Monday, December 24, 2007

Barriers to Knowledge Exchange

A recent post on Jack Vinson's blog pointed to a very interesting article titled Why We do Dumb or Irrational Things: 10 Brilliant Social Psychology Studies.

Psyblog also recently featured a post titled When We Are Fools To Ourselves.

I've grown somewhat infatuated with subjects like social psychology, social anthropology, cultural anthropology etc. in the context of enabling personal and organizational change, and facilitating knowledge creation and knowledge/information exchange.

I think Psyblog is one to watch. It seems to present complex psychological topics in simple language.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Meeting Rules

David Meiser, author of numerous books (my favourites being the Trusted Advisor and First Among Equals), started a conversation on Meeting Rules. Funny how making meetings more productive seems to be a recurring theme and common problem in organizations, despite the volumes of information and proven practices available out there.

In the blog entry, David asks: "What meeting rules would you propose?"

In my comments, I suggested that the MOST IMPORTANT RULE, maybe the only one is "We will respect each other and ourselves."

Meeting organizers should respect participants by creating an environment that maximizes participation and contributions, and minimizes unnecessary negative impact on workloads - by being clear and explicit about outcomes, objectives, roles, responsibilities, preparation required, meeting structure and underlying process.

All meeting participants should respect each other by:

  • "being there" - being cognitively present in the meeting and focused on contributing to outcomes, and yes, that means turning off cell phones and Blackberry's .. perhaps every meeting room / meeting organizer needs one of these -
  • tabling all relevant information to enable everyone to make fully informed choices and decisions
    listing to others' opinions and ideas for value, and not just criticism - balancing advocacy with inquiry
  • being productively candid, and discussing the "undiscussable"

These are a blend of a few principles found in Roger Schwartz' "Using the Facilitative Leader Approach to Create an Organizational Culture of Collaboration." and some of the principles in that video FISH! that you may have seen a few years back.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Another Reason Why KM is more than just IM

On the Anectode blog, Daryl referenced an interesting Star Article by Louise Brown titled The fine art of (not) lecturing. In it Brown references criticisms of the typical lecture model used in post-secondary education by Nobel laureate Carl Wieman, leader of the $2 million-a-year Carl Wieman Science Education Initiative for improving science learning.

The article references some interesting points:

  • people don't remember what they don't pay attention to
  • short-term memory can only process four ideas at a time - reduce the load and stimulate the brain
  • vigorous interaction – the guessing, answering and arguing and persuading – stimulates protein in the brain, which in turn helps anchor ideas into long-term memory
  • we remember only those things we think have meaning at the time, and ignore everything else (Ever re-read something months or years from the original read only to take away a whole new understanding? I certainly have.)
  • we can remember only seven items at a time and can process only four ideas at once

Given the relative truth in these statements, and the old axiom in the facilitation world that "the brain falls asleep 2.8 seconds after your posterior does," I wonder why lecture based "training," with a typical talking head at the front of the room, is still often equated with effective learning. Why so many corporate communication, or "change management" programs focus on pushing information, presuming that once communicated, it will be consumed, understood, accepted and duly acted upon. And why groups often resist efforts to facilitate the interactivity necessary to generate mutual learning in support of problem solving and decision making into meetings and workshops.

If you at least notionally agree that knowledge is created through active learning in context, supported by quality, relevant content, then it is critical for the exchange / transfer of knowledge to be highly interactive, with active engagement by the learner in the process. Passivity is counter productive.

Sounds a bit like adult learning 101, doesn't it? At least it seems to be the common ground for collaboration between human resource management and knowledge management.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Another Spin on Management Innnovation

Interestingly, The Six Practices of High-Impact Nonprofits (a Fast Company excerpt from the book Forces for Good by authors Leslie R. Crutchfield and Heather McLeod Grant) contains remarkable similarities to the new management principles suggested in Gary Hamel's book The Future of Management.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Community of Practice Leadership

In my previous post, I mentioned new management principles suggested in Gary Hamel's book The Future of Management:

  • variety, diversity, experimentation, depoliticizing / depolarization of decision making
  • resource allocation flexibility through a market model
  • enabling activism through democracy (devolution of accountability, distributed leadership, unalienable dissention rights)
  • engagement and mobilization through meaning and common cause
  • increasing the odds, and successful contribution, of serendipity
These are in stark contrast to the principles of "modern management," generally comprised of standardization, specialization of tasks and functions, goal alignment, hierarchy, planning and control, and extrinsic rewards. (Well summarized in Gary's book, page 151)

I'm currently working with the leadership team of a project management community of practice to enable them to grow the community and enrichen knowledge conversations and member learning and development. Many of the ideas and concepts in Gary's book have me thinking about what leadership really is in the context of a community of practice, and in turn, their relavence to the specific community I'm working with.

Much has been written about communities of practice (what they are & how they differ from task teams, how they work, value propositions, what the challenges are, nascent vs. seeded, etc.). Much of the writing talks about a variety of roles and responsibilities in the context of communities (e.g. facilitator, coordinator, information manager/librarian), and talks generally community leadership and its importance.

Gary has a very intreaguing reference in The Future of Management to some points from Mary Parker Follett's book, Creative Experience, first published in 1924:
  • leadership is the capaticy to increase the sense of power amonng those being led, in essence to create more leaders
  • difficult problems are best solved by creating "higher-order solutions" through the integration of diverse perspectives of all relavent stakeholders
  • growth of organizations is maximized when the local communities within are effectively self-governed
Certainly visionary thinking for the time.

I'm not sure anyone has specifically, and with any great degree of depth, succintly explored the leadership dimension in communities as it has been explored more broadly in the context of business. At least, I haven't found it yet.

The questions that form in my mind are:
  • What core principles (should) guide community leadership?
  • What should effective community leaders do/act/practice to align with the core principles?
  • What is community leadership and what makes it different than other forms or contexts of leadership?
  • What are the key leadership processes in communities and how are/should they be shared across a leadership team?
  • How can visibility, horizontality, transparency, inclusivity be woven into community leadership, while maintaining or increasing leadership effectiveness?
  • How should community leadership be rewarded/recognized in the context of organizational hierarchy?
As I explore some of these questions with the help of colleagues and experts, I'll share emerging ideas here.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Web 2.0 and the Future of Management

Jim Lee at APQC has recently posted a blog entry titled Et tu, web 2.0? In it he reviews a number of Web 2.0 technologies and rates their usefulness in the context of his own impressions, needs and contexts. At the end of the post, he asks Gen Y'ers to share their experience with Web 2.0 stuff. (Which is why I'm commenting here and not on his blog.. I'm a bit "long in the tooth" to qualify as a Gen Y'er.)

Jim has been exploring the use/usefulness of Web 2.0 technologies for a while, even questioning the value of his APQC blog. I think his questions are in line with what many of us are considering when looking at Web 2.0 in the context of business value and purpose.

I picked up on a couple of interesting themes in his blog;

  • the value of Web 2.0 tools if you're on the road almost 100% of the time
  • some of the tools don't work for him , which it think is as much related to preferred learning style as anything else
  • and most interestingly, he mentions "knowledge marketplace"
The last point really caught my attention, as I'm reading Gary Hamel's absolutely brilliant book (at least in my opinion), The Future of Management.

