Looking back - KM highlights from the last year

The start of a new year is a good time to look back over the previous 12 months and reflect on some highlights – so here are the first five of my ten favourite moments of Knowledge Management Consulting from 2014 - in no particular order - I loved them all! If you ever wondered what I get up to as a KM consultant, it will give you some insights...

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

iran
iran

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

onaeca
onaeca

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

googleglass
googleglass

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

wywz_moscow_business_school_a140211_3
wywz_moscow_business_school_a140211_3

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

olympic-museum
olympic-museum

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

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

When Collect and Connect is not enough...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

Making KM Fun and Tangible!

I’ve been looking back on the highlights of the past year, and previous years, and it’s got me reflecting on the power of making KM engaging, fun and tangible in some way. Back in 2010, I wrote about KM Top Trumps, and how I used them with a group of business improvement professionals to help them get to grips with the breadth of KM tools and techniques available.  I still use these today with groups.

Two happy memories from the past year:

Social Network Mapping with the UN in Ethiopia. 

For several years now I have worked with the United Nations System Staff College on a KM leadership programme.  This year saw me out in Ethiopia working with representatives from across the continent.  Communities, Networks and Networking featured heavily in one particular module, and having contrasted the sharing and networking habits of birds, bees and sheep, we engaged in a practical Network Analysis exercise which brought the room to its feet, and put smile on every face.

Each participant was given 5 coloured ribbons and asked to give one end to another colleague – the different colours indicated different relationships:  for example: – Who have you known the longest?  Who would you ask for technical advice? Who would you share an innovative idea with first?

Image
Image

Energy levels rose instantly, accompanied by smiles and laughter.

Once each ribbon had been shared, the group carefully lowered them to the floor and stepped out of the web, replacing themselves with their placenames from the tables.

As a group, we could then stand around the pattern and discuss what it told us about the relationships, collaboration and knowledge flow.

Snakes and Leaders – a creative way to explore the first 100 days of a community of practice.

Syngenta have been a client for a number of years now, and have been looking for new ways to up-skill the core teams of their networks, especially in the early stages of growth.

We worked together to document the ups and downs of network development during the first critical 100 days, and created a familiar-yet-different board game which embedded these critical moments, with one or two additional twists and turns. Creating the game together, and tailoring the rules for different parts of the business caused us to think critically about the non-negotiables and key principles of networks; probably one of the most enjoyable codification exercises I've been involved with. Thank you Syngenta!

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Image

I’m looking forward to hearing how the game has gone down (or up!) this year.

Learning on a Rollercoaster

One of my current clients needs to conduct a learning review from a 2-year IT project which, by her own admission, has had its fair share of ups and downs. The project is at its mid-point, so the main customer for the learning is the team itself. They don't have much time to conduct the review (sadly just 90 minutes), so she asked me for some ideas for pre-work  for the team. Sometimes you don't have the luxury of a full day to conduct an exhaustive review, so you have to work with what you have and help the team to quickly connect their hearts and minds to the review process.  It's the heart bit which interests me here.

When we're under time pressure, we tend to focus on the facts, the timeline, the plan, the process, contract, technology, scope and the deviations. Intellectual recall. In fact, most project review documents contain little more than this kind of intellectual recall. It usually takes a bit longer to get a team to talk about how they felt, and to draw out some the more people-oriented learning - let's call that a kind of "emotional recall".

I combined some ideas from Retrospects, After Action Reviews, Baton-passing and Future Backwards (Heaven and Hell) exercises into this approach. Enjoy the ride!

With thanks to Navcon
With thanks to Navcon

Part 1 - the pre-work:

Before the meeting, ask each member of the team to think back over the project timeline and to focus on their emotions at each stage. You can provide them with a template like this, with key dates or milestones marked to give a sense of orientation.

1. Ask them to sketch out their own "emotional rollercoaster", paying attention to the highs and lows.

2. For the high spots, write down what went well, and why you think it went well.

3. Do the same for the low spots. What was difficult, and why do you think that was?

4. How do you think the rollercoaster is most likely to continue?  Draw the continuing journey.  Bring this to the meeting with your notes on the reasons for the highs and lows.

Part 2 - during the meeting.

Sharing the Past and Present.

  • Collectively, in the meeting, create a large version of the rollercoaster timeline on the wall.
  • Each participant draws their journey up to the present day, pausing to describe the lows and highs, and the reasons for these.   A facilitator should probe these reasons using the "5-whys"  technique to get to the underlying reason.
  • For each high and low, ask the group to express the reason as a recommendation - something that someone else should do to repeat the delight, or avoid the despair - or an action which should be taken in order to change a process such that the good practice becomes embedded.
  • Capture these recommendations on post-its and place on the rollercoaster.
  • Repeat for each member of the project team (towards the end, they can "pass" if someone has already identified a high or low. )
  • This should create a shared view of the past, and "how we got to where we are today", with some useful recommendations captured. Consider who you might share these with beyond the team.

