Make the most of your staff’s skills
Thursday, June 20, 2013
It was one of those "aha" moments. A staff member had received an email inquiry from a potential customer, but she was unable to help because the message was written in Spanish. Since I was the communications director, her supervisor stopped by my office to ask if I knew of any affordable translation services that could help decipher the message.
As it happened, the colleague in the office next to mine overheard the conversation and called out that she might be able to help, as she had studied Spanish in school. However, she said, there were several other employees who were fairly fluent in Spanish. In a matter of minutes, and at no additional cost, the message was translated and a reply, in Spanish, was on its way.
I could cite any number of similar instances and no doubt you can, too. Perhaps the most egregious case is the employee who gets fed up and leaves the organization because his or her counsel is repeatedly ignored. Then, not long afterwards, the former employee is hired as a consultant — at a much higher rate of compensation — to provide the same knowledge and counsel that was discounted when on staff. I've seen that happen more than once, and in different organizations. To riff on the old saw, when it comes to staff, familiarity breeds neglect.
Why is it that when we are hiring for a position, we look for the most experienced, well-rounded individuals, but once they have become part of the organization, we act as though their experience has deserted them at the front door? Could it be that in our efforts to help them ramp up their organizational learning curve we forget that, in addition to subject-matter expertise, they have previous organizational experience and other talents and skills that could benefit us? As they settle in to their new role, we get accustomed to thinking of them as performing certain functions. We become inured to the other dimensions of their personalities and histories.
In these lean times, organizations cannot afford to waste the talents of their staff. I am not talking about asking staff to work longer hours or shoulder the load of a former co-worker whose position has been suspended or eliminated due to "right-sizing." Rather, I am suggesting that both organizations and staff benefit when employees are tapped to use expertise, talents or skills that fall outside their normal work duties.
Consider the employee who works in a support function but may have volunteer experience leading groups or providing training. Or an employee who may have experience from a former job or even a previous career that could help fill a skills gap or guide the development of a new initiative or business unit. Many organizations have been doing just that in capitalizing on their younger employees' facility with Facebook, Twitter and similar services to initiate or manage a social networking communications program for the organization.
Of course, it should go without saying that staff should not be asked to "volunteer" their services, except in the most limited or dire circumstances. When recruiting staff for special assignments, it is important to have a discussion with them and their supervisor about accommodations to their current workload and performance objectives, and to give them the resources as well as the time needed to succeed. And while it may not always be possible, or even good policy, to provide additional monetary compensation to staff for such assignments, some type of reward and recognition should be arranged and agreed upon.
One way to facilitate such efforts is to create a staff skills and experience database. This need not be a time-consuming or onerous undertaking. Depending on your organization's size and available technology, it could be something as simple as an Excel spreadsheet or Access database. If you have the resources, it could be an add-on to the organization's intranet, SharePoint or Boot Camp personnel directory.
Think about the vital or additional skills that could prove useful to your organization, and then provide the list to your staff and have them fill out any relevant information. The next time someone needs a Spanish translator, they will know where to go to find one.
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