In the context of key trends and external forces that are affecting individuals and companies alike, requiring dramatically greater adaptability, Gary points to the shortcomings of the current management paradigm built on the core principles of standardization, specialization, hierarchy, alignment, planning and control, and influencing human behaviour using extrinsic rewards. He then suggests that the key is management innovation, which he defines as "anything that substantially alters the way in which the work of management is carried out, or significantly modifies customary organizational forms, and, by so doing, advances organizational goals."

He also suggests that adopting new principles is at the core of management innovation, and offers:
  • variety, diversity, experimentation, depoliticizing / depolarization of decision making
  • resource allocation flexibility through a market model
  • enabling activism through democracy (devolution of accountability, distributed leadership, unalienable dissention rights)
  • engagement and mobilization through meaning and common cause
  • increasing the odds, and successful contribution, of serendipity

When I think of these, I see a role for Web 2.0 / social media in supporting and enabling management innovation. The effective integration of social media content, features, functions and capabilities (e.g. collaborating, creating, publishing, linking, sharing, commenting, reviewing, rating, aggregating, dis-intermediating, combining and re-combining) has the potential to enable a shift in management paradigm, to support the change from old to new, and provide the part of the support infrastructure for working in new and innovative ways.

BTW: James Gardner has an interesting view of Web 2.0 social media in his blog post titled "The New Divide: The workforce gap."

As well, McKinsey has published a management innovation related article titled Innovative Management: A Conversation with Gary Hamel and Lowell Bryan.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Can't Do KM Until You Get IM Right - Truth or Misconception

I've often seen an interesting perspective from a few information professionals in conversations about knowledge and information management. They sometimes categorize information management as the "hard stuff" and knowledge management as the "soft stuff." I've seen a few of them assert that you can't do the "soft stuff", often pointing at their heads, until you get the "hard stuff" right, pointing to or holding a piece of paper. (The implication there perhaps is that our heads are soft ? )

At first blush, that premise seems to make sense. In many respects good information is very important to creating and sharing knowledge; we are what we read (or don't), information about people's location, experiences and competencies can help us decide with whom to initiate a conversation.

There are couple of alternate perspective that are worth considering.

First, if you subscribe to the metaphor of the knowledge "iceberg," (where knowledge that is codifiable, or codified (information) is the tip of the iceberg above water, and the knowledge that is below the waterline is much larger, and is only accessible during exchanges between individuals), then does it really make sense to think of a linear progression from IM to KM? If, for example, you attribute 20% to what is above the water and 80% to what is below, then you have to ask if devoting 100% of your resources for %20 of your value/potential is a good decision?

And secondly, if you consider "IM" to include developing principle based policies, developing information standards /guidelines / practices, capacity building across a diverse community, generating awareness and encourage compliance & use, you probably know that none of these are possible without working collaboratively with colleagues and stakeholders across multiple perspectives and disciplines. This requires negotiating and agreeing on common objectives and outcomes, the process for achieving them, sharing information and knowledge through the collaborative process to enable effective/efficient teamwork, and sharing in the risks / rewards.

To me, that sounds a lot like knowledge management, which is as much or more about "how" people work, than what they do. So it would seem that you can't do much of IM without using KM approaches to accomplish IM objectives.

So, should you start and finish IM, working on the "hard stuff," before you do the "soft" KM stuff? I'm not so sure.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Group Discussion: A Business Case for Social Network Analysis

Last week I attended the September meeting of the Canadian Conference Board Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network, of which I'm a member and on the Advisory Group.

(Dave Pollard also attended and has a very good write up on his blog titled Introducing Social Networking Tools and Social Networking Analysis to Business: What To Do, which captures some information from those discussions, and a breakout session he conducted.)

(For anyone involved in formulating / implementing strategies and programs involving management of knowledge and information, you should seriously consider joining.)

After presentations and discussions with Patti Anklam and Ted Graham about Social Network Analysis, one of the group discussions was around "How do you build a "jargon-free" business case that will lead to a meaningful project and a valuable outcome."

To set the context for the business case we talked about a number of the cultural and contextual challenges that, in some combination, many public and private sector organizations face:

  • acknowledged difficulties across the organization managing workloads, information "assault"

  • many long serving employees, strong relationships, long memories, tendency to be more polite/collegial with each other than candid

  • shifting demographics as "boomers" retire

  • highly regulated environment, subject to a variety of legislation that governs requirements record keeping - e.g. e-discovery, duty to document, access to information

  • moderate to high risk aversion, tendency for perfectionism rather than "good enough"

  • deep social networks, highly leveraged to get work done, yet often taken for granted

  • some degree of "command and control" / hierarchical management culture where subject matter experts have risen through the ranks

  • multiple "stove pipes"

  • difficulty recognizing / rewarding horizontal collaboration

  • many other initiatives competing for scarce attention

  • multiple major sub-cultures such as research or R&D / operations / corporate administration (HR/FIN/Audit/Communications / IT etc.)

After two modified "world cafe"-type discussions, I summarize the key learnings as follows:

  1. Go "deeper" than broad - target a specific group or 'stove pipe' rather than position SNA at a broad or strategic context

  2. "Dance with a willing partner" - see if anyone understands the value of social networks and is interested in exploring them. Look first at the part of the organization that is perceived as most critical / important / visible at the time - someone in our session humorously described this as "suck up to power."

  3. Pick articulated pain - find out where needs and issues exist rather than trying to create them, and look to key organizational issues like retiring "boomers", identified collaboration issues etc.

  4. Need Proof Points - that the value of SNA has to be proven, which could mean an effective internal pilot, and / or bringing in external case studies

  5. Connect the initiative to Risk - financial, operational, reputational

  6. Think of SNA as a diagnosis tool - a means to an end and not an end in itself. Position it as part of an approach in a business case, and don't try to build a case for the SNA itself.

  7. Look at SNA as not just a vehicle to uncover hidden experts, but also to expose informal leadership, hidden roles, influence, strength of connections, informal communities etc.

  8. Look at connecting / blending SNA with an engaging HR strategy e.g. "rapid onboarding", workforce planning, talent development

  9. Work with whoever is talking to the Board as a way of adding value to tackling real business issues with SNA

  10. Use models and scenarios when communicating with engineers, R&D, economists etc.

  11. Expose your own personal social network so you can identify weakness relative to exposing / promoting the use of SNA as an effective management tool

  12. Expose the value of "net work" to the organization in the context of key organizational processes and deliverables
When I step back a bit, I think the most important things that the presentations & discussions reinforced were:
  • SNA is definitely rooted in the people side of KM - who we are and how we work

  • analyzing the results of the analysis in the actual business context is critical

  • SNA shouldn't really be done without a strong collaborative partnership with HR who can play a significant role in making sense of the analysis and working with clients on action planning, and of course who will provide some of the data on turnover rates, retirements etc.

  • don't try and sell SNA - it's a tool / approach that should be part of a bigger business project

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Interesting trend in retailing customer interaction

This has nothing to do with knowledge management.. I think.