Creating the Future together.

  • Now ask each member to sketch how they think the project will go from now to the end date. You will probably get a range of options!
  • Focus on the best projected outcome and ask "based on all we've learned to date, what actions could we take to make this happen, rather than the less positive options?". You can take feedback from the entire group, or get them to discuss in pairs or sub-groups first.
  • Capture these actions (with names!).

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, this is the end of the ride. Please be sure to collect your belongings as you leave and don't forget to check your photo on the way out.

10 options for implementing a KM strategy

Last week I had the pleasure of providing my final virtual webinar for the first of the UN's KM Online blended learning programme.  Geoff Parcell and I have taken turns over the past 6 weeks.  Last week the focus was on KM Strategy and Implementation, and we had an excellent interactive discussion about different options for implementation.Here's a shot of our discussion in action...

So with particular thanks to Eric, Harald, Svetlana and Miguel who added some great ideas  - here are ten different options for KM Strategy implementation.

1. Top Down, Big Bang.

This is the traditional "someone at the top has said this needs to happen" approach, usually accompanied by a cascade, a change initiative, communications and engagement plan, brown-bag presentations, training programmes, mugs and mouse mats. We've all seen these initiatives in action - and in some organisations they can be the only way to get people's attention.  The challenge, of course is to find ways to keep people's attention -  particularly when the board or senior sponsors have moved onto their next big bang.  You might consider setting up a programme board with some of the senior players, which will keep them collectively on-the-hook for your programme.  It's much more difficult for the whole group to shift their energy away than it is for a single sponsor to become distracted by the next big idea.

So it's the challenge of sustainability, which leads us neatly to the second approach - Top Down, Bottom Up.

2. Top Down, Bottom Up

This approach is a sophistication of the Big Bang approach, using the same level of visible senior support to send a clear message across the organisation. The critical difference is that there is a deliberate effort to harness the energy and passion of workers at the front line, and to involve them in the programme, perhaps as group of advisors or a community of practice. These people are key in helping to translate the messages from the top and set them in the right context locally.  BP had a two-year programme with a team of 10 with a brief to define and demonstrate the value of KM.  But it was KM Community of practice - around 200 enthusiasts who recognised the value that it brought to their day-to-day roles - this was the group who helped KM to be more sustainable.  They were also an excellent source of anecdotes and credible stories of where KM had made a difference at the sharp-end.

3. Slipstream.

In most organisations, you can guarantee that there will be a number of organisational initiatives in flight at any one time.  Rather than wait for a gap in the traffic which will never come, or to launch a competing campaign to capture the attention of an already saturated workforce, there is a third way!  Slipstreaming is about working in partnership with other initiatives or "transformation projects" (don't you just love that phrase?), looking for ways in which you can feed of each others' momentum. The beauty of KM is that it's such a broad discipline that it is easy to find ways to complement and support other programmes and functions.  I have seen KM effectively slipstream behind business improvement and Six Sigma projects; operational excellence, new project management methodologies, SharePoint deployments, acquisition integration activities, customer management and asset management initiatives, culture change movements and the roll-out of new corporate values. [You might question whether you can change culture with an initiative, or roll-out values - we'll leave that for a future post - but you get the idea...]

One thing to be wary of, which affects competitive cyclists and athletes who slipstream - is the danger of getting "boxed in".  If you're slipstreaming the roll-out of SharePoint with a view to sharing a broader set of knowledge-sharing behaviours and methods, then watch out that the technology doesn't grab all the headlines and rob you of impact.  It's always best to agree these things up-front as part of the partnership, rather than "pop out" unexpectedly and assume that you can push KM to the forefront!

4. Outside In.

This approach is a little higher risk, but does come with its own in-built parachute. Sometimes things just sound better when they are heard from the outside.   People who would treat an internal newsletter or intranet article with a degree of scepticism will pay attention to  the same story when it appears in a journal or arrives via their RSS feed – or when a friend of customer mentions that it just arrived in their RSS feed.  It’s the power of outside-in.  Geoff Parcell and I found that when we published the first edition of Learning to Fly in 2001, it gave reach, awareness and credibility to the KM programme way beyond anything we could have achieved ourselves.  Rio Tinto experienced a similar unexpected impact when they published their video on Communities of Practice on YouTube.  It just works, and it creates momentum inside the company to fill in any gaps between what is said externally and what happens internally.

