’98 and the Spreadsheet

Back in 1998 I received a spreadsheet from the Human Resource department (HR). We were to register our competencies. But, information technology is a vast area full of acronyms, so the text was way small to fit them all in a single page.

Some IT Skills entered into an Excel Spreadsheet.

Some IT Skills entered into an Excel Spreadsheet.

Figure: We had to fill out a out a spreadsheet from the HR department. No matter how good you were, chances are you will end up like me – with lots of empty cells.

Look at the image above, which is my own example. What can you see? Don’t worry about the small print. There is no need to read to be able too see what I felt.

I just didn’t know much!

Since there are so much to know within IT, I ended up with lots of empty cells. I could only draw one conclusion from all that white empty space. I knew almost nothing.

The whole effort ended up focusing on our weaknesses, even though they meant to find our strengths. The spreadsheet turned out to be a pathogenic model. My weaknesses were all too apparent.

Note, the HR department did not intend to put me down. They just didn’t consider the underlying message when they chose a spreadsheet as a tool to gather the data.

Resource!

What is it with the word “resource” that annoys me so? The term as such was invented in 18931. Even though it ‘celebrates’ some 120 years, that does not automatically make it wrong. The problem is that it promotes the idea of people as commodities. We are interchangeable parts in a big machine.

In a counter reaction to this, you can find “talent management” which is fine and all. In my eyes though, this is trying too hard. We are seeking to compensate for “resource” and other bad language like “human capital.” Why not keep it simple? Use words like people or colleagues.

Maybe you argue, that it is just a simple meta-construct, a layer of indirection, to refer to a bunch of things? There is power in words, and they go hand in hand with your thoughts. And if you think of people as resources, then you are likely to end up treating them as …things.

That spreadsheet bugged me a lot. I decided to go rogue. Between other projects, I created a system focused on people’s strengths – a salutogenic solution.

KKarta was my first competence development system. You can see the  competencies (skills) I have selected organized into categories.

KKarta was my first competence development system. You can see the competencies (skills) I have selected organized into categories.

Figure: KKarta was my first competence development system. You can see the competencies (skills) I have selected and their categories.

I hacked away and created a website where my colleagues and I could enter the list of skills we possessed. It was a simple change. Out of all possible skills, only the ones that applied to the person were visible.

After running the website locally in Malmö, a person from HQ passed by and noticed what we had done. I didn’t think much about it, but she was a member of management, and within short, the tool covered some 600 employees in 5 countries.

For the first time, we could figure out who knew what without walking the corridors. We could get to know each other across offices and borders. KKarta started to take on a life of its own and people begun to use it in ways I never imagined. Procurement figured out how many developers could have a use for Visual Studio which helped in negotiations with Microsoft. New employees printed the photo catalog as a “who’s who”.

In the end, I connected the system to our time reporting. Now I understood where we spent our hours working – which branch and technology were our forte.

What happened then?

In the end, I got a message from the HQ. Remember, back in the day of dot-com revolution, buying and merging companies was the norm. I forgot how many times this happened. I kept the same desk, but HQ was new.

“This is too important for us to handle ourselves. So we bought a solution from X instead.”

I got the news as an after thought via email from someone I did not know. My dear system was no longer. I was sad and out of the loop.

X was not a bad solution, they just did not focus the people. It was a system to match up the employees’ lack of a certain knowledge with the appropriate course. As such, we were back to book keeping.

HR,  err talent management, cannot be about what we lack. It should be about the individuals – our strengths and our wishes! Line these up with the company’s needs and you got a great driving force.

At the time of this writing, I am doing my fifth competence development system.  But that is another story.

Oh, X folded a year later. I guess they did not make enough money selling courses after all. 😉

Key take-away

Focus on people’s strengths – not their weaknesses. The latter is great to understand, but cannot be the focus.

What follows is that you have to act accordingly. But that is for another blog, another day.

  1. John R. Commons https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Commons

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