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XXI Century Expert Team
Building and Management
Copyright © 2014 Roberto Lofaro
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 1499798075
ISBN-13: 97...
“Connecting the Dots” series .................................................................... I
Foreword and ...
In my business activities, and even before in politics, sales, and during
the compulsory se...
As my other online publications, these short books will be mere
stepping stone...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
The next few chapters are an attempt t...
So, cheer up: many experts have the habit of seeing their own wisdom as
cast i...
We live in a complex world, and you just need to pick up any newspaper
to see how, almost on a daily basi...
The larger the community, the more efficient is to further split
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
It is also an easy way to justify for poor decision-making: y...
There are few unintended side-effects:
1. specialists are inclined to optimize ...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
If you divide the effort but know how the effort is divided, ...
When building models, we are inclined to oversimplify, as humans
generally don’...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
The other main option, to hire temporarily somebody who has t...
I have countless examples of when knowing a little bit about the
personal inclinations of my staff...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
It is true that most of what you will read here assumes that ...
Your contribution might range from just connecting what (almost)
nobody else d...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Communication Planning
Whenever I write something that can b...
Generalist vs. Specialist
Do you need to be a specialist? Do you need to be a ...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
This lesson applies also to other domains: instead of joinin...
Technology delivers an interesting paradigm: “cloud computing”, where
you do n...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Blending Knowledge
The previous segment probably sounded a l...
A pure generalist is often inclined to generate consensus, not feasibility,
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Resistance (to Change) is Futile
Change, the first, last, co...
To paraphrase somebody else: a society that needs change heroes is
doomed to f...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Riding the Grapevine Wave
I think that almost every week new...
I am obviously referring to the external grapevine: and that applies both
in b...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Steer Your Ship When Needed
Let's assume that you identified...
Try to avoid “stop gap” experts as much as possible, as in their case
There are hundreds of variants of the basic cycle, each one “pushed” by
a different international stan...
When you are recruiting, nothing is worse than having candidates who
are “sugg...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
If you know the potential and motivation of your resources, ...
Personally, I saw the difference between competencies and potential in
the mos...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
Get Used to a Free Knowledge Economy
If you live in a countr...
My book publishing approach is a close relative of that model, and I
used it a...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
The cost? Advertisement on the Internet is cheaper than on a...
Intellectual Property and Knowledge Seeding
How our knowledge economy will evo...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
And external specialists? Well, they could be integrated wit...
Obviously, this has a side-effect also on the concepts of “learning” and
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
1. your own corporate culture and resources mix (e.g. if you...
Stirred, not Shaken: Distributing Specialization(s)
We both know where the tit...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
A normal table would be useful- but, in this case, it makes ...
In and by itself, this closing chapter would require at least one book, to
give the...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
A. Identify Potential Synergies
Synergies are those that you...
B. Understand Your Own Knowledge Boundaries
In my travels across Europe for bu...
#SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
C. Resource Transition Planning
Since 1993, whenever I had a...
D. Managing Talent Continuity
Changing the management approach implies identif...
#SynSpec - XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
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#SynSpec - XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management


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An attempt to challenge you to re-assess how you collect knowledge and allow those that are recognized as “experts” to interact with you, both in your personal and business life.

The aim is to improve your ability to obtain the best of both worlds: doing what you do with your own resources, involving those (internal, external) specialists if, when, and for how long needed.

This short book (or extended essay) is just part of a series of collected thoughts and analysis.

Focus: the impact of social and technological change on traditional management practices.

Aim: to raise informed questions, not to provide answers

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Other business books (links to both the free and paid versions, and additional online material if available):

You can find more articles, essays, commentary on current affairs, technology, and their impact on social and business environments on

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#SynSpec - XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management

  1. 1. #SynSpec XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management
  2. 2. Copyright © 2014 Roberto Lofaro All rights reserved. ISBN: 1499798075 ISBN-13: 978-1499798074
  3. 3. CONTENTS “Connecting the Dots” series .................................................................... I Foreword and Warning............................................................................ III 1 Why #SYNSPEC ...................................................................................... 1 2 Think Before You Do.............................................................................. 8 Communication Planning ................................................................... 11 Generalist vs. Specialist...................................................................... 12 Blending Knowledge........................................................................... 15 Resistance (to Change) is Futile.......................................................... 17 Riding the Grapevine Wave................................................................ 19 Steer Your Ship When Needed........................................................... 21 3 An Action Plan...................................................................................... 23 Get Used to a Free Knowledge Economy ........................................... 27 Intellectual Property and Knowledge Seeding ................................... 30 Stirred, not Shaken: Distributing Specialization(s)............................. 34 4 Evolving Management, Step-by-Step .................................................. 36 A. Identify Potential Synergies ........................................................... 37 B. Understand Your Own Knowledge Boundaries.............................. 38 C. Resource Transition Planning......................................................... 39 D. Managing Talent Continuity........................................................... 40
  4. 4. I “CONNECTING THE DOTS” SERIES In my business activities, and even before in politics, sales, and during the compulsory service in the Italian Army (Artillery Specialist group at a Divisional level, within a mechanized artillery division), I often ended up doing just one task: connecting seemingly unconnected “dots” (people, information, resources, etc.). The aim? To present the results to a non-specialist audience, thereafter acting as an interface, communication channel, facilitator, negotiating between multiple parties, usually to help first identify a target destination and pattern for change, and then helping to steer the organizational ship (be it a small team, or even just an undecided manager or customer) to the intended destination. This usually involved a lot of reading, listening, thinking, and… “thinking as if I were wearing somebody else’s shoes”- before writing. Until a decade ago, these “connecting” activities weren’t visible online, also if I had registered my first domain ( in 1997 (the same year as Google!). This series has just a common thread: repeating that “connect experience and knowledge to initiate change” approach, but focusing each time on a specific issue.
  5. 5. II As my other online publications, these short books will be mere stepping stones toward further, longer books and new online/offline initiatives (e.g. management workshops, multimedia). No, this is not just a “business methods” book, and does not want to be yet another addition to your “business cookbooks collection”. If you visit my Linkedin profile (address provided at the top of this page), you can find a link to a 1-page presentation of a management workshop on change called “Are You Ready for Change”. It is just a “placeholder”, akin to what you do when playing the game of Go (Weiqi) to “mark the boundaries of your intended territory”, but it should give you a hint of what I am currently preparing. My main aim is to consolidate my experience and ideas by writing and sharing, as only an external audience can help you do that. Therefore, if you are curious or would just like to receive a list of links to articles online where I discussed those experiences, contact me. As usual, my concept of copyright is closer to “Creative Commons for Attribution” than anything else- but I am used to practical solutions for realistic challenges. Therefore, you can reuse the material contained here, online, or in any link to my previous (or future) writings that I will provide you, either directly, or because openly accessible. There is no limitation: if you think that it is worthwhile, you can also build up your business around that (as some consultants, university professors and political or marketing operators did in the past)- but you are to quote the source, so that others too could derive from my material without having to pay a derivative author (you) “royalties” (including seeming as if they were copying you) for what you didn’t originate in the first place. If feasible, add also a link to the original material, and send me a copy of your derivative material, and let me know if you would like it reviewed.
  6. 6. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management III FOREWORD AND WARNING The next few chapters are an attempt to challenge you to re-assess how you collect knowledge and allow those that are recognized as “experts” to interact with you, both in your personal and business life. The aim is to improve your ability to obtain the best of both worlds: doing what you do with your own resources, involving those (internal, external) specialists if, when, and for how long needed. In our complex society, “specialization” is affecting also politics: many “upgraded” political roles right now require a career development that is de facto professionalizing access to higher office in some Western countries- i.e. you can vote, but cannot realistically hold higher office unless you have had a couple of decades within that environment. Each journey begins with a first step: and your first step is to think about something (not necessarily business-related) in which you can claim to have “expert status”- also if just by comparison with those around you. As somebody’s hero is somebody else’s villain, you can be an expert for those around you- while being considered a rookie by those who claim to be experts in their own field. It happened often over the last few centuries, and therefore it might even be that those experts on existing knowledge can become the laughing stock of tomorrow, and their “rookies” eventually acknowledged as the heralds of a new era.