Something I've been noticing of late (which doesn't mean it has not been happening for a while) is the following interaction at a retail store:

You go up to, let's say a coffee counter. You order a coffee, are given the product, and informed of the amount due. Let's say the amount due is $3.57. So you had over a $5 or a $10 bill. The person behind the counter gives you your change, to which you respond "thank you," and you receive a pleasant "you're welcome" in return.

It strikes me that in this exchange, as a customer, you are never thanked for your business, but, instead, thank the clerk for giving you back what is yours in the first place.

Isn't this a bit backwards?

It makes even more precious those few situations where staff at retailers go out of their way to thank you for buying from them, or even coming into the store. Fortunate I do run into these occasionally, and it sure encourages the next visit.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Cognitive Barriers to Collaboration

I attended a management seminar earlier in the week, hosted by master storyteller Frank Rambeau, to verify the alignment of the seminar's core principles with those of collaboration and knowledge work (and fortunately they were), and of course, to reinforce, remind, and learn as well. It's hard to move ahead if you don't have the basics right, or if you unconsciously develop bad habits!

The workshop focused on the need for managers to create a highly collaborative, participative"climate" that encourages staff to contribute to business outcomes, and enables their staff to develop and succeed, as opposed to a mechanistic approach to directing and controlling actions and behaviours in simplistic, rather Pavlovian (or in some instances Machiavellian) ways. Some of the core competencies referenced were collaboration, facilitative leadership, and good communication based on empathetic listening. (Hey.. where did all that cheering come from!)

Much of the discussions was about what managers should do to create the right climate for knowledge work, and what they, or should I say "we", often do that gets in the way. We are all "our own worst enemies" at some time or other are we not, often acting in ways that defy all logic and overwhelming evidence to the contratry?

Have you ever wondered, after a particularly unproductive meeting or conversation, why people have difficulty working together / collaborating? Why people can hear / read the same thing and take away a different meaning? There are many reasons, but in the context of collaborative work, "cognitive biases" play a major role in disconnecting and derailing even the best of communications, information and knowledge sharing intentions.

What are cognitive biases? I generally define them as ways of thinking that, singly or in combination, are limiting, or inappropriate, for a given circumstance or context. (It may not be technically accurate, but it works for me.. )

As an example, the a common critique of having "having blinders on", can be linked to one of the cognitive biases called "anchoring", which is basically to use a past event, or a single piece of information, to make a decision, ignoring broader valid information.

Being told "we don't do it that way here" in the context of resisting change, can be associated to a "status quo bias".

Take someone who says, in reflecting on a recent event or outcome, "I knew that would happen all along!" If they didn't / couldn't have predicted the outcome in advance, yet tell themselves they did, they're likely exhibiting "hindsight bias."

When I look at a more extensive list of the various biases (for example I certainly wonder how we humans get anything done!

And that's only the start! Imagine what can happen when an individual unconsciously defaults to their "home" type of reasoning (e.g. deductive, inductive, abductive, fallacious) when a situation calls for a different one, or when conflicting types of reasoning implicitly held by participants collide in a meeting or conversation! (

For me, different ways of thinking and viewing the world represents a never ending challenge to collaboration, but also a never ending wealth of possibility and potential.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Courage of Constructive Candor

In his exploration of facilitation, and facilitative leadership, Roger Schwartz describes and promotes what he calls a "mutual learning model", adapted from work by some acknowledged thought leaders in learning. This learning model can also form the foundation of good collaboration, as Schwartz presents in his article titled Using the Facilitative Leader Approach to Create an Organizational Culture of Collaboration, which he currently makes available on his web site.
When you examine the model, even superficially, there are some interesting elements (e.g. free & informed choice, share all relevant information, discuss the undiscussables) that point to the need for something I call "constructive candor."
It is very hard to collaborate effectively unless everyone involved speaks their mind - but in a way that is productive, contextual, and leads to the agreed upon outcomes.
If you've heard people ask "May I be brutally honest?" - that is not what I'm referring to. Someone being brutally honest is often commenting on something unrelated or overly tangential to the shared objectives, promoting their own agenda, or not willing to take a few minutes and be "un-brutal".
On the other end of the spectrum are people who are not candid at all for a number of reasons, ranging from: fear of repercussions or consequences - often unknown or unpredictable; being ill equipped to respond to a reciprocal challenge or tirade; appearing incompetent in front of colleagues, subordinates, or supervisors; wishing not to disclose a personal agenda (or failure).
Have you ever been to a "collegial" meeting with a number of well meaning people who have wide ranging pleasant, conversations, accomplished nothing, only to immediately launch into a series of one-on-one and small group bilateral conversations about the same topic? I would say there is not a lot of constructive candor going on, nor a lot of collaboration.
Constructive candor takes courage. The courage to do it, because it has significant payoffs in collaborative work. The courage learn and practice doing it, in particular for those who feel it's "not in their makeup." The courage to be persistent at it, since falling back into old habits is all too easy. The courage to live with the personal consequences of candor, which often are not so bad if it's truly constructive.
The bottom line is that if candor is constructive, it generally benefits people, and people certainly don't mind being benefited.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

The "Ways" of Management in a Knowledge Work Environment

I had the pleasure of working with some very talented, collaborative colleagues in a management consultant practice a few years ago, (Ron Wiens, Tania Carriere, Brian Kelly, Jen Hunter et al). As I reflect back on our work together, it occurs to me now, as it did then, that their practical thinking about management and leadership was ahead of their time in many ways.

One of the key principles / quotes heard often in conversations with clients, and used often in workshop materials was, and I hope I remember this right:

"Releasing the will and talents of others is the essence of leadership. Today's knowledge workers do not want to be managed; they want to be led. They want the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution."

I think if you look at successful knowledge-based organizations, managers at all levels understand this and act accordingly.

They let others "hold the pen." They encourage productive / learning oriented experiments, and yes, mistakes. They understand that work is no longer production-oriented where the number of quality "things" produced is what is rewarded and compensated. They understand that "knowledge work" occurs fundamentally in people's heads, is essentially unobservable, but is greatly dependant on access to quality information and by the effectiveness of how people work together. They are sensitive to the fact that employees are not "things" to be accounted for and moved like chess pieces, but are complex individuals with varying perspectives, priorities, strengths and weaknesses, and lives outside work that are often, uncontrollably, in conflict with it.

If I can summarize what I think effective management is in a knowledge based organization ...

Point the "way", remove barriers that are in the "way", encourage progress along the "way", and get the hell out of the "way".

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A "storyteller's" view of storytelling

Not long ago, I was talking to friend, "master storyteller" (at least in my mind), former newspaper columnist and published author - I'll call him "Dave" to guard his privacy.

I asked him: "Dave... narrative and storytelling are emerging as a key business strategy for knowledge exchange / transfer in a corporate setting, particularly in light of retiring boomers.
What do you consider to be elements of a good narrative/story for that purpose?"

And "Dave" responded with:

" ... depends on the intent. What is the objective? In any event, most important elements are brevity and humour.

There's an old storyteller theatre in the back of one of the stores in a local village. It still has the gaslights in place. It's small. It's used for storage now but I think it would have held about 40 people. When storytellers like Mark Twain and Will Rodgers ruled the entertainment scene, small towns had small theatres for the less famous. I looked at that old theatre and wondered if that market could be refired. I'm quite busy as a guest speaker, but that in effect is nothing more than a storyteller. (What keeps me busy is probably the fact I don't charge.)

