Wednesday, 18 September 2019

What KM training strategy does an organisation need?

What KM training will your organisation need as you go through the KM journey?

KM training in China
Knowledge management Training is part of any KM implementation, but there is no one-size-fits-all KM Training strategy. Instead there are a number of potential training events which will change as your KM implementation progresses. Let's divide these into early investigation stages, piloting stage, and roll-out training.

Early investigation stages

In the early stages, when your organisation is investigating Knowledge Management - what it means, what it delivers, what it might cost - there are two types of training needed.

Piloting stage

Once the organisation enters the stage of piloting and proofs-of-concept, there is an additional training need.
  • Skills training for the KM team and the early KM champions, to develop specific tactical skills, such as process facilitation, community launch, knowledge capture etc. 
  • In addition you need to set up knowledge exchange processes and structures such as a KM community of practice, so your champions can learn from each other. 

Roll-out stage

Once the piloting stage is over and the roll-out of the Knowledge Management Framework begins, then a whole suite of training will be needed, including

  • Specific training for the Community of Practice leaders and facilitators
  • Facilitation training and skills training for others with specific Knowledge Management roles (local knowledge managers, 
  • Awareness training for managers, so they understand their role in influencing knowledge management behaviours
  • Specific training for Knowledge workers, introducing them to the new expectations, new processes and new technologies. This will also include the development of online KM reference material and e-Learning.
In short, as your Knowledge Management program develops, so will your need for KM training. 

Contact us if you want advice developing your own KM Training strategy.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Where are the non-US/UK/Aus thought leaders in KM?

Lists of KM thought leaders historically tend to be USA-dominated. Who have we missed from the rest of the world?

I published a blog post 5 years ago entitled "KM thought leaders - are they REALLY all from the USA"? In this post I looked at Stan Garfield's list of KM thought leaders, and assessed their provenance and location, which at the time was predominantly USA and Canada (72% in total).

In the past 5 years, Stan's list has evolved and grown, and the proportion of thought leaders from Asia, MENA, Australasia and Continental Europe has significantly increased.

However the USA/Canada proportion is still very high (62% compared to the 72% of 5 years ago).

What do you think? Is this representative? Does nearly two thirds of KM leadership come from North America?

Which non-US KM thought leaders do you think are missing from Stan's List?

Monday, 16 September 2019

The 3 different types of knowledge, and how they are managed

There is more than one type of Knowledge, and KM needs to decide which type requires the main focus and effort.

Both linguistically and philosophically there is more than one type of knowledge. This is important, and is an area where the English Language is less than helpful to the KM practitioner.

The linguistic differences in types of knowledge

It has been a long running thread within this blog, that the English language is inadequate when it comes to talking about Knowledge.  Where other languages describe two or more forms of knowing, we have only one word for both. It is this inadequacy that is at the heart of many disagreements about Knowledge Management. 

We use the same word when asking "Do you know her name" as when asking "Do you know her". However we are describing two types of knowing here - the first is a Fact, the second is a Familiarity.  If you know someone's name, then you can recall a fact about them. If you know someone, then you are familiar with them.

Similarly we can ask "Do you know what a bicycle is?" and  "Do you know how to ride a bicycle?" The first is recollection of a Fact, the second is an Ability. In English we use the same word for both, but in other languages we use different words.

The philosophical differences in types of knowledge

I am not a philosopher, I have not studied the philosophy of knowledge and knowing, but I am aware of some of the ideas, and I know that for philosophers there are two or three types of knowledge:

  • Propositional knowledge or Declarative Knowledge, which is knowledge of facts (like who won the FA cup, or what last month's sales figures are);
  • Procedural knowledge, which is knowledge of how to do something (like ride a bicycle);
  • A third type - sometimes called Knowledge by Acquaintance, sometimes called Strategic Knowledge,  or Conditional Knowledge. This is knowledge of when and why to apply different procedures, use specific approaches or makce certain choices, which comes from deep familiarity. 
I really recommend this article about procedural and declarative knowledge, and the links between the two, and the two camps when it comes to the links between the two:
  • Intellectualism, which believes that all procedural knowledge either can be made declarative, or already is declarative;
  • Anti-intellectualism, which believes that the two are different.

The three types.

