Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Knowledge, Expertise and Enterprise (KEE): Key to Leadership Development

Management development and leadership development have so many theories, practices, principles and tools that prescribe a plethora of ways for students to become young executives, for executives to become managers and for managers to become leaders. As a result, the young executive as well as his or her superiors and the heads of personnel are at a loss to come to grips with what constitutes successful management and leadership development. The performance appraisal forms which keep growing in the number of factors for assessment and development by each appraisal cycle are proof of the sophistication and complexity that have taken control of this vital area. There is every need to reduce the complexity and develop prescriptions that are simple to absorb, easy to roll out, and amenable for monitoring. Unfortunately, educational institutions, technical or business, seem to have become part of the complexity rather than proponents of simplicity.

To answer this need, we need to first of all simplify the objectives that are expected of management and leadership. Theories are galore which view management as a complex socio-technical science that covers everything from planning and execution of projects to optimization of resources and domains. Leadership is imbued with even more esoteric characteristics of envisioning, strategizing and leading companies to new futures consistently. As opposed to management, leadership is said to be the preserve of relatively fewer professionals who have exceptional skills of transformation. None of this, however, does justice to the fundamental objectives of management and leadership. Educational institutions are themselves at a loss to instill the values of technical or business leadership in students. Typically, no institution or entity is willing to admit that at the most fundamental level the objective of management and leadership is “To Deliver”; and nothing less or nothing more.

Growing fuzziness

In line with the growing complexity and volatility of the economic environment, multiple prescriptions are being sought after to incorporate the best of leadership and management in corporations. From schools of business and institutes of development to thinkers of management and gurus of leadership, every entity or thinker is in this complex maze of management and leadership development, trying to resolve one level of complexity with another. In the 1970s, theories were rather minimalist and tools were admittedly mathematical. In the 1980s, thanks to Michael Porter, a wave of strategy has overwhelmed theories of management with competitiveness as the focus. Elegance of Language and sophistication of semantics had since taken over the domains of management and leadership, which remain unabated to date. Data based analytics and experienced based guidance became secondary.

The Indian management and leadership have, not unnaturally, taken to the growing complexity of the Western management and leadership theories. Despite the suggestions from thought leaders like C K Prahalad to focus on core competencies, the theory and practice of management and leadership have become more complex and perplexing over time. From challenges that postulate that “managers and leaders are borne and not developed” to exhortations that “managers and leaders can be actually developed but with indoctrination of myriad success traits”, the maze is now complete. A young executive who enters this maze is bound to be perplexed by what he or she would see as the unforgiving reality of live performance and the intoxicating myth of thought jargon. If the objective of managers and leaders is as simple as “To Deliver”, the success factors for achieving the objective also ought to be equally simple and effective.

KEE Trilogy

There are three essential factors that shape a professional as he or she evolves over the career span. These are knowledge, expertise and enterprise. These are essential because without these no professional can ever hope to deliver. Knowledge is the basket of academic learning, practical experience and the whole set of data, information and insights that one accumulates as one progresses in one’s academic and professional life. Expertise is the ability of the individual to apply the knowledge contextually to a situation to identify issues and problems perceptively, and provide options and solutions on the ground, facing anticipated and unanticipated environment. Enterprise is the passion of an individual to seek an opportunity or challenge proactively and motivate himself or herself as well as the team consistently. Enterprise is entrepreneurship redefined and integrated in every aspect of individual behavior in an industrial or business setting.

KEE is a trilogy of factors that are also self-reinforcing. Expertise does not occur without knowledge. And, knowledge need not necessarily be only academic knowledge gained through formal degrees but also knowledge gained through informal channels, within or outside institutions. Knowledge without expertise to apply in practical situations or to develop new practice is an asset wasted. Both knowledge and expertise cannot be leveraged to the full potential without the enterprise to take risks, seek opportunities and challenges and provide solutions. Enterprise without knowledge and expertise would be a veritable leap in dark. It is easy to see how each of the three factors is important, individually and together synergistically, to help individuals, teams and organizations deliver. KEE, as a model, is clear, concise and impactful. Without any of the jargon and verbosity that abounds in the plethora of management and leadership theories and constructs, KEE provides a very natural, logical and time-titrated pathway for managers and leaders to develop themselves. KEE also is the fountainhead of several attributes and metrics that define delivery in an organizational perspective.

KEE leaders

It is important to recognize that all pioneering leaders who developed created new markets and industries around innovative products reflect the KEE model in one way or the other. All great innovators of the world, from Graham Bell to Akio Morita and Konosuke Matsushita to Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Larry Page and Mark Zuckerberg combined knowledge, expertise and enterprise to become pioneering leaders. Knowledge includes organized laboratory research of Graham Bell that discovered telephony or practical industrial development of software operating system as Bill Gates could do. Expertise is what Steve Jobs achieved in calligraphy which translated into the elegant designs, layouts and fonts of Steve’s Apple products. Expertise is what helped Japanese automobile manufacturers to channel the available Western car technologies to better efficiency and productivity. Enterprise is what motivated knowledge experts to take to business, leveraging their knowledge and expertise.

