Wednesday 30 September 2015

The Genesis of a KM program

Knowledge Management programs do not come from nowhere. There is usually a set of circumstances which combine to bring KM to the forefront.

This is the story of the set of circumstances that combined to kick off KM at BP in the 1990s, taken from Gorelick et al. These circumstances include

  • A structural need for knowledge sharing
  • A successful proof of concept
  • Inspiration from outside, and
  • A compelling business case

In 1995 a significant organizational change occurred in BP’s structure. It went from a traditional hierarchy to a federal organization. The federal structure had a small central core with large semi-autonomous business units outside the core. The leadership in the central core provides enterprise-wide vision, and everyone is expected to consider themselves as being under the “same flag”. However, for each unit in the federation, separate performance contracts are negotiated that drive strategy and operating tactics... A crucial path to success is asking for help and reusing knowledge from elsewhere in the federation. 
Virtual Teamworking 
To encourage the cross-business-unit teamwork and open communication essential to the federal structure, the Virtual Teamworking (VT) project was initiated. This project aimed to allow the creation of virtual teams, with geographically separated members, brought together by desktop video-conferencing. 
The model for this initiative was to address People, Process and Technology issues simultaneously. Thus the project deliverables were a technological solution plus a coaching process, that facilitated people connecting from disparate locations using PC video conferencing. Kent Greenes was selected to lead this initiative. 
An important message that ‘the VT project was more than technology’ was sent when the VT project did not report into the information technology organization, but rather to the BP Group Chief Executive, part of the small central core of the federal structure. VT was expected to create a more enabling technology in the new flattened organization....
The value of the VT project was confirmed at a meeting Kent had with Sir John Browne (BP CEO) to report the results of the VT initiative.  Browne was “grinning from ear to ear” as he said that his idea had created the ability to align and engage people in a way that couldn’t happen before. It encouraged transferring of experience that led to commitment, and from commitment came delivered results. 
 Information to Knowledge 
In February 1996, the VT team realized that the virtual teams they were supporting were not working with only data and information. They were seeing interactions about knowledge. It became evident that the “real value”was sharing know how and experience - tacit knowledge....
In the third quarter of 1996 the Technology Advisory Board of BP senior scientists, R&D etc., external professors and industry experts met for one of the two or three colloquia BP delivers annually. This colloquium was focused on the enabling use of IT. A memorable event was Dr. John Henderson's (Boston University) rousing speech to the group on knowledge and leadership. Among the stories Henderson told was this story from the US Army – a compelling story that provided BP with a vision of what KM could make possible.... The IT Colloquium ignited the KM fire at BP by legitimizing Knowledge Management....
The Genesis of the KM Team 
After the IT Colloquium, a task force was formed with 5-10 executives, members from each business stream and thought-leaders from business units as well as central functions such as HR, IT and organizational learning. This task force was charged with assessing the state of Knowledge Management in BP and making recommendations... 
The task force concluded that the BP environment had many factors conducive for Knowledge Management, such as a team structure, the IT infrastructure with the Common Operating Environment (COE) and results-based behavior orientation. However, there was a lack of ability to capture what had worked, and training and development was recognized as not being the place to embed and generate learning about knowledge processes. The task force concluded that there were good things happening, but that a major knowledge effort was needed.... (and) recommended that a dedicated Knowledge Management team be sanctioned, containing core team members from the existing VT team. 
The task force presented its recommendations to the Managing Directors. The presentation was very persuasive. A half billion dollars annual saving was the anticipated “big prize” for BP, if they found a way to better leverage know-how. The KM initiative did not have to be built from the ground up. The new team would build on what had been developed in the VT project. They would focus on raising awareness and piloting to leverage the “good stuff” happening within BP. The goal was to embed Knowledge Management within the businesses. 
The steering committee approved all the task force recommendations with one exception. One member raised a concern about the KM effort being a central function. Keeping with the principles of the federal structure he believed that the business streams should own the Knowledge Management function. Kent agreed that ultimately it should not be a corporate unit or be organized to live forever. He vividly remembers saying; “I won’t let it become a corporate thing. We will revisit the existence of a KM Team year by year”. 
Within a week a decision was made to establish a central KM team with Kent leading it, reporting to a corporate Managing Director. Kent believed that this was a way to ‘join VT and KM at the hip’, to keep going with what had started to change the business and provide a lever for further improving performance.

Tuesday 29 September 2015

The verbs of Knowledge Management

I posted recently an analysis of KM definitions, concentrating on the nouns. Here is an analysis of the verbs.

The idea to look at the verbs was suggested by "the other" Nick Milton in the comments to my previous blog post. I took a collection of 65 KM definitions and did a quick word count. 

