KM


Next month marks my tenth year as an independent consultant.  How time flies when you’re, well, learning to fly…

Favorite-things

As I look back over those years, and the privilege of working with 120 different organisations, there are many high spots (as well the odd moment I’d prefer to forget!).  One particular type of activity stands out as my favourite, running a knowledge-sharing and learning consortium.

Let me explain how they work, and why they are so effective.

They typically start with a conversation initiated by a client which goes something like this…

“We keep going to conferences and feel like we’re hearing from the usual suspects, and seeing the same glossy presentations, but not learning anything new.   Could you find us a number of peer organisations to learn from and with – and facilitate a number of high-intensity meetings for us?”

And in a nutshell, that’s what a knowledge-sharing consortium is: a limited series of meetings between different organisations at similar levels of maturity with a commitment to openly share and learn. You could say that it’s the perfect blend of a Community of Practice and a Peer Assist, with a brilliant mix of non-competing organisations.

I have co-facilitated my consortium programmes with my good friend and consultant colleague Elizabeth Lank. It takes the energy and abilities of two facilitators to help 25 participants get the maximum benefit from their investment. You need to give it everything you’ve got. I know that both Elizabeth and I end each event with that feeling of “positive-tiredness” that comes after the last member has departed happy and the celebratory G&T has been poured, to help with our After Action Review.

So thank you to Schlumberger, Shell, BT, Unilever, GSK, Freshfields, Oracle, ABN Amro, Syngenta,  Pfizer, PwC, Freshfields, NHS, Audit Commission, the International Olympic Committee and others – thank you for making those events so memorable and enjoyable.

Here are my reflections…

Lessons, recommendations and design principles for a knowledge-sharing consortium.

  • Forming a consortium works best when there is a founding organization – a client with a need and a curiosity and desire to learn. Recruiting and inviting other participating companies is so much easier when you can say, for example, “Schlumberger are looking to learn from some other great knowledge companies about maximising the value from Communities of Practice. Would you be interested in joining us?”
  • We found that 4-8 member organisations worked best. Any less than 4 and members feel that they are exhausting the possibilities for learning. If you go much higher then 8 and it becomes too difficult to sustain relationships or remember what was discussed – you end up with something more like a conference.
  • Ask for 2-4 participants per company. This enables them to provide members from complimentary functions in their own organisations, and gives a critical mass for company break-out moments when they create space and time to consider “what will we do with all the good practice ideas that we’re picking up?. It also enables them to share their own story from multiple perspectives.
  • The series of meetings (usually 3 or 4 over a 12 month period) is deliberately time-bound, with a clear end in mind. This gives a focus and a helpful sense of urgency to extract the maximum value from every hour of each event.
  • Invest in forming relationships right from the start. Ensure each event has an over-night stay in a pleasant venue, great food and drink, space for informal conversations. Ensure that people have bios or social media profiles available, and include early ice-breaker events which make use of this information and get the group laughing together.
  • Ensure that there are sessions where participating organisations tell their story (as creatively as they like – you might chose to ban PowerPoint from some sessions). Balance this time evenly between telling and asking questions. Do everything you can to make it unlike a conference!
  • Solve real problems brought by the participants, as early as the first meeting. This sets the tone not just for subsequent face-to-face meetings, but creates the expectation and openness to request and respond.
  • Have fun together! We’ve incorporated treasure hunts, photo-safaris, museum trips, role-play, board games, playlists and karaoke into the designs in order to create memories, bind the group together, and, well enjoy having fun!
  • Make full use of artifacts. If every picture tells a story, then physical objects can write a book. We’ve curated displays of awards, posters, t-shirts, stress balls, card games, mugs, books, calendars and quizzes and explored their effectiveness at length. It’s been brilliant to see some consensual stealing-with-pride going on between the members.
  • Stay flexible. The best-planned agenda needs to be sacrificed if the group collectively choose to go somewhere else. We’ve learned to build in flexibility and use methods like Openspace to keep the power of choice firmly in the hands of the participants.
  • Vary the methods, techniques and tools – and debrief their use with the participants. We have found that our participants have really valued the use of new techniques. We’ve introduced reverse brainstorming, appreciative inquiry, project retrospects, social reporting, knowledge asset creation, social network mapping, speed-consulting, peer assists – and some experimental techniques which evolve on the day. Every time we use a technique, we review the outcome and the process and encourage reflection in company teams on how they can be adapted for use.
  • Focus facilitation on the process rather than the content.  Elizabeth and I are both frequently called upon to speak as experts on knowledge management and collaboration, but in a room with 25 experienced practitioners, our focus is usually on helping them to learn from each other – and just interjecting with the occasional story or 10 minute context-setting session.
  • Keep the discussion going between events. We’ve successfully used Google Sites, teleconferences, vlogging, individual telephone calls and even good old email to keep the party going between face-to-face events, and to build anticipation for the next meeting.

