Monday, 27 April 2015

Learnings from implementing KM at the BBC

A great case history of Knowledge Management at the British Broadcasting Corporation can be found in Tom Young's book "Knowledge Management for Services, Operations and Manufacturing". 

The case history is written by Claire Garwood, now Claire Chaundy, Senior Knowledge Manager at the lawfirm Macfarlanes. Claire describes the history of the development of the "Sport" community of practice within the BBC Nations & Regions, and concludes with the following lessons:

Don't be pushy; Use Schein's process consultation principles.

 This means being opportunistic and ensuring that every interaction is helpful. In N&R [Nations and Regions] this involved not being proud about the type of support provided; typing flip chart pads of knowledge exchange events for busy community hosts was just as important as facilitation and event design. Loaning out KM team members is also a great way to build relationships and foster knowledge flow. 

Use organisational culture to its advantage. 

 Select approaches that enable people to stay within (or to step just outside of) their cultural comfort zone. BBC staff are naturally excellent networkers. This meant they would foster excellent CoPs provided they had the focus and support from dedicated community hosts. 

Use local language, not ‘KM speak’. 

 This case study [in Tom's book]  is written using KM terminology as it has an informed readership. In contrast the BBC’s N&R Sport champions simply saw themselves as people who wanted to improve their story telling by meeting more regularly to discuss their output. The KM team did not therefore talk about "strategic CoPs with hosts promoting knowledge sharing" as this would have not have meant anything to them at a personal, local level. 

Capture and publish learning about knowledge sharing as it happens. 

 This is particularly important – but difficult - when your help is no longer required with ongoing activities as those involved become self sufficient. You can't foist yourself onto people so an easier inroad to maintaining contact is to ask if you can learn from the great work they are doing. People always appreciate recognition of their efforts. Further, profiling their activities via e-bulletins draws in people who aren't yet interested in knowledge sharing but want to keep up to date with what's going on. 

Don't be afraid of focusing efforts on CoPs that are already taking off. 

The most successful CoPs are usually those who receive some KM team support and who nominate and train community hosts. Some people argue that the best groups "just evolve". This is true in some cases, but it is a high risk option for business critical knowledge sharing. It's fine to have a little formal behind the scenes effort to enable the informal contact to flourish. We call this being "formally informal". It is no different to splitting up groups onto different tables at events! 

Make knowledge sharing part of the role

 The GPLs and Sport champions were successful because they had knowledge sharing performance objectives, budget and a percentage of their time to devote to the role. Why leave something of strategic importance to the chance that people might have time to focus on it? 

 What we'd do differently-  Use insiders. 

 The KM team were careful about the language used but still had some credibility-busting moments (including an appearance in Private Eye magazine). Only two KM team members had programme-making experience but they were focused on developing social tools and did not work directly with the team members who provided internal consultancy. This hampered the consultancy side, who were criticised for marketing services and producing training materials that were "not for" programme makers. Seconding staff members from the areas you are supporting to help translate into their local language is a much better approach. It also builds well-trained KM ambassadors in the business when their secondment ends. 

 Use a robust contact and stakeholder management plan. 

 This ensures you maximise all interactions with staff potentially interested in knowledge sharing. In-house KM teams should think like an external consultancy group. The BBC's KM team didn't do this until the end. As they became overloaded with work they found that knowledge sharing between team members became difficult and opportunities were lost. 

Up-skill your KM team at the outset. 

 Analyse what is likely to be the predominant knowledge sharing solution used in your business, and provide KM team members time and resources to up-skill. The BBC's KM team needed to be well versed in CoPs from the outset. Whilst their learning grew over time, it meant the early adopters such as N&R Sport didn't benefit from some key learning. For example, the KM team discovered late on a key CoP statistic which is that only around 15-20% of your community will be regularly active at any one time. This is critical because, when trying to secure funding for community activities, many hosts set unrealistic expectations with their senior sponsors that large numbers of people will be active. If you set a target of, say, 50% of your invite list attending every community event over six months then you will fail as that is not statistically likely. This could have meant some CoPs failed at the first hurdle.

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