Here are the results for each verb

Use                                23 appearances
Create                            17
Share                             15
Leverage                       11
Apply                            11
Improve                         11
Access                           10
Manage                           9
Capture                           7
Store                               6
Integrate                         6
Organize                         5
Generate                         5
Analyze                          5
Gather                             4
Transfer                          4
Retrieve                          4
Enhance                          4
Develop                          4

Verbs appearing 3 times - Facilitate, Optimize, Increase, review, Put, Promote
Verbs appearing 2 times - Distribute, Disseminate, Retain, Save, Acquire, Get, Exploit, Accumulate, Collect, Connect
Verbs appearing once - Guard, Grow, Expand, Cultivate, Elicit, Diffuse, Maintain, Understand, Represent, Spark, Comprehend, Formalize

What does this tell us?

It tells us that we, as a collective industry, are far less certain about what we actually do with knowledge, than we are about the knowledge itself. While I had 7 main nouns in my previous analysis, here I have over 50 verbs.  However there are some synonyms here - acquire, get, gather, collect, capture, elicit, are all to some extent synonyms.  We can therefore look at synonym clusters

Verbs associated with the application of knowledge appear 55 times
Retrieve, apply, use, access, review, exploit, understand, comprehend

Verbs associated with the improvement of knowledge, or of the KM process, appear 53 times
Leverage, manage, facilitate, grow, optimise, develop, enhance, expand, integrate, analyse, cultivate, formalise, represent, increase, improve

Sharing verbs appear 29 times
Transfer, distribute, share, diffuse, connect, promote, disseminate

Getting Verbs appear 23 times
Gather, capture, generate, capture, acquire,, get, elicit, collect

Creating verbs appear 22 times
Create, generate

Storing verbs appear 12 times
Store, guard, maintain, accumulate, retain, put, save, organize

So now we have 6 verb clusters, to go with our 7 nouns. At the moment, it seems possible to perm any combination of these into any KM definition you want, but the most generic definition from an analysis of all existing definitions seems to be

"Knowledge Management is the means of Improving the way Knowledge is Created, Acquired, Stored, Shared and Applied".

Simple, boring, but good enough.

Monday 28 September 2015

4 cases where you don't need knowledge management

I have argued strongly in the past for Knowledge Management to be business-driven, and to be introduced as a solution to specific business needs; for Knowledge Management to be a strategic business support tool. But what if there is no business need? 

  • What if the company is working in a mode of “It works – let’s not mess with it”?
  • What if the inefficiencies of having no KM are a cost the company can well afford to bear?
  • What if knowledge is not a competitive advantage?

In cases like this, Knowledge Management can be a distraction.

Here are a few cases where KM is not necessary

When you have a structural monopoly that will not change

Imagine you are the sole player in a field, with no competitive pressure. This is a great position to be in - no matter what you do, your business is assured. There is no need to learn, no need for change, and no need to manage your knowledge. You can make as many mistakes as you like.  This is a nice position to be in, but difficult to imagine in any non-communist countries.

When your entire staff are manual workers

If you have no knowledge workers in the organisation, then you have no need of knowledge management.  I must admit, it is difficult to think of an organisation like this - maybe a company that does mobile carwashes in supermarket carparks, perhaps? Even then there might be a knowledge worker or two in the organisation somewhere.

When your company is very small and unlikely to grow

If your company is small enough to work in a single office, if you talk together all the time, and if your document filing is very good, you may do enough informal knowledge sharing not to need to formalise it. 

When you are an individual, making a living based on skill

A concert violinist, for example, is unlikely to need knowledge management, beyond having a good mentor and teacher. Musical performance, or solo sport performance is more a question of skill than of knowledge.

I am sure you can challenge each of these cases, and you may be able to suggest other cases where KM is not needed.

For most other organisations, which is to say almost every other organisation in the world, where knowledge is an asset and where there are knowledge workers in the organisation, then  Knowledge Management is a value-adding discipline.

Friday 25 September 2015

When Downsizing becomes Dumbsizing

Downsizing is a popular response to commercial pressures on a company, If they want to improve the look of their balance sheet quickly, they reduce their payroll costs. But all too often, downsizing leads to dumbsizing. 

Losing people is an attractive short term option to the finance department - its quick, you can cut a lot of cost, and you (in theory) end up with a leaner and meaner organisation.

However when the people you lose hold most of your organisational knowledge (which often happens when you cut higher paid jobs), you lend up with a leaner, meaner and dumber organisation.

This is known as dumbsizing.

This article contains a couple of good examples of dumbsizing, including this one

Circuit City downsized 3400 of its highest paid (and probably most effective) sales associates in an attempt to gain sustainable cost reductions. The remaining smaller, less skilled sales force provided competitors such as Best Buy with an opportunity to gain market share. Once in this spiral, Circuit City could not prevent the hemorrhage of clients and revenues. The company filed for bankruptcy in 2008 and finally ceased trading in 2009.

Terminal dumbsizing.

