As demands for innovation and collaboration in the workplace steadily rise, knowledge workers are increasingly asked to leverage tools for collaboration and analytics. But who is responsible for ensuring employees have the skills to use them? This question falls at the epicenter of a recent article published by the Harvard Business Review (HBR) that examines the evolving roles of CIOs and IT professionals.

The authors posit that although collaboration and analysis tools comprise the single largest category of IT project spending, employees lack the knowledge to use them effectively. In fact, it has been estimated that although nearly 80 percent of employees collect data or use data for decision making, only 38 percent have the skills and judgment to use data successfully. The result: wasted investment and a loss of employee confidence.

Supporting this theory are findings from a recent study involving 25,000 global Corporate Executive Board employees that indicated an employee’s capacity for collaboration or “network performance” accounted for nearly 50 percent, up roughly 30 percent from a decade ago, of their overall contribution to a company’s business performance.

The authors of the HBR article offer a few suggestions for improving employee functionality and effectiveness beginning with a simple checklist that assesses team readiness for collaboration.  Integrating coaching and communication skills into the analyst role and shifting the teaching focus from mastering the functionality of a tool to leveraging its effectiveness all serve to bridge the gap between analytical and creative processes. The Adobe team has also developed solutions to this challenge that are worth exploring.

Here’s my take: Although analysis and collaboration are clearly important in today’s rigorous knowledge economy, these tools require that employees learn not only their functionality, but how to use them effectively in their jobs. Sometimes this can be like fitting a square peg into a round hole as reporting and analysis require two different skill sets. As the tools for collaboration and data-driven strategies evolve and provide companies a competitive edge, however, it is natural for employees to veer out of their comfort zones or areas of specialization and embrace new technologies. This increases the importance of cross-functional alignment and constant communication so that the tools that are designed to push us in the right direction do not inadvertently lead us astray.

Despite the growing role of collaboration in employee performance, according to the HBR only one in five employees believes they are an effective network performer. The task of reversing wasted investment and creating a platform for functional and effective knowledge workers must fall to progressive leaders who have the vision to empower employees with the skills they need to succeed. In doing this, money spent on collaboration and analytics circles back into the business from the work of productive and ultimately inspired employees.

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