Monday, 26 July 2021

Leaders are knowledge workers too

We often approach leaders and try to sell KM on the benefits it will deliver to their staff, forgetting that leaders are knowledge workers too.

If we think of knowledge workers are "people who make decisions for a living", then managers and leaders are also knowledge workers.

All levels of management 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. 

Each of these management-level knowledge workers needs access to knowledge in order to make the correct decisions and take the correct actions;

  • 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

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.

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!

Also once your managers understand the value of KM and begin to develop T-shaped management behaviours, these behaviours will spread rapidly to the staff below them, and then the next level down, and so on. It's far easier to drive a pervasive culture change from above than it is from below. 

Monday, 19 July 2021

The Knowledge Manager as Supply Chain manager - an analogy

If Knowledge Management is like a supply chain for knowledge, then the Knowledge Manager is the Supply Chain manager.

Image from wikipedia japan

I have blogged many times about the analogy between Knowledge Management and a supply chain for knowledge. Like all analogies, this is limited (the view of the supply chain, which implies a supplier and a user, can be balanced by a view of knowledge co-creation and emergence, for example), but can also be a very useful lens through which to examine KM.

 A corollary of this idea is that the Knowledge Manager for the organisation or division takes the role of the Supply Chain manager for knowledge.  The knowledge manager does not create the knowledge nor use it, but is accountable for its creation and supply to the user.

We can explore this idea by looking at the job description of a supply chain manager, and seeing how this translates into KM terms. The supply chain job description below is taken from here and here.

Supply chain manager job description

Knowledge manager job description

Supply Chain Managers plan, develop, optimize, organize, direct, manage, evaluate, and are accountable and/or responsible for some or all of the supply chains processes of organizations. Knowledge Managers plan, develop, optimize, organize, direct, manage, evaluate, and are accountable and/or responsible for some or all of the knowledge management processes of organizations.
Diagram supply chain models to help facilitate discussions with customers.Diagram knowledge management models to help facilitate discussions with knowledge users.
Select transportation routes to maximize economy by combining shipments or consolidating warehousing and distribution.Select knowledge transfer approaches to maximize efficiency and effectiveness
Assess appropriate material handling equipment needs and staffing levels to load, unload, move, or store materials. Assess appropriate KM staffing levels for knowledge creation, transfer, storage, synthesis and re-use.
Confer with supply chain planners to forecast demand or create supply plans that ensure availability of materials or products. Confer with the business to forecast the demand for knowledge; create strategies and plans that ensure availability of knowledge as and when needed.
Define performance metrics for measurement, comparison, or evaluation of supply chain factors, such as product cost or quality. Define performance metrics for measurement, comparison, or evaluation of KM factors, such as knowledge availability or quality.
Monitor supplier performance to assess ability to meet quality and delivery requirements. Monitor knowledge supplier performance (eg the the knowledge supply from projects or from research) to assess ability to meet quality and delivery requirements.
Analyze information about supplier performance or procurement program success. Analyze information about knowledge supplier performance or knowledge creation / acquisition program success.
Meet with suppliers to discuss performance metrics, to provide performance feedback, or to discuss production forecasts or changes.Meet with knowledge suppliers to discuss performance metrics, to provide performance feedback, or to discuss new knowledge needs.
Design or implement plant warehousing strategies for production materials or finished products Design or implement storage and synthesis strategies for documented knowledge
Analyze inventories to determine how to increase inventory turns, reduce waste, or optimize customer service. Analyze knowledge stores to determine how to increase re-use, reduce waste, or optimize customer service.
Review or update supply chain practices in accordance with new or changing environmental policies, standards, regulations, or laws.Review or update KM practices in accordance with new or changing standards and requirements.
Implement new or improved supply chain processes.Implement new or improved KM processes.

But what's different?

The main difference between the role of the supply chain manager and the role of the Knowledge Manager is that the supply chain manager can assume that there is a customer for their services. They can assume that there are manufacturing workers who are ready and waiting for the supply of parts and materials.

The  Knowledge Manager cannot assume this.

The Knowledge Manager also has to work as a Demand Chain Manager; stimulating the demand for knowledge, and introducing the process and systems by which knowledge is sought, as well as those by which it is supplied.

Also, as stated above, there are elements of KM which are more collaborative and less of a flow process.

But where knowledge flows from supplier to user, then the knowledge manager can see herself acting as a supply chain manager, with some of the accountabilities listed above.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

5 steps to KM culture change

There are 5 generic steps to go through when introducing a Knowledge management culture. These are as follows.