Over a period of time, several top innovative firms discovered and developed models of KEE at enterprise level. Such organizations, as diverse in industry characteristics as IBM, P&G, RIM, Toyota, BMW, Bharti, Infosys, 3M and GE started focusing on pooling of holistic knowledge in the organizations, buildup of expertise through collaborative and open innovation, and instilling of risk taking and entrepreneurial behavior in teams. Yet, a major criticism of the development models based on visible corporate leaders is that the successes of various small business enterprises based on KEE model are ignored. Just as an example, for one Apple product such as iPhone, there are thousands of applications that are developed by individual developers with their own knowledge, expertise and enterprise models. Even in traditional areas such as automobile industry, for one automobile there tend to be hundreds of component manufacturers. In fact, both in developed countries and in emerging ones, it is the mass of individual leaders who embody the KEE model that provide the durable base of the industrial and business pyramid.

Competitive advantage

KEE, as a model, can build core competencies in organizations, whether of one person or multi-person, and single business or multi-business, and provide competitive advantage to a firm. Competitive advantage, as one can understand, stems from both cost leadership and value leadership. The former arises from efficiency and the latter from innovation. Both require KEE as a driver. The firms which have unassailable core competencies and competitive advantage in certain sectors derive that from their extensive knowledge and deep expertise, coupled with early enterprise. For example, Fanuc, the Japanese global leader in robots, machining systems, and industrial automation derived its leadership position through three capabilities; knowledge of electrical, electronic and mechanical systems, expertise in tailoring it to live industrial situations, and inspired enterprise to substitute manual work by robotic work as a business model.

KEE is not a static model. All companies start in some way or other on KEE lines. Eastman Kodak, the pioneer of photography had knowledge, expertise and enterprise when it discovered photography but failed to update its knowledge to the changing dynamics of a digital age, lacked the expertise to tweak its products and was less than enterprising in its responses to the changing environment. There is the need for every KEE modeled company to update, and when necessary transform, its KEE profile every few years to stay ahead of the competition. Keeping KEE dynamic is a matter of choice too. Many specialist biopharmaceutical startups which are set up on specific target based drug capabilities prefer to be acquired after peaking their platform skills rather than transform their KEE capabilities to the next level.

Development pathways

Aspiring leaders and managers have their task cut out if they embrace the KEE model. The model is simple but challenging. Knowledge usually has no limits. For each knowledge nugget that is learnt from the dated syllabi of educational institutions, there tend to be scores of practical pearls of wisdom that can be learnt in an industrial setting. An academic institution may teach a couple of experimental methods but the industry teaches multiple experimental techniques. A combination of practical product, process and business technologies can convert such wider knowledge into industrial expertise. In order to equip the students with requisite knowledge and expertise, educational institutions must emphasize laboratory work to a much greater degree than currently practiced. The normal 85:15 ratio of class room and laboratory work must be shifted to 50:50 ratio. Similarly, the industry level project work which usually is confined to the last semester in part or in full needs to be integrated from the starting semester itself.

In terms of enterprise, it is not sufficient to be inspired just by the studies of current leaders alone. Donovan A. McFarlane sums this up well in his article “ The Great Entrepreneur-Leader Model in MBA Programs: Impracticability and Change”, Journal of Business Studies Quarterly
2011, Vol. 3, No. 2, pp. 84-92. Today’s business environment is highly complex with more intricacies and connections than ever before recognized in trade and commerce. Doing business successfully is no longer guaranteed by simply having proven key success factors endemic to certain professions and industry. Entrepreneurs today need to have a much broader set of knowledge and skills, as well as more dynamic and diverse frames of references in order to adequately understand and adapt to changes and grow in the complex and uncertain, unpredictable business environment of the 21stcentury. The new business environment represents and requires radically different approaches and mindsets than previously possessed and applied in reaping the wealth that forerunners such as Jack Welch, Warren Buffett, Steve Jobs, Wayne Huizenga, Bill Gates, Donald Trump, Michael Dell and others who have become the exemplars of corporate and entrepreneurial success did in a less competitive arena, and continue to do in today’s hypercompetitive world.

Institutionalizing KEE

Much hope is laid on the postgraduate programs of education like MS and MBA to instill KEE competencies in professionals, as direct full-time degree programs, part-time degree programs or continuing education programs. Yet, even Ivy League institutions seem to fall short in this respect. The field of knowledge management is a highly ignored branch of management in
schools and colleges, and even in MBA programs. Graduates of these institutions, as well as aspiring entrepreneurs, leaders and managers are rarely taught how to manage their personal knowledge before they can take stock of what is needed to be successful in organizations and business ventures. Effective knowledge leaders and managers should first be able to manage their own skills set before they are able to manage or direct those of others to create value. Personal knowledge management is a set of skills and abilities that allows an individual to absorb, archive and organize knowledge to be able to manage complex and changing organizational and social environments. Beyond this, institutions have to traverse to the next level of building expertise in their students to convert their knowledge into expertise that can meet the organizational missions amid varying scenarios.

It is often thought that the MBA programs make a good job of inculcating enterprise or entrepreneurship. While many individuals choose the academic-professional path toward entrepreneurial, leadership and managerial success via the MBA program, there are many examples of entrepreneurs and successful businesspeople that are not formally educated in business, leadership and management. The completion of an MBA is no certain guarantee of success in the corporate world and business school professors and educators must be responsible in teaching this fact. More than ever, individuals must recognize the changing world around them and quickly adapt to these changes using creativity. True enterprise lies in using creativity for evolving national and cultural situations and not mimicking the Gates (Microsoft) - Jobs (Apple) models or Ambani (Reliance) - Agarwal (Sterlite) models. Each individual has to have his or her repertoire of Knowledge, Expertise and Enterprise to navigate today’s hypercompetitive business environments set against the backdrop of uncontrollable macro-environmental factors.

Posted by Dr CB Rao on January 18, 2012

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for sharing your explanation about leadership development....
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