  7. 7. IV So, cheer up: many experts have the habit of seeing their own wisdom as cast in stone, while at best they are just temporary runners within the relay race of human knowledge acquisition. An “expert mindset” is built around an ability of doing without thinking, matching patterns between what you see and what you know, and adapting what you know to what the current environment needs. Mere “learning by heart” to become “certified expert” in something (a favorite business task, in our current times), isn’t enough: you need to have built the mindset that makes you feel as second nature moving from the repetition of known schemas, to a real understanding of how their logic can be adapted. Incidentally: you can read this book online for free (see on my Linkedin profile)- a kind of “drive before (if ever) you buy”. You are obviously invited to buy it online from Amazon1, but what matters is that ideas are spread (and used)- the potential revenue from the book being just a “bonus”. In my view, better 30000 readers on Slideshare for free (as it happened with a previous book on Business Social Networking history and social analysis2), than 3000 copies sold and never opened! On this book: less than 50 pages, with just three main chapters: 1. “Why #Synspec” – the logic behind the title 2. “Think Before You Do” – know yourself before kick-starting change 3. “An Action Plan” – the best laid plan is worthless unless executed. More material (e.g. updates, case studies, links, Q&As) will routinely appear online, but it will be announced on my Twitter3 account (and other profiles). 1 - the printed edition includes also the Kindle version for free; it was 30,000 in June, 40,000 in July. 2 cultural-and-historical-perspective 3
  8. 8. 1 1 WHY #SYNSPEC We live in a complex world, and you just need to pick up any newspaper to see how, almost on a daily basis, “experts” are called in to share their wisdom and expertise. Sometimes, they should be renamed “knowledge creeps”, as they seem to enjoy dissecting reality just to have something to show their expertise- no social value added, just ego boasting, while turning the audience not into an informed one, but a superficial “expert sounding” mob. Have a look at any activity around you: even medium-sized companies seem to have found that without specialization and specialists you cannot survive. Human society is increasingly becoming urbanized, and probably never before in human history we have had so many people consuming what they are not producing with their own hands. Urbanization is a powerful engine for complexity and specialization, as while it made no sense to have a specialist doing e.g. just plumbing in a farmers’ village, it makes sense to have a few within a town. Moreover, it makes sense to have plumbing connecting houses to a central water system when there are at most few hundred meters between them, and there is a significant population density, but what about plumbing when there is a single building every twenty or thirty miles?
  9. 9. 2 The larger the community, the more efficient is to further split specializations, e.g. by moving from a “medicine man”, to specialists that, in turn, require a “front end” able to filter out people, selecting the appropriate experts to put them in touch with. Obviously, this last example was not chosen by chance, as it can be used as an easy way to visualize the side-effects of complexity and specialization. The more you create focused specialists, the more they will focus on their own specialization, and decrease their understanding of what others are doing, as we saw in medicine, science, technology, even something as basic (originally) as masonry. Those “generalist front-ends” increasingly are really unable to understand what is going on within each specialized branch of even their own discipline, as any closed group (and specialists are by definition closed groups) develops its own lingo, at first for efficiency in communication, eventually to increase efficacy, but in the end what they say and how they say it assumes so many layers of “shared knowledge”, that they are barely understandable even by those whose specialization is close to their own. I had routinely experience in “bridging” specialists at least since the early 1980s. Therefore, I saw first-hand how the increase in “communication quantity” along with the rise of micro-specializations actually decreased the information transferred to the audience, and often impaired their decision- making abilities. Read again the previous paragraphs: if you increase the specialization, you create a lingo; if you increase the quantity of what those specialists try to say to external audiences, they will eventually assume that their own lingo is “the” language: read an art exhibition presentation, and have fun, if you just want to know in plain English if that exhibition is worth visiting. If those that you acknowledge as specialists start sounding as priests of some ancient cult, using a language that only they and their peers understand, the audience has to start to “trust” them implicitly, as normal oversight becomes impossible, and you have to judge only by the results. Results? Yes, eventually, what the specialists define as results- as after a while you start delegating to them even the definition of your own aims.
  10. 10. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 3 It is also an easy way to justify for poor decision-making: you selected the best experts, they are the ones who failed… As individuals and consumers or citizens, we can actually join forces and try to co-opt some specialists on the “audience side”. The only issue is that, as soon as an expert is seen as “extern” from her/his own community, how can we ensure that such an expert is still so? As an example, people like Carl Sagan or Carlo Rubbia weren’t really the target of praise from the scientific community (the former being called too “popular”, the latter a mere “manager”, not a scientist), until… their colleagues realized that, in order to be able to do their own job, they would need more Sagans and more Rubbias to convey their dream to taxpayers. Since the late XX century, at least in Western societies, it is quite common to see “self-regulation” as the easy way out of this conundrum- and we witnessed the results since the 2008 recession. This book could actually help in identifying potential issues- as awareness of your current conditions is a first step in any change initiative. You can read some more material on improving the structure of your organization and knowledge management in a previous book (available online for free4) but, again, it is worth repeating that this book will discuss just one specific issue: integrating specialists. A first step within this first step is to actually identify who are (or should be considered as such) specialists. Within the context of this book, a specialist can be anybody delivering a highly focused set of skills, from those that require few days to be acquired (usually under the supervision of more experienced colleagues), to those that require a decade or more to be mastered. It is a matter of content, purpose, and… social constructs, as some professions frankly expand their requirements for admission just to raise the barrier to entry into their market for new entrants. 4 organizational-change
  11. 11. 4 There are few unintended side-effects: 1. specialists are inclined to optimize their own activity- not yours 2. you still need to care for the final result of the overall organization 3. if you hire specialists on staff, prepare to expand your training budget 4. if you use external specialists, they will try to expand their activities There are specialists with glamorous titles, and there are those providing services that are invisible, but that ensure that what you consider your own activity can be carried out. As an example, can you imagine bank clerks cleaning their own office at the end of the day? Or you yourself delivering your own letters? When I had direct customers, from day 1 I focused on defining why I was there, what the customer wanted, and... by when I could make myself redundant. If called in to help as an “expert”, always check if somebody else worked on that activity before- there might be reasons for some vacancies that resurface once a month… and usually unreasonable expectations (and associated budgetary constraints), or unclear definition of the aims are more common than the incompetence of your predecessor(s). The title of this book, #SYNSPEC, is just useful for future updates via social networks (e.g. to share news links that are relevant to this issue), merging “specialist” or “specialization” with “synergies”. Synergy is a buzzword common in business since the 1990s, but, frankly, as many buzzwords, it has been often twisted beyond recognition while being introduced in a real environment. Let’s just assume that “synergy” means “synchronized energy”- but you can look for something more formal on any dictionary. If we look at the components of “#SYNSPEC, we have a clear definition: obtaining a more effective use of specialists (or specializations) so that you keep at a minimum the costs needed to integrate the results of each specialized activity. Before moving to the next page, visualize those specialists (and non- specialists) working together as if they were pushing together a piece of furniture.
  12. 12. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 5 If you divide the effort but know how the effort is divided, it becomes much easier to complete that task (i.e. efficacy) efficiently than if you have each one of those pushing simply assuming what the others would do- and doing how (s)he see fit. Imagine this group of “independent pushing people” applying as much force as they assume is needed to their own side. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how, soon, you will have to start “compensating”, and how, unless there is some coordination and common understanding of the shared goal, most of the efforts will end up being wasted not in moving furniture, but negotiating the rules of engagement. It is a marvel of human organizations and the human mind: the more detached we become from our aim, the more “abstract” (if compared with our everyday tasks) it is, the less common sense becomes relevant, and other elements take the lead, including social structures and constraints. If you studied something about game theory, you are probably seeing that I dislike most of it- as, at least in its most famous applications, it ignores two basic elements of social interactions: usually, we assume that we will interact together with the same people; and we assume that, in the end, we want “the system” to be still there after we complete our “game”. Fairness is an ethical choice- and requires a long-term perspective, as “smart” people often skip the basic consideration that whatever rules they define (openly shared or de facto enforced) might one day affect them when they have no rules-setting power. Obviously, that does not apply in some special cases- which are those often used as a “model” to train in game theory. Nonetheless, using as a reference special case is somewhat quixotic. Since 2008, we saw interventions on the markets designed on a drawing board by somebody who assumed that people are rational and selfless, and ignoring business realities. Such as: why should I take money from A that I have then to give back, and give it to B, when I know that there is an unsustainable or unquantifiable but large risk that B will be unable to do so? What was the “rational choice” behind that set of assumptions?
