Thursday, 24 November 2016

A quick win here, a success story there - how to change the culture sneakily....

Sometimes, we need to be direct.  Other times, we need to do things differently.

Indeed, many successful warriors throughout history have used what is known as the 'indirect approach'.  At the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon feinted weakness on his right in order to punch a hole through the extended lines of Austrian soldiers on the Pratzen Heights. 

More recently, a former Commanding Officer of mine (ex-SAS, awarded the Military Cross in Gulf War 1) characterised the approach thus, "It's like tapping the shoulder of the biggest, ugliest bloke in the bar, then turning with him to remain hidden and hitting him the sharpest, heaviest object you can find, before kicking his legs from underneath him and stamping on his face as hard as you possibly can...."

Those were the days....

More recently, I had a call with a client, the aim of which was to explain the Knoco approach to knowledge management (KM) and win his support for a KM project we hope to run for them next year.  At one point, he said, "Everything you've said has resonated with me, Rupert.  I'm just concerned that our culture might be a problem.  You can take a horse to water but can't make it drink.  We can provide people with the tools they need to capture and share knowledge but they still won't do it."

This is a common concern amongst clients.  Indeed, when we perform a KM assessment, culture is one of the areas we examine, under the area of Governance.  And we sometimes find that organisations have all the technology tools they could ever hope for but are nevertheless not sharing with one another.  Indeed, the problem can be compounded by some tools being duplicated, with some teams using Tool A for this function, and others using Tools B or C.

I have written about a 'learning culture' many times (e.g. all listed here).  I think culture can both help and hinder KM work, as well as itself being shaped by it.

Culture is both a symptom and a cause and is therefore difficult to tackle head-on.  The culture of a place can be described as 'the way things are done around here'.  It is the sum of everyone's hopes, fears, beliefs and values.  These in turn are the responses people make to behaviour.  Culture influences, and is influenced by, the way people work together.

Culture change programmes can work but are notoriously difficult and all too often abandoned because whilst people often seek and welcome change, they do not like to feel that they themselves are being changed.  After all, in the words of Peter Senge, "The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back." (Page 58, The Fifth Discipline)

So, instead of forcing behaviour upon people, KM managers should identify ways to make them want to behave that way because it's clearly the right thing to do.

How can they do this?

By identifying so-called 'pain points', and using KM to alleviate the pain, KM managers can win support for further KM work.  By identifying short, focussed, pilot projects that deliver value - what we at Knoco call the 'good news stories' - word will get around, assisted here and there through a communications plan.

As small numbers of people start to use new tools, follow new processes and establish new connections with people whose knowledge they can now use, they will begin to spread the word.  Good news stories should be communicated to everyone, with key participant interviews put on videos and broadcast on the company portal.

This way, energy is created, momentum builds and the culture begins to change - not because we tackle it head on, but because we we're being sneaky and using the indirect approach.

To swap war stories, from the KM frontline or elsewhere, please contact me direct, or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Do you want to learn for the future? Or blame someone? You can't do both

This article, published yesterday on the Guardian website, argues that the Chilcot Inquiry (i.e. examining UK involvement in the run-up to the 2003 Gulf War and blogged about by me on its day of publication here) was set up to 'focus on lessons and avoid blame'.
It goes further, reporting that this was all about 'not holding people accountable'.

So far, so very typical of the media.

To report in this way is to make a category error because you can either investigate in order to hold people accountable and find out who is to blame, or you can seek to identify lessons for the future.  You can't do both - at least, not as part of the same process you can't.

In his excellent book, 'Black Box Thinking', which I reviewed here, Matthew Syed writes about the 'blame game' and the way it prevents people, teams and organisations from learning about past performance, thereby depriving them of valuable learning opportunities for the future.

He writes,
"...if professionals think they are going to be blamed for honest mistakes, why would they be open about them?  If they do not trust their managers to take the trouble to see what really happened, why would they report what is going wrong, and how can the system adapt?" (p. 240, Black Box Thinking)
Readers may recall my review of the great Sidney Dekker's book, 'Just Culture', in which he examines the dilemma of balancing openness (and learning) with accountability (and blame).
Dekker relates a powerful story of a nurse who volunteers the information that she made a mistake which contributed towards the death of child, with the result that she loses her job and is prevented from nursing again. 

In such an environment, and with such consequences, how likely is it that other healthcare professionals will volunteer insight into their own mistakes?  Or is it more likely that they will seek to cover them up?

Back to the media, and the campaign groups, and the families of the deceased - such people need to ask themselves, what outcomes do they seek?  Do they want to learn what happened and reduce the likelihood of recurrence?  OR, do they want to hold people to account and blame them for their decisions and actions? 

