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.