  13. 13. 6 When building models, we are inclined to oversimplify, as humans generally don’t like uncertainty (even compulsive risk-takers that I met across my life had their own “routine” elements), and any model usually starts with a stated aim- that creates a “tunnel vision” while designing it (you put in only what you “feel beyond a reasonable doubt” that is useful for the stated aim). In a future book (again, it will be available online also for free) I will further develop what in 2009 I shared on these “model building” concepts- but you can have a look online at the drafts that I posted there5. Generating synergies can be done as an afterthought- but, unfortunately, that would certainly add some costs, usually called “integration” or “harmonization”. It is better to integrate within your everyday activities an approach that demands that any specialist complies with a list of “synergy principles”. The basic element? Communication- before they do their tricks, while they are working, and before they leave. What if you don’t embed those synergies in your system? Well, you risk having to do what is not so uncommon when money flows around. Or: do it once, toss it away, do it a second time- with a better understanding of what you needed in the first place, maybe mildly adapted to the changes required by the time that passed. I saw way too many “unknown entities” left behind in organizations by people who sometimes were real geniuses or experts, but simply made a point of asserting their “genius rights”, by leaving behind something that no mere mortal would be able to manage (and not necessarily for the “devious” purpose of making themselves practically irreplaceable). Obviously, there is a small catch hinted at above that you should never forget: hiring somebody who happens to have a specialization implies that you assume that you can keep that specialization alive and kicking- through use and update. 5 Just search on for GMN2009
  14. 14. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 7 The other main option, to hire temporarily somebody who has that specialization and will keep it up-to-date, implies that you assume that they will understand how your organization thinks and works (to say nothing about your organization’s products and services), i.e. that they understand your corporate culture. Unless you know what they are doing well enough to be able to extract those synergies, you are actually taking on risks- unnecessarily, by starting a Sisyphean task: as in a recent sci-fi movie6: you start, i.e. you start to learn something, start again, learn something more, start again… In the movie, it was funny, as in the end they delivered: pity that that implied a) infinite costs b) that you assume that your task will still produce useful results- and I doubt that you can freeze time and “learning feed- back” (from those involved and asked to repeat the activity more than once), in your case! Moving forward might imply creating something new- and then, but only then, maybe seeing that a new, better wheel can actually help to do something really unique: yes, there will always be a market for a better mousetrap- you just have to balance optimal vs. best choices. Making decisions implies relying on information provided by run-of-the- mill activities (everyday operations), other sources, and adding your insight and experience to expand on that,- and you cannot spend most of your time begging around for information, while it is too expensive to assume that information that you used long ago still holds true. A practical example: I think that nobody would use pre-Internet and pre-TV “eyeballs statistics” showing who is getting news from where? Moreover, when making choices on where to reach for your (potential) customers or, in politics, potential voters. So, why am I reading everyday business and political analysis articles that refer to historical events (social, political, business, etc.) as a copycat framework of reference for charting a future course of action? 6 “Edge of Tomorrow” trailer
  15. 15. 8 2 THINK BEFORE YOU DO I have countless examples of when knowing a little bit about the personal inclinations of my staff helped both them individually and our team collectively to benefit- without affecting their privacy or converting the business side into a mere financial support for their own personal interests (a risk embedded in many “team building” initiatives). Obviously, somebody would prefer a job that is just a 9-to-5 (or even less) and preferably one that has nothing to do with what they would really like to do: and, in our complex society, there will be space also for them. Albeit at a risk: 9-to-5 or even less will still be possible in the future- but if your job is really something that does not require a human brain… it will be increasingly easier to replace you with a combination of machines and cheaper workforce- sometimes even transferring the high-value activities of control and coordination to a computer software or machine, without really a need for the workforce to know that their “everyday remote boss” is not really human, and that the boss that they meet once in a while is somebody else, maybe a consultant who travels from plant to plant to “act” as the visiting boss. Why increasingly easier? Because if you remove from the picture what makes us, humans, different (ability to make choices, cope with uncertainty, learn, adapt both yourself and you environment, and not just adopt), the risk is that machines could be more efficient.
  16. 16. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 9 It is true that most of what you will read here assumes that you are a member of a "connected crowd"- i.e. at least with a mobile phone, if not even with easy access to social media: but this ceased to be the exception years ago (you can have a look at a more detailed historical discussion online7). While it would be nice to have the 30,000+ readers of BSN2013 (as of June 6th 2014- 40,000+ by mid-July) turn into paying readers, my purpose is mainly to share ideas and knowledge and make new connections, to expand my “virtual window on the world”, and I would rather have 30,000 free readers sharing and recycling my material, than 3,000 paying readers keeping the books to themselves. Also if relatively generous, if compared with other online and offline publishing entities for unknown authors, Amazon royalties represent the smaller percentage I ever received since 1993 of what was billed to customers- so, the main purpose isn’t revenue- or, otherwise, I would write fiction. Albeit I have serious doubts on my creative writing skills for a 200-300 pages book, as I am used to storytelling in my business, but with segments lasting few minutes, and at most a dozen or so of such segments, to “visualize” (turn into a shared experience) a specific business or social or political concept. My approach to storytelling is useful in management workshops, training, coaching, managing and motivating teams, but for the time being I will avoid wasting your time by writing fiction that is as readable as a telephone directory. Between 2008 and 2012, I simply shifted online what I had done since the late 1980s for my business network around Europe and USA, i.e. keeping up-to-date through voracious reading and listening to what field experts had to say, and sharing my “connecting the dots” exercises. And, as any good “connecting the dots” person, you are not merely a robot-librarian, but you add something. 7 cultural-and-historical-perspective
  17. 17. 10 Your contribution might range from just connecting what (almost) nobody else does, to identifying connections much earlier than others do, developing new ideas covering “holes” between the dots, or projecting existing knowledge onto new dots. Writing online has an additional side-effect: it forces you to gradually structure your writing process, and keeps a visible log of how your ideas developed (including dead-end ideas). Also in my business writings until 2007, often I found that some ideas sounded fine on paper, but would not match what could be feasible in a specific environment; and when set aside, they maybe ended up finding new uses, even elsewhere: it’s the story of the invention of the PostIT by 3M, isn’t it? It is easy to be the “Monday morning coach”, i.e. to be wise after the fact- even to justify how your ideas are a “continuation” of what you said in the past while that is not true (a quite common event, in my birthplace: the side-effect of hundreds of years of invaders to please). Yes, I know, my approach is that of a social, business, political analyst, somebody who has to provide a reading map before the information is perfect, if the map has to be of any use at all to decision-makers- risking each day to make mistakes: “professional fence-sitters” do not need to apply. Nobody hires (or should hire) analysts to sit on their hands collecting various ways of interpreting reality, until reality catches up with them, and they can pick up one of their interpretations and show a 20/20 insight (which is actually an almost 20/20 hindsight- i.e. knowledge after the fact). And also auditors, which some associate just with ex-post analysis, in many cases are more useful to their own organization if they work both as “insight analysts” (assessing feasibility and risks) and “hindsight auditors” (working with a “lessons learned- hopefully never again” approach). Anyway, as a rule, I use drafting online also as a creative writing exercise, and sometimes, on purpose, I write without re-reading- just think an outline, and then jot it down, so that others can, if they like, use it to “seed” their own analysis, writing, or even business activities.
  18. 18. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 11 Communication Planning Whenever I write something that can be defined as a stepping stone toward writing something else, I take care of drafting, re-reading, letting it sit down for a while (from hours to days or even weeks and months), and then review it as I were a member of my intended audience. If I write on behalf of others, since I was in high school I have the ghost-writer habit of trying to get to know them, their way of talking, writing, etc.- as I assume that they should be able to then claim possession of whatever is delivered, and evolve on that- and also if they acknowledge the help received, they should be able to continue without you. I think that a ghost-writer should be better defined as a “shadow writer”, i.e. somebody writing on behalf of others, not writing something that their “customer” will then sign: and, obviously, the same applies to management consultants, in their role in support of managers. Keep track of why you are communicating, and monitor (formally or informally) if you are reaching your audience. Sometimes, this requires few additional steps, e.g. for this book: 1. outline the "macro areas" (e.g. the introductory section containing the rationale, few shared sections, and the general structure) 2. find a line of reasoning that connects the dots between all the elements, when it comes to synergies and specializations 3. decide how to distribute the material, to ensure access just to what is relevant to a specific segment of the audience 4. identify which elements could be part of the “basic product”, and which elements could become part of a “mini-book” (around 30-40 pages) 5. assess if the “mini e-book”, or any ensuing publication, should have a theoretical or “how to” or “checklist” structure 6. plan the communication on the article and its components (what should be listed on e.g. Twitter, Facebok, G+?) 7. start to deliver as dictated by the channels selected (e.g. talk, write, discuss about it- or just share links to relevant material to build the “buzz”) 8. consider the potential of further developments; a bit of (strategic?) planning is part of step 1, but it is really done in step 6, and sometimes you have to get back by balancing (communication) dreams and (budget) reality.
