Improvement


I’ve been thinking recently about the role of sponsorship in enabling knowledge management, and it took me back to some Change Management principles which I learned from ChangeFirst, when I was responsible for Change Management as well as Knowledge Management at Centrica.
The ChangeFirst model was based on Darryl Connor’s “Managing at the speed of change“, but also had much in  common with the work of John Kotter.  Both excellent reads with similar roots.

Depending on your KM strategy, sponsorship is always important and often absolutely critical to the success of a knowledge change programme – and let’s face it, most of our work as practitioners is all about creating change and making it stick.  So here’s what I learned from my various Change Management gurus about the ten characteristics of effective sponsors.

dilbert-on-leadership

Think about the leaders who sponsors your KM activities as you read then through – or use it as a checklist to help you select the ideal candidate, if you’re still looking…

1. Dissatisfaction.  You want your Sponsor to be agitated about the current state of knowledge sharing in your organisation.  They need to be frustrated at the loss of value, the inefficiency, the corporate stupidity, the missed innovations and the embarrassment of re-invention or repetition.  A sponsor who thinks “everything is generally OK, and this KM stuff – well, it’s just the icing on the cake!”  is going to struggle to defend or promote your work with any authenticity.
If they’re not already sufficiently fired up, then you might want to find some provocative horror stories to spark things along.

2. Making resources available.  It’s an obvious one – but there’s little point in firing up a sponsor who lacks the wherewithal to help you take action.    If they don’t have the budget or resource available themselves, can they help you through their contacts and relationships?

3. Understand the impact on people.  Particularly true of Knowledge Management sponsors, because KM is fundamentally a people-based approach.  How would you rate your sponsor’s emotional intelligence (or perhaps his PQ Passion Quotient or her CQ Curiosity Quotient)?
You will need to be able to engage them in discussions about the culture of the organisation and the behaviours of leaders. If that’s an uncomfortable area for them, then keep looking!

4. Public Support.  Bit of a no-brainer, but naturally you will want a sponsor who is willing and able to speak on behalf of your ‘programme’ at every opportunity.  You may well need to equip them with an ‘elevator speech’ and some compelling success stories – and remind them of their dissatisfaction.

5. Private Support.  Ah yes.  The authenticity test.  Will your sponsor speak with the same level of passion and heartfelt credibility in a private conversation with their peers – or is it just a mask they wear when they’re wheeled out to make positive speeches.  You need a believer!

6. Good Networkers.   Perhaps this should be at the top.  Your sponsor need to be adept at spanning boundaries, spotting synergies and sneaking around the back door of silos.  Their network needs to become your network.

7. Tracking performance.  This is one of the acid tests of interest and commitment.  Is sponsorship of your activity something which is on their agenda, or are you just a medal that they wear to special occasions?  Agree what good looks like, agree the immediate steps and agree on the indicators and measures you need to focus on.
Get that meeting in their diary at least quarterly.  If they’re dashboard-oriented, then build one for them, but remember Einstein‘s classic quote:  “Not everything that can be counted  counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.”

8. Reinforcement when needed.  Sometimes you might need to ‘send for reinforcements’, so select a sponsor who is willing to challenge, knock heads together, unblock the corporate drains and generally provide you with air cover when you want it. You need a fighter as well as a lover.

9. Focus on the future.  Ensure that your sponsor gets the big picture – and can communicate it compellingly.  What is their personal vision for the organisation five years from now?  Does it match yours? Does it line up with your KM strategy and plan.  If they have a tendency to get lost in the details of performance targets, then make sure that some of your measures are long term.  You don’t really want them fussing over how many documents were uploaded into a SharePoint folder this week when there’s a demographic knowledge-leaving-the-organisation bubble which threatens to burst 3 years from now.  Help them to lift their heads up – and ask them to lift yours too.

10. Behavioural modelling.  Your sponsor needs to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. When you champion knowledge sharing, you lay yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy much more than if you were the sponsor of systems implementation programme.  It’s behavioural.  It’s relational.   And people notice.
You might want to equip them with some simple questions to ask others which help them nail their colours to the mast.  Syngenta are good at this, and put a number of “leading questions” on a pocket card to help all of their senior champions to verbalise their commitment:

“Who could you share this with?”  “Who did you learn from?” “Who might have done this before?” “Who could you ask for help and advice?”