Employee downsizing, when applied indiscriminately, runs the risk of undermining sustainable competitive advantage through deteriorating quality, productivity and effectiveness as a result of knowledge loss.  In many cases, the only way for the companies to recover is to hire back the people they fired at a premium cost, as in this example.

Charles Schwab Corp. provides us with a crisis-induced reaction in the aftermath of the dot-com crisis at the beginning of the new millennium. After two rounds of employee downsizing, the company offered a US$7500 bonus for any previously downsized employee rehired by the firm within 18 months of the layoffs.....  A survey by the American Management Association (AMA) revealed that about one-third of companies that lay people off subsequently rehire some of them as contractors because they still need their skills.

The problem comes when organisations look only at the cost of the people, and not at the value of the knowledge resources they hold. Downsizing is not considered in the light of the organisational knowledge management strategy (assuming they have one), the risk of critical knowledge loss is not considered and managed, and core capability declines as a result.

The company becomes dumb and dumber, and (like the Circuit City example above) may become no longer viable.

Thursday 24 September 2015

FAQs in KM - a form of pseudo-dialogue

I have often posted here about the power of dialogue in knowledge sharing. But how can you have dialogue with written knowledge?

Dialogue is a form of conversation in which the participants are trying to reach mutual understanding. It is a process of exchange of views and of knowledge, of both sides asking questions and of listening to the answers. It is a combination of listening, advocacy, reasoning and consensus-seeking. Dialogue means "talking it through."

It is hard to imagine effective knowledge exchange without some form of dialogue. What really differentiates dialogue from other forms of communication such as debate, argument or briefing is that both parties are seeking to understand, and asking questions.

And when you ask a question, your mind is open to the answer.

That's not true when you are debating or arguing, or even listening to a briefing, The very act of questioning opens the mind.

So what about written knowledge, where you can't engage in dialogue?

Enter the FAQ - the Frequently Asked Questions list.

You see these everywhere (see for example our Knowledge Management FAQ). They are popular ways of offering knowledge, by producing a list of questions (sometimes "frequently asked", sometimes "most important" questions) and providing the answers. Some people argue that they should be caled "Frequently Given Answers".

FAQs are like pseudo-dialogue. 

Although you cannot question a document or a webpage, the FAQ provides the next best thing. It allows the learner to scan the list of questions to find the ones they would have asked in a conversation. Although reading the answer to a listed question is not as mind-opening as asking the question directly, it is a step in the right direction. They give the reader at least one small way of influencing the way they learn, and finding teh answer they are most interested in.

In fact the FAQ list has an advantage over face to face dialogue, as they provide the learner with questions they might not have thought of asking, and therefore answers to the things they didn't know that they didn't know.

There are some cases where dialogue is not needed and FAQ is not appropriate, for example when the context of the knowledge is very clear, or the nature of the knowledge is limited. See for example this blog post from the government digital service.

If you are in doubt about whether to package your knowledge asset as an FAQ or a set of instructions, then ask yourself this question....

Will people come to your knowledge asset be told, or to find out?

If the former, then give them instructions. If the latter, then use an FAQ.

Wednesday 23 September 2015

Ten worst practices for communities of practice

This list comes from Asif Devji of the ComPrac community

It is his list of the top ten worst practices, or “ what not to do to have a successful CoP". It's a great list, and very thought provoking

Don't ...

1) Expect a CoP to change your organizational culture

2) Incorporate a CoP into an unstable organizational environment

3) Use a CoP to filter down organizational talking points

4) Be exclusivist in your selection of CoP members

5) Fail to recognize employee participation in your CoP

6) Control the discourse in your CoP

7) Leave your CoP to its own devices

8) Use a CoP to colonize knowledge (ie lurk in there, and steal ideas).

9) Commodify a CoP for profit

10) Expect a quick quantifiable ROI from your CoP

Tuesday 22 September 2015

The most powerful incentives in KM

Another interesting result from our 2014 Knowledge Management Survey was a comparison of the effectiveness and use of common KM incentives.

The bar chart above shows the result for 8 mechanisms for incentivising KM, namely

  • Clear management directive for KM 
  • KM embedded within normal job expectations 
  • Centrally organised recognition scheme 
  • Peer recognition scheme 
  • KM added to personal objectives 
  • KM added to "expected competences" 
  • Gamification 
  • Monetary or material award

People reported on the effectiveness of these incentives, by rating them

  • Very powerful (green)
  • Powerful (yellow)
  • Useful (orange)
  • Not useful (red)
  • Too early to tell (light grey)
  • Not used (dark grey)

Om the bar chart, and in the list above, the incentives are listed in order, with the most powerful being at the top, and the least powerful at the bottom.

 This is shown more clearly in the graph below, with the usage as a blue bar and the relative effectiveness shown as a red bar (this is a weighted average of the effectiveness ratings, with "very powerful" weighted as 3, "powerful" weighted as 2 and  "useful" weighted as 1).

