Thursday, 24 November 2016

A quick win here, a success story there - how to change the culture sneakily....

Sometimes, we need to be direct.  Other times, we need to do things differently.

Indeed, many successful warriors throughout history have used what is known as the 'indirect approach'.  At the Battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon feinted weakness on his right in order to punch a hole through the extended lines of Austrian soldiers on the Pratzen Heights. 

More recently, a former Commanding Officer of mine (ex-SAS, awarded the Military Cross in Gulf War 1) characterised the approach thus, "It's like tapping the shoulder of the biggest, ugliest bloke in the bar, then turning with him to remain hidden and hitting him the sharpest, heaviest object you can find, before kicking his legs from underneath him and stamping on his face as hard as you possibly can...."

Those were the days....

More recently, I had a call with a client, the aim of which was to explain the Knoco approach to knowledge management (KM) and win his support for a KM project we hope to run for them next year.  At one point, he said, "Everything you've said has resonated with me, Rupert.  I'm just concerned that our culture might be a problem.  You can take a horse to water but can't make it drink.  We can provide people with the tools they need to capture and share knowledge but they still won't do it."

This is a common concern amongst clients.  Indeed, when we perform a KM assessment, culture is one of the areas we examine, under the area of Governance.  And we sometimes find that organisations have all the technology tools they could ever hope for but are nevertheless not sharing with one another.  Indeed, the problem can be compounded by some tools being duplicated, with some teams using Tool A for this function, and others using Tools B or C.

I have written about a 'learning culture' many times (e.g. all listed here).  I think culture can both help and hinder KM work, as well as itself being shaped by it.

Culture is both a symptom and a cause and is therefore difficult to tackle head-on.  The culture of a place can be described as 'the way things are done around here'.  It is the sum of everyone's hopes, fears, beliefs and values.  These in turn are the responses people make to behaviour.  Culture influences, and is influenced by, the way people work together.

Culture change programmes can work but are notoriously difficult and all too often abandoned because whilst people often seek and welcome change, they do not like to feel that they themselves are being changed.  After all, in the words of Peter Senge, "The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back." (Page 58, The Fifth Discipline)

So, instead of forcing behaviour upon people, KM managers should identify ways to make them want to behave that way because it's clearly the right thing to do.

How can they do this?

By identifying so-called 'pain points', and using KM to alleviate the pain, KM managers can win support for further KM work.  By identifying short, focussed, pilot projects that deliver value - what we at Knoco call the 'good news stories' - word will get around, assisted here and there through a communications plan.

As small numbers of people start to use new tools, follow new processes and establish new connections with people whose knowledge they can now use, they will begin to spread the word.  Good news stories should be communicated to everyone, with key participant interviews put on videos and broadcast on the company portal.

This way, energy is created, momentum builds and the culture begins to change - not because we tackle it head on, but because we we're being sneaky and using the indirect approach.

To swap war stories, from the KM frontline or elsewhere, please contact me direct, or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Do you want to learn for the future? Or blame someone? You can't do both

This article, published yesterday on the Guardian website, argues that the Chilcot Inquiry (i.e. examining UK involvement in the run-up to the 2003 Gulf War and blogged about by me on its day of publication here) was set up to 'focus on lessons and avoid blame'.
It goes further, reporting that this was all about 'not holding people accountable'.

So far, so very typical of the media.

To report in this way is to make a category error because you can either investigate in order to hold people accountable and find out who is to blame, or you can seek to identify lessons for the future.  You can't do both - at least, not as part of the same process you can't.

In his excellent book, 'Black Box Thinking', which I reviewed here, Matthew Syed writes about the 'blame game' and the way it prevents people, teams and organisations from learning about past performance, thereby depriving them of valuable learning opportunities for the future.