University College’s After Action Review behavioural programme has taken training to the very top of the hospital tree to ensure that anyone is equipped (and expected) to facilitate an AAR. Would your Sponsor know how to lead a simple period of team reflection?  It would certainly increase their impact if you could help them to become the “knowledge conscience” in the boardroom…

So how does your sponsor measure up?  If you can nod gratefully to most of the above as you read it, then you’ve not only probably found yourself a Myers Briggs ENFJ, but you’re also in for a more effective and enjoyable time than Dilbert ever had!

One of my current clients needs to conduct a learning review from a 2-year IT project which, by her own admission, has had its fair share of ups and downs. The project is at its mid-point, so the main customer for the learning is the team itself. They don’t have much time to conduct the review (sadly just 90 minutes), so she asked me for some ideas for pre-work  for the team.

Sometimes you don’t have the luxury of a full day to conduct an exhaustive review, so you have to work with what you have and help the team to quickly connect their hearts and minds to the review process.  It’s the heart bit which interests me here.

When we’re under time pressure, we tend to focus on the facts, the timeline, the plan, the process, contract, technology, scope and the deviations. Intellectual recall. In fact, most project review documents contain little more than this kind of intellectual recall. It usually takes a bit longer to get a team to talk about how they felt, and to draw out some the more people-oriented learning – let’s call that a kind of “emotional recall”.

I combined some ideas from Retrospects, After Action Reviews, Baton-passing and Future Backwards (Heaven and Hell) exercises into this approach. Enjoy the ride!

With thanks to Navcon

Part 1 – the pre-work:

Before the meeting, ask each member of the team to think back over the project timeline and to focus on their emotions at each stage. You can provide them with a template like this, with key dates or milestones marked to give a sense of orientation.

1. Ask them to sketch out their own “emotional rollercoaster”, paying attention to the highs and lows.

2. For the high spots, write down what went well, and why you think it went well.

3. Do the same for the low spots. What was difficult, and why do you think that was?

4. How do you think the rollercoaster is most likely to continue?  Draw the continuing journey.  Bring this to the meeting with your notes on the reasons for the highs and lows.

Part 2 – during the meeting.

Sharing the Past and Present.

  • Collectively, in the meeting, create a large version of the rollercoaster timeline on the wall.
  • Each participant draws their journey up to the present day, pausing to describe the lows and highs, and the reasons for these.   A facilitator should probe these reasons using the “5-whys”  technique to get to the underlying reason.
  • For each high and low, ask the group to express the reason as a recommendation – something that someone else should do to repeat the delight, or avoid the despair – or an action which should be taken in order to change a process such that the good practice becomes embedded.
  • Capture these recommendations on post-its and place on the rollercoaster.
  • Repeat for each member of the project team (towards the end, they can “pass” if someone has already identified a high or low. )
  • This should create a shared view of the past, and “how we got to where we are today”, with some useful recommendations captured. Consider who you might share these with beyond the team.

Creating the Future together.

  • Now ask each member to sketch how they think the project will go from now to the end date. You will probably get a range of options!
  • Focus on the best projected outcome and ask “based on all we’ve learned to date, what actions could we take to make this happen, rather than the less positive options?”. You can take feedback from the entire group, or get them to discuss in pairs or sub-groups first.
  • Capture these actions (with names!).

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, this is the end of the ride.
Please be sure to collect your belongings as you leave and don’t forget to check your photo on the way out.

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My youngest daughter is going the see “The Croods”  today – it’s the latest DreamWorks production, this time about a prehistoric family about to “leave the cave”.

I”m secretly jealous that I’m not going too, but I’d stick out like a sore thumb among her group of friends.

The trailers look so good that I’ll definitely have to go one way or another – or leave it for the next long-haul flight.
This one in particular is brilliant. It has a lot to say about knowledge, learning, innovation,  improvement and change management – not to mention the reaction of teen-aged girls!