kdp

Stop press!  We’ve had an approach from a large international company who want to participate in a consortium focusing on effective collaboration, virtual working and network/community building, and we have just started the search for suitable consortium members.

So if this an area that your organisation has experience with, and you’re particularly interest in joining with some peer organisations to learn more, then please contact me for details.  I can guarantee it’s even better than raindrops on roses…

Slide1

Is it true that the best things come in small packages when it comes to knowledge?

I came across this helpful framework for thinking about the way we approach the packaging and sharing of knowledge. (Thanks Elizabeth for spotting it).


jit

Just in Case.   That’s been the unspoken but underlying mantra of many KM programmes. Let’s capture everything – all of those documents, lessons, transcripts and store them in a folder, just in case we need them in the future. It’s like archiving, but without the indexing rigour that a professional would apply.

So when that moment of need does arrive, it’s often too difficult to extract than insightful nugget or reusable example. It can be like rummaging through the rubbish bin to find that set of keys you dropped. You get messy and frustrated trying, then you give up and get a new set cut.

 

Now of course, there are often procedural and legal reasons why we do need to store everything associated with a particular individual or process – but we should watch out for tendencies to become Organisational Hoarders!

 

Just in Time.   One of Dave Snowden’s truisms is “you don’t know what you know until you need it”. We need a way to harness current knowledge and recent experience right in our moment of need. We’re not going to do battle with the SharePoint search function, and we’re not going to read through a pile of case studies or lessons learned reports in order to separate the signal from the noise.

And how do we know that yesterday’s lesson will serve today’s problem? We don’t have time for that – we have a real need, a desire to satisfy that need right now and we can’t ask questions of our documents!

How do we best respond to that? Just-in-time points us towards the tapping of formal communities and informal networks, inside and outside organisations. It’s the domain of knowledge jams on Jive and Yammer, questions to our Twitter networks. Face-to-face, it’s a great place to use techniques like Peer Assists and  “Speed Consulting”. Sometimes those interactions will point people back to content and documents, but they cut through the noise and provide access to a willing army of experienced volunteers – when faced with a cry for help – are often only too willing to help.

 

Just enough.   I didn’t have time to write you a short letter, so I wrote you a long one. Lack of time, and lack of strategic focus are two reasons why we end up with a Just-in-Case approach to content and documents.

Curation takes time, and it requires expertise. It’s best played as a team sport rather than an individual perspective – but it makes a huge difference when it comes to creating an asset which educates and informs the reader/learner.

Are we planting vast fields of information assets? Or are we harvesting fruitful knowledge assets?  The latter is designed to provide just enough – and also to enable digging on the specifics details

 

Just for me.   Perhaps that should be the ultimate goal of our work an KM professionals.  To be able to mine the riches of just-in-case knowledge, to deliver it  at the moment I need it, to hone it down so that it’s the perfect fit (not too much or too little) for my knowledge gaps and can be easily applied… and to do it in such a way that it’s tailored for my personal needs.  Now that’s quite a proposition.