The table below discusses these types of knowledge

Declarative knowledge

Procedural knowledge

Familiarity/Strategic knowledge

"I know that ....""I know how to ...""I know ... (a person, a place, a topic)"
Savoir in FrenchConnaitre in FrenchSavoir Faire in French?
Wissen in GermanKennen in German
Gained through instruction and memorisationGained through coaching, experience, or shared experience from othersGained through long experience, apprentice-ship, and working closely with experts
Transmitted easily through written meansOften difficult to transmit through written meansImpossible to transmit through written means, although recorded stories can help share experience
Machines and IT systems can store facts faithfullyMachines and IT systems can store some aspects of procedural knowledge but not allMachines and IT systems cannot (or at least cannot easily) store familiarity
Does not give abilityGives ability to act and decideGives ability to act and decide in unique conditions, to think strategically, and to predict
Entirely explicit, mostly codifiedA mixture of explicit, implicit and tacit. Variously codified.Usually tacit and uncodified.
Declarative knowledge has value to an organisationProcedural knowledge has LARGE value to an organisationFamiliarity has MASSIVE value to an organisation

In Knoco, we tend to focus our Knowledge Management support on ways to develop Procedural Knowledge and Familiarity (without losing sight of the need to provide access to facts). This is because we feel that:
  1. Much declarative knowledge is already managed through Information Management tools and approaches, and requires little new from KM;
  2. You can argue that the purpose of KM is to enable actions and decisions, thus requiring a focus on Know-how and Can-do.
I know this is arguable, and Luc Glasbeek suggested in a comment to an earlier post that the field of knowledge should not be divided, and expanded his discussion here.

However the fact that many languages already have more than one word for knowledge suggests that there is already a recognised division of knowledge into more than one type. In French, Knowledge Management is Gestion des Connaissance - "une démarche managériale pluridisciplinaire qui regroupe l'ensemble des initiatives, des méthodes et des techniques permettant de percevoir, identifier, analyser, organiser, mémoriser, partager les connaissances des membres d'une organisation" according to Wikipedia - a discipline focused on Connaissance, rather than Savoir; on Know-how rather than Know-what.

KM can support the management of Procedural and Familiarity knowledge in a number of ways;
  • Using knowledge management to allow new staff to become rapidly familiar with organisational processes and procedural know-how;
  • Developing a shared familiarity of an operation or activity through discussions within a community of practice;
  • Using team learning processes such as Peer Assist and After Action Review to help a team "climb the learning curve of know-how and familiarity" more quickly;
  • Applying a Knowledge Retention Strategy to ensure that an organisation does not lose know-how familiarity with crucial processes, practices and relationships when key people retire;
  • Setting up processes of on-the-job coaching, reflection and learning that help build deeper familiarity;
  • Sharing stories;
  • Using Lessons Learned to ensure that teams become familiar with pitfalls, workarounds and know-how from previous projects.

Keep this difference in mind as you plan your Knowledge Management strategies. Knowledge is not a simple thing; you will need to pay attention to these multiple ways of Knowing, and decide how best to focus your KM initiative.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Proud to be deemed the number 2 Knowledge Management authority

Second only to the legendary Stan Garfield (congratulations Stan)

How to recruit the experts in support of KM

The Experts can sometimes be resistant to KM, seeing it as a threat or a burden, with little personal reward. How can we address this?

Image from wikimedia commons
Many clients we speak to are having real problems recruiting the expert knowledge holders to the concept of Knowledge Management. Even in those companies where knowledge holders are few, and knowledge seekers are many, the experienced subject matter experts are often reluctant to become involved with KM.

The reason is, that because knowledge is scarce, they are busy "doing the job", and have no time to teach others or to share their knowledge. The fewer experienced practitioners the company has, the busier they are in actually performing the work.

Many experienced staff enjoy their expertise, and they see KM as a distraction or an added burden. They often feel that KM "is not my job".

"I am an experienced boiler-maker/salesman/brewer/application designer" they say; "my skills are in huge demand. Why should I take time out to share my knowledge? That's not my job"

Make KM "the job of the expert"

The answer to this, of course, is to make Knowledge Management (or at least a component of knowledge management) the expert's job, and to give them time and space to do this job..