See if you can spot the following – all in 51 seconds:

    • Initial problem with someone feeling the pain,
    • Repeated failure to listen, repeated pain,
    • Failure of conventional wisdom and leadership,
    • Recognition of the need for alternative perspective,
    • Innovation and learning from analogues,
    • Experimentation and adaptation,
    • A trumpeted and hyped solution,
    • Disproportionate excitement followed by immediate sense of loss!

Now, does any of that look familiar in your organisation?

I’ve been reflecting on the dangers of “staying with the herd” when it comes to knowledge sharing.  It’s easy for our organisations to reinforce this mentality, and lead to people feeling exposed as “tall poppies” is they step out and share a good practice – or professionally incompetent if they are seen to be asking for help.  I think this leads people to cluster in the middle ground of mediocrity, or to put it more kindly, a place where good is the enemy of great.

This leads me to the words of AA Milne, in his poem, “Halfway down the stairs”.

Halfway down the stairs
is a stair
where I sit.
there isn’t any
other stair
quite like
it.
I’m not at the bottom,
I’m not at the top;
so this is the stair
where
I always
stop.

Halfway up the stairs
Isn’t up
And it isn’t down.
It isn’t in the nursery,
It isn’t in town.
And all sorts of funny thoughts
Run round my head.
It isn’t really
Anywhere!
It’s somewhere else
Instead!

There’s a charming version sung by Robin the Frog from the Muppet’s Show on YouTube, which takes me back to my childhood!  (I’ll post it at the end as a treat for you)

The River Diagram is has now become a fairly well established tool, combining the principles of positive deviance with knowledge sharing.  However, less people are familiar with its companion tool, the Stairs Diagram.

The Stairs diagram shows levels of capability (often derived from a common self-assessment tool or maturity model) plotted against the size of the improvement goal.  The example below (fictitious) shows the results of a number of healthcare-related networks who have all used a common self-assessment tool to discuss and agree their levels of networking capability against a number of practices.  They have also identified a number of targets for improvement.
One of the practices in the self-assessment was “Network Leadership & Facilitation”.  This is the Stairs Diagram for that practice.

Stairs Diagram

  • The Diabetes Network is at level 5, and clearly has something to share.
  • The Quality Improvement Fellows network is at level 1, but has a desire to improve by two levels.
  • The Cardio-community is at level 2, and hasn’t chosen this practice as a priority for improvement.
  • There is a cluster of networks at level 3 with no aspiration to improve, including the Health Informatics network.
  • Finally, the TB Network is at level 3, but still seeking to improve by two level.

The power of the stairs diagram is that it maps out the potential connections of highest value – connecting those who have something to share with those who have something to learn.  This is shown in the green and red areas respectively.

Having a common measure (in this case, a self-assessment tool) enabled this group of networks to identify not only the positive deviants, but also the networks with the greatest aspiration to improve.  For each “staircase”, the group can be coached to use an appropriate knowledge management tool to help those in the nursery to improve, and those in the town to share. That might be a Peer Assist, offers and requests, a knowledge cafe, knowledge fair, storytelling approach, or the capture and sharing of a distinctive or excellent practice.

So with the right motivation, the right leadership and the right methods, you can help people avoid the stair where they always stop.

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Image accredited with thanks to Paul Sapiano on Flickr

Following on from my last post comparing operational effectiveness with knowledge effectiveness, I’m reminded of the “Choke Model” from my BP days.  The choke model was a way of modelling production losses at every stage in the process, for example during the refining of crude oil to produce the raw materials and refined products which customers want to buy.
Starting with 100%, every step in the process was analysed, and the biggest “chokes” were identified and targeted for improvement.  There is a belief in BP that the total of all of these small percentage production losses across all of its refineries was the equivalent to having a brand new refinery lying dormant!  Now when you focus it like that, it’s one big financial prize to get after.

I think there’s a similar perspective that we could take looking at the way in which knowledge is lost during our efforts to “refine it” and transfer it to customers.  Sometimes we are so upbeat about “lessons learned” and “learning before, during and after”, that we start believing that we’ve got organizational learning cracked.  Well I don’t believe that we have!

