You will hear people talking about Center of Excellence (COE) in xyz domain (If you haven’t heard of it, better do your homework, because this is to discuss something beyond COE). This discussion is not to discard the concept of COE. I am strongly in favor of building domain-specific COEs in the organization, so that we deliver nothing but good quality. This discussion is to extend the idea. This is for the organization which has reached a mature state in COEs and should look ahead.
The word COE normally is used to represent a sub-set of total work force, who are subject matter experts (SMEs). I have met such people and sadly found most of them thinking that if they share their knowledge, they will lose their seat of Subject Matter Expert. So, they slowly, knowingly or unknowingly, develop the concept of not sharing their knowledge, sometimes due to sense of insecurity, sometimes due to their love for possession of domination in a certain area of knowledge. Who suffers? Organization – because of sheer dependency on a handful of people, SMEs – again because everyone is dependent on them for that specific area of work, Non-SMEs – once again because of dependency and they end up putting their work in pipeline, waiting for the SME to come and solve their issue, once he is free.
Strange! Isn’t it? Just a few lines back I said, I advocate COEs, and now so many points against the concept of COE!!
Wrong! The points are not against the concept of COE. The points are against the way a COE is normally implemented & tracked and the way it is handled once it reaches a mature state.
Following are my views on the subject:
1. In my opinion, COEs need to be carefully implemented. The people who are working on a particular area, should be a mix of SMEs and SMLs (Subject Matter Learners). I do not advocate a particular kind of work being done only by SMEs. I advocate a particular kind of work to be done by a person dedicated to and focused on that domain, to avoid distraction. So, having a mix of SMEs and SMLs will make sure that the expertise of the SMEs keeps the project in good shape and in the form of SMLs, knowledge sharing is going in a good way.
2. The layer of SMLs should be evaluated periodically and can be subjected to job rotation after a certain period of time. Some of them might move to SME layer and some to the next domain. There should seldom be a need for moving SMEs from the COE.
3. When you start building a COE, carefully assess the attitude of the SMEs (if already at hand or hiring from outside) and to-be-SMEs. They should be knowledge sharers, not knowledge hiders. They should be very good trainers. When you have multiple COEs, the extent of knowledge sharing depends upon the attitude and the communication skills of the people who are a part of them.
With the above points, SMEs have nothing to fear about, rather they should be happy with the following thoughts:
1. They will be safe in the COE. There will be a negligible chance of an SME moving out of COE.
2. Because of decreasing dependency, they will have lesser workload.
3. People who learn from them, in my opinion, will and should always respect them and will still refer them when in trouble. But SMEs will saved from all-time-emergency situations.
4. In the long run, they will always be termed as the people who established a good COE, and will always be respected in that organization irrespective of their current organization and job.
Organization definitely gets beneifted in terms of growing knowledge pool and overall skill level of assocates. A Non-SME feel happy as he is an SME in atleast one area as per the discussed structure and builds skill set atleast to a decent extent in multiple domains.
That’s the reason I call this appraoch as expanding a COE to a system-wide knowlede pool. But remember! First things first. You should have a good COE in place for this to work. If a nation decides to start a sytem of equal distribution of wealth to all, first there should be wealth to distribute! Let people be focused, let them learn and become SMEs, let your COE get maturer, then move to job rotation startegy and knowledge sharing programmes.
This is a big subject and can be discussed at length. I will like to discuss some additional aspects in some other post.
Looking forward to views and comments,