  1. Define the culture you want to develop. Don't define it in woolly terms - "we want a knowledge sharing culture" - but define it in terms of the attitudes and behaviours you wish to become the default within the organisation (culture can be seen as a set of default attitudes and behaviours). These might be things like
  • People are open about their successes and failures 
  • We welcome new knowledge, whatever the source
  • People feel valued for how well they learn, rather than what they already know
  • People’s default behaviour is to share knowledge with others 
  • Collaboration gets you noticed and is rewarded, etc. 
  1. Measure the culture you currently have. Again, measure specific beliefs, attitudes and behaviours. Measure leaders and knowledge workers alike. Measure what people think about their own behaviour, and what they think about the behaviour and attitudes of others. Use focus groups and/or surveys. We have a KM culture survey which we can run for you, if you like, which measures 10 dimensions of a KM culture.
  2. Identify the main gaps between the existing and desired attitudes and behaviours. What are the main behaviours and attitudes you want to address first?
  3. Identify what is causing those gaps. Focus groups will help you here. Look at factors such as 
  • The reward, recognition and bonus scheme
  • The messages leaders give
  • The stories people tell
  • The reasons why people get promoted
  • The organisational policies (for example information security)
  • The layout of the building
  • etc
  1. Address these factors in order of priority.
  • Revise the reward and recognition scheme so knowledge seeking and sharing are rewarded rather than individual heroics
  • Revise the bonus scheme in a similar way 
  • Give the leaders new messages
  • Tell new stories
  • Promote different people
  • Change or clarify the organisational policies. 
  • Write a KM policy.
  • Change the office layout if needed.

We can help you with this if you like - contact us to find out more about our KM culture services.

Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Knowledge recycling - Re-use, review and improve

Re-use, review and improve are the three basic components of any Knowledge Management cycle

Start a piece of work by re-using knowledge that already exists, in preference to starting from a blank sheet, or re-inventing the wheel. There will be times when there is no knowledge to re-use and you have to start from scratch, but 8 times out of 10, when faced by an unfamiliar problem, there is already knowledge somewhere in your organisation or network which you can build upon. You just need to seek it, find it and pick the brains of those who have it.

Once you have re-used and built upon the existing knowledge, and successfully finished the task or the project, it's time to review. Hold an After Action review or a Retrospect, and collect your lessons, What was supposed to happen? What actually happened? What have you learned? How reliable was the knowledge? Was anything missing? Have you learned something new?

Once the review is complete, improve the knowledge. If the knowledge is documented, say in a manual or a wiki, then fill in any gaps, and add any additional knowledge you have gained.  If it is undocumented, share the new knowledge within your community of practice. By improving the knowledge, you pass it on to the next person in a better state than when you found it. Over time the knowledge gets better and better, and more and more refined. 

Through a combination of re-use, review, improve you are contributing to a continuous improvement loop for knowledge, which will help you and your colleagues continuously improve delivery. 

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

The KM team's post-Covid request to senior management

This letter to senior management from the KM team represents the deal you need to strike with the leaders in your organisation. 

This is a post which I reprise very 5 years or so, given its importance. It's even more important now, as your leaders start to consider what the post-Covid landscape might look like

Businessmen from Tyler
Dear Senior Managers

Over the past year, our experience in remote working has shown that there is huge value to be delivered to the organisation through introducing a systematic managed approach to knowledge (insert here some evidence of the value KM has brought).

As we consider the post-Covid world, we can see that this value needs to continue and to grow.  We, the KM team, commit to delivering this value to you, but we need something in return.

Here are our requests for you

1.  We need you to steer our program. Help us to understand what knowledge is strategic to the organisation, so that KM activities can fully support your own strategic agenda. Let's work together to make KM a core supporter of the business strategy.

2. We need your endorsement. We need you to be talking about the importance of knowledge. We need you to be asking the questions "Who have you learned from?" and "Who will you share this with?" Eventually we will be asking you to set clear expectations for KM in the organisation in the form of a Knowledge Management Policy.

3. We need your example. As someone once said, "I cannot hear what you say, for the thunder of what you do", so you need to be acting, as well as talking. Get involved in KM. Hold your own learning reviews. Capture and share and build knowledge at senior management level.