  19. 19. 12 Generalist vs. Specialist Do you need to be a specialist? Do you need to be a generalist? It depends from your business, but also from your personal inclinations. In business, more often than not lower layers within the corporate pyramid are associated with specialist skills, while going up the feeding chain involves adding more generalist roles, i.e. assuming that you can find specialists around the organization, and that your role is to get the best out of them. Probably this might have been true long ago, but at least since I started working (let's say the early 1980s, when I had my first paid roles, also if I was still in high school), I saw that you need to be both- it is only a matter of degree, and to define what you mean by “specialization”. Since the late 1980s, I actually assumed a dual track- generalist (project management, business analysis), coupled with specialization (cultural/organizational/technological change, business intelligence and related management decision support systems). If you work in IT, there are plenty of specializations to pick up- in my case, it was data-based bridging of IT and business. My choice of “change” was actually a side-effect of prior interests as a teenager in archeology, science, cultural anthropology, with an added element deriving from my political activities (if you are 17 and read routinely reports from the various European institutions, you start seeing the forest well before you get pigeonholed into a specific path looking for specific trees). From my experience, I think that we let sub-specializations take over our brains, and this is one of the reasons why I saw often how computers did increase efficiency, but not efficacy: we were doing more of what computers made feasible, without questioning the tasks that we were doing. Moreover, we altered our human organizations not to increase our social efficacy, but to increase… our compliance with computer-based efficiency.
  20. 20. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 13 This lesson applies also to other domains: instead of joining the best of both worlds (humans and computers), it became increasingly trendy to toss away our competitive advantage, and invoke a kind of technocratic determinism. How many of you know how to fix a faucet? I know many (mainly) men with huge collections of tools to fix anything- but who make happy just their suppliers of tools, tools that they will never use often enough to be proficient. In business, in the past companies often hired plenty of experts for their expertise- but never bothered to keep them up-to-date and use their skills, assuming that, as if by magic, when needed they would instantaneously a) know what to do b) deliver a solution with the highest level of efficiency and efficacy. I call it “putting skills in the fridge”: even frozen food comes with a “use by” date. Human skills are even worse, as if you are hired as an expert in something, you have a role to cover, but the less you cover it, the more, often, you think that you are the reference for that set of skills within your own organization, and start turning from an asset into a liability. Why a liability? Because you turn from an asset useful to promote change, to a barrier against change and innovation, to maintain your own status. When (re)designing processes and organizational structures, I said often that it doesn't make sense to get a specialist and put her/him within a team where (s)he is like one of those trinkets that you put on a table nearby your bed and never use. And this does not apply just to IT, as also other areas of expertise (e.g. finance) sometimes attract talent, only to put it on the shelf, as few companies have the intensity and frequency of activities in the associated domain to keep proficient their new resources. How do you solve this conundrum, i.e. a society that is highly urbanized, uses more specialists for efficiency sake, but is structurally unable to keep them proficient enough to avoid losing efficacy?
  21. 21. 14 Technology delivers an interesting paradigm: “cloud computing”, where you do not need any more to have physical and virtual objects in your organizations that you have to invest on and maintain (e.g. servers and software licenses), but you can adopt a more flexible approach focused on what you need to do (see BFM20138). The same approach, called “business process outsourcing” or even “consulting”, allows to ship to an external pool of resources any demand for specialized skills, and retain in house only those that you routinely need. Positive side-effect: you will have within your company people whose business you understand, instead of having dozens of profiles spending a significant amount of their (and your) time to justify their own existence. Example: if my accounting package is delivering what is needed, it might be useful (of course) to have it updated immediately to match new tax code requirements- but why should I buy new equipment to have a new version that adds really limited business improvements, while inserting plenty of bells and whistles that have zilch business value (or even negative value, e.g. by requiring to alter my business processes and retrain all my personnel to do exactly the same activities as before!)? Dark-side: if you just need a connection and a computer on your desk to do your job, do you really need cohorts of experts in various sub- specializations? And how do you ensure that your “supplier of specialist skills” is keeping a stock of those skills large enough for your needs? A further side-effect is the loss of ability to innovate: if you lose the knowledge on how things work, then when a new business issue arises you have no independent source of expertise- and you increase the negotiating power of your supplier, supplier that obviously will have a diverging set of interest. To be more specific: a supplier will certainly have to maximize the efficiency of her/his own organization, and a positive return on the investment on human and financial resources involved in delivering those specialist skills; providing you with the latest innovations might conflict with those objectives (e.g. the expansion of e-government might reduce the value of services ranging from accounting to banking or logistics). 8 organizational-change
  22. 22. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 15 Blending Knowledge The previous segment probably sounded a little bit too “business oriented”- but is really just businesses that need to better manage the balance between what they learn (and keep up-to-date) and what they delegate to others? The Internet expanded one of the nastiest elements of human societies: the impact of rumors and factoids, i.e. something that is presented as a fact, but is a mere rehashing of opinions dressed up as facts, as in many statistics and biased polls that are published on a daily basis even by the most serious newspapers or business magazines (to say nothing about the not-so-rare retracting of published research papers on academic magazines). Thanks to the Internet, we stretched the lifetime of factoids, or even allowed some facts to be extracted from their time, and, as we assume that anything on the Internet is “current”, to be spun around time and again- as it happened years ago with a news item about a bankrupt airline company. In that case, few billion dollars were lost before the news item was correctly identified as old news- reborn (more details on this and other cases can be read for free within BSN2013, on Slideshare9). Getting the right expert at the right time is just the beginning: you have to get your experts focused on your needs, and collect, structure, digest, assemble their feed-back, to ensure that, whatever solution is identified (be it to fix a faucet, launch a new product, or send a human expedition to Mars), your choice is based on the right information, and not just on a “dialectic beauty contest” between your experts. Creating synergies between specialists (even worse between sub- specialists, who are more than inclined to be “true believers” that they have “the” solution) is not a task for the faint-hearted. In my experience, if you take a pure generalist to lead such an endeavor you risk obtaining a “knowledge blend” that is formally perfect- but it is akin to the proverbial “horse designed by a committee”, a.k.a. camel. 9 cultural-and-historical-perspective
  23. 23. 16 A pure generalist is often inclined to generate consensus, not feasibility, and probably it makes more sense to choose a specialist who has an ability to look to the “big picture”, i.e. a generalist attitude. Personally, when training or coaching people toward a generalist path, I tried also (overtly or covertly) to give them a domain or skill where they could claim to be the “team expert”. Example: as I managed often multiple projects or initiatives at the same time, I worked with different teams or “expertise mixes” on each initiative. In each case, after assessing the skills and potential of each team member, I started delegating- not everything to everyone, but a little bit more of something to someone and, based on results, gradually build the team members acceptance of a differentiation of roles. Mind the words: differentiation, not hierarchy- i.e. leadership by example and acknowledged knowledge-based role. A caveat: you need to have a direct responsibility (formal or informal) on your team members- otherwise (e.g. if you just get a “timesharing” of personnel), stick to what they have been assigned to, as you will have no real ability to enforce a differentiation of roles policy. If you are just a “customer”, in private and business life, it is tempting to get back to the same supplier once something is successful- but you should keep monitoring on a sensible but not paranoid level: moving from “asylum-bound paranoid” to “best pal do-as-you-like” (or the other way around), often is neither feasible, nor the wisest choice. A note on “agile”, “lean”, “scrum”, and other “flatter” organizational models: check if your people a) acknowledges the boundaries of their individual knowledge and experience; b) are acknowledged by other team members as fitting that role. You have to ensure that the right “blend” of skills (and not just expertise- I mean also “soft skills”) is in place, or structure the activities in such a way to cover for any deficiencies. Anyway, you have also to monitor the evolution of the social dynamics within the team, to avoid “lord of the flies” situations.
