Friday, 6 May 2016

The T-shaped expert

Te concept of the T-shaped manager is well known. What about the T-shaped expert?

I blogged about the concept of the T-shaped manager, an idea introduced by Hansen and von Oetringer which describes the value of managers being both accountable for the success of their own department, and for the shared success of their peers. There are many cases of value delivered through this approach, and it drives, and relies upon, excellent Knowledge Management.

We can take a similar approach when it comes to the role of the company experts.  

I will contrast two approaches to the use of experts, the I-shaped approach, and the T-shaped approach. 

The I-shaped expert.

Companies with I-shaped experts put them onto the toughest projects, where their skills are most needed. The expert is fully engaged with this tough project, their focus is blinkered, they look only downward at their work like the blue I in the picture. Their pay and their satisfaction come from making the project a success. If other people need to learn from the expert, the expert is usually too busy to help them. 

I know many organisations that take this approach. This is a pre-KM approach, where the company assumes that knowledge is only available to a project when the knowledgeable person is on the team; an approach which does not decouple the knowledge and the person. 

The T-shaped expert

Companies with T-shaped experts give them wider roles. They call them "global consultants", "technical authorities" or "practice owners". The expert still helps solve the big problems on the big projects, but as an advisor rather than a full-time project member. Therefore they still look "downward" to project work.  This is the vertical shaft of the red T in the picture.

However the wider accountability is for developing, building and protecting the knowledge and capability of the organisation in their area of practice. They do this by

  • Acting as owner or sponsor for the knowledge base; maintaining guidelines and best practices, and validating company knowledge and lessons 
  • Building effective learning communities; either as community leader or community sponsor.
Here they look across the whole company, which is represented by the horizontal arms of the T.

The T-shaped expert is a cornerstone of Knowledge Management. And of course they need T-shaped incentives to match their T-shaped accountability. 

Thursday, 5 May 2016

In KM, everyone is a teacher

We were discussing yesterday the difference between Knowledge Management, and Learning and Development.  Here is one difference.

There are many similarities between the two disciplines. Each is in service of organisational capability, each addresses learning, and each works with knowledge. They overlap, and in many ways the standard L&R approaches are tools of Knowledge Management.

One main difference is as follows;

In Knowledge Management, everyone is a teacher as well as a learner.

In knowledge management, knowledge flow is not entirely one-way. It's multi-way. Knowledge within a community of practice, for example, does not flow outwards from the centre, it flows also between the members of the community. Everyone can contribute, everyone can share their experience. Knowledge is not the province only of the expert, there is no distinction between teacher and learner, everyone can take either role at any given time.

That is one key difference between the two disciplines. 

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

What comes after the KM culture change?

There's a lot written and spoken about KM and culture change, even on this blog.

However there comes a time when culture change is no longer the big issue. There come a time when the company has bought the concept, and the culture is already tipping, and you move to the next big issue, which is delivering the fruits of the culture.

Culture sells the WHY

After the WHY, you need to define HOW and WHO and WHEN and WHERE.

People are fired up to do Knowledge Management, and the next step is to define how that culture is expected to express itself. You do this through a Knowledge Management Policy. The Policy says "This is how we will now work together in a Knowledge focused way."

We worked recently with a company who had bought the WHY, and wanted the next step, which was embedding the HOW. We worked with them to document the Knowledge Management framework and associated policy. We drew process flows, we wrote RACI charts, we looked at issues of Knowledge Management Governance, and we summarised all this in a Knowledge Management Policy. This is where the long-term value will be added, because this adds the How to the Why, and channels the culture into action and activity.

So please, worry about the culture change. And also, at the same time, worry about what comes after. Once you have sold "Why KM" you then have to define "How KM".  That's when your strategy becomes a policy, and your culture change becomes cultural expression.

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

How to introduce a KM culture? You probably already know.

Many client organisations ask us "how do we promote Knowledge sharing and learning as part of our culture"?  I tell them that they probably already have that answer.


Knowledge Management is probably not the only culture change program they have been through, and "sharing and learning" is not the only cultural trait that they want to promote. They have probably already introduced, and are promoting, a culture of (for example)

  • Safety
  • Quality
  • Diversity
  • Customer service
  • Financial prudence
  • or some other cultural train important to the organisation.

Knowledge Management therefore has an internal cultural model from which to learn.

Therefore my suggestion for answering this question would be to look at activities that support and promote any existing positive culture in the organisation, and then find out a) how they were introduced, b) how they are sustained, and c) how Knowledge Management can learn from this.

One of the key tenets of KM is "learning before doing", and learning about how to effect internal culture change is core knowledge for the KM team.

Find the people involved in previous cultural initiatives in your organisation. Talk to them. Hold a Peer Assist with them. Ask
  • How do you promote a culture of Safety?
  • How do you promote a culture of Quality?
  • How do you promote a culture of Diversity?
Learn the lessons from their success or failure. Learn what they did, and what they wish they had done. Learn how behaviours associated with the safety culture/quality culture/diversity culture have been changed, set, embedded and sustained.

Then apply that knowledge to your Knowledge Management Implementation initiative.

Monday, 2 May 2016

What's different about the MAKE award winners?