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elephant-1

 

It shouldn’t surprise me after all this time, but it does.

I’ve conducted around 30 interviews in two different organisations in the last couple of months, as part of some KM strategy work.  The answers to the question: “what does knowledge management mean to you?” are often so varied, and usually include just one or two components or approaches . People have such different perspectives on what knowledge management is – and it’s rare for anyone to connect the different components together in any kind of holistic framework. “It’s about how we  get the right knowledge to the right person at the right time.  Oh and it’s to do with networks and conversations too.”

To be fair, knowledge management has been poorly defined and communicated in the external world, so it’s little wonder that people in organisations often approach it like the blind men and the elephant – each sensing a part, but not the whole, and drawing their own conclusions.

Here’s a holistic model for knowledge management. It isn’t new (it’s based on the model from BP in Learning to Fly)- but it’s still relevant and current today and does a good job of plotting a route through the KM landscape. Let me build it up for you.

Start with the day-to-day matter of performance management and project management, where people and teams agree to goals and targets in order to deliver value which generally takes the form of profits for shareholders – or value for stakeholders.

How do they do this? By using and developing knowledge – their own expertise, knowledge from the team, elsewhere in the organisation, from professional advisors or others outside the organisation.

Slide1

It’s a given that KM needs to connect directly to the goals and objectives of the organisation. So how does knowledge management improve, or accelerate the way in which they are achieved?

Firstly, through the application of learning.  Learning before, during and after activities.
Without learning, we end up recycling old knowledge and documents – trapped between “connect and collect”, but not creating anything new.

  • Learning before: how do we know that we’ve tapped into what the organisation already knows, and can we make sense of what it is knowing today?
  • Learning after: how good are we at really learning and applying lessons from stories of personal experience?
  • Learning during: do we have a culture of continuous learning, reviewing and improving?

Slide2

With processes for learning before and after in place, it’s important to manage the outputs of those processes – and to continue to refine, collate and curate a living, evolving, media-rich “knowledge bank”, from which withdrawals and deposits can be made.

Slide3

…but of course, the capture knowledge is just a shadow of the knowledge which will always remain in the heads of individual experts, and within networks of people with questions, answers, experience and ideas. The reserves in this human knowledge bank are far greater.
Slide4
These networks and experts play a vital role in collating and curating knowledge on behalf of the organisation.  They have the current awareness and they understand the most pressing business issues. Who better to steward the knowledge than an emergent community of subject matter experts and practitioners?

Slide5So now we’ve connected performance and project management with learning, learning with codification, and codification with networks, experience and expertise.  The final part of the model recognises the role that culture and leadership behaviours and actions play to sustain an environment where these processes can thrive and interconnect.

What motivates people to make the time to learn, connect and collate knowledge such that the value and efficiencies have a chance to flow through and create the stories to inspire others?  How can leaders reinforce and role-model this?

Slide6

It can take a little time to give birth to this kind of a supportive culture – but then again, elephants to have the longest gestation period of any mammal, so we shouldn’t be surprised.

The start of a new year is a good time to look back over the previous 12 months and reflect on some highlights – so here are the first five of my ten favourite moments of Knowledge Management Consulting from 2014 – in no particular order – I loved them all!

If you ever wondered what I get up to as a KM consultant, it will give you some insights…

1. A whirlwind trip to Iran.  After a number of virtual presentations via Sharif University, I made my first trip to Iran, visiting Tehran and then flying to the beautiful, ancient city of Isfahan. What an amazing appetite for knowledge!  After presenting at the Iran MAKE awards ceremony, I ran (see what I did there?)  a number of simultaneously translated workshops for large audiences who had huge interest and no end of questions.  My host from Sharif had to spirit me away to another room during the coffee times so that I had a chance to draw breath.  Here’s a shot of some of some participants conducting the Marshmallow Tower exercise to apply the fundamentals of KM.