Let’s take a walk through an organizational learning cycle and see where some of the “chokes” in our knowledge management processes might be.

Imagine that you’re working with a team who have just had an outstanding success, completing a short project. There’s a big “bucket of knowledge” there, but from the moment the project has completed, that bucket is starting to spill or leak its lessons.  (On a longer project, the leakage will start before the project has ended, but let’s keep it simple for now and say that memories are still fresh).

So from this moment, your lessons start to leak.  The team will be disbanded, team members join other projects, and people start re-writing the history of their own involvement (particularly as they approach performance appraisal time!).

Leak!

Let’s have a project review or “retrospect” to capture the lessons.  Good – but not a “watertight” process for learning everything that might be needed.

  • Are the right people in the room?  Team?  Customers? Sponsor? Suppliers?  Partners?
  • Are you asking the right questions? Enough questions?  The questions which others would have asked?
  • Are people responding thoughtfully?  Honestly? Are people holding back?  Is there politics or power at play which is influencing the way people respond?  Is the facilitator doing their job well?  Are they reading the room,  pressing for detail, for recommendations, for actions?

Leak!

And then we try to write-up this rich set of conversations into a lessons learned report.  However hard we try, we are going to lose emotion, detail, connections, nuances, the nature of the interactions and relationships – and all too often we lose a lot more in our haste to summarise. Polanyi and Snowden had something to say about that.

Leak!

And what happens to that report?  Is it lost in the bowels of SharePoint?  Is it tagged and indexed to maximise discovery?  Is it trapped on someone’s hard drive, or distributed ineffectively by email to “the people we thought would need it”?

Leak!

And of course, just because it’s stored, it doesn’t mean it’s shared! Sharing requires someone to receive it – which means that they have to want it.  Are the potential users of this knowledge thirsty? Curious?  Eager to learn?  Encouraged to learning rather than reinventing?  Infected with “Not invented here”?  Believe that their new project is completely different? Willing to root around in SharePoint to find those lessons? Willing to use the report as a prompt to speak with the previous team, and to invite them to a Peer Assist to share more of their learning?

Leak! Leak! Leak!

So you see, it’s a messy, leaky, lossy business,  and I think we need to be honest about that.  Honest with ourselves as KM professionals, and honest with our colleagues and customers.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t work hard to address the leaks and losses – quite the reverse.  We should be anticipating and responding to each one.  Whether that means having a “knowledge plan” throughout the lifetime of a project, engaging leaders to set the right expectations, providing support/training/coaching/facilitation/tools etc.   There’s a lot we can do to help organisations get so much better at this.  They might not save the equivalent of a Refinery’s worth of value – but they might just make their workplaces more fulfilling, increase staff engagement and reduce their dependence on external consultants.

I think it starts with the business answering the question:

 

“Just how valuable do we really believe this knowledge is?”

 

 

If you look at the picture at the top of this blog and imagine it’s happening on a beach somewhere, then it’s just part of the fun in an environment of abundance.  You can fill the bucket up again and again…

If the picture was taken in a drought-stricken part of the world – an environment of scarcity – well that’s a different story.

Image

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day with a Chemical manufacturing company, working with their business improvement (BI) community, 50 miles south of Milan.  The welcome was very warm, but the fog was dense and cold as we donned hard hats and safety shoes for a tour of the site.

One of the key measures which the BI specialists monitor is that of Overall Equipment Effectiveness – which is defined as:

OEE = Availability x Performance x Quality.

Availability relates to production losses due to downtime; Performance relates to the production time relative to the planned cycle time, and Quality relates to the number of defects in the final product.

It set me thinking about what a measure of Overall Knowledge Effectiveness for a specific topic might look like?

How do we measure the availability of knowledge?  Is that about access to information, or people’s availability for a conversation?

What about knowledge performance?  Hmmm. This is where a linear industrial model for operational performance and cycle times begins to jar against the non-linear world of sharing, learning, adapting, testing, innovating…

And knowledge quality?  How do we measure that?  It is about the relevance? The degree to which supply satisfies demand?  The way the knowledge is presented to maximise re-use?  The opportunity to loop-back and refine the question with someone in real-time to get deeper into the issue?