The MAKE awards are annual awards for the most admired Knowledge Enterprises in the world.  But what is different about the way these admired organisations approach Knowledge Management?

The MAKE awards recognise organisations for the way they add value through knowledge. Over the past 16 years, many such awards have been given out to organisations nominated by a global panel of experts to be successful over a range of knowledge-related areas.

In order to understand what's different about the winners, I have looked through the results of the 2014 Knoco KM survey, and compared the survey results from MAKE winners with results from the other organisations surveyed. 

Here's what is different.

  • The MAKE winners are bigger companies. MAKE winners represented in the survey average 65000 staff, compared to the others who average 10,000. This is not surprising - the big companies are more likely to get name recognition, and KM has been a big company game.
  • The MAKE winners are more multinational. MAKE winners represented in the survey are active in, on average 60 countries, compared to 20 countries for the others. This results in their being recognised more globally, and so receiving more nominations.
  • The MAKE winners have been doing KM for longer. MAKE winners represented in the survey have been doing KM for 10 years on average, compared to 5 years for the others. Again, not surprising, as the long investment will have  helped KM become fully embedded.
  • The MAKE winners have bigger KM teams. MAKE winners represented in the survey have KM teams with an average of 14 staff, compared to 7 for the others. This is linked to company size. 
  • The MAKE winners have smaller annual budgets. MAKE winners represented in the survey have annual KM budgets which average at $165,000, compared to $600 million for the others. This is probably an effect of KM now being embedded at the MAKE winning organisations.
  • The MAKE winners have delivered more value from KM. MAKE winners represented in the survey claim an average value delivery of $340 million, compared to $65 million for the others. 
  • The MAKE winners are more likely to include CoPs in their KM program. 88% of the MAKE winners include communities of practice, compared to 67% of the others. 
  • The MAKE winners are more likely to include Lesson learning in their KM program. 76% of the MAKE winners include lesson learning, compared to 59% of the others. 
  • The MAKE winners are more likely to include Best Practice development in their KM program. 73% of the MAKE winners include communities of practice, compared to 5

    7% of the others. 

Friday, 29 April 2016

The three core challenges in KM

There are three main challenges in introducing KM. We can call them Awareness, Willingness, and Ability

The awareness challenge can be summed up as follows

The people who have the crucial knowledge, are often unaware that they have it, are unaware how valuable it is, are unaware who needs to know it, and would not know how to go about sharing it anyway.

The people who need the knowledge are often unaware that they lack it, unaware that they need it, unaware that it exists already, are unaware of who holds that knowledge, and would not know how to go about acquiring it anyway.

The willingness challenge can be summed up as follows

The people who have the crucial knowledge, are unwilling to share it. They fear that sharing knowledge will cost them time and effort, and may in some way disempower them.
The people who need the knowledge are unwilling to look for it.  They fear that admitting a need for knowledge makes them look incompetent, or they prefer the fun of creating the knowledge for themselves.

The ability challenge can be summed up as follows

The people who have the crucial knowledge, are unable to share it. They don't know who to share it with, where to put it, or how to share it.
The people who need the knowledge are unable to find it.  They don't know where to look,who to talk to, or how to search.

To address these challenges, you need to make the case for KM and raise the awareness, analyse and address the cultural aspects behind any unwillingness, and  introduce a framework which provides the ability to seek and share.

Thursday, 28 April 2016

Four tasks for a KM team

Using this Boston Square as a guide, we can recognise four main activities which need to be supported in Knowledge Management.

I presented this Boston Square a couple of weeks ago, talking about four archetypes in KM.

 This differentiation into different However we can also use this diagram as a check - to ensure we are balancing out Knowledge Management programs.

The Boston Square looks at four behaviours within KM, divided by Push and Pull, and Explicit and Tacit.  Any balanced KM program will address all four, more or less equally. Any KM program that focuses only on one or two quadrants in unbalanced.

The Explicit Push quadrant, labelled Share, is where an organisation focuses on collecting codified or documented knowledge, and on creating knowledge collections. It is the "Collect" route described here. The KM focus is on portals such as SharePoint, and on information structures, tagging, content provision and user contribution. If your biggest worry is how to incentivise explicit  content, you are taking this role.

The Explicit Pull quadrant, labelled Search, is where an organisation focuses on facilitating searching for documents. They are concerned with taxonomies, ontologies, findability, cross-linking and search technologies, to ensure that people can find what they need in the explicit knowledge base.

The Tacit Push quadrant, labelled Tell, is where an organisation focuses on storytelling and knowledge exchange.  They are concerned with getting the experts to tell what they know and tell their stories, with  processes such as knowledge cafe, with blogging and microblogging, and with Working Out Loud.

The Tacit Pull quadrant, labelled Ask, is where an organisation focuses on creating and satisfying a demand for knowledge. They are concerned with getting questions answered, and putting people in touch with others, and with building structures such as communities of practice, where questions are safe to ask and speedily answered. This is the "Connect" route described here.

Everyone will have their preferred quadrant in which they feel most comfortable, but the key for any KM program is that you need to address all four elements.

You need to address all four elements, as different knowledge needs to be transferred in different ways, and to focus on only one quadrant of the diagram is to miss 75% of the possibilities KM can deliver.

How does your KM program measure up?

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