Knowing what good looks like...

Last week marked the end of this year’s Masterchef competition in the UK.  Once again our family sat, drooled and marvelled at the creations of Simon Wood, this year’s winner. His combination of ingredients, skills, techniques and presentation was outstanding, and from the minute the camera zoomed in on his final three courses, you know that you had seen what good looks like.

For his starter he cooked octopus served with chorizo crisps, cannellini beans and chorizo salad, brunoise tomatoes and a sherry and smoked paprika vinaigrette. His main course was squab pigeon served two ways — roasted breast, and a pigeon leg bon-bon, stuffed with pigeon leg meat, chicken, mushroom duxelle and Armagnac — served with three types of heritage carrots, pommes parisienne, girolle and trumpet mushrooms, carrot puree, watercress puree and a cassis jus. For pudding he whipped up a lemon posset topped with citrus tutti-frutti - charred grapefruit and orange, a lime tuile and limoncello — topped with pistachio crumb, edible flowers, tarragon leaves and a lime air.  Mmmm.

When it comes to organisations, with such a wide range of available knowledge-related ingredients, tools and techniques which can have a potential impact, it can difficult to discern "what good looks like" and which ingredients should be given prominence at different times.  But that shouldn't stop us trying!

Here's my attempt to describe what it good looks like when it comes to knowledge management...

Leadership. Leaders in the organisation are collaborative role models, challenging people to ask for help, seek out, share and apply good practices. This inspires curiosity and a commitment to improve.

Collaboration. People have the desire and capability to use work collaboratively, using a variety of technology tools with confidence.  Collaboration is a natural act, whether spontaneous or scheduled.  People work with an awareness of their colleagues’ availability and expertise and use collaboration tools as instinctively as the telephone to increase their productivity.

Learning. People instinctively seek to learn before doing.  Lessons from successes and failures are drawn out in an effective manner and shared openly with others who are genuinely eager to learn, apply and improve. Lessons lead to actions and improvement. Project and programme management create a healthy supply and demand for knowledge, and can demonstrate the value it creates.

Networking. People are actively networking, seamlessly participating in formal communities and harnessing informal social networks to get help, share solutions, lessons and good practices. The boundaries between internal and external networks are blurred and all employees understand the benefits and take personal responsibility for managing the risks.

Navigation. There are no unnecessary barriers to information, which is shared by default and restricted only where necessary. Information management tools and protocols are intuitive, simple and well understood by everybody.  This results in a navigable, searchable, intelligently tagged and appropriately classified asset for the whole organisation, with secure access for trusted partners.

Embedding. Knowledge management is fully embedded in people management and development, influencing recruitment and selection. Knowledge-sharing behaviours are built-into induction programmes and are evident in corporate values and individual competencies.  Knowledge transfer is part of the strategic agenda for HR. The risks of knowledge loss are addressed proactively. Knowledge salvage efforts during hurried exit interviews are a thing of the past!

Consolidation. People know which knowledge is strategically important, and treat it as an asset.  Relevant lessons and practival recommendations are drawn from the experience of many, and consolidated into guidelines. These are brought to life with stories and narrative, useful documents and templates and links to individuals with experience and expertise. These living “knowledge assets” are refreshed and updated regularly by a community of practitioners.

Social Media. Everybody understands how to get the best from the available tools and channels. Social media is just part of business as usual; people have stopped making a distinction. Serendipity, authenticity and customer intimacy are increasing.  People are no longer tentative and are encouraged to innovate and experiment. The old dogs have learned new tricks!  Policies are supportive and constantly evolving, keeping pace with innovation in the industry.

Storytelling. Stories are told, stories are listened to, stories are re-told and experience is shared. People know how to use the influencing power of storytelling.  Narrative is valued, captured, analysed and used to identify emergent patterns that inform current practice and future strategy.

Environment. The physical workplace reflects a culture of openness and collaboration.  Everyone feels part of what’s going on in the office.  Informal and formal meetings are easily arranged without space constraints and technology is always on hand to enhance productivity and involve participants who can’t be there in person.

How's that for some food for thought?

iWatch but do iLearn?

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

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

Very un-Apple-like. Very embarrassing.

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

applefail

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Well, I guess you're going to fire me." came the faltering response.

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

Now that's knowledge leadership in action.

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

 

Secret Objectives v Shared Knowledge. Open Performance Management anyone?

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?

10 characteristics of a great KM Sponsor

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
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!

Knowledge and Collaboration - Mixing our Drinks

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!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ

When knowledge is not enough.

Image Europe and especially the UK have experienced severe flooding during the past month and the future holds more of the same.  As this George Monbiot article from the Guardian sets out – the consequences were predictable and avoidable.  It's not a knowledge problem.

The lessons have been learned, understood, researched and validated for decades.

We have known for years that trees play a vital role in drainage, and that land around tree roots will actually drain at 67 times the rate that grass drains – yet we are cutting tree-planting subsidies and increasing land-clearance subsidies, investing money in dredging and re-engineering rivers and building reservoirs.  We negotiated a mountain subsidy – rewarding farmers for clearing and farming the top of watersheds – precisely where the compacting effect of animals’ hooves will raise the run-off rate the most.  We even fly in the face of the advice we give to the developing world through our own Department for International Development. Do as we say, not as we do?  it's the political knowing-doing gap.

