Benchmarking


Last week the Daily Telegraph published an article about the “truth behind British politeness” which revisited the phrases which we British often use, the real meaning, and what (as the Telegraph charmingly puts it) “foreigners” understand.

I’ve seen it printed off and pinned on the walls of several offices over the years – usually within easy view of the telephone.  It’s a great (and humourous) way to help create understanding, enhance conversations and prevent people talking past each other.  I’d even to so far as to say that it’s not bad!

Talking past each other

 

WHAT THE BRITISH SAY  WHAT THE BRITISH MEAN  WHAT FOREIGNERS UNDERSTAND
I hear what you say I disagree and do not want to discuss it further He accepts my point of view
With the greatest respect You are an idiot He is listening to me
That’s not bad That’s good That’s poor
That is a very brave proposal You are insane He thinks I have courage
Quite good A bit disappointing Quite good
I would suggest Do it or be prepared to justify yourself Think about the idea, but do what you like
Oh, incidentally/ by the way The primary purpose of our discussion is That is not very important
I was a bit disappointed that I am annoyed that It doesn’t really matter
Very interesting That is clearly nonsense They are impressed
I’ll bear it in mind I’ve forgotten it already They will probably do it
I’m sure it’s my fault It’s your fault Why do they think it was their fault?
You must come for dinner It’s not an invitation, I’m just being polite I will get an invitation soon
I almost agree I don’t agree at all He’s not far from agreement
I only have a few minor comments Please rewrite completely He has found a few typos
Could we consider some other options I don’t like your idea They have not yet decided

 

The idea of a common language – a frame of reference to support better understanding and more focused conversations is what lies at the heart of the creation and use of self-assessment models.  Whilst they are similar in concept to maturity models, the purpose is less to track and measure – and more to create a shared vocabulary to enable more targeted knowledge sharing.  I’ve seen them used to great effect in a wide range of organisations and topics:  Engineering, Energy, Operations Maintenance, Safety, Environmental Performance, Supply Chain Management, Collaboration and Health…

There are some health-related examples here which grew out of  work with the UNAIDS programme, and has  been reapplied by the Constellation into self-assessments for Malaria and Diabetes as well as HIV.

(please check the advice page for usage guidance)

I like to think of them as scaffolding for knowledge sharing.  It’s scaffolding which enables people to climb higher and faster to have richer conversations with deeper understanding.

 

 

In each case the self-assessment tool was created by the group who would ultimately use it. That’s an important principle.  They can recognise their own words – and the results of their discussions – in the practices chosen and the  levels and language used to represent each practice.
Creating a model together ia a tremendous way to have a group make explicit some of their  knowledge, stories, assumptions and unarticulated rules of thumb.  It gives a great sense of achievement – having rigourously discussed something they care about  and understand deeply – and created an artefact which they can then use.

We talk a lot about Communities of Practice – but sometimes communities never work the detail together on what their practice really is, and what good might look like. What a missed opportunity!   
Building a self-assessment model with members of a community forces a lot of helpful discussion, gives the group a product to be proud of  and provides a very easy way for members to self-assess and then share their relative strengths and weaknesses in a knowledge marketplace. it also gives them a framework against which they can store share artefacts and examples (see the AIDS Competence knowledge asset example).

Tools like the River Diagram and Stairs Diagram and reciprocal sharing techiques like Offers and Requests help to map out the dimensions of the marketplace ready for knowledge exchange.

All of this sounds a lot more purposeful than hoping that needs and responses will serendipitously collide whilst we’re talking past each other…

So with the greatest of respect, do you hear what I say?

 

 

 

 

I’ve always been a big fan of Rolf Harris.

A man of many talents – not only an artist, presenter, musician (if you count the didgeridoo, wobble-board and Stylophone), singer, songwriter and TV presenter, he was also a champion swimmer.

Wikipedia is a wonderful thing.

Image from SunriseOn7 via Flickr

Oh, and a writer too. His autobiography is, of course, entitled:  “Can you tell what it is yet”.

I sometimes find myself wanting to use that catchphrase in workshops when clients are struggling to agree upon a definition of knowledge management for their organisation.  It’s a real rarity to find a definition for KM with less than four commas which can be read aloud without at least one pause for breath.

Can you tell what it is yet?”.  I’m not convinced that a definition is the best way to tell what it is.

Definitions explain, but don’t inspire.

Even vision statements can be a bit bullet-point-trite at times.

There was a helpful thread in the sikm-leaders forum last week when someone asked for ten responses to complete the statement “You know knowledge is being effectively managed when…”

I thought it was a really practical way to explore how it feels, and looks – how people behave, when KM is really working.   Here are my ten suggestions:

You know knowledge is being effectively managed when…


Leadership. Leaders in the organisation are role models, challenging people to ask for help, seek out, share and apply good practices this inspires curiosity and a commitment to improve.  The organisation is learning!