They can't have both - not from the same process, at any rate.

If you run lessons capture meetings, use a structured process to examine past events and identify lessons for the future, including actions that, if implemented, will help to improve performance.

You need to ask:
  • What did we expect to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Is there a difference between these and if so, why?
  • What have we learned?
  • What will do differently next time?
  • What actions do we need to take to embed this learning?
  • What was the impact of this issue?
Please don't ask 'Who?'  Even when examining 'what happened' and 'why', I am always very careful to ensure that no-one uses words like 'fault' or 'blame', and that we talk about 'actions taken' rather than 'he or she doing this or that'.

It may sound as though we're avoiding the hard questions and seeking an easy life, and it is certainly the case that organisations that have such processes hardwired into their projects and programmes are more comfortable with providing answers to questions that might be uncomfortable for others that are less familiar with this approach. 

However, the aim of such meetings in particular, and of knowledge management (KM) in general, must be to improve performance through the sharing and re-use of knowledge.  Other processes exist to 'hold people to account' and they must be kept separate from KM in order to encourage people to talk freely, without fear of consequences.

Can and should politicians and civil servants and generals be 'held to account' and 'blamed' for their decisions?  Where appropriate, absolutely. 

But an inquiry set up to identify lessons for the future is not the place for such motives and it is wilfully naïve of the media to expect both aims to be achieved through the same process.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted - KM assessments

A Knowledge Management (KM) assessment involves speaking to people across all parts of an organisation, at all levels of seniority and with varying levels of experience.  We ask about daily work, trying to find out how people create, capture, share, organise and access knowledge and what they have to help them in this:
  • Who is accountable for identifying (and then learning) lessons from project, if anyone?
  • When do people get together to share knowledge, if at all?
  • Where does 'good practice' get stored, if anywhere?
  • What kind of IT tools are used, if any?
  • How is good practice updated, if at all?
  • Who's in charge of this, if anyone?
An assessment offers clients several benefits:
  • It provides them with an overview of what KM capabilities are present in their organisation
  • It assesses these capabilities against a benchmark of leading KM organisations
  • Where strengths are identified, it recommends ways to embed and broaden their reach
  • Where weaknesses or gaps are identified, it recommends ways to improve performance
Together, these ensure that any subsequent KM investment is cost-effective and targeted on those areas where its impact will be greatest.

Sometimes, organisations seek to 'skip' this vital step and just want to 'do KM' any form of preliminary assessment.  In my view, this approach is wasteful and risky because:
  • They do not yet know what KM capabilities are, and are not, present in their organisation
  • They have no idea what 'good looks like'
  • They may procure training, tools, software or coaching that duplicates things already in place
  • They do not yet know where their need is greatest
In keeping with several recent blog posts, I think analogies can help here.

We've looked at the 'KM as cooking' analogy before, so imagine preparing the weekly shopping list with reference to a cookery book but without checking the cupboards or fridge.  I hold my hand up to this wasteful oversight - you get to the store and end up buying things 'just in case' you don't already have them at home.  Which means that, with fresh produce, you now have double the amount of bacon, beans, broccoli, cheese etc. that you need, which either needs to be eaten or gets wasted.  And with dry goods, you simply add yet another packet of ground ginger or mixed herbs to the back of the cupboard, alongside the two already there.

Cooking not your thing?  How about building?  You've just won the lottery and want to build a new house.  Are you going to get a builder to just do as they want, or are you going to get an architect to design something first?  In fact, before the architect come along, shouldn't you get a survey done, to make sure first that the ground on which you intend to build is solid?

Not in a building mood?  Then how about joining me in battle?!  A famous saying from my former profession is that 'time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted'.  Regardless of whether you're planning on destroying an enemy compound, or distributing aid to starving refugees, or helping to evacuate civilians from a civil-war-torn country, you need to get 'eyes on', through surveillance systems and/or people on the ground.  The more information that can be gained about the enemy, as well as the ground on which you will have to operate, the greater the chance of success - which means killing the enemy and saving everyone else. 

In all of these examples, intelligent planning involves finding out the current situation, before deciding how to change it.  As with shopping, building and battle, so it is with KM.

For more information about KM assessments, or for a free 'KM self-assessment tool', please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 7 November 2016

You can't manage it all, so don't try. Focus on where the need (and value!) is greatest.

Where should we start?
When an organisation starts to investigate knowledge management (KM), it can be both intimidating and bewildering as to where to start.  Having made that vital leap in recognising that "this is something we should be doing", some clients get scared at the thought of how much work lies ahead of them, how long it will take and how much it will cost.

