Saturday, 9 May 2015

When will they ever learn? How KM can help our politicians....

Here in the UK, the dust is settling after the most surprising general election result for over 20 years.  All pollsters, commentators and the politicians themselves thought we were heading for a hung parliament.  But they were wrong.

The media had even set up studios opposite the Houses of Parliament that were thought necessary to cover the anticipated negotiations between parties that had not managed to win an overall majority.  The awnings and scaffolding are being taken down this weekend.

David Cameron, the Conservative Party has won a majority whilst the Scottish National Party (SNP) has taken all but 3 parliamentary seats in Scotland.  The Labour Party lost 10% of its Members of Parliament (MP), including several senior figures that had thought they would be Cabinet members by now.  The Liberal Democrats lost 47 MPs, retaining a paltry 8.  The UK Independence Party (UKIP), punished by the first-past-the-post electoral system, polled nearly 4 million votes yet now has only one MP – a perhaps unfair quirk of FPTP requiring concentration of votes more than numbers alone. (For example, the SNP polled a third of UKIP’s number of votes yet added 50 MPs to its numbers because of this clustering).

The obvious fall-out so far?
·        Ed Miliband has resigned as leader of The Labour Party;
·        Nick Clegg has resigned as leader of The Liberal Democrats;
·        Nigel Farage has resigned as leader of UKIP;
·        An independent inquiry will examine how the pre-election opinion polls got it so wrong.
Much of media discussion since the election has focused on these negative consequences (for those concerned, naturally) and speculation over what lessons can be learned.  Many presume that Labour and the Liberal Democrats in particular now have to examine what went wrong and try to put it right in time for the next election, scheduled for 2020.

This analysis is not wrong but it is unhelpful for those of us that use knowledge management (KM) in general and ‘lessons learned’ in particular to improve performance.  (A comprehensive look at lessons and what should be done with them to drive performance starts here.)

Why unhelpful?  Because it reinforces the idea that lessons are negative and that we only learn when we make mistakes.  We can and should learn when things go according to plan also.  Where outcomes exceed expectations there is surely an even greater need to learn why, to ensure that such success is repeated and not wasted?

It is not just the ‘losers’ that should try to identify lessons but the ‘winners’ as well.

So, whilst David Cameron is selecting his new Government, and Nicola Sturgeon (i.e. the leader of the SNP) plans how to use the enhanced influence her Westminster MPs will bring her, they should also set in train the processes by which we learn from recent events.

Team-based After Action Reviews should be held, as well as larger Retrospects.  Key individuals should be interviewed and the knowledge of highest value (i.e. how to campaign; how to record voting intentions; how to target key voters; how to win!), identified, captured, shared and any good practice replicated and embedded within party procedures.  Knowledge Assets and Learning Histories should be created or updated.  Party workers approaching retirement or those leaving for pastures new should contribute also.  There is much that can be done, although this may not seem necessary to some.  Indeed, whilst the ‘losers’ plainly see the need for change, those happy with the results might not. 

Moreover, there is the risk that obvious successes might obscure mistakes that have been made but which seem inconsequential in the warm glow of victory.  Failing to identify and address these now might mean victory is not repeated.

Real adaptive learning is hard enough in commercial organisations, with those implementing KM initiatives often needing to be ‘politically savvy’ and well-attuned to the dominant culture.  In the world of actual politics, red in tooth and claw, it might appear all but impossible.

Doesn’t mean it shouldn’t happen but it does mean expert advice would be useful.

If any recently depressed or elated politician wants such advice, please contact Knoco for help!