Admittedly, my thoughts have been strictly entertainment. Stand-up comedy has become the only form of non musical entertainment to survive television. They make people laugh.

Laughter is only one end of the emotional scale. People can be made to cry, and like it. How many times have you watched people coming out of a movie wiping their eyes and gasping about a wonderful film? It gave them an emotional hit, and that's what people want. Currently it's unidirectional. "

"Dave" the recounted personal experience with a master storyteller..

"Bill Cosby is probably today's best storyteller. He comes out on stage and the only props are a lamp and a chair. He sits down and holds his audience for up to three hours. He makes them laugh. He makes them cry.

I caught his show after his son was murdered in California. He cried while he talked about that event. So did the audience. There was rousing applause after that segment. Then he switched to humour, and now that he had our emotional strings taut and twanging, he played them like a master.

George Chuvalo is a helluva storyteller. His kids died from overdoses, his career has been ups and downs, he's articulate and he's funny. But he's not marketable for television, so he doesn't get heard. What I see happening someday is people will wise up to the television trap, and return to the idea of getting out of the house and seeking entertainment that isn't on such a grand and manipulated scale."

"Dave" also suggests that ...

"Electronic communications have destroyed our ability to communicate. Very little is face-to-face and immediate. Businesses use voicemail and email as a shield. Television has succeeded in making the unreal believable.

As for using storytelling as a teaching tool, I've long believed the idea of teaching has become a commercial success, and the other end of the spectrum - learning - has been downplayed. The former makes money. The latter doesn't. "

So, it would appear that elements of a good story include: brevity, purpose, and, generally something that evokes some form of emotion.

(By the way, for some outstanding reading and engaging human interest stories, consider"The Best of Brown - Window on Ottawa" by Dave Brown, a selection of his over 10,000 newspaper columns.)

Monday, July 30, 2007

How Knowledge Management is like Golf

  • the "sweet spot" though obvious, is often illusive
  • it's not all about technology, though it helps
  • upgrade opportunities abound
  • it's not enough to look good doing it
  • collaboration is required across multiple systems and disciplines
  • though you may be able to see the goal, the hazards are always in play
  • there are many tools to choose from - the challenge is picking the right one, and using it effectively
  • there are many ways to get to the outcome, which is often different depending on who you talk to
  • everyone has advice to offer
  • it is both humbling and educational to see the "pros" do it
  • anyone can do it right once, often by accident, but there is only a very small portion of the players who do it right consistently
  • opinions and perspectives abound
  • there are tons of books and articles on the subject
  • not everyone can see the value in playing
  • no two courses (organizations) are alike

... anyone have any other pithy ideas?

Friday, July 20, 2007

APQC's Evolving Technolgies Study - An Enjoyable Experience

I have the privilege of being the lead contact for my organization that has signed up as one of the sponsors for the just launched APQC best practice study on the Role of Evolving Technologies:
Accelerating Collaboration and Knowledge Transfer. I attended the kickoff meeting this past July 19th at APQC’s location in Houston and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

This was my first time participating in a study, and all the staff at APQC were very engaging, hospitable, and made a point of welcoming me into the “community.” Their benchmarking process is solidly based on effective experiential learning and facilitation processes, rooted in their quality lineage. Their approach to engaging kick off event participants (study sponsors) in choosing organizations to study, and determining key qualitative and quantitative questions were highly participative and democratic, and based on the candid disclosure of all relevant information.

All in all, the event was well planned, and managed event. Sincerest thanks and appreciation to Carla O’Dell, Darcy Lemons, Jim Lee, Gerry Swift and the rest of the APQC staff who made the event a success. Everyone was awesome.

(And Jim, keep blogging! I know there are more than just me reading! Plus, you're promoted on the APQC Web site.)

Dead Staff Walking

Sorry for the movie-related play on words, but I noticed something rather sad the other day.. at least my interpretation of it.

I was standing outside an office building, just doing a bit of typical people watching, and noticed a fairly high number of people with a number of common characteristics – typically over 40 years old, a bit pale, sad or somewhat blank looks on their faces, and judging by their posture, body language and walk, appeared to be very world-weary.

I know, we’ve all had “those” days/weeks/months where you’re dealing with work-related issues, personal ones, or both, and the stress and weight of them continually bears down on your shoulders. But what I saw seemed to be more than that. I think I was witnessing the severely “disengaged employee.” (I’ve seen some disturbing statistics recently on the degree of disengagement in the workplace)

In the context of knowledge management and the retiring generation of “boomers” this disengagement presents a significant hurdle to overcome. Not only will the disengaged employees be reluctant to participate and contribute to any knowledge related initiatives, but the “receiver” of this knowledge, let's say Generation X/Y, will not be overly inclined to spend time with these individuals. And this becomes a particularly critical issue when the knowledge the individual possesses is important to the ongoing business of the organization.

Of course it is impossible to diagnose the cause of the disengagement I assumed I observed in this instance, but the odds are pretty good it’s got something to do with one of:

  • longing for the “good old days” (we all do that to some extent, right?)
  • a perceived ineffective manager
  • a job with no learning / growth opportunities, or a pure lack of interest in the work and context
  • a job that lacks challenge, or is overly (or perhaps mind numbingly) repetitive
    disillusionment with the organization’s (treatment of friends and colleagues
  • learned helplessness or a lack of sense of control over even a small degree of personal destiny
  • a lack of direction, or understanding of if and how personal work fits into the big picture
    difficulty coping with stress and pressures of work
  • being all too frequently subjected to micro management
  • being implicitly and explicitly told that their opinions / contributions don't matter

Re-engaging disengaged employees is certainly a looming if not current management challenge.

So, how is re-engagement accomplished? Certainly not by proclamation of “thou shalt be engaged!”. And certainly not by some degree of implicit or explicit punitive measures – that will at best result in compliance. Old style command and control approaches will not work. Engagement, like knowledge, can only be volunteered not conscripted.

Things that managers can do to improve engagement include:

  • explicitly and systematically improving the processes people use to work together at problem solving and decision making
  • making explicit and rewarding the key enabling behaviours that align with effective work processes, and coach staff and colleagues in learning about and engaging in those behaviors
  • ensuring everyone is accountable equally for both business results, their impact on others, and contributions to the success of colleagues
  • increasing the degree of staff participate in identifying and resolving key business and organizational issues, and recognize / reward the participation
  • “tell less”, ask more questions and listen closely to the answers
  • make it clear in every circumstance who “owns” decisions, how they will be made
  • being tolerant of (or even encouraging) faults / failures that result (or have the potential to result) in important learning
  • encourage productive candor, full disclosure of all relevant information, and transparency of motives, reasoning and rationale
  • ensuring business direction and course corrections are clear, well communicated and transparent in rationale
  • effectively coaching staff so that they can see and achieve the positive / potential in themselves and in their work situations
  • providing effective "feed forward" that focuses on learning and growth for the future
  • leading by example

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Forget "Just The Facts"- Gimme the Knowledge!

I recently came across reference to a famous line from Sgt. Joe Friday on the 1950s series Dragnet, typically used when he was interrogating people. "I Just Want Facts 'Mam, Just the Facts" (or something like it) .