In these circumstances, a risk-based approach can help focus resources on those areas where the need is greatest.

At Knoco, we use a 'knowledge scan' to help clients identify the areas of knowledge where their KM programme should start, as well as what kind of KM interventions will help.  Sometimes the term 'Knowledge Audit' is also used.

Using either interviews or workshops, a 'knowledge map' of the organisation is created, which shows the numerous functional areas (i.e. departments, programmes, teams etc.) and the knowledge topics used therein (Note: some will cut across different areas).
Knowledge scan workshop underway

Then, the interviewees or workshop participants rank each topic against criteria, some of which are shown below:

  • Criticality now – how critical is this knowledge topic to success at the moment?
  • Criticality 3-5 yrs – how critical is this knowledge topic to success in the near future (3-5 years)?

Documentation level
  • Documentation level – how well documented is the know-how associated with this topic?
Knowledge spread
  • Spread now – how dispersed is the knowledge of this topic within the company?
  • Spread 3-5 years – how dispersed does this knowledge need to be in the near future?
Maturity level
  • K maturity level – How mature is this knowledge (from brand new, to fully mature and well established)
Level of in-house knowledge
  • Level now – How much does the company know about this topic at the moment, from “we are global experts” to “we know nothing”?
  • Level in 3-5 yrs - How much does the company need to know about this topic in the near future (3-5 years)
  • Replaceability – How easy will this knowledge be to replace if we lose it (eg can we buy it off the shelf)?
  • Process owner and experts – Who is the company subject-matter expert (SME)? Who are the back-up experts?
Retention Risk
  • Retention risk – How much is this knowledge at risk of loss through loss of personnel?
Some significant 'number-crunching' follows, which enables us to identify which topics are of greatest value to the organisation and which KM interventions would be most appropriate:
  • For example, for those topics considered critical, but with low levels of documentation, the creation of Knowledge Assets would be helpful.
  • For topics that are hard to replace and where the risk of knowledge loss is high (i.e. through retirement of key experts), a Knowledge Retention and Transfer project would be worthwhile.
  • Finally, for topics where there is a high-level of in-house knowledge and a high future criticality, Communities of Practice might be worth considering.
So don't panic and think you can manage everything or even need to - you can't and you don't.  However, what you do need to do is work out which topics are of greatest value, and then start there.  These will also be the areas where 'quick wins' can be won - meaning those which demonstrate great value, build trust in KM and create excitement as word spreads, thereby building momentum for other work that may require senior sign-off and/or investment.

I recently held a webinar on Knowledge Scans and Audits and would be happy to re-run this for anyone interested in learning more about this topic.  Please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 4 November 2016

How to plan a lessons learned meeting

Earlier this week, I discussed with a client how we can introduce Retrospects or lessons capture meetings to their organisation, as part of the wider implementation of a Knowledge Management (KM) framework.

If we go ahead, I'll be coaching him on the planning, facilitation and write-up of such events and will be using some slides I prepared some time ago.

You can view and download them from Slideshare, using this link here.

Let me know if you'd like to hear more, or have any questions about the material, either direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Have you hit the KM roadbump? 2 cracking analogies and one more killer quote to get you over it.

Knowledge management (KM) remains unknown to most organisations and the people that work within them.  Consequently, those of us working in the field sometimes use analogies, anecdotes and case-studies to explain KM to others. 

Early conversations often start well but we can all benefit from ways of countering the queries, doubts or even fears raised by those that don't yet "get it".

Two analogies that I like to use at the moment are those of safety and heating:

Whilst KM may sound like 'common sense' to some, all too often it is not that common.  Indeed, it is NOT the natural, human condition.  Managing anything at all requires deliberate effort, time, money and resources - managing knowledge is no different.  Safety is like this also.

As I blogged recently, we can't work safely without deliberately choosing to do so and we can't manage knowledge with equivalent efforts.

Think of everything that has gone into making factories, offices, shops and building sites safe places in which to work. In order to work safely, organisations have developed policies, committees, guidance, reporting procedures, training, metrics, teams, managers, champions, tools etc. Why?  Because we have learned (all too often the hard way) that the removal of danger requires action on our part.

As with safety, so with KM.  Knowledge won't move around an organisation without significant assistance from KM policies, committees, guidance, reporting procedures, training, metrics, teams, managers, champions, tools etc.

Furthermore, the 'safety team' are NOT the ones that work safely.  Rather, they require, encourage, enable and support the rest of us to do so.

As with safety, so with KM.  The KM team are NOT the ones that manage knowledge.  Rather, they require, encourage, enable and support the rest of us to do so.

