July 6, 2023

The strategic role of the Chief Knowledge Officer

The strategic role of the Chief Knowledge Officer

Why it is smart to start investing in the stock market?

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Should I be a trader to invest in the stock market?

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What app should I use to invest in the stock market?

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Is it risky to invest in the stock market? If so, how much?

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Tell us if you are already investing in the stock market

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Managing knowledge as a key resource to answer client’s needs and stay competitive in the market

Boris was an excellent senior developer when we promoted him to become a Team Lead. This position was suitable for him as it was the role that allowed him to use his potential and get the best out of the team he was leading. He knew how to listen to his team, develop their skills and knowledge and keep them motivated and engaged.

Knowledge is one of the most valuable assets an organization has. Companies that nurture and expand the knowledge of their employees are bound to be more successful than the ones who don’t. Here at Enlight IT, we understand the importance of knowledge particularly because of these reasons:

  • Our knowledge makes us more valuable to the client by enabling us to find the right solutions for their problems;
  • In the ever-evolving IT industry, keeping up with the trends, knowing what the companies need and how to give that to them makes you stand out from the competition;
  • People are the greatest source of knowledge and experience, so making sure their knowledge is distributed throughout the entire company, in a way everyone benefits from, makes us all more efficient.

We don’t see this as a phrase — knowledge, its management and continuous improvement are integral to our company. When something is strategically important to you, you create a system around it, not just talk about it. This is why we decided to give Boris, our star team lead, the role of Chief Knowledge Officer. We envisioned this role as a step forward in structuring and improving our knowledge management process.

This might seem a bit strange because usually, it’s the HR department that's responsible for people development, but here we knew that Boris has a talent for developing people, and being one of the developers himself, he knows best how to manage and transmit knowledge and keep other developers motivated.

What does CKO usually do and what are the benefits of having this role? How did we get the idea to include it in our organizational structure? We thought the best person to explain this would be Boris Šijan, our CKO himself – so we talked to Boris about what he actually does and why it is important for the company.

Q: What are your main tasks as a Chief Knowledge Officer?

B: My job is to organize and oversee the knowledge management process. That means I am creating and implementing programs that allow us to use and increase the value of the knowledge we have. I think it’s a perfect mix of theory and practice because it makes you think about your knowledge resources in the long term, but you still work on your goals by implementing various day-to-day activities that help us get to where we want to be.

I help our employees of all seniority levels create the right career development path for them, organize training and keep up with innovations in the industry.

In a nutshell, I do everything that’s required to help individuals and teams develop and increase their knowledge in a way that will develop them and the company the most.

Q: And how do you manage knowledge? What kind of projects/programs do you implement?

B: Well, there is more than one way to manage knowledge. Different situations require different methods and we have many types of projects in place to ensure knowledge is flowing through the company. Some are more and some are less structured, some are seasonal, and others are on a weekly basis. Some of them are:

  • Entry-level training — We want to bridge the knowledge gap between formal education and working in the industry, so we make sure our fresh-out-of-college employees get training that would prepare them for working on projects with clients. This includes project management or soft skills training, for example.
  • Cooperation with the faculties through the FAROS internship program — The students should get a chance to see how it is to work for an IT company first-hand. Each of our student interns has a mentor and a project they are working on, so knowledge-sharing through mentorship is another important part of the knowledge management process.
  • Internal training — We organize many different training initiatives for our employees in order to prepare them for working on new projects and expand their set of skills. This includes training in QA, DevOps, FrontEnd and C#. But internal training is not limited to IT skills, their point is to fulfill the expectations of the client and prepare us for a new project.
  • Exchanging experiences through regular Team Lead meetings — As a former Team Lead, I can vouch that this position gives you incredible insight into the project, and into the organization as well. That’s why exchanging experiences and discussing problems they faced and solutions they came up with are the key to overcoming the obstacles in the working process through shared experience.
  • Project finished — Lessons learned — After every project we work on, we get together and discuss our key takeaways from that experience. This is in line with our aim for continuous improvement because these lessons we learned and defined help us improve our future performances with every new project. It’s a treasury of our knowledge and experience and everyone in the company has the key to it.
  • External training - These are usually for our senior developers who want to learn new technology or further expand their knowledge. Together, we find the best education regarding the topic they would like to learn more about, or they’re given a new project where they should learn and implement and practice. These aren’t limited to IT knowledge – if the project requires our employees to learn a new language, we organize courses for that as well. We have an entire team who learned German so that they could better cooperate with the client.

