When assessing and managing talent risk and preparing for knowledge transfer, we work to uncover data like who’s the expert, how many employees do we have that are capable of that work, how many employees do we have that are learning that work, and whether it’s at risk. If it’s at risk, is it a high priority? The Knowledge Silo Matrix (KSM), Step One in our 3-Step Process, gives leaders a place to represent the data so that they can show it to their peers, to their employees, to their bosses.
Alignment comes when two or more leaders meet to compare their data with each other and have to agree (or disagree) on whether they mean the same thing when they say “at risk,” whether they agree on who is the expert, whether they agree on who owns which silo (area of expertise), whether they agree on borrowed/shared resources, etc.
I’ve been in several of these meetings in the last few weeks and the outcomes have been very interesting. Let me set the stage. Usually it’ll be a set of managers who own the KSMs for their teams. Each manager might have 10-15 employees and contractors working for them. They might have 10 to 15 silos, sometimes more. The meeting includes their boss, who’s often a director, or maybe even a vice president comes.
During the meeting, each manager stands up and gets five minutes to introduce their KSM. They say, “This is my matrix. These are my silos. These are my people. These are my risks. This is how I’m prioritizing my risks.”
They can present the entire concept in less than five minutes. Everyone else is a peer in the organization so they understand exactly what they’re looking at and listening to. They understand enough about the business for the vocabulary to make sense and move quickly. And they all have opinions!
Immediately, they start asking with questions.
- “How come you have five purples (experts setting the standard)? How can you get to consistency if you have five purples?
- How come that new hire is yellow in everything? Can a person really learn everything at the same time?
- How come person A and person B have the same profile, and one of them is at risk, and the other one’s not?
- How come you’re on the matrix, and you’re purple in everything, but you’re not marked at risk? Why are you treating yourself differently than the other experts who are on there?
- You’ve prioritized silo #1 at risk. Why did you do that instead of silo #2?
- You have a resource on your matrix that does not report to you. She reports to me. How is it that she’s working for you if she reports to me?”
- You have silos on your matrix that are not your job anymore. They’re mine. Why don’t you stop working in that silo?
Those questions are incredibly illuminating because the answers are often a word or a sentence; shorthand flies around. In the next five minutes (ten minutes total per KSM), the manager answers most or all of those questions. Then, the data is adjusted real time.
In some instances, they uncover real disconnects that can’t be solved in five minutes. That creates the opportunity for a follow-up meeting that’s targeted around getting clarity and alignment around a very specific problem that surfaced through this dialogue.
Most of the time, ten minutes per KSM is more than enough. The presentation is delivered. It’s received. Questions are asked and answered. Alignment is achieved, and we can go on to the next KSM. In ten minutes per manager (covering five to six managers in an hour) the presentations can be made, and discussed, and move forward.
During these meetings they often uncover reasons for their employees’ long-time frustrations. This moment of clarity recently happened at one of our clients. A new director, hired only two months earlier at her company, sat through the KSM alignment presentations for her teams. She saw that one person showed up on five matrices. That means she was working for five different managers at the same time. Her new director had heard the woman was exhausted and that everybody thought of her as a bottleneck, but she didn’t know why. This explained it in living color. The Director dropped her head on the table and she declared, “No wonder!” Then, she stood up and she pointed at four of the five managers (four of whom had “borrowed“ her). She said, “Anna is dead to you. She does not work for you. She will not be doing anything for any of you until we figure out what her priorities are. Take her off your matrix, and then come talk to me, and we’ll figure out what to do about that.”
The new director told me later that she’d learned more in 1 1/2 hours about who her team was and what they’re doing than in the last two months trying to get her head wrapped around this organization.
Another side benefit for this new director was that later that month when she got her headcount allocation for the new fiscal year, her team of five managers was aligned on where the single new resource would be assigned. No fighting for that lone resource was required because everyone agreed at the outset.
Summary: Alignment provides the opportunity to get really clear about what your people are doing, gives a vocabulary for prioritizing risk reduction, for noticing overlaps and disconnects. And, if you have the opportunity for new headcount allocation, the data shows where the headcount belongs.