You can't expect busy people, in demand from all over the organisation, to add to their burdens with work that isn't in their job description. But if their knowledge is vital to company performance, then acting as a steward of the knowledge of the organisation needs to be in their job description. It needs to be recognised as part of their job, and they need to be given the space, the resources, the assistance, and (if necessary) the training to allow them to share their knowledge with the next generation - the apprentice generation.

The old career progression from past centuries was Apprentice - Journeyman - Master.

Knowledge Companies need to rediscover this progression, so that the Masters (of both sexes) - the Subject Matter Experts - can see their role as Teaching as well as Doing, and as passing on their skills to those who need them, through the tools of KM (wikis, community forums, peer assists etc) as well as through the traditional tools of apprenticeship (coaching, mentoring, training).

The pinnacle of an expert's career is to be a Master (or as Rolls Royce calls them, a Fellow). Mastery, or Fellowship, is an honour, and with that honour comes responsibility; responsibility for knowledge. This includes being the Practice Owner for their domain of practice and responsible for the documented knowledge, playing a coaching role in the relevant Community of Practice, partly responsible for the community of apprentices.

We need to rediscover this Mastership role, so we can fully reinstate the experts in their rightful place.

Wednesday, 11 September 2019

Win or lose, you should always learn

People often make a big thing about learning from failure, but learning from success is just as important, and can often be overlooked.

The impetus to revisit this topic came from a one-liner post on LinkedIn by Oleg Vishnepolsky reading "Sometimes I win, sometimes I learn."

My reply was "Win or lose, you should always learn".

Sometimes it seems as if learning is reserved for failures. If there is a safety near miss, or an incident in a hospital, or technical non-conformance, then learning swings into action. When all goes well, learning is an afterthought. And it is certainly true that individuals learn much better from their mistakes, as a result of the emotional charge and the emotional scars that failure brings.

However you can argue equally strongly that success is a better teacher, because a fail mode only tells you one option not to try; it does not tell you how to succeed. So as well as learning from a hospital incident, you should learn from, and emulate, those hospitals that never had an incident, or those suppliers whose technical products always conform. This is the principle behind positive deviance - the idea that there are always positive outliers; individuals, groups or companies that perform far better than their peers, and which should be the first place you look to for learning.

Which is the better approach - learning from success, or learning from failure?

This is of course another one of KM's "false dichotomies". Someone in NASA once said (and I can't find the source of this quote I am afraid) that "in NASA we say there are no successes or failures, there are only Events. We learn from Events." The whole concept of success and failure is irrelevant to learning. Most events, most projects, are a mix of both, and we need to learn from both.

Learning from failure helps you learn how not to fail, learning from success helps you learn how to succeed. You need to decide which is more important. 

At a corporate level, or as a society, we collectively make the biggest learning steps when we finally succeed. Think of Edison and his light filament; when did he do the most learning? When he tried each of the 99 options that didn’t work, or when he found the one that did? Now obviously he learned from both, but let’s look at the value of that knowledge to others.

If you were a light bulb maker, which of these two statements from Thomas Edison would be of most value to you?
  1. You can’t make a light bulb filament out of cat hair 
  2. You can make a light bulb filament out of tungsten 
Obviously, the second one. He learned from the first, but all of us have learned from the second.

And here are a couple of quotes from the Business insider article mentioned earlier about some of teh risks from learning only from failure;

When you continually focus on failure, you actually create an environment where people are afraid to share their successful actions, lest they appear to be bragging, making light of an otherwise bad situation, or taking advantage of someone else being called out for their failures. This keeps truly useful learning from becoming a part of your organization's practice. 
More existentially, continually focusing on failure is disastrous for morale. It's one thing to avoid sweeping toxic stuff under the rug, but it's another to always leave a stinking pile of crap in the room. 
Fortunately, it's very easy to make a cultural shift here. You just need to ensure that at least some of your "after action" reporting, whether it occurs in meetings or memos or informal hallway chats, is dedicated to what went right. Even an event that was largely a failure probably has some small successes that need to be shared.
 This is why, in the Retrospect meetings that Knoco often facilitates, we give equal discussion time to success and failure. An in some cultures such as the UK culture (where people are always happy to talk about failure) we start by discussing the successes, lest these get ignored.