Q: We’ll start with the first one – entry-level training. Let’s say you have a new colleague named Alex who had just graduated from the university and got their first job at Enlight. What would their training look like and how would you prepare them for working on projects with clients?

B: I believe there is a significant gap between the knowledge we get from the university and the knowledge we need for working on commercial projects. We understood this and we wanted to create an opportunity for young and fresh-out-of-the-college people – like Alex – to gain this other type of knowledge as a preparation for working with clients.

Moreover, we emphasize that this training should be personalized, so Alex would get a mentor who would help and guide him. At first, he would be working on an internal project as a way to prepare for working for clients. We don’t want Alex to be pushed into a high-responsibility project without preparing him for that kind of responsibility.

This is why our priority with new employees is to bridge this gap and upgrade the technical knowledge they have from the university with the necessary skills and knowledge for working on commercial projects.

There are three key points we focus on during the entry-level training:

  • Knowledge related to certain programs, tools or technologies they didn’t have the chance to learn during their studies;
  • Soft skills they develop through our workshops;
  • A combination of knowledge about project management and software development cycle, so they get an understanding of all important aspects of working on a project

So basically, Alex would spend a three-month period (or less, if we all realize they are ready before the three months pass) working on an internal project according to their personalized training plan and supervised by their mentor. During this time, we will work on developing his soft skills, as well as project management skills, and help them understand how it is to work on a project for a client and what to keep in mind.

After that, they will feel more prepared and confident in their abilities to work on commercial projects and our clients will work with a talented and motivated, but also skilled young person.

Q: Now let’s fast forward a few years. Alex is now one of medior programmers and has much more knowledge and experience. Still, the industry is changing and evolving all the time. So how do you ensure Alex and the other programmers in the company have relevant knowledge and skills needed on the market?

B: We continually follow all our employees' development. Team Leads have a crucial role in this – they can recognize their people’s talents and potential and help them develop them, or they can see if they are struggling with something and need additional help to overcome such obstacles.

This estimate is the key when creating the roadmap for a personalized training and career development plan. We will figure out together with Alex what they would like to specialize in, what kind of training they want or need and in which direction their career is going.

We also keep track and analyze what kind of employee profile we need. We define a set of skills needed for this based on our plans for the future and what is needed on the market so that employees can use that as a guidebook to choose in which direction they want their career at Enlight to go. It takes a lot of knowledge and data, but also a little luck to identify and foresee what requests the market will state and have people who have been prepared for that.

The motivation of our employees is another key aspect of this process. We want Alex to learn what he is interested in the most. We want them to develop in the direction they want, but we are here to guide them through that process by identifying what the company needs and what will be useful on the market.

Q: You also mentioned students. What is your role in creating the best environment for your interns and what do they get from an internship at Enlight?

B: Last year, we started cooperation with the Faculty of Technical Sciences in Novi Sad through the FAROS program. The goal of this program is to provide practical experience to students and show them what it’s like to work in the IT industry. So, they come to Enlight on an internship that lasts for 6 months or longer. Their internship, in fact, resembles the entry-level training I described earlier. They work on a project they choose with their assigned mentor from the company, while also having an academic mentor (a professor or teaching assistant from their study program) so both aspects are covered.

One of the benefits is that they can use this project as their final thesis, while at the same time they get the scope of what it’s like to work on an actual project and are better prepared for when that time comes. Here they also go through reviews, they hold presentations and we have meetings where we discuss their project, so the experience they get is as close to working on a commercial project as possible. They also go through soft skills and project management training to complete this experience. So, our goal is to equip them with practical knowledge and useful insights so they will be better prepared to start their career once they graduate.