He writes,
"...if professionals think they are going to be blamed for honest mistakes, why would they be open about them?  If they do not trust their managers to take the trouble to see what really happened, why would they report what is going wrong, and how can the system adapt?" (p. 240, Black Box Thinking)
Readers may recall my review of the great Sidney Dekker's book, 'Just Culture', in which he examines the dilemma of balancing openness (and learning) with accountability (and blame).
Dekker relates a powerful story of a nurse who volunteers the information that she made a mistake which contributed towards the death of child, with the result that she loses her job and is prevented from nursing again. 

In such an environment, and with such consequences, how likely is it that other healthcare professionals will volunteer insight into their own mistakes?  Or is it more likely that they will seek to cover them up?

Back to the media, and the campaign groups, and the families of the deceased - such people need to ask themselves, what outcomes do they seek?  Do they want to learn what happened and reduce the likelihood of recurrence?  OR, do they want to hold people to account and blame them for their decisions and actions? 

They can't have both - not from the same process, at any rate.

If you run lessons capture meetings, use a structured process to examine past events and identify lessons for the future, including actions that, if implemented, will help to improve performance.

You need to ask:
  • What did we expect to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Is there a difference between these and if so, why?
  • What have we learned?
  • What will do differently next time?
  • What actions do we need to take to embed this learning?
  • What was the impact of this issue?
Please don't ask 'Who?'  Even when examining 'what happened' and 'why', I am always very careful to ensure that no-one uses words like 'fault' or 'blame', and that we talk about 'actions taken' rather than 'he or she doing this or that'.

It may sound as though we're avoiding the hard questions and seeking an easy life, and it is certainly the case that organisations that have such processes hardwired into their projects and programmes are more comfortable with providing answers to questions that might be uncomfortable for others that are less familiar with this approach. 

However, the aim of such meetings in particular, and of knowledge management (KM) in general, must be to improve performance through the sharing and re-use of knowledge.  Other processes exist to 'hold people to account' and they must be kept separate from KM in order to encourage people to talk freely, without fear of consequences.

Can and should politicians and civil servants and generals be 'held to account' and 'blamed' for their decisions?  Where appropriate, absolutely. 

But an inquiry set up to identify lessons for the future is not the place for such motives and it is wilfully naïve of the media to expect both aims to be achieved through the same process.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted - KM assessments

A Knowledge Management (KM) assessment involves speaking to people across all parts of an organisation, at all levels of seniority and with varying levels of experience.  We ask about daily work, trying to find out how people create, capture, share, organise and access knowledge and what they have to help them in this:
  • Who is accountable for identifying (and then learning) lessons from project, if anyone?
  • When do people get together to share knowledge, if at all?
  • Where does 'good practice' get stored, if anywhere?
  • What kind of IT tools are used, if any?
  • How is good practice updated, if at all?
  • Who's in charge of this, if anyone?
An assessment offers clients several benefits:
  • It provides them with an overview of what KM capabilities are present in their organisation
  • It assesses these capabilities against a benchmark of leading KM organisations
  • Where strengths are identified, it recommends ways to embed and broaden their reach
  • Where weaknesses or gaps are identified, it recommends ways to improve performance
Together, these ensure that any subsequent KM investment is cost-effective and targeted on those areas where its impact will be greatest.

Sometimes, organisations seek to 'skip' this vital step and just want to 'do KM' any form of preliminary assessment.  In my view, this approach is wasteful and risky because:
  • They do not yet know what KM capabilities are, and are not, present in their organisation
  • They have no idea what 'good looks like'
  • They may procure training, tools, software or coaching that duplicates things already in place
  • They do not yet know where their need is greatest
In keeping with several recent blog posts, I think analogies can help here.

We've looked at the 'KM as cooking' analogy before, so imagine preparing the weekly shopping list with reference to a cookery book but without checking the cupboards or fridge.  I hold my hand up to this wasteful oversight - you get to the store and end up buying things 'just in case' you don't already have them at home.  Which means that, with fresh produce, you now have double the amount of bacon, beans, broccoli, cheese etc. that you need, which either needs to be eaten or gets wasted.  And with dry goods, you simply add yet another packet of ground ginger or mixed herbs to the back of the cupboard, alongside the two already there.