Many of us are preoccupied with information and data - facts and figures, dates, numbers, financial results, lists of accomplishments and that's all good but what about the "knowledge" behind it? The rationale, the thinking approaches, considerations etc. - the stuff more easily shared in conversation and stories, and rarely if ever captured.

I was reviewing my notes from Richard McDermott's KMWorld 2006 presentation, in which he shared some interesting perspectives and some good practical ideas on sharing deep knowledge and expertise.

He broke down knowledge into three types:

  • Specific knowledge of systems, tools, clients, structures, contacts etc. - useful but degrades over time. Experts build this knowledge through intimacy over time.
  • Analytic knowledge, gained through sensemaking of experiences - guidelines, processes, cookbooks - in essence "scaffolding" through which to understand the knowledge domain
  • Intuitive expertise - the ability to handle situations, exceptions and quickly improvise in real time

He elaborated a bit on defining expertise as the intuitive ability to use experience to solve problems. It is embedded in experience and doesn't use decision trees or pros/cons - experts can't often describe how they know. When faced with a situation, experts size it up, intuitively applying various models and looking for clues - then they identify possible actions, go through a mental rehearsal, and examining potential outcomes - then they take action (sounds a bit like a good chess player, doesn't it?) .

And offered suggestions for transfer in for each of the types:

  • To transfer specific knowledge, organize files, add metadata where useful, make existing knowledge more accessible
  • To transfer analytic knowledge, articulate basic work processes, develop guidelines, decision frameworks etc. which will help people think.
  • To transfer intuitive expertise, unearth how experts see the world and how they think

Richard suggested that one of the best ways to transfer expertise is through a "true master class", where the learners present their problems/ dilemmas, and think aloud about them - the expert listens and also thinks aloud - questions back and fourth draw out experts' lived experiences and allow learners to draw on them and build their own.

He reinforces that to build expertise, practice is critical. Learning through practice can include master classes, visiting masters coach on projects, collective reflection on different ways to approach a situation, simulations, serious games, cases and mini-cases.

If you'd like a simple experiment to try the "master class" approach, here is a simple "judgement-laden" example that I've tried with some very good success and feedback - improving fair and equitable application of managerial discretion in the context of corporate / business policy.

Many policies in a corporate environment are fairly straight forward and prescriptive, often based on legislation. Others are far more open to interpretation.

1) Bring together three groups in to a room

  • the key policy makers / "owners" who are intimately familiar with the policy, the policy framework and rationale, organization context, and likely awareness of how the policy is being regarded and applied across the organization
  • experienced mangers, who have much experience, good and bad, in the interpretation / application of the policy
  • a full spectrum of less experienced and new managers (from inside our outside the organization) with varying degrees of experience with the policy, and a need to learn more

2) Compile and present a number of real-world scenarios and examples, in a succession of increasing complexity.

3) Have mixed break out groups consider each scenario and come up with a group decision on the application of policy discretion.

4) Have each group present their decisions (facts), and most importantly, also have them also share and elaborate:

  • their thinking approach / process and why they used the approach
  • considerations and non-considerations and why they were such
  • contextual factors and external forces and why they were considered "in play"
  • assumptions and what they thought were facts in evidence
  • commonalities/convergence and conflicts/divergence during the group discussions

This is the "knowledge", or as Richard describes it, the "intuitive expertise." This simple approach exposes the experts viewpoint and thinking process in an interactive, dialogic way in the context of a meaningful issue / problem (or reasonable facsimile of one).

Final notes ..

I understand from Richard that he is working on an article based on the concepts from his KMWorld 2006 presentation. Watch out for it, it will be a good one.

And I see a strong synergy with the four quadrant model that Tom Davenport articulates in his book Thinking for a Living, and the concepts in Dorothy Leonard's book Deep Smarts.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Herding Cats at Work

I was reviewing Ram Charan's book titled Know-How, The 8 Skills That Separate People Who Perform from Those Who Don't, and came to the chapter titled Herding Cats - Getting People to Work Together by Managing the Social system of Your Business.

Pretty kitchy title, but it sure got my attention. As did the key concepts in it. If you get the chance to read it, you'll find it outlines a very practical approach to creating an environment that enables people to work together effectively in a business context.

He begins the chapter with the following:

"Perhaps the biggest untapped opportunity for your success as a leader is shaping the way people work together to deliver the numbers. Your own performance depends on your ability to get other people to commit to and deliver their common goals."

Charan defines a social system generally as the interaction between people, the information flows and how decisions are made, and advocates examining and engineering the business social system to maximize effectiveness and results.

As he mentions in the chapter, and I'm sure many of you have found, work environments are often filled with endless / pointless meetings with no real outcomes, conflicts are hidden below the surface and rarely resolved, information is disconnected from decision making, and decision making processes are often unclear and ineffective.

These conditions exist, according to Charam, because "... most companies' social systems are a mishmash of operational mechanisms (meetings etc.) that are poorly designed and disconnected from each other... and behaviour in them is left to chance.."

He advocates that leaders develop the capability and explicitly design the specific, critical points when people must come together to share information, resolve conflicts, solve problems and make decisions. He empahsizes acting along two perspectives; the process side and the people side.

On the process side, each get-together should be focused on the right issue, has clear purpose and focus, and the right information is avaible at the right time.

On the peope side, Charan talks about how people interactions are complex, that people influence each other, build relationships, develop perceptions and feelings (right or wrong) about each other, and share vital information for decision making in the context of those relationships, perceptions and feelings. He suggests that leaders repeatedly, and with courage and discipline, actively shape people's behavours to align with good social process, through effective dialog.

Charan breaks down the process of managing the social system into the following steps:

  1. determining when important decisions and trade-offs have to be made and by whom
  2. designing regularly scheduled meetings with the right people, the right information
  3. actively shape behaviours that are displayed in making those decisions (to minimize information hoarding, going off on tangents, not getting to root of issues, driving to individual agendas, not surfacing conflicts and not reaching clear resolutions etc.)
When I reflect on the fundamentals of what Charan proposes, I see a very strong case for facilitation as a core competency among managers and leaders, implementing facilitative leadership, and a case for the type of work that Farm Credit Canada did to define and cascade their cultural practices.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Acronyms are Better for Senders Than Receivers

Have you ever been in a meeting where a participant, conveying, or perhaps trying to "market", some business idea, excitedly tables a "cool" acronym that they have come up with?

Or how about meetings where the only thing more frequent that the use of acronyms is the question "Wait, before we go any further, what does THAT mean?

In The Neglected Receiver of Knowledge Sharing, which appeared in Ivy Business Journal March / April 2002, Nancy Dixon shares a very important but over looked notion of focusing on the receiver in knowledge sharing, not the sender.

One quote in particular stands out for me: "The sharing of ideas with others is one of the most profound and difficult things we do. We have only to look at our own missed understanding and misunderstandings that result from attempts to share our ideas."

No truer words have been said!

Acronyms are good efficient, short forms of communication in specific circumstances where a group of people share the same contexts and background, and where the acronym use has been well communicated and socialized. But in generally, they block or slow down communication, in particular when people stop asking for definitions in the interest of moving a meeting or conversation forward.