Q: Another part of your knowledge management process is the exchange of experiences among your employees. How exactly do you materialize your experience from the previous projects you worked on into actual lessons and knowledge?

B: After each completed project we sit down and discuss the lessons we learned from that project. Here we ask ourselves questions like:

  • How satisfied are we with the project and the client?
  • Is there something we could have done better?
  • Are the clients satisfied with our cooperation and the final product?

We also consider any challenges we faced and how we overcame them. The point is to turn that experience into knowledge that stays in the company and that we implement in every project that follows.

This practice of continuous improvement evolved into company culture, so this part just comes naturally. It existed much before the CKO position was created and it’s still one of the best methods for knowledge management.

Speaking of continuous improvement, it’s also important to mention regular meetings between the Team Leads. They have the best perception of the project and their input is priceless. These meetings allow us to identify possible challenges and exchange experiences from different projects. Then we adopt the best practices we learned and keep them in mind for any similar situations that might occur in the future.

B: There are several indicators we use to measure the success of our knowledge management processes:

  • Frequency of training – Of course, quality precedes quantity, but still, an important indicator is the number of training initiatives we deliver. They accelerate the process of gaining knowledge and work as a multiplicator – the more knowledge we have, the more qualified we are for helping the client. Knowledge distinguishes us from the competition and allows us to create more value.
  • Using the potential of the “bench” – When we say someone is on the “bench”, that means they aren’t working on any commercial projects at the moment. They use that time to work on internal projects and to develop their set of skills so they can perform better on upcoming commercial projects. The importance of my role in this process is to choose the right combination of training and needed knowledge for every employee. If we manage to do this right, this period of “sitting on the bench” is going to be time well used. Still, we should make sure there aren’t too many people on the “bench” and that the time they spend there should be useful and not too long – that is another indicator of success.
  • Successfully implemented career development plans – As a part of our mechanism for continuous improvement, we aim to discover and define the right career development plan for all our employees. Essentially, it’s a roadmap of activities and training they should implement in order to advance in the desired direction. Their motivation and satisfaction with their job depend on them doing what they are interested in and doing it in a way that allows them to follow a clear path forward. We use our personalized career development plans for each employee and their successful implementation as another indicator of our knowledge management results.
  • Identifying the right employee profile for potential future projects – The other side of that coin is to successfully identify what the market needs and what it’s going to need in the future. That allows us to create the right employee profiles we will need in the future. Then our employees can choose to specialize in one of those areas and basically become the profile we are looking for. Predicting what the market needs and how to train your employees to respond to those needs can be challenging, but also quite rewarding. It benefits both the clients, who will have expert programmers when they need them for something in particular, and our employees will advance in the field they are interested in.

Q: What is the relationship between CKO and HR, since you both focus on working with people and their improvement?

B: I cooperate closely with HR. Together, we are a team whose task is to enable the best version of professional development for our employees. The role of HR is very important in aspects like organizing the internships and promotions, but also in developing the soft skills we mentioned earlier. The idea is to connect two spheres. I would bring technical knowledge and experience to the team since I was a programmer and a Team Lead for a long time before this role, and HR would be responsible for the training and organizational part of the process. So, as a CKO, I closely monitor our employees’ career and capabilities development and make sure they get the right and personalized opportunities to upgrade their knowledge and of course, I do that in close cooperation with HR.

Q: To conclude, how would you evaluate the decision to establish this position and the time period you have spent as the CKO?

B: I believe the need for this role evolved through our practices and company culture. Continuous improvement, helping our employees develop and grow, and managing knowledge allow us to solve the problems for our clients better and faster and to be competitive in the market.

The decision to have a person with a full-time job who is responsible for knowledge management says enough about the importance we put on knowledge in our company. I’m happy I got the chance to be our first CKO.

About the author
As a CKO, Boris has a key role in managing and advancing organizational knowledge assets and expertise.
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