Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Organizational Float" in a Knowledge Work Environment

"Organizational float" came to mind somewhat unbidden in a recent meeting. The term itself comes from an article or paper I read a while back, but unfortunately I don't recall the exact source. I think it may have been in the context of some writing by Leif Edvinsson, an article about Skandia, or a piece on intellectual capital.

Though I'm sure the of the original definition and context, in my mind I've no doubt altered it a bit as follows. (I also forgot that I'd referenced it in a KnowledBoard discussion on KM Governance. )

There has been much press about the retiring baby boom generation, the war for top talent and so on. In a very real sense, many organizations challenged in finding, identifying and recruiting qualified candidates, are faced with bureaucratic staffing and security screening processes, and often burden already overworked staff with responsibilities for "onboarding" / training new employees or contractors at the least convenient of times - during a crisis need. And in this overall context, organizations are trying to innovate, improve processes and effectiveness, and become more agile. Not too stressful, is it?

Perhaps one strategy is to introduce some "organizational float". This can take the form of extra staff, with a variety of broadly relavent skills and experiences, that can step in and fill gaps left by temporary absences or unforseen workload spikes. It can take the form increasing staff compliments to distribute work such that every employee has a certain percentage of time, say 20% to step back and reflect, think strategically and innovatively, participate in change or performance improvement initiatives, develop professionally, and perhaps pick up on some of the work left undone by temporarily absent or departing employees.

There is no doubt many challenges to building organizational float. Gaining support and approval from the management hierarchy can be a challenge, unless a strategic, capability building mentality is prevalent. How about, in highly knowledge-intensive, non-transactional organizations or groups, the difficulty of putting a box around "work" so that it can be packaged and shipped to another worker. Or perhaps the hurdle created by the replacement mindset, that assumes that the unique thought processes, approaches to work, capability sets and experience bases that people carry can be transactionally replaced 1 for 1.

So I think the real strategy here is buying time and increasing available attention - organizational float.

1 comment:

Dale Arseneault said...

I just stumbled across one of the references to organizational float - in Managing Knowledge Workers By Frances Horibe, Page 166, where she actually credits Hubert Saint-Onge with the term.