Want to improve knowledge sharing - stop depending on acronyms.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Facilitation - The Cornerstone of Successful Project Management ??

Two of the blogs I track are PM related - PMThink by Jerry Manas and a number of his colleagues, and Reforming Project Management by Hal Macomber. To pursue an idea I was considering for a blog entry (this one) I searched both blogs for for "facilitation" and, as I suspected, it's not a hugely popular word in the context of project management, but a couple of very interesting things popped out:

On PMthink, an entry titled Scheduling is Dead, Bring on Chaos; So Says A Foremost Scheduling Expert, which referenced an article on the PM Forum web site by Murray B. Woolf, PMP, Managing Director of the PMI College of Scheduling’s Scheduling Excellence Initiative, titled The Future of Scheduling? Scheduling Has No Future!

It contained a rather provocative quote .. " My prophecy is that the progeny of today’s schedulers will be called Project Facilitators and the broader discipline will be called Project Facilitation. The overall role will still be as it is now, to assist project management, but they will do so by providing products and services that facilitate project performance. Those products and services may well include planning, scheduling, analyzing, monitoring, reporting, forecasting, and -- facilitating itself."

On Reforming Project Management, back in 2005, Hal posted a very thoughtful What is Project Management, which contains the following:

"I've taken a look at other models of project management recently and am coming to the conclusion that the (mechanistic) models are generally flawed because they concentrate not on the project, but on 'project management' as though this activity of bringing projects to fruition has an independent importance. They also neglect the fact, in my view, that projects are humanistic endeavors: done by and for people, and thus are constrained primarily socially."

"Like general management, project management is facilitation of communities of productive intent to achieve desired outcomes. With 'projects' noted as being more customised than routinised, relying on a temporary community for their realisation rather than an established or semi-permanent one."

I think there are many project managers who intuitively understand this. As an example, I've had the pleasure of meeting Mike Bogan a number of times in a work setting. He writes a blog titled I Think, does. Most recently Mike was offering his thoughts and experience in Planning and Estimating, and spent a lot of time talking about bringing different perspectives and types of expertise to the table since one person does not have all the answers, creating an environment / process to surface and leverage the different perspectives, collaboratively creating plans and estimates etc.

I think it's pretty clear that facilitation (diagnosing and intervening to increase group effectiveness through improved problem identification, resolution and decision making) & facilitative leadership, are core elements or competencies of good project management in today's complex and complicated work environments.

Therefore, should not project managers, and organizations who employee project managers, strive to explicitly assess, validate, and improve facilitation skills and capabilities?

Monday, May 28, 2007

Linking Facilitation and Experiential Learning

A colleague of mine recently attended a facilitation course I suggested to her, held by Institute of Cultural Affairs (ICA) Associates. She was talking about it, raving about it actually, and mentioned something she learned.

In the workshop, which is built on a foundation ICA calls the Focused Conversation Method, facilitators are coached through learning about and applying 4 important types of questions:

Objective - Begin with data, facts, external reality
Reflective - immediate personal reactions, internal responses, sometimes emotions or feelings, hidden images, and associations with the facts
Interpretive - meaning, values, significance, implications
Decisional - Bring the conversation to a close, eliciting resolution and enabling the group to make a decision about the future

I was coincidentally working on a document where I was linking experiential learning, (a feedback loop) to the using knowledge circle of learning before, while and after doing, as outlined in the Collison / Parcell book Learning to Fly.

So when I look at all three together, it strikes me that what Chris and Geoff were outlining was a practical approach to experiential learning in organizations. And when you look at both in the context of facilitation, blend in a bit of Ed Schein's Process Facilitation and Agyris' Double Loop Learning, it would appear that effective facilitation is the core competency / foundation for organizational learning and the creation of environments that support effective knowledge exchange. (Since they talk about the 4 stages of learning in the book - from unconscious incompetent to unconscious competent, maybe that's what Chris and Geoff were getting at in the book and I missed it - my bad.)

So what does this mean?

Make facilitation a core competency throughout the organization by:

  • explicitly including the skill in corporate competency profiles and dictionaries
  • providing the opportunities, and ensuring everyone has the basic skill set to participate effectively in facilitated sessions or participative / collaborative work
  • training managers across the organization on facilitative leadership and equip them to coach others, and ensure performance agreements reinforce appropriate effort and behaviours
  • have a core group of skilled facilitators who can conceive, design, and run workshops of all types, and who have good relations with external facilitators to broker services on those few occasions when a true outside perspective is required
  • ensure the core group of facilitators have access to resources, external networks and experts to ensure their skills and knowledge are always evolving

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Employee Recognition is About Encouraging Volunteerism

I attended a very well delivered workshop yesterday on Employee Recognition, facilitated by Suzanne Shell. Good insights, practical tips, free of what a colleague of mine calls "consultant gobledigook," and a genuine, enthusiastic approach.

This morning, as I reflected on the session, I began to sense, perhaps inaccurately, an implicit underlying assumption that "if you do this, you will get that." In essence, predictable cause and effect. At least, nothing explicit was said by anyone in the room to put forth an alternate view point. But as we all know, people are highly unpredictable, and often do surprising things, or take no action at all, in the face of overwhelming reasons to the contrary. (I have way too many examples of my own.)

Suzanne definitely made the point about ensuring that recognition is timely, specific, and most of all sincere. And I think she's absolutely correct. Recognition is another form of feedback, requiring all three to be effective. (More so if you recognize behaviour that will have future value as well.)

But I think an equally important mind set for effective recognition is to think about employees, in particular those who perform knowledge work, as volunteers. They have freedom of choice - from whether to work for a particular organization, to how much attention to devote to a situation or conversation, what is a priority for them, who to lend credence to, and what information is valid and useful.

A number of people I've spoken to lately have referenced a Gallup survey conducted in the US that uncovered that on average 27% of employees are engaged, 59% disengaged, and 14% are actively disengaged. I don't think that employee engagement can be conscripted, nor can it be gently manipulated into existence - perhaps over the short term, but it's not a sustainable.

I believe that the recognition of alignment of specific behaviours with corporate mission, vision and values communicates and reinforces an explicit framework that provides information for individual, informed decision making. Armed with clear direction, and clear expectations as communicated by a small number of explicit examples of aligned behaviours - Suzanne correctly emphasizes the importance of transparency, communications, and "sharing the news" - employees can more effectively decide if they want to be part of the organization. If they do, then they can make better decisions about how to be effective in the organization.

Encouraging volunteerism is an important part of a manager's job, and employee recognition is no doubt an important element.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Organizational / Facilitation Nirvana

Perhaps that’s a bit strong, but let me relate a recent experience and you can tag it however you’d like.

In the corporate world, whether public or private sector, there is always much talk about the need for good corporate values, their relationship to achieving mission and vision, and the need for all staff to "live the values". Many organizations spend a lot of time developing the values (sometimes staff is even involved in their development, but not always), and communicating them throughout the organization through presentations, "fireside chats", printed material, posters in hallways and elevators, and other similar mechanisms.

From what I’ve experienced and read, the outcome more often than not falls short of expectation. "Stovepipes" remain, true collaboration is an exception and not the norm, highly competent people compete and pull the organization in different directions, and the majority of staff are disengaged from their work experience.