Cooking not your thing?  How about building?  You've just won the lottery and want to build a new house.  Are you going to get a builder to just do as they want, or are you going to get an architect to design something first?  In fact, before the architect come along, shouldn't you get a survey done, to make sure first that the ground on which you intend to build is solid?

Not in a building mood?  Then how about joining me in battle?!  A famous saying from my former profession is that 'time spent on reconnaissance is seldom wasted'.  Regardless of whether you're planning on destroying an enemy compound, or distributing aid to starving refugees, or helping to evacuate civilians from a civil-war-torn country, you need to get 'eyes on', through surveillance systems and/or people on the ground.  The more information that can be gained about the enemy, as well as the ground on which you will have to operate, the greater the chance of success - which means killing the enemy and saving everyone else. 

In all of these examples, intelligent planning involves finding out the current situation, before deciding how to change it.  As with shopping, building and battle, so it is with KM.

For more information about KM assessments, or for a free 'KM self-assessment tool', please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Monday, 7 November 2016

You can't manage it all, so don't try. Focus on where the need (and value!) is greatest.

Where should we start?
When an organisation starts to investigate knowledge management (KM), it can be both intimidating and bewildering as to where to start.  Having made that vital leap in recognising that "this is something we should be doing", some clients get scared at the thought of how much work lies ahead of them, how long it will take and how much it will cost.

In these circumstances, a risk-based approach can help focus resources on those areas where the need is greatest.

At Knoco, we use a 'knowledge scan' to help clients identify the areas of knowledge where their KM programme should start, as well as what kind of KM interventions will help.  Sometimes the term 'Knowledge Audit' is also used.

Using either interviews or workshops, a 'knowledge map' of the organisation is created, which shows the numerous functional areas (i.e. departments, programmes, teams etc.) and the knowledge topics used therein (Note: some will cut across different areas).
Knowledge scan workshop underway

Then, the interviewees or workshop participants rank each topic against criteria, some of which are shown below:

  • Criticality now – how critical is this knowledge topic to success at the moment?
  • Criticality 3-5 yrs – how critical is this knowledge topic to success in the near future (3-5 years)?

Documentation level
  • Documentation level – how well documented is the know-how associated with this topic?
Knowledge spread
  • Spread now – how dispersed is the knowledge of this topic within the company?
  • Spread 3-5 years – how dispersed does this knowledge need to be in the near future?
Maturity level
  • K maturity level – How mature is this knowledge (from brand new, to fully mature and well established)
Level of in-house knowledge
  • Level now – How much does the company know about this topic at the moment, from “we are global experts” to “we know nothing”?
  • Level in 3-5 yrs - How much does the company need to know about this topic in the near future (3-5 years)
  • Replaceability – How easy will this knowledge be to replace if we lose it (eg can we buy it off the shelf)?
  • Process owner and experts – Who is the company subject-matter expert (SME)? Who are the back-up experts?
Retention Risk
  • Retention risk – How much is this knowledge at risk of loss through loss of personnel?
Some significant 'number-crunching' follows, which enables us to identify which topics are of greatest value to the organisation and which KM interventions would be most appropriate:
  • For example, for those topics considered critical, but with low levels of documentation, the creation of Knowledge Assets would be helpful.
  • For topics that are hard to replace and where the risk of knowledge loss is high (i.e. through retirement of key experts), a Knowledge Retention and Transfer project would be worthwhile.
  • Finally, for topics where there is a high-level of in-house knowledge and a high future criticality, Communities of Practice might be worth considering.
So don't panic and think you can manage everything or even need to - you can't and you don't.  However, what you do need to do is work out which topics are of greatest value, and then start there.  These will also be the areas where 'quick wins' can be won - meaning those which demonstrate great value, build trust in KM and create excitement as word spreads, thereby building momentum for other work that may require senior sign-off and/or investment.

