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.