We can make the following conclusions

  1. The most powerful incentives are a clear management directive, and embedding KM into the normal job.
  2. The least powerful are gamification and monetary reward.
  3. The most underused incentive (3rd in effectiveness but 6th in usage) is a centrally organised recognition scheme.
If you would like more insights into the way KM works, you can order a copy of our survey results.

Friday 18 September 2015

Telling vs "finding out" in knowledge management

When it comes to transferring practices, people are more receptive to knowledge they discover for themselves, rather than being told by someone else.

As an example, imagine staff in a hospital have developed an improved process for patient administration. This could be shared by hospital management in one of two ways.

Firstly the hospital managers could publish this to their patient admin staff as an example of good practice. My guess is that the rate of take-up will be low.

Secondly they could say to their staff "these people seem to have found a way to solve some of the problems we are having. Go and find out how they are doing it, and come back to me with some things we need to change".

The first option is Knowledge Push, which often meets the brick wall of "not invented here". The second is Knowledge Pull, where the knowledge receiver plays an active "investigator" role rather than a passive "copier" role.

The second is reminiscent of the Toyota principle of "Genchi Genbutsu", translated as "go and see".  This is the principle that if you really want to learn something, you need to go and see, and not wait to be told.

What this allows, is the pleasure of discovery.

If you want to transfer best practices, encourage people to discover them, don't force-feed them.

Thursday 17 September 2015

Management through conversations

Much of management involves talking about things, and Knowledge Management is no exception.

Many management disciplines are based on conversation, especially those disciplines which seek to raise awareness and change behaviours of an issue.

Safety Management, for example, is driven by conversations about safety in order to drive awareness of safety issues, identify mitigating actions, and promote safe behaviours. If nobody discusses safety, then safety becomes a low priority issue, or an invisible issue. The conversations raise it to a visible, priority issue.

The same is true of Risk Management. This is driven by conversations about risk, in order to drive awareness of risks to projects, to identify mitigating actions and to drive risk-aware behaviours.

Knowledge management is similarly driven by conversations about knowledge.  These can be

  • Conversations within a project team, at the start of a project, to discuss "what do we know about delivering projects of this type, and what knowledge gaps do we have"? This is a conversation that happens as part of a KM Planning workshop.
  • Conversations within a team as work progresses, to discuss "what are we learning about how we work, and what do we need to change or sustain as a result"? This is a conversation that happens as part of an After Action Review.
  • Conversations within a project team at the end of a project or project stage, to discuss "what new knowledge have we gained, that we should share with others, or use again"? This is a conversation that happens as part of a Retrospect.
  • Conversations between projects, to discuss "what do you know that can help us"? This is a conversation that happens as part of a Peer Assist or Knowledge Handover.
  • Conversations between members of a community of practice, to discuss "what do we all know together, and what does this mean for the way we do our jobs"? This is a conversation that happens as part of a Knowledge Exchange, or online within a discussion forum.

These conversations about knowledge drive awareness of knowledge issues, identify actions to apply that knowledge, and promote knowledge behaviours.  The conversations raise knowledge to become a visible, priority issue.

Steven Denning, at one- time the head of Knowledge Management at the World Bank, said at the Ontario KM summit in 2006 that “the learning capacity of an organization is directly related to its ability to hold conversations”.

I think he was right, don't you?

Wednesday 16 September 2015

A story of how reciprocity sparked knowledge sharing

Reciprocity is often cited as a driver for knowledge sharing behaviours, but sometimes people have to experience the benefit for themselves first. before they are willing to share with others.  This is a story about one such example.

Originally uploaded to Flickr by andrew_mc_d
Back in the days of the BP Knowledge Management program, in the late 1990s, we were travelling the world, spreading the news about Knowledge management and engaging different BP business units in conversation about the value KM could bring.

One of our tours took us to South America, where we visited several business units in various countries. One of these had been doing some great work locally on the use of LiveLink to exchange and build knowledge, and we asked whether they would be prepared to share this work with the rest of the company.

They said No.

Not because of any secrecy issues, but because they were very busy, and this was very low on their list of priority actions. Effectively it would cost them time and resource, with no payback for them, as the benefit would be for the rest of the organisation). In terms of "What's In It For Us", the answer (at the time) was "Nothing".

About a year later, the South American business unit went through a massive business restructuring, which would cause disruption to most of their activities. Their aspiration was to do this transparently and openly, with complete consultation, so that everyone in the exercise felt they had been treated well. And that is very difficult to do. So they looked around for help, and they remembered the Knowledge management program.

They called us in, we conducted a whole series of knowledge-capture interviews from past restructuring programs, and drew together the best of the lessons from the past. The South American business unit  used these lessons to inform and tailor their own program, and their restructuring went as well and as openly as they had hoped. Everyone felt they had been given choices, everyone felt they had been treated well, there were no incidents of people feeling aggrieved or upset or outraged, there were no safety incidents or production incidents caused by people getting worried or distracted.