I recently had an opportunity to spend a bit of time with an organization I think may just have it right. I’m a member (and on the Advisory Council) of the Conference Board of Canada’s Knowledge Strategy Exchange Network (KSEN), a great group of people who are involved in knowledge management initiatives at a fairly senor level in their respective organizations. Our most recent face-to-face event was in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada, hosted by our KSEN members from Farm Credit Canada (FCC). Farm Credit’s hospitality was without a doubt "second to none" and already has KSEN members scheduled to host upcoming event worried about responding in kind.

The key topic of the event was building and sustaining communities of practice, and FCC is clearly a leading practitioner. But what was even more compelling was the organization’s story of transformation into a high performance organization (which I’m sure positively affects their success with CoPs).

Louise Yates (V.P Strategy and Customer Experience) Rob Moss, and Katharine Patterson, supported by a wonderful group of Farm Credit employees, exposed KSEN members to the transformation that began around 2000 – and what a story it is!

I won’t go into details here, but imagine leading or working in an organization where over the last 5 years:

  • portfolio size has grown from $7.7 billion to $13 billion, and generally, business outcomes exceed expectations consistently year over year, with record profitability in 2006
  • employee engagement has increased from 68% to 82%
  • percentage of staff who think senior management is open, honest and accessible increased from less than 60% to over 80%
  • market share, customer loyalty and reputation indices have all increased

As well, recent surveys indicate that 82% of staff believe that senior management treat employees as the most valued asset, and 86% believe decisions made are consistent with organizational values.

Sounds a bit like nirvana, doesn’t it? (And for you facilitators out there, imagine helping an organization achieve this tremendous accomplishment. Sounds a bit like nirvana from that perspective as well, doesn’t it? According to FCC staff, Malandro Communications has been a very valued partner in the transformation process.)

Well, Farm Credit appears to have done it. How, you might ask?

  • corporate values that are anchored in fundamental beliefs about the critical importance of people, and the need for creating an enabling work environment
  • development and communication of simple, powerful cultural practices (otherwise known as a code of conduct) to guide behaviours and alignment with corporate values
  • cultural practices that clearly dissuade "business results at all costs", and focus on joint accountability for overall business results through open, honest, transparent communication, productive feedback, partnership and mutual support - business reults AND positive impact on people are valued equally as linked outcomes
  • sustained leadership by example by the CEO and senior management team, and strong socialization of the practices as behavioural norms
  • building capability throughout the organization to act in line with defined cultural practices (extensive communications and marketing, 8-segment workshops for all 1200 FCC employees)
  • facilitation and coaching developed as a core competency (110 FCC staff trained as facilitators, including Senior Management)
  • cultural practices reinforced through formal recognition program, a new employee performance management program, and ongoing delivery of employee workshops

FCC is a top Canadian employer, ranking 12th on the most recent 50 Best Employers in Canada list, released in The Globe and Mail's Report on Business magazine.

Bravo Farm Credit Canada!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

"Organizational Float" in a Knowledge Work Environment

"Organizational float" came to mind somewhat unbidden in a recent meeting. The term itself comes from an article or paper I read a while back, but unfortunately I don't recall the exact source. I think it may have been in the context of some writing by Leif Edvinsson, an article about Skandia, or a piece on intellectual capital.

Though I'm sure the of the original definition and context, in my mind I've no doubt altered it a bit as follows. (I also forgot that I'd referenced it in a KnowledBoard discussion on KM Governance. )

There has been much press about the retiring baby boom generation, the war for top talent and so on. In a very real sense, many organizations challenged in finding, identifying and recruiting qualified candidates, are faced with bureaucratic staffing and security screening processes, and often burden already overworked staff with responsibilities for "onboarding" / training new employees or contractors at the least convenient of times - during a crisis need. And in this overall context, organizations are trying to innovate, improve processes and effectiveness, and become more agile. Not too stressful, is it?

Perhaps one strategy is to introduce some "organizational float". This can take the form of extra staff, with a variety of broadly relavent skills and experiences, that can step in and fill gaps left by temporary absences or unforseen workload spikes. It can take the form increasing staff compliments to distribute work such that every employee has a certain percentage of time, say 20% to step back and reflect, think strategically and innovatively, participate in change or performance improvement initiatives, develop professionally, and perhaps pick up on some of the work left undone by temporarily absent or departing employees.

There is no doubt many challenges to building organizational float. Gaining support and approval from the management hierarchy can be a challenge, unless a strategic, capability building mentality is prevalent. How about, in highly knowledge-intensive, non-transactional organizations or groups, the difficulty of putting a box around "work" so that it can be packaged and shipped to another worker. Or perhaps the hurdle created by the replacement mindset, that assumes that the unique thought processes, approaches to work, capability sets and experience bases that people carry can be transactionally replaced 1 for 1.

So I think the real strategy here is buying time and increasing available attention - organizational float.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Creating Conditions for...

Related somewhat to my blog entry The Value of Assessing Change Readiness in Change Efforts, is the concept of "creating conditions for... "

I was in a very interesting meeting today discussing the information management implications of wiki tools, in particular how to keep what is useful, and what is required by legislation and regulation, and how to get rid of the rest (some might call transitory records).

During the discussion, a comment triggered for me the notion of the value, in a collaborative work environment, of not simply erecting barriers, but instead working with others to create the conditions for success, whatever that needs to mean in a particular context. (It's the opposite, you could say, of setting someone up to take a fall.)

That would no doubt require a collaborative mind set, as I mentioned in Pinpointing Behaviour that Blocks Collaboration - appreciative inquiry, active listening and learning, balancing advocacy with inquiry, empowering others, etc.

I would also call creating conditions in this context to be very closely related to facilitative leadership.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

The Value of Assessing Readiness in Change Efforts

First off, I have to say that I personally find the term "change management" irritating for some reason. I find myself shaking my head every time I see the term come up in plans or initiatives. Maybe it's because I'm reacting to underlying principles or philosophies of dealing with knowledge workers that are still overly rooted (implicitly or explicitly) in the scientific management method. Maybe it's a reaction to strategies and approaches that seem to draw way to heavily on Pavlov and Skinner to guide human behaviour in an organizational setting. Or maybe it's that the concept of control features prominently in definitions of management, and I wonder about the amount of control that can really be exercised in changing culture in complex, unordered systems that are today's organizations.

Nonetheless, I think there is much value in looking at the concept of change "readiness" at both the organizational and individual level.

To achieve an agreed upon end-state, does the organization have the right roles, responsibilities, policies, structure, processes and work flows, governance and accountabilities, and physical environment.

Do the individuals involved or implicated have the right awareness and understanding, capability, information and contextual knowledge and comfort level to perform effectively at the end-state.

(Reminds me of Situational Leadership in some ways.)

I was always impressed how JetForm (purchased a few years back by Adobe) had an Organizational Readiness Office with very talented, dedicated people, responsible for ensuring that the entire organization, and reseller channel, was ready to market, sell, distribute, consult on, and support JetForm products and related services.

In 2000, the Canadian Federal Government created the Organizational Readiness Office to build greater information management, information technology, and service delivery capabilities across government to better enable successful large-scale change and modernization initiatives.

