Using A.S.H.E.N to discover what you know (or lost)

Michael Jackson (MJ) is dead and the world wept for him. Some people claimed that there will never be another MJ. His talent in song writing and singing is exceptional and unique. As we lament the lost of a legend – a magnificently talented singer – we might also be affected by our reliable and talented colleagues or employees who hand-in their resignation letter.

Depending on the available budget and time, organisations often struggle to find a good replacement for their star employees. However beyond the constraint of limited organisation’s resource, more often than not, many employers are clueless in finding a good replacement for their leaving employee. Both the HR department and the immediate superior – the two groups of people who screen candidates – are often rely on job description, job requirement, and interview techniques.

While the above hiring mechanism may help in filtering out unsuitable and incompetent candidates, the tools are geared to discover the candidates’ skills, experience, and attitude – which do not add up to replace the lost knowledge assets. The knowledge that walks out the company door, due to staff attrition, needs to be replenished more effectively to prevent the deteriotation of corporate (or departmental) capability.

In this knowledge-age, organisations may led to believe that nobody is indispensable and talent is overrated. However, the impact of talent lost to the corporate competitive edge is real and can’t be underestimated. Unless the company has a robust succession planning in place, replacing a talent is always an opaque process. Even the mighty Apple, the producer of iPod and Mac, has problems to discover the value of Steve Jobs, their charismatic CEO. NASA lost its’ ability to send people to the moon because they unsuccessfully replace the old engineers with the new ones who have different types of knowledge assets.

A.S.H.E.N Framework

Dave Snowden, the Chief Scientist of Cognitive Edge, has proposed A.S.H.E.N – which stands for Artifacts, Skills, Heuristics, Experience, and Natural talent – framework to identify knowledge assets. Artifacts are things that produced by people, which include documents. Skills are expertness, practised ability. Heuristics are methods that people used to do work. Experience is an ability that is acquired through time. and Natural talent is an ability that is difficult to emulate.

With A.S.H.E.N model, organisations would be able to examine what their employees know, and to mitigate risks associated with the lost of knowledge assets. For example, an employer or a supervisor should find out from the employee who is leaving, the following items:

  1. Artifacts. Where did he file his documents?, what types of documents did he create?
  2. Skills. What are his skills?
  3. Heuristics. How did he get things done?
  4. Experience. What kind of prior experience he has that help him in his work? What sort of experience that he gained from the course of his employment?
  5. Natural talent. What are the aspects of work that he excel in and noone can do a better job than him?

However, to minimise the impact of lost knowledge assets, the employer should attempt to transfer the knowledge in the leaving employee’s head. Transferring knowledge can be achieved through codification strategy – where the exiting employee documents what they know, personalisation strategy – where the leaving employee mentor / coach his successor, or both strategies.

Codification strategy is best used to transfer explicit knowledge Рthe artifacts, skills, and heuristics aspect of knowledge assets, while personalisation strategy used for transfering tacit knowledge Рthe experience aspect of knowledge assets.  Unfortunately, there is no way to transfer the natural talent aspect of knowledge assets.

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