“What do you know about the platoon, LT?” (Pronounced ell tee.)
Those were the first words my platoon sergeant said (in his thick Boston accent) when I got to my initial assignment as a brand new, squeaky shiny second lieutenant at Fort Drum, New York. The question caught me off guard. I knew nothing. I was only six months out of college and I was now responsible for the health, welfare, morale and mission of a 30-man platoon in an Army Light Infantry Division. My platoon sergeant had a wealth of experience and knowledge compiled from over 15 years of military service around the world; me, four months of ‘book knowledge’ in a sterile classroom. As any young military officer finds out quickly, there is a big difference between book smarts and street smarts.
But where did street smarts come from? And how could I get them quickly so that I had the knowledge to make solid decisions that could potentially result in life and death consequences? My first task was to digest the data in the platoon’s battle book. It contained objective data collected about each of the 30 men in my platoon from shoe size to marital status; medical allergies to marksmanship scores. In essence, it was a portable personnel file. The Army had been using ‘battle books’ for over 200 years and they were the standard for any unit to maintain. As I pored over this, I started to get a feel for the people in my platoon on paper, but what I quickly found out was that the battle book didn’t tell the whole story.
I had the data and even a little bit of knowledge, but had no idea how it fit in to real world interaction and application.
What do you know now?
After reading the battle book, I was able to start drawing conclusions about the readiness of the platoon based on the recorded data. There were handwritten spreadsheets (this was 1994 and the Army was not that digitized at the time) that tabulated all the information in rows and columns. I could compare one soldier’s score to another’s and even rank scores, but my inability to weigh many factors at once coupled with the ‘dry’ nature of the data kept me from seeing the big picture. It still didn’t tell me about the people.
I now had some knowledge, but limited wisdom.
What don’t you know now?
Now came the hard part: deciphering how the objective data in the ‘battle book’ intertwined with the personalities and mannerisms of the men in my platoon. This was the analytics phase and it was the most interesting and, honestly, most fulfilling part. Over the next year, I discovered many data points that enriched the data in the battle book and truly contributed to why my platoon failed or succeeded on a daily basis. I learned background information that had huge bearing on performance but was not collected and digested as data points in the battle book. I compared objective scores to actual performance in application.
Looking back, I realize we just didn’t have any technology to help us consume the data. This experiential analytic data all had to be stored in the only portable computer we had—our brains. Of course the mind is an excellent supercomputer, but it makes the sharing of knowledge time consuming and cumbersome. Traditionally the Army transitions leaders to new roles every 1-2 years so this knowledge sharing process repeats with great regularity. There would be formal knowledge transfers and hand offs, but they were always too short and incomplete. My platoon sergeant joked when I left that he had to ‘break in’ another lieutenant when my replacement showed up.
I used to think this was something that was unique to the military, but it’s not. Every organization has these challenges. Though the personnel data may change, the need to build a holistic picture of an organization’s most valuable resource—PEOPLE—never goes away. Human resources personnel are constantly trying to get a complete picture of the people, whether it’s in the talent acquisition phase or the talent management phase.
To truly have wisdom, you need to continuously build on the data you have at hand and enrich your knowledge base so you can take multiple factors and correlate them. There are lots of factors that aren’t inherently obvious on why team dynamics work. The larger the organization, the bigger the challenge. No longer can we rely on systems that were effective for the last 200+ years in managing human resources. Organizations must integrate new data sources and formats such as unstructured data from social media sites like Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and LinkedIn with traditional ones such as performance evals, transcripts, and training scores. It’s only when all data is integrated, aggregated, and made available for analysis that organizations are able to present the best opportunities to their employees as well as create the most competitive workforce in the market.
After all, aren’t we all looking for the wisdom to lead from the front?
By John Porambo, Liaison Technologies Strategic Accounts Director
(Liaison will be exhibiting at Wisdom 2016 by PeopleFluent later this month. Join me there to discover how our cloud-based integration platform helps HR organizations know their people.)