Knowledge Sharing


I’ve been musing on the traditional approach to performance management, and how management-by-objectives could release so much more value if it was more transparent. I’ve seen so many examples where people rely on serendipity to discover a colleague or a project with an aligned objective. And they often discover it too late!

Objectives

OK – most of us know our own objectives, but Dilbert has a point…

Perhaps this is all a bit obvious, but, inspired by a recent talk from Euan Semple not to eschew stating the obvious, I thought I’d pose the question:

Why is is that even in enlightened organisations who emphasise collaboration and connection, personal performance objectives still seem to be treated with the same level of protection and secrecy as personal salaries?  It’s like we are asking people to complete a jigsaw with all of the pieces upside-down.

What if everyone’s profile page carried their objectives by default?

You know the kind of thing: “This is me and this is what I’m directing my energy into, to make our company more successful this year. Are you doing anything that might complement or align with me?”

Naturally you’ll need to conceal the ones which are commercially, personally or legally sensitive – but I would suggest that the majority of individual objectives could be shared, but remain barricaded into performance management silos.

Do you know of any examples of organisations where individual performance objectives are generally visible to all, and where people look for synergies?  I’ve started to discuss this on the Gurteen Linked-In group too  – getting plenty of agreement, but no mould-breaking examples yet.

Grateful for pointers or examples from anyone.

 

So let’s push this a bit further…

  • What if not just our objectives were visible, but also how we’re progressing in meeting them?
  • What if I could reach out and offer to help a colleague to prevent them from missing a target?
  • What if we could remove the perceived need to out-perform and compete with our colleagues, focus on being greater than the sum of our parts,  like the HBR article on T-shaped management, but on a truly corporate scale?

And to be truly revolutionary,

  • What if we could bury forced-ranking and focus on releasing best from our people; start managing talent collectively rather than individually, and reform closed performance management into collaborative knowledge sharing?

Now that sounds like the kind of courageous company which I’d like to work for.

Perhaps it’s time we discussed some what-if questions with our allies in HR?

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 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 Hospital’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!

I have had the privilege of working with  over 100 client organisations over past 9 years. (Where did that time go?)

In each case they have their own definition of Knowledge Management, often their own label, and usually a specific cocktail of disciplines, processes and tools which they choose to place under the KM “umbrella”.

Sometimes the decisions above reflect the specific needs of the organisation, and other times that reflect the focus, background and place in the organisation of any centralised KM resources.
Often it’s a mixture of both, Rum and Coke? Gin and Tonic? Whiskey and Soda?

Some of the pairings  I’ve seen include “Knowledge and Innovation” (R&D oriented organisations) “Knowledge and Information” (that’s a common one in the Public Sector), “Business Improvement & Knowledge” (manufacturing), “Knowledge and Insight” (professional services) and “Knowledge and Learning” (several sectors) and in one oil and gas company: “Knowledge and Collaboration”.

Image

Each of these combinations gives an interesting twist to knowledge management, and I’m surprised that I don’t see “Knowledge and Collaboration” in combination more often.  It’s always seemed like an ideal blend to me, as it encourages us to think about the practicalities of changing working practices, motivating people to work together in different forms of partnership (see Collaborative Advantage by Elizabeth Lank), and in ensuring that the right conversations happen between the right people, using the most effective supportive technology whenever the need arises.

And if you need to be reminded of what that looks like when it’s not done well, then this brilliant “Real Conference Call” parody by Trip & Tyler will hit the spot.

We’ve all been there!

How the Beatles Share Knowledge!

I’m currently co-facilitating a series of consortium meetings with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Lank  for six leading organisations, all well known and well-respected for their KM capability.

One of the more light-hearted activities in preparation for the next meeting is for each of the participants to select a suitable “track to share knowledge by”, which has generated some fascinating insights, as well as providing us with a background soundtrack for some of the activities we have planned.

One band which cropped up repeatedly was the Beatles, which got me thinking, and digging through my own collection of Beatles singles – and I thought I’d share the outcome here (there and everywhere…)

Image

This is of my favourite exhibits at the Tate Modern Gallery in London, sculpted (if that’s the right word) by Giuseppe Penone. Here’s a summary from the description:

Out of processed planks of timber the ancient technique of carving draws out the shape of a tree, wood removed ring by ring until twelve metres of tree – bottom to top and top to bottom – is exposed within two sawn pieces of wood, initially intended for construction.
Sculpture is engaged in a reconstruction through deconstruction, a turning back of the clock, pulling back to reveal the raw within the contained.

I love this work because it speaks to me of the stories which lie within. It says that with careful skill, the layers of what looks on the surface to be an unremarkable object can be peeled away to reveal years of history, detail and in this case beauty.  In the case of the tree on the left– it revealed truth that the world was actually the other way up!