A significant challenge facing KM practitioners as a discipline is the ever-present mistaken belief that technology is the answer, or even that technology somehow is knowledge management.  I think this may be largely down to what I call the 'magpie attraction' of technology.

Some organisations see something new and shiny and say, "We want that!" without properly thinking about the problem to which a so-called 'knowledge management platform' or 'knowledge management system' might be the solution.  Indeed, without the right people, processes and governance, the 'KM = technology = KM' approach achieves absolutely nothing.

To reinforce my point - last week I blogged '6 killer knowledge management quotes' (my most popular post this year, by the way).  Since then, I came across one more on LinkedIn - the ultimate killer KM quote to beat all killer KM quotes. 

From Larry Prusak (ex-IBM, McKinsey etc.) at last week's KM Legal Conference in New York:

"All the technology in the world will not make people collaborate.  Obama is not going to take my call just because I have a telephone and the number for the White House."


Now, about that heating analogy.  When we need to heat a house, we don't point to a brand new boiler and say, "We want that!", do we?  We recognise that we need radiators, a thermostat, piping, insulation in the loft, perhaps air conditioning as well. 

As with heating, so with KM.  We don't just need a portal, lessons management system, enterprise search, discussion forums and so on.  We need people to be accountable for their correct use, processes in order to create, update, organise and share the knowledge in them and a system of governance (indeed, a learning culture) that encourages and expects us to do this, and recognises and thanks us for so doing.

Don't waste money on buying only a boiler otherwise your house will stay very cold this winter.

For a conversation about magpies, boilers, safety or indeed, knowledge management, please get in touch direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 28 October 2016

6 killer knowledge management quotes

"Knowledge Management is not an end in itself.  Companies do not exist for the purpose of propagating and advancing knowledge - they exist to sell products and services. But to the extent that competitive advantage relies on informed decision making within the business - knowledge management has a crucial role to play."  Bechtel Corporation
"It is the attempt to recognise what is essentially a human asset buried in the minds of individuals, and leverage it into a corporate asset that can be used by a broader set of individuals, on whose decisions the firm depends."  Larry Prusak, IBM

"Most activities or tasks are not one-time events. Our philosophy is fairly simple: Every time we do something again, we should do it better than the last time. John Browne, BP          
"Sharing knowledge occurs when people are genuinely interested in helping one another develop new capacities for action; it is about creating learning processes."  Peter Senge
"It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." Charles Darwin
"Knowledge is experience; everything else is information."  Albert Einstein
More KM resources, tools and templates are available on the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

6 connections between good cookery and KM

I cooked a Sunday roast dinner for my family at the weekend - something of an (all too infrequent) family tradition now that the autumn is upon us here in the UK.

As I cooked, much like when I went camping last year, I was reminded of several things about knowledge management (KM):
  • In conversations with clients, I often use a 'cooking analogy' to explain the difference between information and knowledge.  For example, a recipe in a cookery book usually contains 2 main elements - a list of ingredients and a method.  The list of ingredients is 'information'; the method is 'knowledge'.  Both are essential to cooking a good meal.  If all we do is share information with one another, people will certainly learn 'about' stuff but not how to do stuff, which of course is at the heart of KM.  Analogies like this are handy when explaining what remains KM which, for most organisations, remains an unknown discipline.  Other tools to explain KM that this blog has already covered are the infographic mentioned here, and the video that I put together, linked here.
  • Again with regard to recipes - these are effectively 'knowledge assets' and the best of them contain plenty of photos to help the would-be cook to understand the techniques being described.  As with recipes, so with work - when creating guidance material for ourselves and colleagues, we should use plenty of pictures, diagrams etc. to help convey the knowledge. 
  • Wikis and blogs are great ways of communicating new knowledge with colleagues and should always contain attractive and relevant visuals to encourage the reader to continue to scroll down - a friendly and funny cookery blog, for example is this one by up and coming cook, Olivia Potts, with stacks of high-quality photos that show us all what the dishes look like.
  • Having cooked a particular dish, I always seek feedback from the family, perhaps not in the formal sense of a Retrospect or After Action Review (that would be a bit much!) but there is certainly a learning loop in play, with their comments and my own thoughts giving me a great chance to improve next time.
  • I have many recipe books but am increasingly drawn to finding a recipe online; I tend to print one off and then, having gone through the learning loop mentioned above, I scribble notes on the page and keep it for next time, so as not to forget the knowledge that I've gained.  This is an example of knowledge synthesis, explored by my colleague, Nick Milton, in his blog here.
  • Finally, there are some aspects to cooking that are not well reflected in a recipe.  For example, knowing how long to parboil potatoes before roasting them or, indeed, what a good roasted potato looks like - these are examples of tacit knowledge that is acquired with experience and harder to unpick.  Mentoring or a thorough knowledge harvesting interview might enable the finer details to be revealed and the recipe updated accordingly.
Of course, the main thing is that my efforts went pretty well and my daughters went to bed with full tummies, having cleaned their plates twice!

