[Guy St. Clair met Madelyn Blair at the recent KM Education Forum Summit in Washington. In their conversation, Madelyn described how asking two simple questions could lead to great success in identifying competencies for knowledge workers. Thanks to Madelyn for sharing this remarkable technique with SMR’s readers.]
The business needed to look more carefully at the staff employed in what is usually called information technology (IT), information management (IM), or knowledge management (KM). The numbers of staff in these positions had been growing, and it was beginning to be more and more difficult to determine if someone was qualified for the position, able to build a career from the position, and even what was expected as the ‘average’ performance. It was essential that the competencies of these three overlapping areas become clearer.
When the client came to Madelyn Blair, she was surprised that they had never looked at it systematically. (This was a large, well-known organization.) Moreover, they felt they needed the results of anything she did in a relatively short period of time and at a quite modest cost. The good news was that the population of individuals in these positions amounted to about 1000. From a statistical point of view, this represented a large enough ‘sample size’ to assure good results even from sampling. But she wanted to assure that the results were robust in any event.
Blair decided to use a survey rather than journaling of activities by staff. Recording a journal of activities is so disruptive to staff, it usually results in perfunctory reporting – often after the fact and reliant on memory only. Surveys are also disruptive and can be ignored. However, if they are presented with the rationale, end product, expected date of completion of the findings clearly stated, and if the survey is very short, there is real possibility for success. With these considerations in mind, Blair designed the survey instrument to include only two substantive questions (plus a few questions about the employee’s current grade, position title, and a few other essentials).
The two substantive questions were the key. They were:
1. What do you spend most of your time doing?
2. What activities do you love to do the most?
The first question is a great way to get people to talk about what they do. They want to show that they are occupied. The second question is a subtle way to ask what is most important to the job. Tasks that are of real value are perceived quite differently by staff. They tend to enjoy them more because they know the value. And all of us feel better when we know we are making a difference. Anyone who thinks that staff do not perceive the value of their contributions hasn’t worked closely enough with their staff. So, with two questions, you get what people are spending their time doing and what they value for themselves (and also for the job). Some may argue about this last point, but the findings suggested clearly they were listing what was important to the work. (In other surveys, Blair has used the different wording, “What do you do that is most important to your work?”)
What were the results? Respondents understood why they were doing what they were being asked to do, they knew how it was going to be used and when, and the was simple to understand and respond to. The response rate was 90%, and the surveys were completed in full. The competencies of each of the three streams dropped out of the findings with relative ease, and the business had what it needed from two powerful questions. Lastly, the project was completed on time.
Madelyn Blair, Ph.D. is President of Pelerei, Inc – Turning Vision into Reality (www.pelerei.com). She is the author of Riding the Current: How to deal with the daily deluge of data and Essays in Two Voices. Blair can be reached at 301-371-7100. Her e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org).