  24. 24. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 17 Resistance (to Change) is Futile Change, the first, last, continuing frontier. I agree with the concept that you have to have the patience to accept what cannot be changed, the courage to change what can be changed, and the wisdom to understand the difference. Actually- I consider it a mantra for anybody working on change. Nonetheless, I cannot accept that as an excuse to inaction. You can wait until hell freezes over, but you will never deliver any change unless you are willing to assess the balance between the risks involved in change, and the benefits it can deliver (you can also consider the risks of avoiding it, and the damages that it could deliver- to you or others, i.e. “negative externalities”). If you were to read a recent release of the methodology MSP (Managing Successful Programmes10), you would see a significant amount of space devoted to “managing externalities”, i.e. the impacts on those not directly involved in change (see also a recent review that I posted on “Fare Lobby. Manuale di Public Affairs”11). Don't worry- this short section will not turn into an extensive discussion on the philosophy of change. Despite what others could say, having something “physical” or a “software” as a framework for your change does not make it simpler- unless you know which culture is “embedded” within that software, object or business process. Focusing on synergies and specializations, you do not need just specialists, but also those on the receiving end of their services, to ensure that the latter can keep whatever is delivered up-to-date, alone or with an appropriate “service maintenance contract”. 10 11
  25. 25. 18 To paraphrase somebody else: a society that needs change heroes is doomed to fail, as it will never accept the responsibility and make the choices of the changes it gets through. As a consultant, I turned down some change management opportunities when I saw that the customer wasn’t really committed: it was just something that they had to or found “trendy” to do. Resistance to change is futile (some of my friends who happen to be Star Trek fans will recognize the source of inspiration)- but change isn't and cannot be a mechanical device: insert a society, an organization, a process, put it through a “change box”, and get a new one. Change takes time, and change, when seen from a distance, seems coherent and well structured (notably when you are just planning for it). When you see change “in progress”, it is akin to what one of my professors in London said in summer 1994 about sausage-making: i.e. eat the result, but do not look at how it is done (he was actually referring to the university canteen). Seen from high in the sky, in the mind of the strategist, is not the same as when you are down at the ground level, and tons of minutiae can affect your change. Being able to continuously involve your experts while adapting your plan for change to reality is a critical skill- and, again, cannot be done by following just a checklist (also if that helps). A visual representation is contained in an old but funny movie from Monty Python's “The Meaning of Life”- e.g. in two scenes, the one about eating mushrooms bought cheaply at the market, and the one where insurance clerks set sail and commandeer a pirate galleon that shoots drawers full of files and folders. The former, is a case when you trust an expert that has a vested interest (selling you mushrooms), and end up over-negotiating, just to get poisonous mushrooms (and many change initiatives, including some mergers that eventually fell apart, are poison pills). The latter, shows what you need to convert a legion of desk-bound clerks into a crew working as a team: motivation, and a “social glue”.
  26. 26. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 19 Riding the Grapevine Wave I think that almost every week newspapers have a field day by exposing a case where social media built up a “buzz” on something that eventually was proved to be false. Welcome to the “real world 2.0”, i.e. using social media to do what humans did for millennia: this continuous stream of rumors etc. is just another sign that social media are now mainstream. Gone are the exclusive rights of professional scaremongers and their disinformation campaigns using traditional media to build or destroy reputations, as now on Facebook anybody can share gossip, or build up a rumor into a wave. Scary? Please- do adjust to reality, and try to make it better each day (e.g. I dump and block repeat “trolls”12 and “agent provocateurs”13). If you have a business, the worst way to react to customers’ complaints about service or quality is to insult them on TripAdvisor, or drum up (as I saw online recently) conspiracy theories (a customer can review two places in a day- and in that case it was the typical profile of those who review “in blocks”, i.e. nothing for a while, and then a burst of reviews). At the same time, you have to be aware of rumors, not to waste time and resources mounting counter-attacks, but to see what can be improved, or if there is something that, as I wrote in the previous section, cannot be changed, and you have to learn to cope with- maybe by turning it into a differentiating point. Example: if somebody complains that there is no public transport to your restaurant because it is outside town, probably that is a sign that your place is quiet, away from the chaos of the town, etc. Most often, you cannot change the public transport schedule and routes, but that is more than balanced off by other advantages. 12 13
  27. 27. 20 I am obviously referring to the external grapevine: and that applies both in business and private life. Instead, the internal grapevine of any organization can be both an ally (if you have a hierarchical company and no formal channels to get information across the “vertical divide”) and an enemy. Example of the dangers embedded in “management by grapevine” (i.e. tolerating it so that is available when you need to “spin” something around): if you have back-biters who try to build alliances against any change that they dislike, sometimes even to make it fail by indirectly supporting those resisting to change, only to then emerge as a champion of that same change when they lead it. There are some also on social media who support relying on the grapevine- personally, I consider it a case of “trusting your Jago” (as in Shakespeare’s Othello; see a 2011 article series on this issue14). Actually, I will explore the social and business side of this “Jago approach to management” in future articles supporting this book. My preference is to remove the grapevine as much as possible, and instead create ways for communication to happen both horizontally and vertically, e.g. “virtual suggestion boxes”. I think, and was able to observe on-the-job, that innovation within an organization can be delivered more efficiently and with greater efficacy if you can get the information from those who actually know how things are done, instead of interested middlemen who always try to “add some value” (i.e. spinning their own potential role). This “teamwork” in some cases doesn't work, e.g. when you are restructuring through “cut and slide” (remove some, and sideline others, leaving the structure unbalanced). Still, even in those cases, relying on the grapevine is akin to assigning an argument between your specialists not based on their case, but on their presentation skills.. 14 principle/
  28. 28. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 21 Steer Your Ship When Needed Let's assume that you identified how to obtain synergies between your specialists, and you found also a way to use the result of their teamwork into your change or problem solving (from fixing your windows to creating a new political party). If you really enrolled experts, specialists, and anybody who is acknowledged as having one or more skills, prepare for some issues to arise whenever there will be changes in the agreed plan. They put their face on what was chosen, and will probably need to find a rational justification to any change- that you are the paying customer is often not enough. In some cases, as an expert, I personally had to pull out from an activity when the conditions became unsound, e.g. when it was planned to confer my small UK-based activity to an Italian company and become a partner in that company, so that it could have a “virtual branch” abroad, I dropped from that part of the deal when it was turned into four-party merger with companies that I did not know at all. In other cases, my success in delivering the change agreed with the customer implied accepting some “primadonnas’ fifteen minutes of time” for some selected experts. In other cases, you have to let the expert go, e.g. when you have to introduce a new technology or supplier, and your existing supplier tries to undermine the new one as (s)he sees an opportunity to expand business. Also, it is worth remembering that champions of past changes often might have their head fixed on the changes they lived through, and be really convinced that whatever changes the perfect balance that they achieved is detrimental to their organization- a case of biased interpretation of new information. As discussed in previous sections, unless you involve your experts (internal or external, doesn't matter) continuously, you have to carefully choose how they will be involved, and preferably (moreover when they aren't employees) consider if you need also to require specific individuals.
  29. 29. 22 Try to avoid “stop gap” experts as much as possible, as in their case obviously the less they get involved into long-term hands-on changes, the better they can keep to their professional role of “short-term fixers”. Few of them are thinking to the “bigger picture”, i.e. what happens next and the side-effects of the implementation of what they suggested. There is another type of “stop-gap” experts, “temporary experts”, i.e. those who aren’t experts at all in what they are asked to do, but simply are the next best available under the current conditions (from budgetary constraints, to confidentiality issues, to crisis management needs). These “temporary experts” should be properly “framed” within their temporary role, or otherwise their lack of knowledge or experience of what is specific to your environment could wreak havoc. I am talking from experience, as more than once I have been called to… fix for the long-term what a short-term improvised fixer had delivered. Personally, both in business and private activities, I think that you should consider as a structural component of whatever your experts are delivering a communication approach that you both agree on. As an example, whenever I acted as the main negotiator or worked on a negotiating team, I asked to identify communication channels by level of expertise or activity, with one single individual on each party as the one accountable for the overall communication approach; often this helped to avoid wasting resources, and defuse crises without resorting to lawyers. Yes, reading “getting to yes” (the Harvard Negotiation Project book), or something based on that, should be part and parcel of the training of anybody who has to deal with suppliers (external and internal). While building and managing teams including experts, the main risk is to procrastinate, until a “lord of the flies” emerges- then, the only way to quickly gain control is to “restructure” the team (e.g. in larger structures by creating a joint-venture or other organization to justify shuffling in and out experts and trouble-makers or wannabe “wolf-pack leaders”). .
