Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

When expertise becomes an enemy of quality service 7 – helping good employees with potential to become great employees 3

Posted in career development, HR and personnel, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on January 27, 2016

This is my seventh installment to a series on expertise, and on what an employee or manager needs to bring along with it, if it is to offer real value and either to themselves or to the business they work for (see my supplemental postings section at the end of Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 69 and following, for Parts 1-6.)

I focused in the past two installments of that on the importance of cultivating and developing better soft, interpersonal skills in employees and managers, and throughout the business organization (see Part 5 and Part 6.) And to bring the approach that I developed there into focus for purposes of this posting’s discussion, I repeat here and build upon a set of points that I raised in Part 6 on these issues:

• Human Resources and HR policy can develop and provide standardized, vetted, and even routine guidelines and support in helping their employees to improve their communications and other soft, people skills, removing any stigma or stress that would arise if the people involved in this type of challenge were to see themselves as being dealt with as exceptions and as problematical ones.
• And opportunity to improve one’s effectiveness here and in this area of skills can be and should be valued throughout the business and in employee performance reviews, the same way that seeking out and obtaining more advanced hands-on technical or management skills are – as a real plus as far as employee performance and value to the organization are concerned.
• In this context I note that effective communications skills drive the effectiveness of virtually any business as a whole, and both in its internal operations and as employees of that organization connect with and do business with customers and potential customers in their marketplace, and with their professional counterparts in supply chain partner businesses.
• Technical and management skills help a business to create marketable value. Communications skills and related soft skills make it possible for that business to gain value from them, and both in more effectively developing and producing marketable products and services in-house, and in sending them out to the world.

To round out this starting point to this installment, I add that there are a great many areas where people can significantly advance their skills and knowledge on their own, autodidactically. And resources such as my series: Communicating More Effectively as a Job and Career Skill Set can offer a measure of value there, and in helping people who use them to better identify the issues that they need to work on if nothing else (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342-358 for links to that specific resource.) But soft, interpersonal and related skills are one area where more direct and personal training and mentoring can be crucial.

• You cannot learn to more effectively communicate with and work with others entirely on your own, as easily and effectively as you can when you work on these skills in a more interactive setting as is the case when you get to work with a trainer or mentor.

So remember the text-based resources such as the ones that I offer here, and the more one-way experience of online courses and video-based training. But look for face to face, interactive training resources and opportunities for this too, and whether you are looking for yourself or to help some specific colleague, or whether you are looking for more general-use resources as a manager or Human Resources professional.

And with that noted, I turn to the issues that I listed at the end of Part 6 as the core topic for this posting:

• A discussion of these issues as they would arise in rapidly developing, innovation-driven industries and marketplaces, and as a means of creating longer-term sustaining value in them.

And I at least start addressing that, and how developing better soft, people skills apply to the specific contexts of innovative businesses that service the needs of novelty-demanding marketplaces and consumers, by setting up a comparative dichotomy, with:

• Company Alpha that is a mature manufacturing business working in a stable and technologically settled industry, and
• Company Omega that focuses on producing and providing the newest and greatest in a very rapidly evolving high-tech field such as consumer electronics.
• And I begin with my more settled business example.

Company Alpha produces standardized consumer plastics with coat hangers serving as one of their most profitable ongoing product lines. They also very profitably manufacture lines of plastic soap dispensers and dishes and a range of other kitchen and bathroom items of a type that is relatively settled for basic manufacturing technology needed, and according to basic product design patterns that are primarily standardized but that are modified for their more cosmetic details as required: customized for style and fashion purposes and to meet the shifting demands of the home goods stores and other businesses that their products sell through, to the end-user consumer community. They do not produce or offer particularly high end products of a type that would not be made from plastic, or at least entirely from that. They do not offer entirely low-end products either, that would more or less automatically sell through discount stores, except as remainders if a purchasing retail store found itself with stock that was now out of fashion for their customers. They provide well made, attractive if relatively inexpensive products and have for many years now. So innovation per se, is not going to be seen as a high priority for their managers and owners.

Company Alpha employees tend to fall into two general groups and certainly when you focus on employees who contribute to the operation and productivity of their manufacturing lines:

• Employees who primarily use skills in their work that are still currently in demand across their industry in general and who might be relatively easy to replace if need be, at least in principle for maintaining sufficient staffing numbers for those work areas and job types.
• And employees who work in more legacy technology areas of their business who come to develop specialized experience and expertise that can be very difficult to replace as very few potential new hires still learn their particular skill sets.

Employees who work in stable ongoing businesses like Alpha tend to stay on there long-term, if they are productive and if they are a good fit for the for corporate culture in place. And businesses like this can become quite insular, and both from the fact that most people there have been there a long time and because they are working in a stable and even essentially static system that develops its own settled ways and understandings.

Company Omega, on the other hand is much more dynamic and fast paced. It is always pressured to function on the cutting edge, so it is always looking for people with the next in-demand new technologies – and even if their policy is to actively help their current employees to stay as up to date as possible in what they do and how they do it. So if you divide their overall design and production staff into two groups as with the Alpha Company, this would mean:

• Employees who primarily use current and well established hands-on technologies, and
• Employees who are more focused on using and improving on newly emerging and next-step technologies, and certainly as they could be used in their industry.

The boundaries between these Omega groups tend to be a lot less than clear-cut, with employees who want to stay on there having to learn and use the new and upcoming too in order to retain real value as a member of the overall team. Through most technologies that shift from current to legacy do so gradually so the boundaries between the two Alpha groups can be a bit hazy too. It is just that the type of boundary that you would see as distinguishing between Omega groups is more fluid and more quickly changing than you would find in a business such as Alpha for its two groups. Everything at Omega changes and evolves more rapidly there, than you would find at Alpha – and certainly as long as that business remains productively, profitably stable as an organization.

And from a communications and interpersonal skills perspective, a company such as Omega can be much more of a melting pot than you would ever expect to see in Alpha. Good job candidates for a business such as Omega are likely to arrive there after having worked in similarly fast-paced corporate systems. But they are also likely to be experientially grounded, coming in the door as new hires, in a diversity of distinct and different corporate culture expectations. And they all have to be brought into the systems and corporate culture in place where they will now be working. So the type of settled insularity that a company such as Alpha can develop, cannot smoothly work there.

• Effective communications and related interpersonal skills are vital in both types of business context. The important point here is that the likely points of friction are going to be different for businesses like Alpha and Omega, when and as problems do arise.
• And the sense of timing as a crucial element of both problem recognition and problem resolution will most likely be perceived very differently between Alpha and Omega too.
• And all of these factors will help shape both what “problem” and “correctable” mean as these points of evaluation would be interpreted and understood in these two business types.

Helping good employees to become great employees is all about identifying potential problems early, and course correcting from that initial point of discovery and realization as quickly and efficiently as possible. I added to the end of Part 6 that after at least briefly discussing innovative businesses per se for this set of issues, I would also discuss the issues of “correctable” in the context of communications and interpersonal skills challenges and how these issues can and do raise risk management concerns. I will turn to that set of issues in my next series installment.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 (with this included as a supplemental posting there) and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. Also see HR and Personnel and HR and Personnel – 2.

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