I recently held a webinar on Knowledge Scans and Audits and would be happy to re-run this for anyone interested in learning more about this topic.  Please contact me direct or via the Knoco website.

Friday, 4 November 2016

How to plan a lessons learned meeting

Earlier this week, I discussed with a client how we can introduce Retrospects or lessons capture meetings to their organisation, as part of the wider implementation of a Knowledge Management (KM) framework.

If we go ahead, I'll be coaching him on the planning, facilitation and write-up of such events and will be using some slides I prepared some time ago.

You can view and download them from Slideshare, using this link here.

Let me know if you'd like to hear more, or have any questions about the material, either direct or via the Knoco website.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Have you hit the KM roadbump? 2 cracking analogies and one more killer quote to get you over it.

Knowledge management (KM) remains unknown to most organisations and the people that work within them.  Consequently, those of us working in the field sometimes use analogies, anecdotes and case-studies to explain KM to others. 

Early conversations often start well but we can all benefit from ways of countering the queries, doubts or even fears raised by those that don't yet "get it".

Two analogies that I like to use at the moment are those of safety and heating:

Whilst KM may sound like 'common sense' to some, all too often it is not that common.  Indeed, it is NOT the natural, human condition.  Managing anything at all requires deliberate effort, time, money and resources - managing knowledge is no different.  Safety is like this also.

As I blogged recently, we can't work safely without deliberately choosing to do so and we can't manage knowledge with equivalent efforts.

Think of everything that has gone into making factories, offices, shops and building sites safe places in which to work. In order to work safely, organisations have developed policies, committees, guidance, reporting procedures, training, metrics, teams, managers, champions, tools etc. Why?  Because we have learned (all too often the hard way) that the removal of danger requires action on our part.

As with safety, so with KM.  Knowledge won't move around an organisation without significant assistance from KM policies, committees, guidance, reporting procedures, training, metrics, teams, managers, champions, tools etc.

Furthermore, the 'safety team' are NOT the ones that work safely.  Rather, they require, encourage, enable and support the rest of us to do so.

As with safety, so with KM.  The KM team are NOT the ones that manage knowledge.  Rather, they require, encourage, enable and support the rest of us to do so.

A significant challenge facing KM practitioners as a discipline is the ever-present mistaken belief that technology is the answer, or even that technology somehow is knowledge management.  I think this may be largely down to what I call the 'magpie attraction' of technology.

Some organisations see something new and shiny and say, "We want that!" without properly thinking about the problem to which a so-called 'knowledge management platform' or 'knowledge management system' might be the solution.  Indeed, without the right people, processes and governance, the 'KM = technology = KM' approach achieves absolutely nothing.

To reinforce my point - last week I blogged '6 killer knowledge management quotes' (my most popular post this year, by the way).  Since then, I came across one more on LinkedIn - the ultimate killer KM quote to beat all killer KM quotes. 

From Larry Prusak (ex-IBM, McKinsey etc.) at last week's KM Legal Conference in New York:

"All the technology in the world will not make people collaborate.  Obama is not going to take my call just because I have a telephone and the number for the White House."


Now, about that heating analogy.  When we need to heat a house, we don't point to a brand new boiler and say, "We want that!", do we?  We recognise that we need radiators, a thermostat, piping, insulation in the loft, perhaps air conditioning as well. 

As with heating, so with KM.  We don't just need a portal, lessons management system, enterprise search, discussion forums and so on.  We need people to be accountable for their correct use, processes in order to create, update, organise and share the knowledge in them and a system of governance (indeed, a learning culture) that encourages and expects us to do this, and recognises and thanks us for so doing.

Don't waste money on buying only a boiler otherwise your house will stay very cold this winter.

For a conversation about magpies, boilers, safety or indeed, knowledge management, please get in touch direct or via the Knoco website.