  30. 30. 23 3 AN ACTION PLAN There are hundreds of variants of the basic cycle, each one “pushed” by a different international standard, organization, or consulting entity. As this short book aims to be a practical tool, instead of adding tons of references, I will just refer to MSP/201115 (programme management sibling of PRINCE/2):, it is generic and non-prescriptive enough to be used as a general framework. My experience in recruitment was always on either specialist roles, or generalist coordination roles with people that had a background as a specialist. Therefore, before applying my approach to generate synergies from specialists, I had spent a significant amount of time listening, comparing, and monitoring what made specialists “tick”, and how to turn them into team members. I liked reading Goethe’s “elective affinities”, and its mixing of science and human interests, but I heard way too often about variants of that concept as the only rationale for starting business partnerships or hiring people who, eventually, proved to be what (at least for me) was clear from the preliminary interviews: fakes. 15
  31. 31. 24 When you are recruiting, nothing is worse than having candidates who are “suggested” by existing employees, as their personal friends usually get “trained” on what to say and how to say it, and bypass the rational side of recruitment and jump directly into the “elective affinities” realm. Obviously, when you hire specialists, both for temporary and permanent roles, their past performances are useful to see not just what they did (unless you need human robot), but how they coped with uncertainties and used their knowledge and experience to deliver value to their employers. When I interviewed on behalf of partners or customers candidates who were specialists, I tried to understand their forma mentis, not just the number of projects they worked on, and certainly did not consider useful a standard “multiple choices” test on their skills: usually, I reserved the “technical” (IT or business) side of the interview to somebody else. In my experience when selecting people and then managing them, what is more critical is not the list of achievements on their CV, but a) the thread connecting them, i.e. understanding what motivates them, and how they found that motivation to deliver; b) if they can learn from and adapt to the environment. Even if you are just looking for a plumber, a specialization where the job is made easier by standardization, you need a plumber who can see what you have, not replace everything so that it fits what (s)he is used to. Way too often applying the “elective affinities” instead of the “potential” approach generated hiring practices that would be appropriate to build up your friendships, not your business: you can hire your friends, but not manage them as friends- ditto if you are hired by them. Of course: unless you consider that your business and its customers should be happy to subsidize your private life, instead of having a private life separate from your business life, each one with its own domain. A specialist often enjoys her or his work enough to let it spill over private life- but it is up to the management to keep a balance: not because you have to be a “humane” manager, but just as a rational choice, to ensure that business doesn’t become a safety valve for private life, as that often generates plenty of work, but lower productivity (in this case, quality delivered-per unit of work done).
  32. 32. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 25 If you know the potential and motivation of your resources, you can better allocate resources and limit the use of specialists where and when you really need them- not when they have time. I will skip the discussion about those two points, as that would require a book-length discussion, but I can redirect you to a recent article on the Harvard Business Review (that, as usual, is a “feeder” for a book)16: “The first era of talent spotting lasted millennia. For thousands of years, humans made choices about one another on the basis of physical attributes... Fortune 500 CEOs are on average 2.5 inches taller than the average American, and the statistics on military leaders and country presidents are similar.... the second era, which emphasized intelligence, experience, and past performance. Throughout much of the 20th century, IQ - verbal, analytical, mathematical, and logical cleverness- was justifiably seen as an important factor in hiring processes (particularly for white-collar ones), with educational pedigrees and tests used as proxies. Much work also became standardized and professionalized.... in the 1980s, at the beginning of the third era of talent spotting, which was driven by the competency movement still prevalent today. David McClelland's 1973 paper 'Testing for Competencies Rather than for Intelligence' proposed that workers, especially managers, be evaluated on specific characteristics and skills that helped predict outstanding performance in the roles for which they were being hired. The time was right for such thinking, because technological evolution and industry convergence had made jobs much more complex, often rendering experience and performance in previous positions irrelevant. So, instead, we decomposed jobs into competencies and looked for candidates with the right combination of them. For leadership roles, we also began to rely on research showing that emotional intelligence was even more important than IQ.... Now we're at the dawn of a fourth era, in which the focus must shift to potential. In a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment (VUCA is the military-acronym-turned-corporate- buzzword), competency-based appraisals and appointments are increasingly insufficient. What makes someone successful in a particular role today might not tomorrow if the competitive environment shifts, the company's strategy changes, or he or she must collaborate with or manage a different group of colleagues. So the question is not whether your company's employees and leaders have the right skills, it's whether they have the potential to learn new ones.” Beautifully said, and worth reading the whole article, but probably this is something new only if you worked through a “linear career”, i.e. doing something that made you gradually expand your own business horizon within a specific vertical career. 16 Claudio Fernandez-Araoz “21st-Century Talent Spotting p 46-56” reprint R1406B, HBR June 2014
  33. 33. 26 Personally, I saw the difference between competencies and potential in the most unexpected environment. When I was in the Army, as my group was a specialist artillery group, our training for field exercises (to deliver wind direction speed etc. to Artillery) was built on mixing skills, but also mixing potential, Most of my teammates had the same educational background that I had, but I was tasked to do the on-the-fly rounding up or down of numbers to feed our software and data/steps cross-checking, as I was the fastest number cruncher, and in my office work (in the Army, I had multiple jobs at the same time) I actually did something more than just using the typewriting machine, also if I had originally used that skill to get the job. Over the last few decades, we moved from institution-based training (schools, universities), to formalized “competency-building training” (e.g. courses delivered by employers as part of their “management training curriculum”, or courses for one of the endless list of certifications), to pervasive training, e.g. via the online components of universities, or online providers of courses supplied by universities17. Since the late 1990s, online courses moved from a mere “multiple- choices testing”, to adding peer-reviewed projects, to ensure that those attending courses online actually had both hands-on experience on what they learned, and are used to discuss their projects with other sharing the same expertise, and, in some cases, jointly developing projects. It is a gradual change- but those used to online team playing and learning, and who never lived in a world without the Internet, are currently representing the bulk of the new “white collar” work-force, and even many working in factories are used to a level of technology in their everyday life that was unheard of in the mid-1980s even for degree holders who never lifted anything heavier than a pencil. A further fly in the “human resources management” ointment: most of those training venues requires only time and motivation, as they are free. 17 See e.g.,, the educational section of YouTube, or
  34. 34. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 27 Get Used to a Free Knowledge Economy If you live in a country where accessing the Internet is feasible (yes, every country is connected, I think that the last one was Lesotho- but that doesn't imply that its inhabitants have individual, personal, high-speed access to the Net), you are probably used to have a look online whenever you have to do a purchasing choice. Usually, countries where accessing information on suppliers was not commonly available, or filtered, have quite enthusiastic users of this opportunity (e.g. I am thinking about some villages in India and Africa checking market prices before selling their produce to intermediaries). No matter what you do, buy, sell, offer, you can always find online information about potential alternatives- and, often, better information than what you are used to in your neighborhood. Everybody, including States (and also supra-national organizations such as the EU), has been talking for over a decade about the “knowledge economy”- but one element was ignored: you cannot assume that the Post- WWII approach (patent everything and apply a price tag) is what will make that economy work- at least, not for the time being. For example: is there a market for the time that I have to spend to provide information, and a value for that information, when I am asked to answer yet another question by Facebook or Linkedin? Is that really offset by the free service that I receive? And how much is worth carrying around that oversized logo on a t-shirt that I paid for? Do you really believe that a t-shirt whose production cost is, say, 1 USD, and is sold for 20 USD (or more) in Europe, is worth so much more, that I have to be willing to be a free “sandwich man” until I will toss it away? The knowledge economy, to fully deploy its potential, has to add a prefix: “free”. With online start-ups, it was common to talk about a “freemium” model, i.e. give something (a basic service) for free, to build momentum and attract an audience, and then add additional paid services.
  35. 35. 28 My book publishing approach is a close relative of that model, and I used it as an experiment, i.e. to also “advertise”, and see how many would actually read a specific book, the one on business social networking18, BSN2013, without doing anything more than setting up an online shop on Amazon to actually sell copies of the book. Well, in few weeks, spending zilch on advertisement (except some “word-of-mouth” through nothing more than status updates online and other free sources), I moved from few readers, to 30,000 (and counting). How many copies did the book sell (repeat: I did nothing to push for “conversion” from free to paid, as my aim was to test dissemination)? Zero. I read of an artist that shared online his CD for free- and got 400,000 listeners- but few became buyers; probably he was trying to imitate the approach followed by a famous band, i.e. “pay as much as you think it is worth”: fine, if you have already a “cult” status and loyal followers (I remember when Frank Zappa, with his cult-like fans, wrote a song with an Italian journalist, as a proof that he could sell any disk with his name on!). Also advertisement changed- you just need to have a look at the website of AdAge19, to see the transition from (more expensive) paper and TV advertisement to online advertisement. What is different? It isn’t just that you can count who actually watched your adv on the Internet, for how long, etc.; it is also that, if you, say, open a page, or watch a video on YouTube, that advertisement has an exclusive access to your eyeballs for few seconds- and there will be no chance that it will be lost within they typical TV or movie theatre “wolfpack” of advertisements (sometimes a “wagon train” of a dozen!). Moreover, we got used to have specialists (e.g. software companies, insurances, utilities, etc.) share online part of their expertise: for free, through e-books etc. 18 cultural-and-historical-perspective 19
  36. 36. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 29 The cost? Advertisement on the Internet is cheaper than on any of the other traditional media (as newspapers moving online discovered). Producing e-books or reports can basically be a side-effect of your own activities to keep up-to-date your own staff and internal experts. As I said recently to a colleague: Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, e-books, are a cost- as you need to schedule time to keep all of them “fresh”, but if you “embed” those activities within your own business routine, you can actually obtain visibility that cannot be obtained through traditional networking, as you can bypass all the usual “filters”, “cliques”, etc. Obviously, it is a continuous investment- you cannot just do it for few days. So, following XXI century social and business models, you have to give for free to get something in return: it might be your own data to Facebook, or time that you spend to share news that you like or kitchen recipes or whatever you can claim to be an expert on. And this has side-effects also with your “team building” when trying to make specialists work together: you will not necessarily use the expertise only of physical experts, but also of their publications (and, eventually, also their electronic online avatars- yes, I am still on my 1980s Artificial Intelligence, PROLOG, and Knowledgebase concepts, using them once in a while). Actually: you could go and scout online for material that is useful as a source of expertise, and then consider that as your “virtual expert” on specific issues (as anyway invited - or even paid- experts often contribute to the team no more than what they have already published or read). A first practical step in keeping your “knowledge pool” up-to-date (call it “proactive talent management”) could be to allow your own in-house specialists to spend some time online to get updates (e.g. by being a member of mailing lists or online communities), and… asking your external experts to disclose when the documentation and information that they provide was last updated (as I saw courses e.g. on privacy that simply skipped few “rounds” of… legislative updates- nice way to coach your customers on how to become compliant!), and add a “knowledge delivered update subscription” clause.