And if you do over-reach?  Well, all that publicity should help you to find a soft landing somewhere else!

5. Viral

This is a variant of the pilot approach and usually involves technology.  BT experienced it with the  launch of their BTPedia internal wiki back in 2007, Russian financial services giant Sberbank encountered it with the launch of their ideas management system in 2011, and the roll-out of many micro-blogging environments  like Deloitte's Yammer have taken on a life of their own this year. With a viral approach, you need to be prepared for it to be messy - it's a case of let a thousand flowers bloom, pick the best ones and do the weeding and gardening later.   However, it's hard to imagine "lessons learned", "knowledge retention" or the creation of knowledge products spreading like wildfire.  You'll need to make the most of the extra momentum and have a plan up your sleeve to connect the parts of KM which spread virally with the other techniques and methods which require more effort to adopt.

6. Stealth

Sometimes labels get in the way.

Sometimes  you have to find ways to build  up  your organization's capability to manage and share knowledge without them realising what your master plan actually is.  You get smart at making small adjustments to processes, spotting political opportunities and allies, tweaking the configuration of information-sharing platforms and the wording of competency frameworks and values;  encouraging networks and facilitating conversations which improve performance and learning.  After a few years, you'll be able to look back and say to yourself  "you know what, we're pretty good at managing and sharing knowledge. - but you probably won't get a plaudit or bonus - just the satisfaction of having helped to build a knowledge-friendly environment which is probably more sustainable than any managed programme would have achieved.

If you like the sound of that, and can live with the lack of recognition, then perhaps a career as an independent KM consultant awaits you!

7. Copycat

This is more of a tactic than an implementation strategy per se - but it's often successful to point to examples of successful KM from other organisations (competitors and customers are particular impactful) to create some "me too" or "me better" demand.  Find a good example and invite them in to tell their story.  Check whether your board members have non-executive directorships or recent prior experience of other companies.  They might be good ones to pursue! Copycat can work well internally too, encouraging business units to out-do each other in successful knowledge sharing, but make sure that the measures you use to compare and celebrate don't create a new set of competing silos.   ConocoPhillips' '4G' awards (Give, Grab, Gather, Guts) and Syngenta's TREE awards (Transfer, Reuse, Embed, Experience) both focus on giving and receiving - hence they compete to out-share each other - which has to be a good thing!

8. Pilot

A Pilot approach will often take a subset of KM methods and apply them locally - in contrast to the big bang, which usually takes KM as a whole and attempts to apply it globally.  It's all about lighting a number of fires to see what spreads.  A pilot enables you to try the aspects of KM most likely to make a difference quickly, to build credibility locally, and to learn from each implementation.  That could mean launching a community of practice for one part of the organisation whilst closing the learning loop on major projects and working on knowledge retention for retiring experts. Criteria for a successful pilot?

  • capable of showing results (measurable value would be good) within 6 months;
  • strategic;
  • repeatable elsewhere;
  • close to the heart of any key sponsor or stakeholder, and
  • ideally a recognisable part of the organisation (not too esoteric) which will make their story easy to understand.

9. The Buffet Menu

The success of a buffet approach depends on a high level of demand for knowledge. Rather than investing effort in creating an appetite, or a willingness to experiment - this approach works with the demand already present, and provides an array of tools and techniques which the organisation chooses from at will, once their "palate" is sufficiently educated.

The International Olympic Committee is a great example of this.  They set out a veritable smorgasbord of learning processes, observation visits, secondments, extranet platforms, access to experts, databases, distilled recommendations and lessons learned.  A knowledge feast for a future organising committee, who enter the 7-year process with a tremendous appetite for knowledge. On a smaller scale (and let's face it, everything looks small compared to the Olympics!), management consultancies operate their KM programmes using the demand for knowledge which accompanies each new assignment.

Demand-led programmes are more likely to be sustainable - no need to persuade people to change their behaviour - adrenaline drives them to it!

10. Phoenix from the ashes

For a lot of organisations, KM is not a new idea.  For many of them, there have been several historical big bangs, pilots and copycat initiatives. Talk with people about what has happened in the past and learn from it.  Corporate KM started in the mid '90s, so you'll be looking for people with grey hair (working in KM does that to people). Sometimes just having these conversations can rekindle enthusiasm, tinged with nostalgia.  Why didn't we make more of that?  What did we lose momentum then?  Perhaps now the timing is better?  Perhaps now, with a new sponsor, or now that we've addressed that particular barrier? It is quite possible for KM to rise, phoenix-like from the ashes and fly higher than it did before.

So whether you're a viral copycat or a phoenix stealthily approaching a buffet from the outside in, here's ten options to consider, with a little help from the inaugural UN KMOL class of 2013.