If you’re anything like me, there will have been times when you have looked through the write-up of a post-project review, or lessons learned summary, and wanted to ask questions of the document in your hand, or on your screen.   And when we try to ask a document a question, it will always be a one-sided conversation!

Asking the right questions is the core activity for anyone facilitating a learning review.

Naturally it’s better to learn whilst doing, rather than try to get a team to remember at the end of a significant project (and not post-rationalise events!) – but all too often you are confronted with a “learning after doing” scenario.  So how do you make the best of that situation? So what types of questions should we consider?  Here are 20+ questions and some techniques which I find helpful.

Questions to establish the facts and re-set the context.

  • Can anyone talk me through the original plan and objectives of the project?
  • Did these change over time?  (When, How, Why?)
  • Who was responsible for this task, and did this responsibility change? (Why, How, Who?)
  • How well did the project achieve its aims?
  • What were the areas of deviation from the plan, and what were the reasons?

Questions to surface the notable high and low spots.

  • Think back over each phase of the project: What did the team do well during this time?
  • What was the most professionally satisfying part of the project for you?
  • What should have gone better?
  • What were the most frustrating parts of the project?
  • Were there any early warning signs which we should have spotted? What should we look out for in future?
  • If you could wave a magic wand and change anything about the project, what would you change?
  • If you had to give a mark out of 10 for the project outcome/output – what would that be? What would make that a 10?
  • If you had to give a mark out of 10 for the project process – what would that be? What would make that a 10?
  • How many marks of 10 would your customers/contractors give it?
  • Consider the Emotional Rollercoaster as a technique.
  • Michael Greer’s PM Resources article has a number of more specific questions for design and implementation phases.

Questions to dig deeper

  • Why?  The 5-why’s technique is a very powerful way of peeling away the layers and getting closer to the root, but try not to be too mechanical about it! There’s more than one way to ask “why” to make it sound less like an inquisition –  for example:
    •  “What makes you say that?”,
    • “What led you to that decision?”,
    • “Why do you think that might be?”,
    • “Was there a reason for that?”…
  • Can you give me an example of that?
  • Can you share a story which illustrates this? (Capture these on video/audio if possible.)

Questions to construct advice, recommendations or principles for the next team.

  • What would you say to a colleague about to start the same kind of project, to help them repeat your success?
  • Imagine you were having a drink with a close friend, and they mentioned that they were about to take a similar approach to the one you took – what advice would you give them to help them avoid the pitfalls you encountered?  Specifically, what should they do or not do?
  • If you could go back in time to the start of this project and shout something in your ear, what three pieces of advice would you give yourself

Questions for de-risking discussions about failure. (Works best with multiple projects represented.)

  • Imagine for a minute you were writing a guide on how to screw up projects of this type – what would your top tips be?

 

The truth is in there, if we can ask the right questions…

Young Tree Carved Inside Old Tree

Having spent the last few weeks exploring what’s wrong with lessons learned, it’s time to turn our attention towards the elements that contribute to successful organisational learning.

Customer

As we piece this puzzle together, one of the most important principles to bear in mind is that of knowing your customer.

It sounds obvious, but in my experience it’s often overlooked.  Just who is customer for the learning?

1. The current team.

One clear customer is the team who are conducting the review.  A well-facilitated review will not only surface technical, commercial and process-related learning, but also personal, behavioural and team-related insights. Even if the activity was a one-off, never-to-be-repeated project, there will always be learning relevant to each individual – provided the team explores the right questions.

Imagine a research team is working on a vaccine for an incurable disease.  After years of experimentation, analysis and a little luck, they stumble upon the antidote.  The team is ecstatic – they have a formula in their hands that could improve the lives of thousands of people.  So they secretly inoculate themselves, disband the team and each individual starts on their next challenge.

Now imagine the outcry!  That would be outrageous – a waste of extensive research. Commercially disastrous and selfish to the point of immorality!

There is a research team hidden in every operational project we do – it’s just that we fail to help them realise and multiply the value in what they have discovered – which takes us to customer type number 2:

2. The next team.
One year ago, a large number of representatives from the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games conducted an extensive debrief. That debrief wasn’t carried out in London.  Instead, it was conducted in Rio de Janeiro, in the presence of the Rio 2016 team, facilitated by the IOC.  Not only that, but the time was deliberately managed such that 50% of each day was available for connecting, networking and asking further questions., as well as exchanging documentation.
The customer was clear – it was the next team.

Sometimes we know who exactly the next team (or teams) will be, and we can set up relationships, staff transfers, conversations, forums to ask questions, site visits, peer assists, peer reviews.  The IOC do all of this very well.
When we know who our customers are, then we can connect the supply with demand. Dialogue-based approaches are the most effective mechanisms for this.

