Skills-knowledge-talent and their role in organizational excellence

September 28, 2010 at 1:44 pm | Posted in Blogroll, Self Improvement | Leave a comment

In the previous post we had seen how the coexistence of the “Production” and “Creative” systems in an organization is important for excellence. ‘First break all the rules’, the book that I am currently rereading, vividly brings out the difference between skills knowledge and talent. I find that this understanding is important to see which belong to which system and a right approach for a manager to take.

Skill: Skills are the how-to’s of a role. They are the capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. The best way to teach a skill is to break down the total performance into steps, which the person reassembles. And, naturally, the best way to learn a skill is to practice.

Knowledge: Your knowledge is simply what you are aware of. There are two kinds of knowledge; factual and experiential. Factual knowledge can and should be taught. Experiential knowledge is less tangible and much harder to teach. You must stop and look back on past experiences and make sense out of them. Through such reflection you start seeing the patterns and connections. Some of these understandings are practical, some conceptual.

Talent: Talents are a different phenomenon altogether. They are the recurring patterns of thought feelings or behavior. There are three kinds of talents; striving talents, thinking talents and relating talents. They represent why part, how part and who part of the person respectively. Within each of these three categories, each person will have his unique combination of talents. No matter how much you yearn to be different, your combination of talents and the recurring behaviors it creates will remain stable, familiar to you and others throughout your life.”

The skills and factual knowledge are the domain of “Production” systems, whereas the experiential knowledge are part of “Creative systems in an organization. They have to smoothly and transparently coexist because both of these are related to every individual. The former can and should be managed at the org level whereas the later needs to be handled by each manager with one individual at a time because every person has unique combination of talents and experience and he needs to be handled separately.

The book further makes the distinction between the two in terms of their applicability.

“The power of skills and knowledge is that they are transferable from one person to another. Their limitation is that they are often situation specific – faced with an unanticipated scenario, they lose much of their power. In contrast, the power of talents is that they are transferable from situation to situation. Given the right stimulus, it fires spontaneously. The limitation of talent, of course, is that it is very hard to transfer from one person to another. You cannot teach talent, you can only select for talent.”

Every organization has some org level agency like a human resources department and they are most suited to take care of transferring the skills and factual knowledge to the employees. This can be done by classroom teaching as well as providing self-learning material. The manager needs to take care that it is put in practice. As regards the experiential knowledge and best fit between talents and work, it is primary responsibility of the manager; HR department can help by providing mentoring to the managers on how best to do it. As above, the manager’s manager needs to ensure that the manager puts it into practice.


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