Modelling how people develop and use knowledge is so much more complicated than manufacturing processes.  Knowledge isn’t as readily managed as equipment!

If we limit ourselves to the “known” and “knowable” side of the Cynefin framework – the domains of “best practice” and “good practice” – are there some sensible variables which influence overall knowledge effectiveness for a specific topic or theme?

So how about:

Overall Knowledge Effectiveness = Currency x Depth x Availability x Usability x Personality

Currency:  How regularly the knowledge  and any associated content is refreshed and verified as accurate and relevant.

Depth:  Does it leave me with unanswered questions and frustration, or can I find my way quickly to detail and examples, templates, case studies, videos etc.?

Availability:  How many barriers stand between me and immediate access to the knowledge I need.  If it’s written down, than these could be security/access barriers; if it’s still embodied in a person, then it’s about how easily I can interact with them.

Usability:  How well has this been packaged and structured to ensure that it’s easy to navigate, discover and make sense of the key messages.  We’ve all read lessons learned reports which are almost impossible to draw anything meaningful from because it’s impossible to separate the signal from the noise.

Personality:  I started with “Humanness”, but that feels like a clumsy term.  I like the idea that knowledge is most effective when it has vitality and personality. So this is a measure of how quickly can I get to the person, or people with expertise and experience in this area in order to have a conversation.  To what extent are they signposted from the content and involved in its renewal and currency (above)

Pauses for thought.

Hmmm. It still feels a bit like an “if you build it they will come” supply model.  Of course people still need to provide the demand – to be willing and motivated to overcome not-invented-here and various other behavioural syndromes and barriers, apply the knowledge and implement any changes.

Perhaps what I’ve been exploring is really “knowledge supply effectiveness”  there’s a “knowledge demand effectiveness” equation which needs to be balanced with this one?

Hence:  Overall Knowledge Effectiveness is maximised when

(Knowledge Supply Effectiveness) / (Knowlege Demand Effectiveness) = 1

Not sure whether the fog is lifting or not.  More thinking to be done…

Are we being too hard on silos?

I regularly hear clients describing their workplace as being siloed. It’s common in public, private and third sector.

Sometimes people mean that their organisation is structured in silos.  Sometimes they mean that their information is managed in silos.  Sometimes they mean both.

Picture from amylynn1212

As KM professionals, we can be a bit militant in our language when it comes to silos.

They have become our public enemy number one – we need to demolish silos, tear silos down, break silos up, eradicate silo working…  you get the picture!

A wise leader once challenged me with a simple question.  I was being evangelical about knowledge management, sharing and networking and painting a picture of how the company could be different if it was restructured with knowledge in mind. His thoughtful response was:

“That sounds really good Chris, but can you also tell me what we would lose?”


It’s easy to slip in to a mindset whereby we view our organisations as completely dysfunctional, and “only radical KM surgery can save them”. Of course that’s never true – and raises the dangerous prospect that in our quest to find knowledge-enabled improvement, we fail to recognise what’s good and working well, and how our actions can impact that.

So is the presence of silos always a bad thing?  They seem to work well for managing grain!
Are there areas in your organisation where you need to collect, protect, store, securely develop, and preserve things of value for future use by others?

Perhaps it’s not the presence of silos which is the real issue, it’s their invisibility, anonymity and unnecessary impenetrability!
The problems arise when people don’t know where the silos are, whether they are empty or full, how to access the content and who is working on them.  In which case, there will be times when smashing them down isn’t the solution.  It will be more appropriate to discover and  recognise them, map their existence, understand their contribution, check that there’s no duplication, open them up for access and/or contribution by others (inside and outside?) and finally  to communicate how others can get the benefits.

Here’s a quote from the Organisational Learning Strategy at TEAR Fund, who I had the pleasure of working with earlier this year.

We have a great deal to learn from each other across teams and groups, and so we need to reframe the idea of breaking down our silos, to one of opening them up.  We should be continually finding ways to build bridges between and within our teams and groups.  Silos are used to store grain, and our groups and teams need to nurture their learning, and then communicate it with others.

I think there’s much more than a grain of truth in that.

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 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

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