Looking to manage change, start with readiness.

Friday, April 20, 2007

5 Blogs That Make Me Think

I was quickly reviewing blog entries in my reader this morning, and I came across an entry in Mark Blevis' blog nominating me for a Thinking Blogger Award - a very big surprise. Mark is well versed and traveled across the Internet, and is a leader in the realm of Podcasting, so his positive comments are very much appreciated.. thanks Mark!

For those of you interested in the origins (from what I understand) of this award, visit The Thinking Blog.

Now.. for my nominations. I have a very big problem. There are far MORE than 5 blogs that make me think. Of the ones that I track regularly, I can't even identify the top 5 that make me think the most, as they cover related topics from different, valuable perspectives. Despite the "official" title for the list below, please consider them "5 OF the MANY blogs that make me think."

My nominations for 5 (of the) Blogs that Make Me Think (too much) are:

Anecdote by Shawn Callahan and Mark Schenk
Cognitive Edge by Dave Snowden
Green Chameleon - by Patrick Lambe
Everything Is Miscellaneous - by David Weinberger
How to Save the World - by Dave Pollard

Congratulations, you won a !

For my Honourable Mentions, check out Blog in Blogs that Rock, and Great Reading From Other Blogs on my blog.

Should you (the winners above) choose to participate in this meme, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging.

  • If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to five blogs that make you think.
  • Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme.
  • Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award with a link to the post that you wrote (available in silver or gold version).

Monday, April 16, 2007

Context is Everything

This past Sunday I came across a reprint in a local paper of a Washington Post article titled Pearls Before Breakfast. (Well worth the read.) It described an experiment that involved virtuoso violist Joshua Bell posing as a busker in the D.C transit system (L'Enfant Plaza) and playing a number of notable classical pieces to see if anyone would notice. He made $32.17 for 43 minutes of playing, and only a few of the 1,097 passers-by took true notice, one of which recognized Bell from a past concert performance. An interesting, perhaps not unexpected result.

A number of the people who walked by were interviewed by the writer, and was seems to be relatively consistent is that people were more or less "tuned out" - they were focused on their journey, their personal challenges, their work challenges. Being a commuter, I can certainly understand.

But I think context plays into this story as well. No one was expecting to see a concert violinist who can earn up to $1000 a minute (and did the soundtrack for the Red Violin by the way) busk dressed in jeans, a t-shirt and ball cap.

That's completely out of context. Like meeting someone in a local shopping mall that you only see at the cottage. You either don't see them at all, or they look vaguely familiar but you can't place them.

To me, this certainly points (again) to the importance of context in information, learning and knowledge creation.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Escalator "Autopilot"

For some reason lately, I've been noticing an interesting phenomenon - people who stop walking once they are on an escalator.

I'm sure you've seen it before as well. People who are walking smartly by themselves towards an escalator will immediately stop once they are on it, even when it is completely empty. And some people get annoyed when others try to get past.

Admittedly, some days I too stop because I just "don't feel like walking down." Maybe I'm taking a breather or something. But I suspect the majority of people are not really aware of what they're doing and why. Maybe it's "autopilot", or just something they always do. I think I'm going to start asking a few people, if I can find a way to do it without annoying or scaring people. I can just hear the talk at the local Starbucks lineup - "Hey.. did you see that crazy guy asking people whey the stop walking on escalators... what a nut job!"

Thank god for autopilot though, or else how could we get through the day. Without those things we do and think automatically, every activity would be a chore and take way too much time. But some times we need to stop and ask ourselves questions like: "why do I think this way?" what am I doing?" "why am I doing it?" and "do I want to continue doing it?" Using a different pronoun (like we) it almost sounds a bit like performance improvement.

Perhaps one of the ways we can all better adapt to change is to stop every once and a while and ask ourselves these questions. I good facilitators must always be aware of their own biases and behaviours so that they can work to consciously neutralize them so they don't interfere with workshop / event objectives and skew the environment for participants. I also know that asking these types of questions are closely linked to leadership development and Goldman's Emotional Intelligence. But I see a very close link to facilitating personal change.

Rather than just reacting to what is happening, taking a few minutes to question reactions, to know yourself better, sounds to me like a good change strategy.

So how did I get from escalator autopilot to personal change. Not sure, but it seems to make some sense.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Pinpointing Behavour that Blocks Collaboration

We've all see it or experienced it - sarcasm, negative / destructive humour, belittling, and a whole host of things people do, for any number of reasons, to block collaboration.

Collaboration, which in many respects amounts to co-creation, requires a trusting environment where people involved feel free to generate and share ideas, give each other useful feedback, and make decisions that move towards shared outcomes. The early stages of the collaborative process involve a certain degree of personal vulnerability, when the people involved are generating, tabling and discussing "half baked" ideas. I've seen many people disengage in meetings and workshops when their contributions are criticized, or using destructive humour, ridiculed without ever exploring the possibilities inherent in those ideas.

Robert Hargrove wrote a very useful and readable exploration of collaboration in Mastering the Art of Creative Collaboration. On Page 67 he maps out the behavioural/attitudinal differences between what he calls the "collaborative model" (appreciative, active listening and learning, balancing advocacy with inquiry, empowering) and the "self-oriented" model (pursues own agenda, seeks to win and control others, a "know-it-all").

This I find is very closely linked to relationship intelligence and facilitative leadership.

So, besides the obvious, how do you know when you are faced with someone who is engaging in very uncollaborative behaviours? I think Bob Sutton's Blog entry on Rob Cross on Energizers vs. De-energizers has it nicely pegged - basically, ask yourself how you feel after the interaction. It could also be a good question to ask of ourselves as well.

Bob Sutton has also explored the topic of collaboration in the context of Building the Civilized Workplace, and his somewhat "pithy" book The No Asshole Rule. Check out his short video lesson at

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Social Media - Return on Investment or Return on Influence

A friend and former colleague Mark Blevis has gone through an interesting personal transformation over the last four years or so. I've always known him to be a thoughtful, bright, intellectually curious, outgoing individual, and a perpetual, lifelong learner. In about 2003 or so, he started experimenting with social media in general, and podcasting in particular, and his development into what I'd call an "expert" has been outstanding.

I encourage you to visit his site at

Which takes me to "Return on Influence" I was looking through Mark's list of accomplishments, and came across reference to a conversation he's started on a new web site ( with Steve Hardiman. They briefly touch on topics like shared potential by producers and consumers, abandoning traditional return on investment metrics, and that social "currency" can't be treated like, or thought of like cash.

Interesting.... I hope they continue the line of thinking.

On the topic, I came across Joe Marchese's blog post titled ROI Is Social Media’s New ROI. Although written with the marketing/advertising space in mind, he does talk about return on influencing requiring more investment in the creative side v.s. the production / distribution side.

Joe's last paragraph in the blog states: "The takeaway is this: if all advertisers are looking at is immediate return on investment, there is a good chance they are missing the real potential for maximizing their investment in social media — and probably spending way too much in the process. But it’s not the advertiser’s fault entirely; the platform hasn’t been built that efficiently facilitates accessing the type of brand-building influence offered by social media … yet."

Obviously, the same is true for private and public sector organizations. And like any good discussion, good answers create more good questions.