  37. 37. 30 Intellectual Property and Knowledge Seeding How our knowledge economy will evolve in terms of copyright etc. is still to be not just seen, but even discussed. I am not the only one to have proposed futuristic solutions that, in a “cloud computing” environment where every device, including your fridge, printer, TV, etc. can and will be connected through social networking websites, are increasingly becoming feasible. If you are curious, have a look at my blog20, and search for IPR or “intellectual property”, “patent”, “copyright”, or any related concept. The key element to remember is that you have to start thinking how to integrate in your “expert team” also virtual sources- e.g. you might get an intern with a degree in a specific domain that you need to cover, and pay her/him to extract information from reliable online sources within that same domain. Moreover, you will need to keep your “forma mentis mix” varied, if you want your business to thrive within a knowledge economy, as you never know which framework of interpretation will really help you in the future. What does this mean? If you hire, as it is routinely done, somebody with a degree in political science to work as a clerk in accounting, your company will benefit if you will find a way to motivate that employee to keep an eye on her/his domain of choice, and not only accounting. Not just because accounting standards are increasingly becoming a matter of globally designed regulatory framework, but because such an employee could then be added to a team, say, discussing a new initiative, and contribute number crunching and a “bigger picture” perspective to any brainstorming, coupled with a knowledge of your own way of doing things. Saving, incidentally, on the costs that you would incur in having an external expert that knows nothing about your own corporate culture to cover that same role. 20
  38. 38. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 31 And external specialists? Well, they could be integrated with your own staff that is part of your own permanent payroll, but understands their lingo and trends in their field of expertise. Somebody would complain that this is akin to using Google or Wikipedia as a reliable source: frankly, I more than once I had to deal with experts that said something that didn’t sound up-to-date or true, and either through my own contacts, or through public sources, I was able to get updated information. Before providing advice to a decision-maker based on the need of the expert to confirm her/his role within the team, saying “I don't know, let me check” would have been a better choice, with some “experts”. Not only in IT, but also in domains that used to be relatively steady (e.g. laws- except tax law in Italy, where weekly updates were common also decades ago, when I started working), there is currently a maze of mutual international agreements that generate ripple effects. Some of these indirect impacts are also linked to another issue associated with supranational regulations: in a single state, you can streamline and alter laws almost at will (something that in Italy is done with gusto, even retroactively!), but when you involve 28 states (European Union) or even the whole of the UN, you are necessarily generating something that has to be then “interpreted”, as any change would require either a major crisis (to bypass objections, and even oversight), or endless rounds of negotiations. We need also a better integration between corporations and society. An interesting example comes from a recent article published by Nature21, on how Coca-Cola, for its own purposes, started collecting data on available water resources, as: “it requires more than 9 litres of water to generate $1 of revenue, so relies on accurate knowledge of water resources. Since 2004, the company has invested more than $1.5million in recording and assessing surface and groundwater levels, stresses and drought severity. In 2011, the company teamed up with the World Resources Institute, an environmental think tank in Washington DC, to make its proprietary data publicly available through a web platform called Aqueduct.”: 21 Nature 3 April 2014 Vol 508, No 7494, p. 35
  39. 39. 32 Obviously, this has a side-effect also on the concepts of “learning” and “training”: we need more educational institutions and “knowledge consolidation institutions” (a.k.a. libraries) integrated with businesses, not less. Personally, since I started officially working in 1986, I never stopped learning and studying- and not necessarily in a classroom (actually- most of my knowledge update was done while traveling around Italy or Europe by train and airplane). Since the early 1990s, I also had to deliver multimedia for self-training: from simple “screencam” movies (do something on a computer, and record what happens on the screen; first using an IBM/Lotus application) and associated 1-page scripts (to allow in 1-2 minutes to access the key concepts on any new process that was to be used only once in a while), to more complex material (e.g. to enable multiple courses to be held at the same time, while ensuring that the lectures were delivered exactly in the way). I am still puzzled at how companies that spend so much money on e.g. licenses of Microsoft Office, keep using Powerpoint mainly for huge presentations that could be summarized in few slides, instead of consolidating the expertise and knowledge that they have “in house” onto multimedia that could act as a “first level Question and Answer” within and after induction training- and prefer to shuttle their own internal experts around! There are also companies going to the opposite extreme- e.g. producing professional multimedia with external or even dedicated multimedia teams, but, unless you have to train continuously staff with a high level of turnover but scattered on a large territory (something that obviously would rule out classroom training), having your experts producing short movies with a mere webcam with the most commonly asked questions and answers should not be a major hurdle or cost- and satisfy the business needs. What matters, also if you refrain from using computers for something more than typing or number crunching or showing wonderful decks of slides, is that you start thinking about what could be a continuous learning approach that makes sense for your organization, factoring in the Internet within your “learning organization” 1990s framework. There is no “one size fits all”, but in the next page I can share some parameters that I used in the past to choose how to structure these activities.
  40. 40. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 33 1. your own corporate culture and resources mix (e.g. if your staff is used to take initiatives, or just follows order) 2. specific roles and levels of skills required (e.g. in some cases training has to be formally delivered on-the-job by a senior employee) 3. frequency of update of the knowledge involved (e.g. if you have weekly updates, a movie should be either built on segments around material that is released weekly via Acrobat, or simply ignored as an option) 4. distribution channels (e.g. if your training material is actually useful also to show what you do, maybe with a little tweaking could make sense to share it on YouTube, or publish on Slideshare and Amazon or even Kindle) 5. initial and recurring costs (e.g. to produce and update the material- if just 10% has to be updated, a movie or e-book might be worth the investment, after few sessions to “tune” and “segment” the material) 6. specific IPR or privacy or HR concerns (e.g. if your training is actually used also to assess the career path of your people, just using multimedia or e-books would deprive you of useful information, and making a movie could generate legal issues) 7. if you need to train trainers (as this implies creating multiple levels of material, structuring it, and creating a “knowledge update” social infrastructure, e.g. private Facebook or Yahoo or Google groups) 8. last but not least: number and frequency of the training delivery (in many cases, a class larger than 12 is just a conference, not a training session, and smaller than 5 or 7 turns into an interrogation room) Not just for business: maybe you too have an expertise that can attract some interest. Unless you have a really focused niche and you are the only one able to connect key players and aggregate their knowledge, publishing online material will be first a marketing activity, and then potentially a revenue stream. Consider how converting some of your internal training material into e- books could turn that into something useful to universities, or the public at large, and attract talent to your company, while improving the awareness of your brand or company. In some really small specialized domains, that is less common that you would expect: it is relatively easier to attract one million Joe Public to a website built around a campaign or a specific issue, than to convince 100 experts who are also primadonnas in their own territory to share, as equals, their knowledge in the same spot.