iran

2. Ethiopia with the UN.  I have had the privilege of working with the United Nation System Staff college for several years now, and visited Addis Ababa twice last year to facilitate workshops on KM and Appreciative Inquiry with the Economic Commission for Africa. We discussed networking, and learning in depth, and worked up a 10-year vision for KM in the region. The photo below was a fun physical network analysis which brought a smile to everyone’s faces!

onaeca

3. Google Glass for Knowledge Capture.  I worked with a major Pharmaceutical company on their KM strategy  and had the opportunity to visit their R&D facility on the east coast of the US to explore the connection between KM and Innovation, and encountered the use of Google Glass to capture and really understand the actions of development scientists.  I had my first chance to play with them. Not exactly Raybans, but I still felt kind of cool.

googleglass

4. Teaching KM for Programme Managers At Skolkovo Business School, Moscow.  I have been part of the faculty at Skolkovo for two years now, and have enjoyed several trips to deliver modules on corporate leadership development programmes.  The business school was only build in 2005.  As you can see, it’s one of Moscow’s more innovative buildings.

wywz_moscow_business_school_a140211_3

5. The KDP Consortium visit to the Olympic Museum.   If I had to choose a favourite assignment, I guess it would be the work I did with Elizabeth Lank facilitating the “Knowledge Driven Performance Consortium” programme for 20 KM leaders and champions from  six different organisations. We met three times over a year to share experiences and learn lessons from a set of mature KM programmes. It was lovely to meet up again with old friends from MAKE winners Schlumberger and Syngenta, and to see the experience shared both ways with new clients like the IOC who hosted our meeting in Lausanne, Switzerland and gave us a private tour of their brilliant Olympic Museum. It’s a brilliant example of a knowledge asset which you can walk through and interact with.

olympic-museum

So there are my first five highlights; five more to follow later this week.

What a privilege to have a job which enables me to see so much of the world, and support such a diverse group of clients. I’m counting my blessings.

One of the common constructs used to ‘frame’ knowledge management activities is that of Collect or Connect.

Collect is often thought of to refer to the KM activities closest to document management and information management. It invokes thoughts of ubiquitous SharePoint, intranets, portals, knowledge assets, content, FAQs, wikis, folksonomies and taxonomies.

Connect takes us into the areas of networks, communities, social networking, expertise profiling, knowledge jams, cafes, conversations and randomised coffee trials.

connect-collect_Fotor

There’s nothing wrong with either of these domains – any more than there is anything wrong with a bookstore or a coffee shop. But just as there’s more to our high streets than libraries and coffee shops (mind you, there are an awful lot of coffee shops) – there more to KM than collect-and-connect.

So what happens when you put the coffee shop inside the bookstore, then invite an author to sign copies and discuss ideas for new books? That’s one way for new knowledge to be created.

ccc_Fotor

We also create knowledge when we learn from experience, combine and distil existing knowledge, make sense from patterns, collaborate, develop and build upon each others’ ideas. None of this is new, but I’m still surprised at how many organisations build a KM strategy which seems to be entirely fulfilled through SharePoint.  What a lack of ambition!

connect-collect-create_Fotor

I ran a workshop last week with a group of programme directors from different organisations who are in trust-building stages of forming a community of practice.  They had already created a self-assessment tool to provide them with a common language – and identified a number of topics within their overall discipline.
We found it very productive to run a group table conversation for each topic along the lines of:

  • “What knowledge can we collect – what can we each bring to the table?”
  • “Which sub-topics and specific questions can we connect together to discuss, where a conversation is more appropriate than formal information sharing?”
  • “What are the areas and challenges where we could collaborate and create new knowledge (products, guides, recommendations, processes) together?”

One hour later we had over 100 pointers to the best content, offers to share documents, a whole selection of informal and formal discussion areas, ad-hoc offers and requests – and a set of new potential collaboration projects to learn together, share experience, create new knowledge-based products and challenge conventional ways of working.
Now that’s likely to energise this community even more than any double espresso!

apple-watch

Like hundreds of millions of others, I enthusiastically  tuned in to watch the Apple Launch event yesterday.