And afterwards, the gates were open in terms of the business unit sharing knowledge with the rest of the world. It was like a switch had been thrown. Having felt the benefits of knowledge from others, they were delighted to share their own knowledge, starting with their own experiences from their own restructuring.

So what had changed?

What was now "in it for them"?

The answer is, reciprocity. They had received, and now they gave. They had felt the benefit, and so were willing to share the benefit. Instead of sharing "in case it helps someone", they would share "because it will help someone".  They were "passing the benefit forward".

So if you find a part of the business which is unwilling to share knowledge, then start by giving them  some knowledge that will make a real difference to them. Allow them to Pull before requiring them to Push. Let them feel the benefit of knowledge transfer before asking them to share the burden.

Let them receive, before asking them to give.

Monday 14 September 2015

Responsibility quote

Public domain image from wikipedia
“An individual without information cannot take responsibility;

An individual who is given information cannot help but take responsibility.”

Jan Carlson - Former Chairman, SAS Airlines

Do learning leaders create learning organisations?

Do learning organisations require learning leaders? Almost certainly they do, but will learning leaders will require their organisations to learn as well?

How well do leaders learn?

There is the stereotype of the bull-headed CEO, hanging on to their dream, forging ahead single-mindedly until they dominate the industry. But is that reality? Can leaders win in today's world without being continuous learners?

A lot of work has been done by the Korn Ferry institute on what they call "Learning Agility" in leaders (see this book for example).  I quote from one of their online reports (now no longer available).

"Successful executives learn faster than those who ‘derail’, not because they are more intelligent, but because they have the necessary skills and strategies, and are therefore ‘learning agile’. By contrast, those that do not learn from their jobs, and simply repeat their previous performance in each new role, will never become the most effective leaders"

I was reminded of this yesterday, when reading a Guardian article about the All-Blacks Rugby coach, Graham Henry, describing how his autocratic leadership style changed under challenge. Here is an excerpt

Henry says. “I was arrogant, just so up myself. And it killed me. I’m still alive but it killed me. I realised then that I had to change.” In 2005, Henry was approached by the All Black captain, Tana Umaga. “Coffee, Ted?” he said. “Alright, T,” Henry replied, thinking to himself ‘What’s going on here?’ After a while, Umaga asked: “Ted, what do you give those team talks for?” Henry thought about it. “Well, T, I thought they might provide the team with a bit of motivation, a bit of direction, before the match.” Umaga paused. “Ah, but are they for you, Ted, or are they for us?”  
 The team talk had been part of Henry’s ritual for 30 years. “You spend the week before each game building the momentum of the group. As you do that, you transfer the responsibility from the coaches to the players but then an hour before the game, there is a fella up the front telling them what to do. I realised it just didn’t fit.” He never gave another team talk.

Thats the story of a leader willing to change under challenge.  But if a leader is willing to learn and change, will they come to expect  that from their organisations?

If the future CEO is learning-agile, can we expect them to develop a similar learning agility in their organisations?

Building an agile learning organisation

The Graham Henry story certainly goes on to describe how, having dropped his autocratic style, he set about building an agile organisation involving

  • Empowerment - involving the players in building the culture and strategy of the team
  • Delegation of decision making - even the decision making within the match was delegated, with the team overriding the coaches instructions if they felt there was a better way
  • Inclusivity - bringing new players into the coaching set-up to start building their knowledge and experience
  • Contingency planning - working out what might go wrong, and havnig contingency plans

 And ultimately Henry was successful, and the All Blacks went on to win the last Rubgy World Cup.

Let's see how well they do this time!

Saturday 12 September 2015

Sharing knowledge is an unnatural act (Davenport quote)

Sharing and using knowledge are often unnatural acts. 

"If my knowledge is a valuable resource, why should I share it? If my job is to create knowledge, why should I put my job at risk by using your knowledge instead of mine? We sometimes act surprised when knowledge is not shared or used, but we would be better off assuming that the natural tendency is to hoard our own knowledge and look suspiciously on knowledge that comes from others.  
"To enter our knowledge into a system and to seek out knowledge from others is not only threatening, but also requires much effort -- so we have to be highly motivated to undertake such work. If the knowledge manager adopted this principle, we would not assume that the installation of Lotus Notes will lead to widespread sharing, or that making information available will lead to its use. We would realize that sharing and usage have to be motivated through time-honored techniques--performance evaluation, compensation, example. Some companies are beginning to employ those techniques.  
"The Lotus Development Corporation, now a division of I.B.M., devotes 25 percent of the total performance evaluation of its customer support workers to knowledge sharing. Buckman Laboratories recognizes its 100 top knowledge sharers with an annual conference at a resort. ABB ASEA Brown Boveri Ltd., the Swiss-Swedish conglomerate, evaluates managers not only on the results of their decisions, but also on the knowledge and information applied in the decision-making process".

