Huszczo, a consultant and professor of organizational behavior at Eastern Michigan University, urges organizations to assess their needs and determine if teams are the right option.
Team members need to identify their own natural leadership strengths. Huszczo offers questions: Will others follow you? Do you tend to emphasize that you’re in charge? Do you recognize your own weaknesses and talents? Do you encourage others? And do you take advantage of training and development opportunities? He also discusses personality types, such as introverts and extroverts, in terms of leadership.
A section on creating teams breaks down team types and stages of team development, from formation through disbanding. There is detailed help on selecting team members, such as determining who will choose them, how to notify the chosen members and what ground rules apply (for instance, whether those selected can say no). Learn how to structure an initial team meeting. Watch for the development of team norms—unwritten rules of behavior that can include problems such as the belief that getting work done is more important than getting it right.
Setting clear goals is vital, and a chapter lays out how to create a team charter that expresses why the team exists and how it should operate.
Communication skills for teams include using stories, questions, repetition and other means to convey information, as well as listening better by watching nonverbal cues and not judging feelings. Giving feedback improves with repeating what’s said, being specific and focusing on behavior rather than on personalities.
Huszczo notes that meetings often are pitfalls. Meetings can be complaint or demand sessions, forums for dominant employees, or failures when employees don’t participate. Agendas, clear roles and expectations of participation can help avert these problems.
In teams, problem-solving and decision-making should be subject to defined procedures. The book shows how to evaluate problems: Is there a need for a decision? Who will make it? What options exist? Who implements it? Huszczo’s model for problem-solving gives steps from initial analysis to action.
Compiled by Leigh Rivenbark, a freelance writer and editor in Vienna, Va.
Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.