  41. 41. 34 Stirred, not Shaken: Distributing Specialization(s) We both know where the title of this section comes from- but, frankly, when you blend knowledge you still need to keep the sources in the loop, and be able to trace back and evolve the contribution of each individual. Therefore, you have to “stir” the knowledge cocktail, instead of doing the typical “knowledge management” trick of taking knowledge, shaking it out of shape until it becomes a “blob”, and then share it with an audience. Why? Well, try to get that “horse designed by a committee” back on the design table once you have to do few improvements: as nobody will be able to claim ownership on anything, chances are that even modest improvements or alterations will spawn a new cycle of design (I saw it few times in my career- and across multiple industries and cultures). In some cases, that might be the intended result, e.g. collective decision- making, where you want the team to share the solution and responsibility, to accelerate implementation (the “ringisho” approach), and filter out dissent: but, frankly, if you built and managed your (virtual, real) team of experts correctly, there are more negatives in this “cloaking” of sources than positives- unless you need your collective decision-making just once (e.g. when you know that the next time you will get a different team). Another element to consider is the distribution model that will be adopted by those providing “specialization” within your own organization. Personally, since the late 1980s I saw so many business models, that probably it makes sense to share a small list- followed then by what are foreseeable evolutions. The key issue? Identifying the degrees of freedom afforded by/bestowed on those producing and delivering their specialization, i.e. what they can and cannot choose (it matters, if you have to integrate their results in you organization). If you want to “dig” a little bit more within the “cultural” and “organizational structure side”, have a look at the free version of my BFM201322 book, which contains also links to material from other sources. 22
  42. 42. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 35 A normal table would be useful- but, in this case, it makes more sense to share some concepts, and let you use your own brain to position each one of the examples against few characteristics, adapted to your own environment: 1. Motivation: why does the source of expertise provide it? 2. Control: who sets the degree of freedom in delivery? 3. Audience which population is the delivery aimed to? 4. Mono- or multi-party: who is involved in delivery? As you can see, I ignored the traditional elements, i.e. pricing, ownership, organizational structure, lifecycle, as I assume that you can make up your mind on those issues, and there are plenty of free sources and methodologies focused on that side. Some cases that I observed in real life, by decreasing degree of integration with the organization using their services (each one of them should be self-explanatory, but I will add online other material): - in-team specialist - in-house specialist support entity (i.e. a shared cost) - in-house specialist service provider (i.e. a cost and profit center) - joint-venture - outsourced internal operation - spin-off - internal outsource - outsourced demand - business-case based - slot purchasing - on demand There are obviously some underlying themes, e.g. the often forgotten match between the “buyers’ corporate culture” and the “suppliers’ corporate culture” (try to get working an organization used to last minute adjustments were nothing is ever finished, with one working on a military exercise schedule, ignore the differences, and prepare for budget overruns). In future articles that will be published on my blog and other social networks (e.g. Linkedin for the business side), I will discuss and follow trends on talent procurement and “specialist skills and expertise supply chain management”. organizational-change
  43. 43. 36 4 EVOLVING MANAGEMENT, STEP-BY-STEP In and by itself, this closing chapter would require at least one book, to give the subject the attention it deserves- but that is true also of most of the previous chapters. A caveat: read the previous chapters before reading this one, also if the “checklist format” might have attracted you here first. I should have started from the end, but it was enough to have the end in my mind, and then find a way to reach it (so Syd Field’s book, “Screenplay”23, is once again useful- along with Aristotle, of course “Poetics”24). As I wrote at the beginning of this book, the few pages that you read so far are just a stepping stone toward delivering further material within my change initiative, including a book on creating and managing “virtual corporations”. It is quite simple, if you start from the title “synergies and specialization(s)”, and make it work step-by-step. 23 24
  44. 44. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 37 A. Identify Potential Synergies Synergies are those that you obtain if you manage to make those providing the various bits of expertise work together. In order to do that, you have to consider alternative ways of: - arranging and organizing teams - integrating the “input” provided by each team member - managing their feed-back while identifying a solution (or scenarios) - winding down this joint effort - capitalizing on the lessons learned (and why options were discarded). Yes, it is just a bit of “classic” Delphi and similar joint panel-based approaches, evolved from continuous activities aiming to deliver pre- defined results (a.k.a. projects) into methodologies. The difference is that you have to consider what “team membership” means in this context: you do not really care about (paid) attendance of experts, or building a long-term team (or group of “pals”, as often those become)- you care about their expertise, and how that can contribute to your aims, fast, economically, and with a look to future evolutions. You have to consider that both internal and external experts have to be considered a “scarce resource”, invoked only when really needed or useful. Two decades ago, I designed a variant of a “matrix management-based organization” for a customer, as one of their key issues was that their in- house experts spent so much time acting as experts for their colleagues, that they had scarce time left to manage activities in their own domain of expertise (which was, actually, how they retained their status as “experts”). Most of the previous pages were really focused on just one issue: communication management- and that is one of the weakest elements in any project management methodology, even more critical when you have just temporary access to resources. Synergies aren’t free: therefore, you have to identify your priorities, and assess what can be provided by your own staff, designing a “roadmap for synergies”, to be adapted on a case-by-case basis (no “one size fits all”).
  45. 45. 38 B. Understand Your Own Knowledge Boundaries In my travels across Europe for business, I occasionally met both suppliers and users of experts (a.k.a. customers)- and I often found that what they complained about was simply due to a mismatch between their existing management methods and current business realities, as well as a fundamental misunderstanding about what motivated all those involved. You can transfer knowledge about the “framework” of a project management methodology in a week of classroom training, you can get an expert and convert her/him into a manager of experts- but almost no company or methodology give more than a cursory look at what they have to do most of the time: managing expectations. Across this short book you will find a couple of references to just one methodology: MSP, that is focused on Programme Management, but allows for more than the usual amount of time to stakeholders management, the motivation of those involved, and managing expectations. When I talked with fellow project, programme, or portfolio managers about “expectations”, often they focused on the corporate culture and identity of the customer, or of external stakeholders within the environment If you follow the suggestions contained within this book, you can probably start re-thinking about the people you hire on your staff, those that you retain as almost permanent external experts, and a key issue that is often forgotten, using MSP as a general framework to integrate with what is specific to your own organizational culture and each initiative. I have been managing multiple real and virtual teams at the same time, mainly due to budget and time constraints, but anyway even virtual teams had real people, also if their management implied considering them as “time-limited black boxes”: as an oversimplification, input in (based on constraints that you already identified on how they operate), and output back to you (their expertise applied to your inputs). Then, you can prepare a “transition plan” to ensure that you have the resources that you need to obtain not just delivery, but also business continuity (i.e. what happens after your “experts on loan” leave your organization or return to their everyday jobs).
  46. 46. #SYNSPEC – XXI Century Expert Team Building and Management 39 C. Resource Transition Planning Since 1993, whenever I had an assignment, I tried from day one to identify, with my customer, who, between the staff members, should be coached during the activities. Aim: to ensure a degree of knowledge transfer and business continuity (yes, behavioral training as well), despite, as I wrote elsewhere, working from day 1 to make myself disposable (unless something new happened). Sometimes, this actually required procuring new resources- and not necessarily “in person”- call it “telepresence experts 2.0”. I might like to involve Renzo Piano in planning my next hut in the African savanna- but probably that would be more than I can justify with my budget to build the hut (obviously- I am discounting the not-so-small issue that probably he would never accept to work on that). Therefore, I might have to consider an alternative, such as having somebody who recently graduated in architecture to read everything available written by and on Renzo Piano, prepare a dossier, and attend our meetings as a “living knowledge base on what Renzo Piano said that is relevant”- an evolution of the “Devil’s Advocate” concept25.. Probably this would be an overkill just to build a hut, but you get the concept. It would of course require redesigning your training approach, to include also some motivational elements and behavioral training (to avoid that those covering such a role then feel as if they were the expert, and not just representing expertise). But also if you are getting on board an expert “on loan”, in our “lean management” environment you should get used to always embed in your contracts a knowledge transfer or licensing (and update) clause. 25 playing/
  47. 47. 40 D. Managing Talent Continuity Changing the management approach implies identifying what is critical to your long-term continuity, including talents that you should keep and evolve. Also in technology, it has become a routine since the 1990s to see massive “pruning” of staff whenever there is a technology or business shift. In due time, your staff tasked to act as an “expertise reference” should also be able learn how to foresee potential developments in their domain. If you hire rocket scientists, get ready to get from them something that they can understand- not necessarily what you need or can manage (as shown by our recent crop of financial scandals). That should have been a traditional approach, e.g. also in the 1990s I had to prepare a kind of “behavioral transitioning plan” to help my customer transition staff from one technology to another, managing the inevitable resistance to change in a way that was consistent with their corporate culture, to avoid affecting the retention and motivation of staff. In the XXI century, the difference is that you have to consider online social networks not just as a source of expertise, but as a virtual expert. There might also be some tempted to resurrect the old “expert system” approach (i.e. “static knowledge”)- and that could actually be useful in some cases, to capture not really the details of current knowledge, but the forma mentis associated with a specific talent- and eventually this will be provided as a service by one of the online giants. From a corporate perspective, that could be useful as a temporary solution as long-term what you will really need is talent that is embedded within your own corporate culture, not a “standardized static expert”. By retaining the ability to understand what’s going on and where it is heading to, through the filter of your own organizational culture, you will also retain the ability to have e.g. your voice heard by regulators and legislators before they introduce changes that would represent just more business for your suppliers, without any (social, corporate) value added.