The Harvard Business Review has dedicated the whole January/February 2013 edition to the necessity of redifining the company organization in order to encourage each collaborator to contribute best to putting into praxis the corporate strategy with his or her unique competences.
Below we cite part of the introduction to Martin Dewhurst’s, Bryan Hancock’s, and Diana Ellsworth’s study, qui for the full article.
Redesigning Knowledge Work
Experts with prized skills are too rare to squander on jobs others can do. That’s why some organizations are relieving their valuable talent of those responsibilities so that they can spend more time on the tasks only they can perform—by redesigning job roles within the company or by turning to external providers of specialized expertise. Consider these examples:
- Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe, a San Francisco–based law firm with nine U.S. offices, shifted routine discovery work previously performed by partners and partner-tracked associates to a new service center in West Virginia staffed by lower-paid attorneys.
- The Narayana Hrudayalaya Cardiac Hospital in Bangalore has junior surgeons, nurses, and technicians handle routine tasks such as preparing the patient for surgery and closing the chest after surgery. Senior cardiac surgeons come to the operating room only when the patient’s chest is open and the heart is ready to be operated on. This approach helps the hospital provide care at a fraction of the cost of U.S. providers while maintaining U.S.-level mortality and infection rates.
- In the United Kingdom, a growing number of public schools are relieving head teachers, or principals, of administrative tasks such as budgeting, human resources, facilities maintenance, and community relations so that they can devote more time to developing teachers.
In today’s knowledge economy, competitive advantage is increasingly coming from the particular, hard-to-duplicate know-how of a company’s most skilled people: talented (and highly paid) engineers, salespeople, scientists, and other professionals. The problem is that across the private, public, and social sectors there aren’t enough knowledge workers to go around. And the situation promises to get worse: Recent research by the McKinsey Global Institute suggests that by 2020 the worldwide shortage of highly skilled, college-educated workers could reach 38 million to 40 million, or 13% of demand.
In response, some firms are taking steps to expand the talent pool—for example, by investing in apprenticeships and other training programs. But a number of companies are going further: They are redefining the jobs of their experts, transferring some of their tasks to lower-skill people inside or outside their organizations, and outsourcing work that requires scarce skills but is not strategically important.
Such moves aren’t new, of course. Firms have long been carving off repeatable, transactional work—such as call center services, payroll, or IT support—and either shifting it to lower-cost locations or outsourcing it. What is new is that companies are now doing this with knowledge-based jobs that are core to the business.
In the past five years, we have worked with or studied more than 50 companies in a wide range of industries on talent management issues. We found that redefining high-value knowledge jobs not only can help companies address skills shortages. It also can lower costs and increase job satisfaction.
Some organizations are already familiar with ways to break work into highly specialized pieces. In this article, we’ll show how to do that for high-end knowledge work. The process involves several basic steps: identifying the gap between the talent your firm has and what it will need; creating narrower, more-focused job descriptions in areas where talent is scarce; choosing from various options for filling the skills gap; and rewiring processes for talent and knowledge management.