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.