So what’s going on? Is really just ignorance, poor advice and misunderstanding? Or is it a conscious decision to yield to lobby groups, hide behind the Common Agricultural Policy and “evidence-based” national policy-creation which kicks the common-sense can down the road for years – well into the next government.  The Guardian's Monbiot (with an undisguised political standpoint) takes this perspective and it’s hard to argue against it, although I couldn’t limit culpability to the current administration alone.

One commenter on the article put it succinctly:

What is most infuriating about this is that it has all been common knowledge for at least 4 decades - probably longer. By far the most economic use of low grade upland is for flood control, and the cheapest way to do that is to let nature take its course. And natural flowing rivers are almost always more efficient at preventing flood peaks than any engineered routes. This has been standard textbook stuff since the 1980's at least, and usually acknowledged in official documents (local plans, national planning guidance, etc) since the 1990's. They have been re-wilding rivers across Europe since the 1980's as standard anti-flood practice. It is absolutely nothing new to anyone with even the slightest academic or professional interest in the topic. And yet the sheer force of inertia and vested interests has resulted in billions of pounds/euros/dollars in malinvestment across the developed world.

I have consulted with ten different government departments in past years, and in each case, I have met with intelligent, rational, passionately expert civil servants.  There is no shortage of knowledge and insight, no shortage of common sense, and no shortage of commitment to offer the best possible advice to ministers.

It’s not the lack of knowledge, lack of lessons learned, lack of research,  lack of expertise, lack of professional advice or the lack of wisdom.

It’s the lack of moral courage to listen and do the right thing which gives politics a disastrous victory over policy.

In cases like this, knowledge serves us best when it is in the hands of the majority as well as the decision-makers - when understanding amongst the voters is raised to a degree whereby the policy-makers dare not take liberties with a better-informed and increasingly incredulous electorate. So thank you George Monbiot for such an excellent, incisive article which deserves a far wider readership.

Here's hoping that knowledge-sharing truly is power.

Microsoft, Collaboration, Competition and how not to create a Knowledge-sharing Culture.

Steve Ballmer waves goodbye So Steve Ballmer leaves Microsoft within the next year, and his epitaphs are already being cooked-up by many commentators.

Most are lukewarm at best.

I had the privilege to share a platform with Steve at a conference in the late 90's. He was presenting Microsoft's collaboration technologies at a groupware (remember that term?) event.

Unfortunately, whoever prepared the laptop for their CEO's presentation forgot to plug in the power supply.  10 minutes from the end of the presentation, there was an awkward moment when the "5% power remaining" message rudely appeared on the screen and a frantic Microsoft employee materialised  at the foot of the podium asking to plug in the cable.   He was waved  dismissively away by Steve, who declared to the audience that it would be a good test of the battery life.   The audience stopped paying attention to the content of the presentation, and started wondering with increasingly bated breath whether the battery would make it to the end.

Happily, it lasted the distance.

I'm not so sure what happened to that Microsoft employee though.

Steve kindly provided a written endorsement for "Learning to Fly" which, at the time, was a bit of a coup for Geoff and me.  However,  reading the more recent articles about the culture of competition in Microsoft, I'm wondering whether he made it as far as the chapter on creating the right cultural environment for knowledge-sharing.

This week, the  Washington Post  carries an interesting article describing how Microsoft's stack-ranking damaged collaboration:

while forced rankings can boost employee performance immediately after the system is introduced, the gains fall over time, with people more focused on competing with each other than collaborating.

Slate.com revisited the fable of the two men running away from a bear.  One stops to put on running shoes; the other says, don't be crazy - you can't run faster than a bear.  He retorts, I don't need to - I just need to run faster than you.

So while Google was encouraging its employees to spend 20 percent of their time developing ideas that excited them personally, Ballmer was inadvertently encouraging his to spend a good chunk of their time playing office politics. Why try to outrun the bear when you can just tie your co-workers' shoelaces?

There were even cases of the most able engineers not wanting to be placed on projects with other high-calibre staff because they knew that they would be force-ranked against them at the year end.

Google's "grouplets" aren't the only knowledge-sharing contrast to Microsoft.  BP's T-shaped Management approach (80% of your time should be spent on your objectives, 20% collaborating and sharing to support someone else's objectives) was well documented in a much-read HBR article "T-Shaped Managers, Knowledge Management's Next Generation."

My favourite current example is Schlumberger's approach to professional development which requires technical  staff pursuing recognition as principals or fellows (the two highest positions on the technical career ladder) to have led a community of practice, to which they are democratically elected by members of that community.  As a result, knowledge-sharing and collaborative behaviours directly influence technical promotion.  You can't be individually brilliant and make it to the top - you have to also be socially and behaviourally mature.

All of this feels like a thousand miles from forced ranking bell curves, and it reminds me of the importance of KM partnering with and influencing HR and Talent Management - something which is still relatively unusual.

Let's hope that Steve Ballmer's successor sees the connection between performance management and knowledge management, and executes a stack (ranking) dump!