Thursday, 29 October 2015

Who'd have though a bomber could be grounded by forgetting?

In stories about yesterday’s final flight of the Vulcan bomber, a small detail caught my eye. 

As reported in the Daily Telegraph, The Vulcan To The Sky Trust, which brought the 55-year-old aircraft back to flight eight years ago, has accepted advice from supporting companies that they no longer have the expertise to keep it airworthy as engineers retire from the industry.” 

Perhaps it is not surprising that there are few people employed nowadays with the right knowledge to keep a now obsolete aircraft flying.  What is surprising however, is that for younger aircraft still in service, there remains this issue of experienced engineers retiring and the risk associated with that.

I have written before about Knowledge Retention and Transfer programmes and how companies are using them to address this risk.  What I haven’t stressed before is that even this initiative is a ‘sticking plaster’ solution.

A longer-term, enduring approach is one that does not let engineers get anywhere near retirement age with all that valuable knowledge locked inside their heads.  That knowledge is not theirs alone since it has been created and accumulated on their employers’ time and with the help of their colleagues.  It should be treated as such.

This means recognising that knowledge is an asset and developing knowledge management frameworks to manage it accordingly.

Come visit the Knoco website to find out more.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

It’s always what we do that matters, not what we say (Part One)

We’re all individuals, keen to be treated as such but, put us in big groups and I’ll wager we’re most of us all the same. 
Why do I say this?
This weekend I was meeting a friend of a friend who had heard what I do for a living but wanted to know more; so I explained briefly what knowledge management is.  My new acquaintance asked me, “Do you enjoy what you do?” and I replied, “I love it.”  He asked me why and so I said, “Because what I do brings me directly into contact with the human condition.”
His frown showed I needed to explain what I meant and he seemed interested enough to hear my take on what.
“Because basically, no matter what we do for a living, where we live or how old we are…we’re pretty much all the same.  We want to be respected, to feel like we make a difference.  We want to be rewarded and we want security, as far as possible.  Most of us prefer to be popular than unpopular and we don’t like hurting other people, or even merely embarrassing them.  We want people to think well of us and most of us avoid conflict whenever possible.”
He nodded along and then said, “So?”  So I continued, “So, when faced with a situation that we fear will put these things at risk, we all do the same thing.  We minimise embarrassment for ourselves and others; we avoid awkwardness and far prefer choppy waters to be smoothed than stirred up even more.  We mostly tell people what we think they want to hear or, at the very least, will pull our punches so as not to make things any worse.  In short, we won’t tell anyone what we really think or how we really feel unless we feel 100% safe and secure and whoever feels like that at work?”
Again, he asked, “So?” “So…if we are ever going to improve anything, if we are ever going to learn from the past and make the future better, we need to know all that there is to know about whatever problem we face.  We need people to be honest, which means we need to let them feel it’s okay to be honest, which means they mustn’t fear demotion or the sack if they tell the truth, or even just embarrassment for offering a different point of view.  That takes time and effort and real, brace leadership from those at the top.  They need to show by what they do and say that they value integrity and honesty and moral courage because otherwise all they’ll get, indeed all that most organisations get is defensiveness, dishonesty and fear.”
I pulled out a pen and piece of paper and drew this picture of 2 stick-men with ‘speech bubbles’ representing their conversation and ‘thought clouds’ above each man’s head.  “Most problems in the world are down to poor communication, with people either unable, or downright refusing, to express what they think and feel. This is because they’re unsure what they think or feel or because they know all too well what they think or feel but are uncomfortable with sharing that with others.  Now, we tell each other the things in the speech bubbles and yet everything we do is shaped by what is in the thought clouds. Getting people to share those inner thoughts and feelings is at the heart of what knowledge management and organisational learning is all about.  It’s incredibly difficult and, quite frankly, a thankless task but, when it works, if only briefly, it’s very rewarding.”
He smiled and bought me a pint.
To be continued….

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

KM down on the farm - or, have tent and KM, will camp!

A few weeks ago I went camping in Dorset with my family and that of my brother. He and his wife have been camping a few times and have a lot of the necessary gear.  My wife and I have not, so we borrowed loads of bits and pieces from a friend – I wasn’t going to spend a small fortune on the latest tent technology only to be informed that we would not be camping again.

As things turned out, the week was a great success, despite the pouring rain for much of it.  Furthermore, the whole experience proved a useful vehicle for demonstrating the value of knowledge management.  A few examples:
Knowledge is most useful when recent and relevant – I served for over 10 years as an officer in the British Army and have spent more than my fair share of nights outdoors, under canvas, under trees and under nothing else but the stars.  Now, some of my experience was, and will always be, useful for a domestic camping trip but I will be the first to admit that my brother’s more recent and directly relevant experience was far more useful.  This should be borne in mind when planning a Peer Assist, for example.  Having him on hand when it came to erecting and collapsing our tent proved invaluable and, whilst both operations were time-consuming, they’d have taken far longer had I not had his knowledge on hand or, worse still, had I wanted to ‘do it all myself’;
  • Lessons are not learned until you change something – throughout the week, we all noticed things that either did not go as well as we had hoped (e.g. an inflatable mattress with even the slightest hole in it will leave you lying on the cold ground come morning) or far surpassed our expectations (e.g. portable ‘fire pits’ (i.e. the inner metal rim of a lorry wheel) are excellent and well worth the small charge to hire them).  When this happened, someone would invariably sing out, “Ha, a lesson learned!” only for me to boringly respond, “No, a lesson identified. It’ll only be learned if we change things next time round.”
  • Clothing and equipment lists can be valuable knowledge assets – this first time camping as a family was a bit of a leap in the dark as we weren’t 100% sure what we needed and ended up with far more stuff than necessary.  I need to create a list based on: what we used and was invaluable; what we had with us but never used and what we lacked but would really like to have with us next time around.  The problem is, I’ve not yet created this list and already my memory is fading, demonstrating my next point, namely:
  • Wait too long to capture knowledge and its gone – when we got back from our trip: tired, in need of a decent shower and still just about on speaking terms with one another, the last thing I wanted to do was sit down and write up the lessons of our trip.  But I should have done it there and then because with every passing day my recollections become less reliable and I run the risk of filling in the gaps with rubbish, as sometimes happens when project lessons capture sessions are held far too long after the project is finished.  Perhaps I’m being harsh, most projects don’t capture lessons at all so some late and inaccurate ones might be better than nothing.
So there we are: camping holidays – not for everyone but as a way of demonstrating how KM helps us save time, stay dry and have fun, they’re great.
Now, I wonder if I can book a beach holiday in the Caribbean on the company, just to compare and contrast….
For a conversation about KM, Peer Assists, lessons learned (or otherwise) and Knowledge Assets, do contact me direct or visit the Knoco website.