For a conversation about introducing KM tools into your workplace, kitchen, school, factory, hospital, barracks, airport, hotel, office, trading floor or charity please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 21 October 2016

8 signs that you're not managing your knowledge

Ever said or heard these phrases at work? 

1. “Why do we keep having to re-learn this?”
2. “How do I know where to find this knowledge?”
3. “Someone must have done this before - but who?”
4. “When that guy left, he took all that knowledge with him.”
5. “It was a complete fluke that I met Kathy – she had just the answer I was looking for!”
6. “I’m sure I heard someone mention that to me the other day, now who was it?”
7. “That went very well – how can we keep doing it like that?”
8. “We made this mistake in our other office as well.”

If so, they're usually a sign that knowledge isn't being managed effectively, if at all.

This means they're also a sign of wasted time, money and effort.

Perhaps they're also a sign of unnecessary risk to our colleagues or vital equipment. 

Can you think of any more?

For a chat about knowledge management (KM), please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016

We don't work safely by chance so why would we manage knowledge that way?

This morning, dropping off my daughters at school, I had a brief chat with another Dad about knowledge management (KM).

He works for a local engineering company and has been investigating KM over recent months, using the toolkit we at Knoco produced for the aerospace industry for guidance.
He's planning on producing a KM policy but has yet to put pen to paper.

Our chat went something like this:

Him: Haven't got round to it yet...I need a cost-code from my Engineering Director as I'm not doing this on my own time.
Me: Ah, that old chestnut...cost-codes.
Him: Yeah.
Me: Yes, some companies do have cost-codes for KM, where they've allocated a specific budget.  But what you really want is to go the whole way and just accept that KM stuff is part of everyday working.
Him: Part of the culture, you mean?  We're a long way from that.
Me: Of course you are, but that's where you want to be headed. Think about safety, as an example.
Him: I don't follow.
Me: Well, you don't use a separate cost-code to don your safety equipment, perform safety checks or tests or do any other safety-related activities, do you?
Him: No....
Me: That's because that argument has been won.  We all see that safety is an integral part of everyday working.  That's what proper KM looks like also.
Him: That's a good analogy.
Me: Yes, I use it sometimes when people say "But surely we manage our knowledge anyway? It just's common sense."  But nothing at all gets managed without deliberate effort, does it?  People don't work safely unless they are trained to work safely, equipped to work safely and expected to work safely.  So it is with KM.  That's why it takes the time, money and effort to get to the stage where it just becomes part of everyday working.
Again, you don't work for 7 hours a day and then do an hour of 'working safely', do you?
Him: [laughing] No!
Me: And you don't have a safety team that are the ones that do 'the safe working' either.  They're the ones that help, encourage, support and require everyone to work safely.  So it is with a KM team.
Him: Yeah, that's a great example.  Thanks! 

So next time someone says they don't have time for KM, ask whether they have time for safety and, if they fail to see the connection, explain that it's all about making better ways of working, not more work.

For a chat about how to win the argument for more KM, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Leading the way - latest Knoco newsletter - KM and leadership

The latest Knoco newsletter on the relationship between Knowledge Management (KM) and leadership is now out!

Follow this link for:
  • How does leadership affect KM?
  • What do good and bad KM leadership look like?
  • How to manage leaders in lessons capture meetings
  • How to win leaders' support
  • The power of the 'CEO video'
  • KM tools to deliver good leadership
  • News from around the Knoco family
For a conversation about KM leadership, please get in touch direct or visit the Knoco website.

Friday, 16 September 2016

Black Box Thinking by Matthew Syed – a review

This is the book that I wish I had written.

Indeed, I will even go so far as to say that some of its ideas can be found in my blog – albeit in this book they are set out far more clearly and with greater insight than I normally muster.

This is truly an excellent book, vital reading for anyone with an interest in knowledge management, organisational learning, lessons learned, organisational design, leadership development and much more.

Matthew Syed’s book looks at how we normally deal with failure (i.e. not well) and how this hinders our ability to learn, and therefore to improve.  He provides case-studies from healthcare, criminal justice, aviation, manufacturing and sport, to show how a different approach to ‘failure’ enables better performance.