The implication for Knowledge Management

The implication for Knowledge Management is this:

You need to learn from both success and failure, but you need to learn much more carefully and deliberately from success, because: 

  • success can be less obvious - you may have to look for those positive deviance examples;
  • learning from success can be more difficult (it is easier to isolate what went wrong than what went right); and
  • ultimately, success is what you want others to replicate.

As an example, let's look at the typical systems set up to learn from safety incidents. Most of these systems have detailed root cause analysis when there is a near miss or an incident, and the lessons from these are sent around the organisation so others can learn from this safety failure.

However it is far more important to learn from the (positively deviant) factory or plant that never has an accident, and never has a near miss. That is the factory everyone needs to emulate, which means they need to carefully understand WHY they are so safe, and then learn from this.

We know that it is human nature to learn best from mistakes, but we don’t want to be at the mercy of human nature. We don’t want people to have to screw up in order to learn. We don’t want failures and screw ups if we can possibly avoid it, because mistakes and screwups can cost money, they can cost lives (in certain cases), and they can cost careers if they are big enough.

Learning in a KM Framework

The ideal situation, in any mature KM or lesson-learning framework, is that you learn as a matter of course from every event, whether you deliver failure, success or a mixture of both (and it usually is a mixture).

Learning, as in lesson identification meetings such as After Action reviews and Retrospects, should be a routine exercise, regardless of success or failure. Address both, learn from both, and give particular attention to understanding the causes of success.

Fail fast and fail often is a good mantra, so long as it leads to success, and it is the success that is the greatest learning opportunity.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

What is the nature of Knowledge Management?

Is KM a Science? Is KM a Philosophy? No - it's a Management Discipline. And here is why that is a useful viewpoint.

I have met many people over the years who treat Knowledge Management as something entirely unique - a philosophy, almost, or a "world-view". For these people, there is nothing quite like KM.

Our view in Knoco is that KM is not unique, but is rather the latest in a range of management disciplines.

Knowledge Management represents a way of managing work, paying due attention to the value and effect of an intangible (namely, knowledge). And it's not the only management discipline which deals with intangibles. Risk management, quality management, customer relationship management, brand management, reputation management, talent management, safety management - all deal with intangibles.

This view - of KM as one discipline among many - is derived from recognising knowledge as one organizational asset among many. For centuries, organisations have managed their visible assets, such as money, people, property and equipment. More recently organisations have been addressing the intangible assets, such as their reputation, their IP, their customer base, the diversity and talent of their staff, their ability to work safely and sustainably, and now their knowledge.

This view is entirely compatible with the recent introduction of ISO 30401:2018, the ISO Management Systems standard for Knowledge Management, which treats KM exactly the same way that ISO treats quality management or asset management, and which defines KM as "management with regard to knowledge".

The value of treating KM as a management discipline

The first great value of treating KM as "one among equals" - as another component of good management discipline - is that you can then place it within the same governance framework as you do the other disciplines. You can position it in the same structures and expectations. You can review it using the same review processes (the stage reviews of the project management framework, for example, or the Plan/Do/Measure/Learn cycle). You can audit it as you do any other management discipline. In other words, you can embed it easily within "normal work".

Maybe that's a pragmatists approach rather than a theorists or idealists approach, but if you are looking to embed KM in your organisation, you will find that this is an approach that works.

The second great value of treating KM as "one among equals" is that it gives you an analogy for the practical issues of implementation and sustaining KM. You can look at the closest analogue discipline that is already embedded in your organisation, and ask

  • "How did we implement this? 
  • What lessons can we derive about implementing such a discipline? 
  • How are we sustaining this? 
  • What lessons are there for sustaining KM?"

Probably the closest analogue disciplines for KM are safety management and risk management. Both of these disciplines are not about the management of tangibles - neither safety nor risk are things you can pick up, weigh and put in your pocket - but more about how you manage your organisation so that safety and risk are given priority, and so that people's safety behaviours and risk behaviours change.

So if your organisation has, in the past, successfully introduced risk management and safety management, then you should be greatly heartened as a knowledge manager, as KM can then follow a proven implementation path.

Treat KM as just another management discipline, and you will find this gives you so many models and analogues to help you. 

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