Thursday 10 September 2015

How to promote KM through an awards system

Implementing and embedding Knowledge Management is not enough. We still need to sustain it, ensuring that it remains in people's consciousness as a key part of the way we work.  One way to do this is through awards schemes.

John Davis, Knowledge Management Representative for the 
Southwestern Division, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
 is recognized as the Outstanding Knowledge Management 
Professional of the Year by Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick, 
chief of engineers and commanding general of the U.S. Army 
Corps of Engineers for his commitment in advancing, 
advocating and implementing KM across SWD. 
The Division was also recognized as the Top 
Division/Center of the Year for its implementation of KM
I often use the military as an exemplar organisation when describing the full adoption and embedding of knowledge  management. Through policies and principles, resources, processes and technology they have made KM a core part of the way they operate.

It was therefore interesting to come across this article which shows the use of awards to recognise good KM performers within the Army.

The article describes how the Southwestern Division of the Corps of Engineers was recognised  as an early adopter of KM, and how SWD's impact to the Corps’ Knowledge Management has been substantial, demonstrating improvements in business processes, embedding knowledge sharing in the workflow, and mapping and sharing knowledge in support of mission execution.

The Southwestern Division was given the  Top Division/Center of the Year award for its implementation of KM, and its principal KM Representative, John Davis was selected as the Outstanding Knowledge Management Professional of the Year.

You can see John explaining more about KM in the Army Corps of Engineers in a facebook video.

Wednesday 9 September 2015

The two factors that control KM team size

Here is another interesting result from our Knowledge Management survey, on the two factors that seem to control the size of KM teams. 

I say "seem to" as correlation does not imply causation.

The graph here combines results from three questions:

  • How big is your KM team
  • How big is you organization
  • How mature is your KM initiative
It seeks to test whether KM team size grows or shrinks as implementation progresses.

The graph shows, with a remarkable level of consistency, that KM team size is linked both with organization size and with KM maturity. 

I expected to see the first correlation, as it is intuitively obvious that the larger the organization, the larger the size of the KM team.  I did not expect to see the second correlation. 

Intuitively I expected that a KM team would be biggest during the implementation phase, but would slim down once KM was embedded.  This is not what the data show.  Instead the KM team s are largest where KM is fully embedded. 

There are two ways to interpret these results
1) KM team size should be expected to grow as KM implementation progresses, or
2) it is only those organizations with well-resourced KM teams that reach the point of fully embedded KM.

Contact Knoco for advice on selecting and building your KM team

Tuesday 8 September 2015

Why do people network?

There can be many reasons why people network, but there always has to be a "What's in it for me".

Image from
Here is a quote from a community of practice leader I used to work with.

"...people do not network (using a noun as a verb, here) without very good reason. Certainly they may have common interests, or even needs, but this is not sufficient. What they also need is the belief that there is something in it for them, to make it worth their while participating. This could be things like getting direct help with problem-solving on their own projects; learning about similar problems to their own in the hope of inspiration; getting satisfaction from helping others; or generally getting to be known around the company as a learned, wise and helpful expert. You may well be able to think of other reasons."

In this context, we are talking not about any old networking - networking on Linkedin to find a job for example, or social networking on Facebook to keep in touch with friends. We are talking about communities of practice, where the purpose of networking is to exchange and find knowledge about our area of practice.

The quote makes reference to three important "What's in it for me" propositions;

  • The community member can get direct help in solving their problems, by asking questions for others to supply solutions
  • The community member can gain inspiration and new ways of looking at their work by observing the conversations within the community
  • The community member can gain status by answering questions and providing inspiration.

The first two are value propositions for everyone but particularly for the less experienced members, while the last value proposition is mainly for those with experience. The junior staff should see networking as a valuable tool in helping them perform. The senior staff should see it as part of their responsibility, and a way to raise profile.

Monday 7 September 2015

How communities of practice extend beyond social.

The power of communities of practice lies in allowing us to go beyond our personal knowledge base, and that of our personal social networks, to tap into the knowledge of people we do not know and may never meet. 

Once upon a time, we all relied on what we knew as individuals. Certainly this was true at school - we relied on what we held in our own heads to be able to write our term papers or pass our exams.

When we got to work, we found that this was not enough, and we started to build personal and social networks of people we had met, people we knew and people we trusted. We found that they would share their knowledge with us, and that gave us access to much more knowledge - maybe the knowledge of dozens of people.

Now there are online Communities of Practice in many organisations. The great thing about these communities is that they can give us access to knowledge beyond our personal networks,. They can give us access to knowledge from people we have no social tie to. People we have never met, never seen, and possibly never will. Access to knowledge from hundreds of people - into the thousands sometimes.

Trusting a community

The issue of trust in these communities is an interesting one. There is no way we can know these people - the limit seems to be about 150 people in a social group, so the community expands way beyond this. We can't know them, so can we trust them? And if we can't trust them, then will we use their knowledge?