Some of the key ideas include:

·        Cognitive dissonance – the discomfort we experience through our inability to cope with evidence that challenges our fundamental beliefs or assumptions, which leads to twisting facts to suit our preconceived conclusions;

·        Marginal gains – using many small improvements, both lateral (i.e. in different areas) and sequential (i.e. iterative) to produce a large improvement overall.  He uses the Team Sky approach under Sir David Brailsford, as well as Formula One teams like Mercedes, to make this point;

·        The ‘blame game’ – the toxic tendency to look for ‘fault’ in others when things go wrong – a noxious feature of what passes for political and media discourse in most Western countries; in examining this, Syed references Sidney Dekker’s excellent book, ‘Just Culture’, which I reviewed here;

·        ‘Growth’ (as opposed to ‘fixed’) mind-sets – the mature and confident outlook of those happy to fail and eager to learn in so doing.  Examples here include James Dyson and David Beckham.

Feedback that has not been sought but is offered anyway would include:

·        No mention of the former England rugby coach, Sir Clive Woodward’s approach of improving ‘100 things by 1%’ which is almost identical to that of Brailsford’s ‘marginal gains’ (and in fact preceded it);

·        Many of the case-studies and statistics from healthcare, criminal justice etc. are from the United States, with fewer data from the UK.  Not a major issue but, as a British reader of this book by a British author, this was notable; perhaps there is greater transparency there – if so, I would not be surprised;

·        No mention of Chris Argyris and his work on ‘organisational defensiveness’.  The book is full of sources and texts, many of which I will now seek out and read for myself.  I was just hoping to find Argyris’s famous ‘undiscussables’ and noted their absence;

·        Public life and the inter-action of the media and politicians were examined but I rather think both sides were let off far too easily, as were we, the readers and voters who permit and perpetuate what Syed calls our “blame-orientated…public culture”

It is in this final area (political discourse) that I think there remains much to reveal and discuss and perhaps I can do that in a book before someone else beats me to it!

Overall, this was a fascinating, thought-provoking and entertaining read and I strongly recommend it to anyone with even a passing interest in making things better – which should be all of us.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Help! Someone has asked (yet again) "What is KM?"

How often do those of us interested in KM get asked, "What is knowledge management?"

Wouldn't it be really handy to have a short, sharp introduction to the subject, with the key ideas displayed in a smart, simple way?

Well, my clever colleague from Knoco Poland, Ewa Stemaszek, has helpfully produced an infographic that does just that.  You can find it on her website, at this link here.

Well done, Ewa and thank you!

Thursday, 14 July 2016

What's in your left-hand column?

In the last blog post, we looked at some of the ways in which knowledge management (KM) consultants help their clients before raising the importance of culture and how it can be analysed, shaped and changed through various interventions.
Whilst surveys, workshops and interviews can help provide an overview of a team, department or whole organisation, individuals can also get a sense of the tiny part they play in shaping and sustaining the culture, for good or bad.
Honesty lies at the heart of KM and successful KM often depends on the extent to which staff feel able to share their experiences openly with one another.
Good lesson learning relies on teams discussing the successes and failures of a project without fear or favour.
Best practice creation and transfer requires experts identifying and sharing the little ‘nuggets’ of know-how that may lie buried deep within their consciousness.
But these and other KM techniques can be hampered if people feel unable to share their ideas, thoughts and feelings and instead choose to omit, cover up or even lie about their experience.
This can be hard because we are all human and, being human, 4 rules apply:

·        We like to be popular and/or respected;

·        We don’t like being unpopular and/or disrespected;

·        We don’t like being embarrassed;

·        We don’t (unless we are sociopathic) like embarrassing other people.
These 4 rules make it hard for us to talk honestly about difficult subjects unless we trust the people we’re with and are confident we’re safe to do so.
An excellent tool that can show how tricky total honesty can be is the so-called ‘left-hand column’ exercise.
You can try this for yourself:

·        Think of a conversation you had recently that felt difficult in some way – it might have taken place with a colleague, your boss, a friend or relation;

·        Take some blank paper and draw a line vertically down the centre of the page;

·        On the right-hand side, write up the conversation like the dialogue in a script or screenplay; no need to recall each exchange verbatim but capture the essence of between 5 and 10 minutes’ worth.  This may take 15-30 minutes, depending on how much detail you capture;

·        Now, having written up the key exchanges, go back through and, in the left-hand column, write up what you were actually thinking before or whilst you uttered your own words;

·        Carry on throughout the whole conversation and then read back your own thoughts;

·        Now, have a think about the difference between what you said and what you were actually thinking at the time, considering the following questions:

o   Why is there a difference and what prevented you from sharing your true thoughts with this person?

o   What would need to happen for you to feel comfortable to share those thoughts?

o   What might the other person’s ‘left-hand column’ look like?

o   Can you imagine what life at work (or home) would be like if we were able to share our left-hand columns?