Learning. People instinctively seek to learn before doing.  Lessons from successes and failures are drawn out in an effective manner and shared openly with others who are genuinely eager to learn, apply and improve. Lessons lead to actions and improvement.

Networking. People are actively networking, seamlessly using formal communities and informal social networks to get help, share solutions, lessons and good practices. The boundaries between internal and external networks are blurred and all employees understand the benefits and take personal responsibility for managing the risks.

Navigation. There are no unnecessary barriers to information, which is shared by default and restricted only where necessary. Information management tools and protocols are intuitive, simple and well understood by everybody.  This results in a navigable, searchable, intelligently tagged and appropriately classified asset for the whole organisation, with secure access for trusted partners.

Collaboration. People have the desire and capability to use work collaboratively, using a variety of technology tools with confidence.  Collaboration is a natural act, whether spontaneous or scheduled.  People work with an awareness of their colleagues and use on-line tools as instinctively as the telephone to increase their productivity.

Consolidation. People know which knowledge is strategically important, and treat it as an asset.  Relevant lessons are drawn from the experience of many, and consolidated into guidelines. These are brought to life with stories and narrative, useful documents and templates and links to individuals with experience and expertise. These living “knowledge assets” are refreshed and updated regularly by a community of practitioners.

Social Media. Everybody understands how to get the best from the available tools and channels. Social media is just part of business as usual; people have stopped making a distinction. Serendipity, authenticity and customer intimacy are increasing.  People are no longer tentative and are encouraged to innovate and experiment. The old dogs are learning new tricks!  Policies are supportive and constantly evolving, keeping pace with innovation in the industry.

Storytelling. Stories are told, stories are listened to, stories are re-told and experience is shared. People know how to use the influencing power of storytelling.  Narrative is valued, captured, analysed and used to identify emergent patterns which inform future strategy.

Environment. The physical workplace reflects a culture of openness and collaboration.  Everyone feels part of what’s going on in the office.  Informal and formal meetings are easily arranged without space constraints and technology is always on hand to enhance productivity and involve participants who can be there in person.

Embedding. Knowledge management is fully embedded in people management and development, influencing recruitment and selection. Knowledge-sharing behaviours are built-into induction programmes and are evident in corporate values and individual competencies.  Knowledge transfer is part of the strategic agenda for HR. The risks of knowledge loss are addressed proactively. Knowledge salvage efforts during hurried exit interviews are a thing of the past!

Now your top ten will probably be different to mine (although you’re very welcome to borrow and adapt them).
This kind of approach encourages us to look well beyond the technology which often disproportionately demands our attention.

As Rolf might say – if two little boys have too many toys, there’s a risk that one of them will fall off the horse!

Taken from the Consulting Collison Column in an upcoming edition of Inside Knowledge

I’m often asked to explain what a “River Diagram” is, and how they can be used to shape knowledge management strategy, and as a way to help communities share and learn.  Geoff Parcell and I wrote a couple of chapters in “No More Consultants”, but some how it’s one of those topics always has me grabbing a sheet of paper, a whiteboard or a napkin to work through the steps in a more visual way.
I’m sure that the guys at Commoncraft will do a great job on it one day…

So for now, in the spirit of vlogging, and with thanks to Geoff for the use of his green screen, here’s a quick YouTube tutorial on “How to Create a River Diagram”.

I often tell this story (complete with the parrot and gold doubloons!) when engaging leaders in thinking about practical steps thay can take to demonstrate their commitment to learning from others.

To summarise – and for those of you for whom YouTube is still a corporate no-go area:

A business unit leader in Amoco recognized that insular “not-invented-here” behaviour was limiting the potential of his business, which existed within a group of around 100 business units in the newly-merged BP Amoco. He wanted to create a culture of curiosity, encouraging his staff to look beyond the boundaries of their own business unit. He decided to create a simple monthly recognition scheme, under the banner of “steal with pride”.
The award was given to a member of staff who could demonstrate that they had found a good practice from a different business unit, applied it, and created value. Each story would be celebrated on the intranet, and the winner received an award in the form of a cuddly parrot, which would sit on the desk of the winner for a month (prompting questions from passers-by), before moving onto the next winner, and leaving in its place, a solid gold “pirate” doubloon worth several hundred dollars – which was theirs to keep.

I think that the parrot worked particularly well as a recognition scheme because it was visible, lighthearted, symbolic (“steal with pride” – giving permission to look outside), frequently awarded, and both clearly supported – and initiated –  by that business unit leader.

Ironically, the “steal with pride” award scheme wasn’t replicated by the leaders of the other 99  business units. Perhaps they had their own personal struggles with “not invented here”….

Image by Nelson Pavlosky Urinals.  Do you spend much time looking at them?

This is just a guess, but for half of you, I’m assuming that the answer is “no”.  The other half of you are wondering where I’m going with this line of enquiry.