The way communities seem to work, is that people trust the process and trust the system. They trust "the community" rather than the individuals. If the community coordinator makes sure that the community is a safe place to be, and that questions and pleas for help are answered promptly and not laughed at or ignored, then people will trust the community itself, even if they only know a fraction of the people.

  • When I access my own knowledge, I access the knowledge of 1
  • When I access the knowledge of my personal network, I access the knowledge of dozens
  • When I access the knowledge of the community, I access the knowledge of hundreds.

Contact Knoco for advice on your Community of Practice strategy

Friday 4 September 2015

The innovation spectrum

Innovating and Knowledge Re-using form part of a spectrum. Each behaviour has it's place. Either behaviour is counterproductive in the wrong context. 

Innovation in the wrong context is "re-inventing the wheel". Re-using knowledge in the wrong context is "flogging a dead horse".

The graphic below shows the spectrum of innovative behaviour in different contexts linked to the maturity of the knowledge in question.

Innovation is the required behaviour when new knowledge is needed and no applicable knowledge exists to do the job. Here the risks and costs of innovation are entirely justified investments in future success. Here we are talking about breakthrough or step-out innovation (often identified through processes such as Deep Dive) and the development of new process or new product.

Improvement (small innovations to make existing process or product better) is the required behaviour when the current knowledge or design can be improved without being re-invented. The small innovations (often identified through processes such as After Action review, Kaizen or Retrospect, or in Community of Practice discussions) drive continuous improvement.

Tinkering is common behaviour when people are re-using knowledge but wish to "make it their own" through adapting before adopting. Provided they understand the risks of making changes (which means that the knowledge must come with documented "know-why" as well as "know-how"), tinkering has a neutral effect on performance while enhancing the user's willingness to apply the knowledge.

Meddling is common behaviour where there is a strong "Not Invented Here" culture, and where the knowledge is not documented well enough that people understand the risks of changing it. Here people adapt the existing knowledge so much that it no longer works. Meddling can have a negative effect on performance. 

Re-inventing is where people either are unaware that applicable knowledge exists, or cannot find it, or do not trust it when they do find it. Re-inventing is very costly to the organisation, and results in repeated mistakes, and repeated spend of money trying to re-solve problems where the answer is already known. 

Innovation is therefore not always desired behaviour. Innovation carries risk, and where an adequate solution exists, there is less risk in following this solution.

This is something to remember when tempted to promote a "culture of innovation". I remember a manager in a high-reliability, high-risk industry saying to me "I wish my people were not so innovative - then our projects would be cheaper and safer".

Make sure you focus your innovation efforts where they are needed the most, and not where they turn into meddling and re-inventing.

Thursday 3 September 2015

knowledge mismanagement

There is a school of thought that every organisation does knowledge management. This is not correct - many organisations practice knowledge mismanagement.

I think the idea that "every organisation does knowledge management - they just don't recognise it/call it something different/haven't formalised it" comes from the recognition that all organisations work with knowledge.

Knowledge is certainly a resource, or a potential resource, for all organisations, but that it not to say that they manage the resource. Common symptoms of knowledge mismanagement are as follows:

  • Crucial knowledge left in the heads of people, and lost when the people retire
  • Critical knowledge stored in databases to which the rest of the organisation has no access
  • No time spent to capture knowledge gained on projects
  • No time spent to seek knowledge to help inform plans and decisions
  • No maintenance of exiting knowledge assets or knowledge stores
  • No consistent taxonomy for stored knowledge
  • No effective search technology
  • Incentives for internal competition, which hinders or blocks knowledge sharing
  • Incentives (formal or otherwise) for knowledge reinvention
  • Rewards for "personal knowing" - promotion and job security for the experts who hoard knowledge
  • No messages from senior management about the importance of knowledge
  • Inappropriate rules on internal information security

If you managed any other resource in this way, it would be termed mismanagement, and a breach of good company practice. 

Financial mismanagement is defined by Wikipedia as

"management that, deliberately or not, is handled in a way that can be characterized as wrong, bad, careless, inefficient or incompetent and that will reflect negatively upon the financial standing of a business or individual".

We could similarly define Knowledge mismanagement as

"management that, deliberately or not, is handled in a way that can be characterized as wrong, bad, careless, inefficient or incompetent and that will reflect negatively upon the knowledge-related performance of a business or individual".
Note that the mismanagement does not have to be deliberate - just careless or inefficient

Instead, lets take care of knowledge, in an efficient and competent way. 

Wednesday 2 September 2015

Who are the knowledge workers?

The knowledge workers represent one of your two main stakeholder groupings for Knowledge Management implementation. But who exactly are they?

Firstly we can eliminate from the group "knowledge worker" anyone who is purely a manual worker - someone who follows orders or preassigned inflexible procedures. Labourers on a construction site, individuals on an assembly line and so on.  These are not the customers for KM.

