Teams and Balancing Skills, Part 4 – Information Skills

An important part of any team is the ability for that team to manage information flow and respond to what the information is telling them. Information comes at us in many forms. It is verbal, written, numbers, printed, pictures, diagrams and many other combinations of these. We can write endless computer programs to interpret information, but the combinations of facts and figures are endless, so we count on human reasoning to make the most of available information, and we empower employees to act on it.

When looking at the skills framework I shared in an earlier post in this series, I defined Information skills this way: An individual’s general ability to interpret information for a usable purpose. Control screens, reports, instruction manuals, and training materials are all examples of information that an employee may face every day, but not all of us handle that in the same way.

As it is with Technology skills, we are not all endowed with the same capability – or interest – in managing and working with information. How many HR people do you know that would be interested in making a career move into statistics? Some, but not many. That doesn’t mean there aren’t talented HR pros who are good with numbers. In fact, we have to be good with information for the regulations, contracts, pay rules and similar types of information that can be part of every day. But I digress.

Information Skills – Moderate to High Capability

Dividing the continuum of skill into three subsets, we see three relative levels of capability with information.

  • Synthesize and Analyze – these are the “what if” skills. Long before there were sophisticated spreadsheets, these are the folks who could think through a complex system of variables and tell you what is possible.
  • Compute and Compile – these are the people who can maintain every information system you have and make sure the right kind of data goes in. They don’t just key in data, but they look for reasonableness of the data and if something doesn’t make sense, they investigate it. They balance their checkbooks to the penny.
  • Compare and Copy – these people can monitor gauges, record information by writing down what they see, and they can at least identify when something is out of range.

There are times when I have had to spend a day with employees doing a warehouse inventory. Our product stacks nicely into defined blocks of cases, so counting a particular brand of product involves counting the rows of that product, the number of case units in each row, and the number of cases in a stacked unit. Then with simple multiplication you have a count.

When an employee came to me and said “We have eighteen thousand cases of brand 377” I immediately knew that it was not a possible number. We had just started that machine two weeks earlier, we had shipped some product, and that number represented two months’ total production. “Hank, I don’t think so. We couldn’t have even produced that much yet”.

Hank acknowledged that he thought so too, so he counted again just to make sure – and he had more confidence in his calculation than he did in his own logic. I think that places him in the “Copy and Compare” area, or possibly below.

That doesn’t mean that Hank isn’t a valuable member of the team. It just means we probably won’t use him for the inventory count in the future.

Next post – the third part of the framework – People Skills.

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