4. We need you to reward and recognise wisely. KM requires a change in culture, and people will be very alert to how you recognise behaviours. If you reward and recognise the wrong things, such as internal competition, or the lone hero who "doesn't need to learn", or the knowledge hoarders who keep it all "in their heads", then our good work of culture change will be in vain. Recognise instead those who learn before doing, those who share hard-won lessons, and those who show bravery in admitting to mistakes from which others can learn.

5. We need you to be consistent in how you follow up expectations. The company will watch how you deal with the project that doesn't hold a learning review, or the expert who neglects their community. If you let them get away with bad KM behaviours, you have sent a strong message to the organisation; that you can refuse to be involved in KM, and nobody will make a fuss.

6. Finally, we need you to challenge us. We know the value of KM, and you need to challenge us to use it to make a real step-change in business deliverables.

Together, we can make a real difference through knowledge management.


the KM team

Monday, 21 June 2021

7 cultural barriers to KM, and how to break them

There are many cultural barriers to Knowledge Management implementation, and all of them can be broken

break through
Break Through by Joel Bombardier on Flickr

There are several cultural elements that can stand in the way of successful Knowledge Management. Some of these barriers are listed below, with thoughts on how they may be successfully overcome

Knowledge is power

Despite the real meaning of the term, "knowledge is power", as used nowadays, is the barrier where people fear that sharing knowledge will harm their status. Instead, help people realise that sharing knowledge increases collective power, that being generous with your knowledge helps their status, and that accessing the knowledge of others makes them more effective. Tell them stories like this one to show that hoarding knowledge actually decreases your power and influence. 

Not invented here

"Not invented here" is a symptom of an unwillingness to learn, and there is absolutely no point in creating the best knowledge sharing system if your organization has a learning problem. Set people challenges that they can't solve using solely their own knowledge; drive the desire to learn by pushing them out of their comfort zone. Make sure leaders set the example by not having to have all the answers themselves. Redefine “here”, so “here” could mean “this community” or “this company”, not just “this team”. Then outlaw NIH completely.

Building empires

This is a result of rewarding internal competition, which means that people build silos for personal security and reward. Focus instead on building communities which cross-cut organisational divisions, on removing all incentives for internal competition, and on bridging the silos. Build bigger tribes, and empires that cross the silos.

Individual work bias/Local focus

Here people are incentivised solely by their own contribution, which disinentivises sharing with others. Promote and reward work in teams and communities, and show how this gives better results

Fear of "not knowing"

This is the Knower v Learner issue. Here people are unwilling to look for knowledge from others, in case they appear personally incapable. Help people realise that it is better to look widely for solutions that to rely on your own personal store of knowledge, and that the wisest person asks the most questions. Address the knower behaviours, and turn the knowers into learners.

Penalising errors

Help people learn that mistakes are OK so long as you learn from them and share that learning, and so long as you are not repeating someone else’s mistakes (or even worse, repeating your own). Introduce a just culture, and provide "rubber rooms" where sharing knowledge from mistakes can be done in safety.

No time to share

This is the "busy trap" in KM. Very often people say "we don't have the time for Knowledge Management".  But in fact, it's not a question of time, it's a question of priority. Capturing and sharing and resusing knowledge needs to be seen as part of the job, not an add-on, and just as much a priority as many other management aspects of the way we work.

For an in-depth analysis of the cultural barriers at your organisation, and for further guidance on how to remove them, contact us.

Thursday, 17 June 2021

The 6 elements of the KM delivery structure

What's the most effective delivery structure for KM? We discuss this below.

We recommend six components to the knowledge management delivery and reporting structure, shown here.

1. In the centre is the Chief Knowledge Officer, or head of Knowledge Management; accountable for delivering, maintaining and continually improving the KM framework.  This blog post describes the role of the CKO.

2. The CKO is supported by the KM team, who work with the CKO to deliver KM. This blog contains many posts about the role of the team, the size of the KM team, and the skills of the KM team.

3. The CKO and the KM team work with the KM community of practice - a community of the KM champions and other people with KM roles within the business.

4. The CKO reports to the KM sponsor - the senior executive who provides the budget for the KM team and acts as internal customer for KM delivery.

5. The CKO and sponsor are supported by a steering team (as described in this blog post). This is an active team of diverse senior leaders from within the main business units and functions, who help direct the KM implement effort by providing guidance, advice and challenge.

6. Finally the CKO and KM team draw on the support of good, trusted, external KM consultants. An experienced consultant can provide coaching, training and advice, and can take some of the more specialist KM tasks such as assessment, scanning or cultural baselining, where an external viewpoint is most important. 

Blog Archive