Monday 3 August 2009

Nancy Dixon, third stage of KM

An excellent blog post here from Nancy Dixon.

nancy has blooged on the first two stages of KM, and takes an unexpected (for me, at least) turn on the third stage. For Nancy, the third stage of Knowledge Maqnagement is harnessing collective knowledge, at all levels, in order to make crucial organisational decisions. She suggests that this needs to involve teh flow of knowledge not just within a team, not just from peer to peer, but at all levels. She suggests

Knowledge management processes have largely been focused on the frontline. Middle management for the most part has been ignored, as has senior management. These levels have had few, if any, processes designed to learn from each other or through reflection.

We, as knowledge management professionals, have somehow assumed senior leadership did not need to be concerned about how effective their own knowledge processes were. It is as though their positions somehow made them immune from the needs that were so clearly evident in the frontline. The role senior leadership has played in knowledge management has primarily been to provide the resources needed to apply knowledge management to the frontline, but not to itself.

Yet many of our greatest organizational problems have occurred because accurate knowledge did not flow upward and because senior leaders withheld knowledge from those at the frontline.

Hmmm - interesting! She suggests four ways in which leadersip can frame the conversations in such a way that collective knowledge can emerge.

1. Framing the question –
Framing the topic of the conversation requires posing a question rather than a solution. The question needs to be one that gets to heart of the issue, not just its symptoms. That may require the convener to name the “elephant in the room” – the issue that everyone knows about but no one talks about.

2. Configuring the physical space to serve the conversation-
Most large conference spaces are designed for speeches not conversation. Even conference rooms within most organizations’ walls tend to be furnished with rectangular tables that are more suitable for negotiation or adversarial discussions than conversation.

3. Identifying who needs to be in the conversation -
In considering who to bring together, organizations tend to err on the side of homogeneity rather than diversity. Thinking broadly about who impacts and is impacted by the topic of the conversation is one way to broaden cognitive diversity.

4. Design the interaction
The rule of thumb is that 80% of the time those who have come together should be in conversation with each other, leaving only 20% of the time for presentations and speeches. A design that alternates between small group and large group conversations is the most productive for integrating the organization’s knowledge.

This sort of exercise is something I know well within a community (our Knowledge Exchange process) or after a project (our Knowledge Handover process), and I am fully familiar with the power of conversation in these settings. So I see exactly what Nancy means when she talks about collective knowledge applied to strategic issues, and to cross-heirarchical knowledge sharing.

Currently I know of no organisations working KM in this third sense - from the CEO downwards (or outwards) - but I look forward to this vision being realised!


Lisa Austin said...

Let me try this again... I thought I had posted this earlier...
The company I recommend looking at is Buckman Laboratories out of Memphis, TN. That was a KM initiative that was started from the top down and drastically changed the way the company works. And they did it with simplistic technology. This is their knowledge sharing site.

Also, after reading all 3 installments. It makes me wonder if we aren't just full circle back to creating Learning Organizations from top down, bottom up, and in between.

Nick Milton said...

From what I know of Buckman Labs, Lisa (and that isn't much since Melissie passed away), their KM was on a peer-to-peer basis, focused at passing knowledge to the frontline customer support. They would therefore be in Nancy's "phase 2", despite Bob Buckmans strong involvement, given that he was involved primarily in setting the expectation and providing the resources. I wasn't aware that Bob used KM to help set company strategy, though of course that could have changed int eh last couple of years

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