How can we make that happen?
This exercise can be done individually or as part of a workshop, provided people are reassured beforehand that they will not be expected to share anything unless they feel comfortable in doing so.  As part of organisational learning cultural change programmes, the left-hand column exercise can help people identify the ‘blockers’ that impede effective learning from experience, as well as some of the ‘undiscussables’ that remain unsaid and will always damage such efforts until they are (a) discussed and (b) addressed.
Our paper on Organisational Learning Culture is available from the Knoco website’s downloads page.
For a conversation about the left-hand column exercise in particular, or organisational learning and knowledge management in general, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

How can KM consultants help? Let me count the ways...

Knowledge management (KM) consultants can help their clients in several ways:

·        Helping them to understand their own KM strengths and weaknesses;

·        Identifying KM and knowledge gaps and areas for improvement, in order of priority;

·        Pinning down which knowledge topics need to be managed first (because you can’t do it all at once);

·        Designing and implementing KM frameworks, to manage the knowledge;

·        Setting up pilot projects in priority areas (because you can’t do it all at once);

·        Identifying lessons from the pilot projects and using them to adjust the KM framework before it is rolled out more widely;

·        Creating KM strategies and policies, giving senior leaders the ability to drive KM programmes forward;

·        Interviewing experts in critical knowledge areas so their know-how doesn’t leave the firm when they do;

·        Creating knowledge assets so that critical knowledge becomes available to everyone;

·        Facilitating lessons capture meetings, to help project teams learn from their experience;

·        Facilitating Peer Assists, to help new project teams learn from experienced ones;

·        Shaping and adjusting the culture from one where ‘I know this’ to one where ‘we do’.
There are plenty more, but those will do for now.
The last point, about changing the culture, is both the hardest thing to do but yet the one thing that will have the greatest effect, if done properly.
There are many tools and activities that help reveal an organisation’s culture and provide evidence that things need to change – surveys, interviews and workshops can all provide an overview of the culture.  In the next blog post, we’ll look at one to help individuals alone.
For a conversation about KM with leading management consultants in the field, please visit the Knoco website or contact me direct.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

The Iraq Inquiry - what lessons?

Today’s publication of ‘The Chilcot Report’ will provide stacks of material for those of us interested in learning from the past in order to improve future performance.  A few points:

·        Firstly, I declare an interest, having deployed on Operation TELIC in February 2003 on what proved to be one of the most fascinating (if challenging) deployments of my military career. I was a Captain in an Army liaison team, embedded within the Coalition Air HQ in Saudi Arabia.  This morning I dug out the notebook I used to scribble ‘nuggets’ that I then intended to use in a novel (written, yet to be published!). Some that stand out for me below (some of which show the paucity of planning and equipment, as well as some context):

o   Sunday 16 February – Arrival in Saudi Arabia on a reinforcement C-17 aircraft that had been refused entry 4 times by the Saudi authorities, reluctant to be seen to be supporting the imminent war effort; so the RAF changed the call-sign of the aircraft to one of a routine roulement flight and got us in ‘under the wire’;

o   Monday 17 February – Work begins; all UK personnel reminded to get their respirators tested to ensure they are serviceable;

o   Thursday 20 February – Respirator testing is stopped due to the high failure rate; decision apparently made that it would be better to claim ignorance of the state of the respirator filters than have evidence that they were failing and be unable to replace them (not enough spares, apparently);

o   Thursday 6 March – 2 kinds of difficult people out here: those that simply do not understand that war entails discomfort, disturbance and friction and those that use such friction as an excuse to cover up their own failings;

o   Friday 14 March – Reports of 75 Iraqis crossing into Kuwait and trying to surrender to 1 PARA soldiers conducting training; Paras tell them to go back to Iraq;

o   Wednesday 26 March – Reports France has given Iraqi Intelligence Service access to satellite, allowing them to eavesdrop on mobile phone communications;

o   Saturday 30 March – US Army Families Network adverts gut-wrenchingly corny: “helping to spread freedom and democracy around the world”;

o   Sunday 31 March - 1 x Apache downed and every other aircraft in regiment hit by small arms fire during air assault on Medina Division south of Baghdad; reports regiment will not fly again;

o   Friday 4 April – 1 (UK) Div area, soft hats being worn; hearts and minds etc – example of how it’s done? Or is Northern Ireland experience irrelevant here?