And like hundreds of millions of others, I was frustrated by a the spectacular failure of the live-streaming of the event, which stuttered, error-messaged restarted, over-dubbed Chinese real-time translation, and regularly reverted to a bizarre test-card of a Truck Schedule.

Very un-Apple-like. Very embarrassing.

Needless to say, Twitter was in uproar baying for retribution; this tweet summarising the mood.

applefail

When things go publicly wrong, this is so often the reaction.  We look for the fall-guy and take ‘decisive action’.

Does this change anything?  Does it reduce the risk that the source of the failure will repeat it in the future?  I don’t believe so.
Somewhere out there, there are one or more totally committed Apple employees who have experienced the most agonizing, unforgettable public professional moment of shame.  They probably worked through the night for weeks in advance to make this a success – and somewhere, someone screwed up, in front of one of the largest audiences in the world.  Does anyone really think they would want to re-live that experience? Does anyone  think that they  – more than anyone else – will want to know who, when and why this failure happened?

So why would any sane organisation want heads to roll after such a one-off failure?

Because the trouble is, when heads roll, knowledge and experience rolls too.

All this reminds me of an apocryphal story from IBM – one which I often use to illustrate true cost of failure – failing to learn from it.

A sales executive was working on a big deal for IBM – around $10m of potential value. Somewhere along the way, they screwed up and lost the deal to a competitor. That was a big deal.

The salesperson was summoned to Lou Gertsner [or perhaps his predecessor CEO, John Akers?] to explain himself.  After hearing the  explanation, Gerstner asked the salesperson, “What do you think I should do?”.

“Well, I guess you’re going to fire me.” came the faltering response.

“Fire you?  Why would I fire you when I’ve just invested ten million dollars in your education?” retorted Gerstner.

Now that’s knowledge leadership in action.

I hope that today, intelligence triumphs over indignation  at  1, Infinite Loop, Cupertino, and Apple are smart enough to do the same.

 

I’m always embarrassed by my inability to speak another language, having never really progressed beyond my schoolboy French and Spanish. I’m frequently humbled by clients and friends around the world whose command of English and desire to learn more puts me to shame. I guess it’s one of the disadvantages of being a native speaker of the world’s accepted business language; it has led to linguistic laziness.

When we think about the field of knowledge and knowledge management, the English language has particular limitations. The verb “to know” has to be stretched in a number of directions, and masks some important distinctions that other languages make.

Whilst the English know things, know facts, know people, know what just happened and know their onions – our neighbours in France and Spain separate knowing into two areas:

Connaitre/Conocer: These are used ot express knowledge about something or someone where we have some experience with the thing (or person). You can know, or be acquainted with, a book, a movie, a place, or a person.

Savoir/Saber: These are used to talk about learned skills. You can know how to swim, draw, speak a language, etc. It is also used to ask about knowing about something, or knowing something by memory.

Think about it for a moment – who would you rather get travel advice from: someone who knows about Madrid, or someone who is acquainted with Madrid?

The conversations would be so different wouldn’t they? One is more transactional – almost a Google search. The other feels more like it would be a dialogue – a relational conversation.

It’s a subtle distinction, but it’s a powerful one and one which needs to be embedded in our approach to managing knowledge holistically. We need to address conocer and caber, and find ways to bring them together.

conocer

Interestingly, in my research for this post, I discovered that in Spanish, there are cases where conocer and saber are used interchangeably:

When you are expressing the fact of having knowledge or ideas about a subject or science, either saber or conocer is acceptable. It is also acceptable to use either saber or conocer to express the finding out of new information or news

Where is the best place to bring together knowledge, ideas, new information and news about a subject? Well, a community of practice or a network seems like a good place to start.
If this sounds familiar, and you’re a reader of “Learning to Fly” with a good memory, then it should do!

ltf

So I guess we knew about this all along – we just weren’t fully acquainted with it.

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