 If you have had the pleasure of using the urinals at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, you will have noticed that each one is embellished with a lifelike image of a fly, under the glaze – just near the drain.  Initially I dismissed this as merely an example of quirky humour from a Dutch sanitary-ware manufacturer, but I was too hasty. Apparently, since incorporating the fly into their urinals, airports and other public places have noticed a decrease in the amount of cleaning required. Some of these have improved to the extent that they have saved money by reducing the number of cleaning shifts.    If you haven’t figured out the link between the fly and the cost reduction, ask any small boy!

All of this got me thinking about how on-target we are in the way we exchange knowledge, good practices, worst practices and stories.  Despite our best efforts, do people sometimes miss the mark when it comes to knowledge exchange? 

As knowledge professionals, we work hard to use processes and social technologies to bring people together collaboratively.  On some precious occasions, we get to design and facilitate face-to-face knowledge-sharing events.  Occasionally, we even get to work on leadership behaviours and organisational design. 

In all of these worthy activities, we sometimes forget that knowledge management can also help groups of people to agree upon and describe their practices – and hence connect and share more efficiently because they have negotiated a common language.

Here’s an illustration.  In KM circles, we have talked for years about the value of nurturing communities of practice, and rightly so.  However, if we were to turn our “Community of Practice toolkits” out onto the table, the majority of our tools play into the notion of Community: role descriptions and training programmes for leaders and facilitators, templates for community charters, designs for launch events, no end of technology options for social collaboration and document management.

But what about the Practice bit?  Do we have anything in our toolkits to offer groups of professionals who want to agree upon “what’s important” and describe “what good looks like”?  Yes, we can provide wikis where people can discuss and build glossaries, definitions and reference material, but that’s a platform, rather than a process.

I’m advocating that as Knowledge Management professionals, we should be able to offer any group a simple process for describing their practices qualitatively, thereby enhancing their knowledge-sharing.   That could involve the creation of a self-assessment tool (maturity model) – or perhaps a knowledge asset which helps others to navigate through a distillation of past learning, current good practice, examples and key contacts. 

That’s more than installing a wiki, a Drupal community or a set of SharePoint libraries.  It requires  us to roll up our sleeves and engage with the subject  experts and practitioners.  It involves us in helping them to agree and describe their practice in an accessible way.  By helping them to produce a common model of the practices which make up their functional area, they will be able to target their knowledge-sharing far more precisely, and hence get more value from KM tools and techniques.

Or to put it another way – if our knowledge workers have something more clearly defined to aim at, then we’ll have to spend less time clearing up after them.

 First Published in the October Edition of Inside Knowledge

At last!  After over a year of blood sweat and tears, a small forest of paper,  a well-used box.net collaboration space and far too many late night emails, Geoff Parcell and I have written another book together.

To the alarm of my wife and children, not to mention my mortgage lender,  this one is entitled “No More Consultants.  We know more than we think.”

So are we really saying that there is no need for consultants?

Jon Theuerkauf, MD at Credit Suisse answers that question perfectly for me in his endorsement on the back of the book:

“Look, of course we need outside input, if not we might as be staring at our belly-buttons.  The point that is being made in No More Consultants is companies spend pennies in mining their own internal knowledge and expertise compared to the multi-millions spent on going outside first!  How does that make any sense or cents?”

And that’s exactly it.   We really do know more than we think.  But we don’t think enough.  Geoff and I wrote the book to guide organisations towards making smarter, more purposeful, more targeted use of consultants.  After all, nobody ever got fired for hiring <<insert your favourite management consultancy here>>.   That might be true – but a whole lot of your staff might have become disenfranchised.  The same staff, who (after the glossy PowerPoint presentation has been delivered, and that large invoice has been submitted) will be expected to help implement the recommendations.  Recommendations which perhaps they could have come up with themselves.

If only they’d been asked.

As Jon so neatly puts it.  How does that make any sense or cents?

Hope you enjoy the video. And the book. And the Ning Community!

I was with the Henley KM Forum last week running a workshop with Christine Van Winkelen. I’m part of a project team looking at the relationship between knowledge management and innovation, and in particular, at the way in which KM practices can support innovation.

A number of the members organisations conducted local research drawing out their innovation stories, which were scanned for recurrent themes. As a group, we then put some “flesh on the bones” and created a self-assessment tool (maturity model) , based on the combined experience of the room, plus an analysis of current research. I thought I’d share the high-level headings here:

Recognising/finding high-value opportunities to innovate, Re-using Knowledge, Internal collaboration, External Collaboration, Learning from Innovation activities, Building a learning organisation.

Next step is for the member organisations to self-assess and identify areas where they can share and learn from each other using the “River Diagram” approach – setting off a number of new conversations, and a whole lot of new learning…

iknowvation.jpg

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