o   Sunday 6 April – Difference of opinion between US and UK targeteers re infrastructure and/or Iraqi airforce; US wishes to destroy all aircraft, bunkers etc. UK ask why bother? Not used yet; use now even less likely; faint suspicion around that US motivation might be a wish to sell Iraq new aircraft possibly?

o   Thursday 10 April – UK forces find Iraqi forces arms cache, including 19 French MILAN anti-tank missiles with production date of 1999 (i.e. after the UN weapons inspectors were booted out by Iraq in 1998).  Puts the French opposition to the war into some sort of context, I suggest.

o   Friday 11 April – Time-sensitive targeting of ‘Chemical Ali’ attempt; bombs hit late and miss and a dud; National Component Command furious; SFHQ livid; systemic problem – 12 windows have to go green before bombs drop;

o   Monday 14 April – We have been asked for our lessons; some criticism of lessons process; too quick; not leading to anything.

·        Most of the lessons in the report have been ‘identified’ NOT ‘learned’ – as most people with a passing interest in knowledge management (KM) will know, a lesson is not learned until you have changed something (or made a deliberate, auditable decision not to do so).  Many of Chilcot’s ‘lessons’ are more properly described as ‘observations’ or ‘insights’ and, if they are to become lessons, need to be re-crafted with explicit recommendations added; hopefully this necessary work will now take place;

·        Many of the criticisms of the British Army planning and conduct of operations in Iraq can be found to have their origins in its culture, that of the ‘can-do attitude’ – which leads to senior commanders taking on more work than can be realistically done with the resources offered.  Indeed, Chilcot says:

“Ground truth is vital. Over-optimistic assessments lead to bad decisions. Senior decision-makers – Ministers, Chiefs of Staff, senior officials – must have a flow of accurate and frank reporting. A “can do” attitude is laudably ingrained in the UK Armed Forces – a determination to get on with the job, however difficult the circumstances – but this can prevent ground truth from reaching senior ears. At times, in Iraq, the bearers of bad tidings were not heard. On several occasions, decision-makers visiting Iraq (including the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the Chief of the General Staff) found the situation on the ground to be much worse than had been reported to them. Effective audit mechanisms need to be used to counter optimism bias, whether through changes in the culture of reporting, use of multiple channels of information – internal and external – or use of visits.”[1]
This issue is discussed at some length in the article linked from this blog post here, which looks at how the British Army tries to learn lessons from operations and training and how its efforts are hampered by its culture.  It should be obvious that it is not only the military where these problems are found and that many other organisations also have issues with discussing accidents, mistakes and errors openly.
Having read more of the report, I shall write again on this in due course.
For a conversation about knowledge management and learning cultures in general, or identifying and learning lessons in particular, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

[1]  Volume 8, Section 9.8 ‘Conclusions: The Post-Conflict Period’, Paragraph 197, Page 504.

Friday, 1 July 2016

How can KM help Brexit? Filling gaps, that's how....

Last week, the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union (EU).  The consequences of this decision will be felt around the world for many years to come, for good or bad.

Amongst the tumult of media stories about the various ramifications, I spotted one that will resonate with those of us interested in knowledge management (KM).

One of the more significant changes to come is that the UK will regain the right (and responsibility) to negotiate trade deals with other countries.  However, having joined the (then) European Economic Community (EEC) in 1973, the UK lacks the requisite knowledge on how to do so.

It no longer knows how to do something that it once did; the UK has forgotten something that other nations probably take for granted.

This reminds me of the story about NASA realising that, through retirement of the people with the necessary knowledge, it had ‘forgotten’ how to put men on the moon. NASA responded by initiating a programme of knowledge retention, to minimise the risk of other capabilities going the same way.

So what can be done?

Organisations can use a Knowledge Gap Analysis, to identify what missing knowledge will help deliver the desired product, service or outcome.  A Knowledge Scan enables them to identify which types of knowledge are at the greatest risk of ‘walking out the door’ and a Knowledge Retention & Transfer strategy is used to retain this knowledge and make it available to others.

Such KM activities can help organisations anticipate knowledge loss and prevent it.  But what if it’s already gone, retired or died?

Indeed, what will the UK do now?  Well, it appears the New Zealand Government is keen to help, through ‘lending’ the UK some of its trade negotiators, as explained in this article here.

And again, KM tools can help: a Peer Assist is a structured event to enable controlled and rapid knowledge transfer between 2 teams – one lacking key knowledge and the other willing and able to share it.

So, whatever so-called Brexit means for the UK (and wider world) over the coming years, it seems KM will have its part to play.

For a chat about these KM tools and others, please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.