However, there are times when we don’t know who the next team will be – but we’re sure that there will be one at some time.  We can’t afford to wait until the demand surfaces, because the supply (the current team) will have already been disbanded, and may well have left the organization.  In these cases we do need to capture some record of the context and the learning, and where it is relevant, to express this as principles, propositions, recommendations or specific advice for the next team, whoever they might be.

We need to ask the right questions (more on this the next post); questions which make the current team think about the needs of an imaginary future team:

  • “What would you say to a team about to start on a similar project?”
  • “If you had just 5 minutes with them, what key pieces of advice would you give them, based on your experiences?”
  • “How could they repeat your successes; how could they ensure that they avoid the low points you faced?”

In practice, it can be difficult to convince a busy team that they need to invest time together for the benefit of some future imaginary team. They know it makes sense, but they usually have other priorities, even if there is a requirement in the project process that they need to comply with.  Compliance rarely generates thoughtful dialogue.

You will want to start with them as the customer, and bring the questions around to the future once they have warmed up, and seen some personal benefit.  You may need to appeal to people’s professionalism and pride to get them to engage in the idea of being recognized for leaving a legacy.  Indeed, some organisations have recognition schemes in place for exactly this. (ConocoPhillips’ “Gather” award, and Syngenta’s “Embed” award are both examples of this.)

Of course, when we take on a customer mindset, we need to consider more than just what they need to know.  We have to think equally as hard about how they would like to receive this knowledge.  You can bet that they don’t want a copy of a flipchart sporting a set of bullet points from a meeting that they were not present at!  They would probably like to have context, contacts, reasons for decisions, artifacts, quotations, narrative, references, top tips, things to avoid… – all nicely structured and easy to navigate.

When we understand that we have knowledge customers, then we need to consider our knowledge products.

More on this at a later date.

3. The Organisation itself.

So the current and future teams are clear enough, but how does the organisation become a customer?

It’s the best way I could think of to describe the idea of improving the structural capital – the processes, guidelines, protocols, standards, policies, training, development and formal ways of working.  I have had the privilege of spending time with the IOC over the past two years, and their approach to closing the loop and translating learning into technical guidance through their technical manuals is a great example of this.

An effective “lessons learned programme” does to simply pass the baton to the next team, neither does if make it’s goal in life the develop a library of lessons learned.  The focus should always be on improvement.  The question should be “how do we ensure that actions follow which remove the risk, or bake-in the benefits that our learning has uncovered?”.  I covered this in my BMW shaggy-dog story earlier last year.

The question “what have we learned?” should be followed by  “what should we do about this?”.  A learning log needs to have an actions log.

When we apply KM in Safety context we do this without another thought.  If someone is killed, injured or in the event of a near miss, a sequence of safety-related review processes are initiated, root causes are understood, risks mitigated, procedures updated, communication planned and training delivered.

We are good at closing the loop between a moment of learning and a permanent change in the structural capital.  Hopefully this is because we don’t want to kill or injure anyone, and hence care enough to make someone accountable for looking for risks and actions in every fragment of learning.

In my experience, other topics don’t receive this level of attention, even though the commercial value at stake might be significant.  Something we could learn from there.

False customers.

Just a few words about other stakeholders who are sometimes unhelpfully referred to as the customer for learning.

The customer is the project management process.

Never heard anyone say that?  Well, perhaps you’ve heard them express the same sentiment when them say: “the process says we need to have a review before proceeding to the next stage gate”.
That’s more or less the same mindset.  We need to raise the sights of our project teams to see the real customer – themselves, the next team, or the betterment of the organization, which ultimately will improve relationships with a real external customer.

The customer is the regulator.

In some regulated businesses, there is an expectation that effective learning and improvement cycles are in place. This is a good thing!   Sadly, the regulators often look for evidence of inputs (because that’s what how they can measure compliance and consistency) rather than outputs (where the customer creates the value).  This can launch an industry of lessons logs and registers, unproductive reviews and ineffective debriefs, again the real customer has been lost and regulatory compliance has become a distraction.

This can be difficult, as nobody wants to do the work twice.  I recommend a dialogue with the regulating body to find out what they are actually looking for, rather than making assumptions that they have a preferred format. In my experience, regulators are specialists in their subject matter, but not specialists in organisational learning.  Engage them in a discussion about your preferred approach and propose different or additional sources of evidence of learning and transfer (for example: meetings in schedules, testimonies from individuals, candidates for recognition schemes).

Let’s keep our focus on the true customers, and magnify the benefits.

customer-focus

« Previous PageNext Page »