However they could become knowledge workers.

Toyota led the way in showing that assembly line workers could become knowledge workers, if you involve them in analysing the work they do. Kaizen-style meetings provide a format where the manual workers can become knowledge workers, accountable not just for doing the work, but improving the way the work is done.

If we eliminate any manual workers that remain, we are left with a group we can call the decision makers.  These are people who need to use knowledge and judgement in order to do their work.  The better the knowledge we can supply them with, the better the judgements they will make.

This definition of knowledge worker includes people such as;

  • Engineers making design decisions
  • Sales staff deciding how to sell to a customer
  • Lawyers trying to decide the best legal solution
  • R&D scientists trying to develop new technology
  • Government staff determining policies
  • Aid and development staff trying to design and apply interventions
  • Medical staff making decisions about patients
  • Soldiers making decisions on the battlefield
  • Maintenance engineers trying to decide how to maximise the utility of equipment
and so on.

Don't forget the managers

Then there is a group which is often neglected in KM initiatives - the middle and upper managers. 

Management also make decisions, and often very big decisions, with costly implications. They also need access to the best knowledge they can find, and if your KM program cannot help them they will need to hire in expensive external consultants. 

So the following are also knowledge workers;

  • Project managers making decisions on major (and minor) projects
  • Divisional managers making decisions about market penetration
  • Sales managers deciding how to enter new markets
  • Plant managers deciding how to optimise their plant
  • Senior managers deciding how to set up new business
  • Senior managers making decisions about acquisitions and divestment
  • Technical managers, making decisions about developing organisational capability
and so on

One of our clients focused their KM applications at senior level, and likened this to "KM removing the thorn from the lion's paw". If you solve the lion's problems, the lion will always be on your side!

The biggest decisions are made at the highest level, and there the need for knowledge may be greatest and the application of knowledge can yield the best return. That's where some of the thorniest issues can be resolved through the application of Knowledge.  That's where some of your most influential knowledge workers reside.

How to address the knowledge workers in your KM program

Early in your KM implementation program, identify your customer base, and determine how best to support them.

  1. Conduct a stakeholder analysis
  2. Clarify who the knowledge workers are, at all levels
  3. Get to know their knowledge needs
  4. Ask how they would like KM to support them in their work
  5. Find out their high-value knowledge
  6. Determine the places where KM will add greatest value
  7. Don't forget the middle and senior managers- solving their KM problems will often add more value than solving lower level problems, and what is more will gain you that much-needed senior support. 

Contact us if you need help in analysing your stakeholders - at all levels in the organisation.

Tuesday 1 September 2015

Why less is better in KM

Last week I had a conversation with a knowledge manager, who explained to me the incentive system they use. My heart sank.

In this particular organisation, people are incentivised to share knowledge. For each article they publish they are awarded "points". If they accumulate enough points, then they can trade them in for a reward.

"Is there any quality control on the publishing" I asked? No, was the answer.
"Do you give any points for re-using knowledge?". "No"
The result was an ever-expanding supply of poor quality material, with no demand.

This reminded me of another client, which required each person to publish ten items every year.  In an organisation of 100,000 people, that was a million items per year, with no quality control, no filtering, no re-use, no guidance on what to publish; no strategy other than to flood the knowledge base with documents.

Both of these organisations were falling into a common dual-aspect trap;

  • incentivising Push (supply of knowledge) and paying no attention to Pull (demand for knowledge), and
  • incentivising publishing quantity at the expense of quality.

More knowledge is not necessarily better. 

There are many cases where too much knowledge, especially where this knowledge is poor quality, is counter-productive. 

  • A situation where a user is already bombarded by a "Knowledge firehose" will not be made better by turning up the flow
  • As I found in another client recently, a lessons data base which is overly full of poor quality lessons is a frustrating experience for the user. "We cant find what we need, and when we do, its not helpful" was common feedback, and users seldom visited the database a second time. 
  • Another client, again rewarding publishing, but with no structure and guidance, was proud to see wikis popping up all over the place, not seeming to see the problem in having 5 competing wikis on the subject of Knowledge Management, for example. 

Davenport and Prusak, in their seminal "Working Knowledge" point out that over-volumed knowledge bases do not work. 

"Volume may be the friend of data management" they wrote - "but it is the enemy of knowledge management"
Too much knowledge requires the user - and each user in turn - to  filter the volume of material to find the relevant and timely knowledge, and as the volume increases, the task gets harder and harder, and people just give up. It's easier to reinvent the wheel, than to find the correct wheel in a junkyard.

Go for "less and better"

The lessons from these observations are relatively simple, though perhaps counter-intuitive in the early stages of KM.

  • Incentivise quality (usefulness and utility) of published knowledge, not quantity
  • Introduce a synthesis step, so new knowledge does not accumulate like a snowdrift, but is used to refine what is already known
Aim for less and better. 

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