September 29, 2009

An Old KM in BP Slideset

Chris and Geoff have put this slide set into the public domain. It's mainly material that we created in the mid 1990's when we were in the BP Knowledge Management team. Certainly the material from about slide 25 onwards is at least ten years old and probably been superceded.

BP and leading companies in the KM space have moved on considerably since then. For example KM plans, assurance and governance are a routine part of a modern knowledge management framework.

Knowledge Harvesting Is Surprisingly Cathartic

I thought you might be interested to read the feedback from someone that was involved in a recent knowledge harvest that I conducted;

“It’s actually surprisingly cathartic. I was worried about doing this because you don’t always know what you know. You don’t always realise what you know. And things that you do in your day-to-day work aren’t always written down, they’re not going to be written down. And I thought this was going to be a really painful experience; it hasn’t been. It’s actually been a bit of fun. I’m not certain that I’ve answered all the questions at the level of detail that the questioner would really like to know. So this is probably an overview of what I know and there may be more work for me to do to get that knowledge harvested or as I prefer to say, dredged out of my brain for it to be available to others. But it’s been quite interesting to have to sit and think about these questions and answer them. Because frankly I normally just do it rather than think about how it’s done. And I’ve actually surprised myself on some of the things I’ve realised I know.”

We are going to include it in the Knowledge Harvesting Toolkit as part of the introductory email that is sent to potential participants in the knowledge harvest.

September 22, 2009

Knowledge Management: L&D's Hidden Asset

I loved the headline………..Knowledge Management: L&D’s hidden asset. I loved it so much I decided to read the article.

The article appeared at and was written by Mary Clarke and the three bullet points at the top of the page really got my attention. No wonder over 1300 people had read it so far. The three points that were highlighted were;
• Knowledge management is an integral part of an effective L&D in an organisation
• Awareness of the skills gap and knowledge deficit can help both professional development of employees and the organisation as a whole
• Poor or non existant knowledge management can have a detrimental effect on the morale of the workforce as well as an organisation’s bottom line

I agree.

Knowledge management and L&D are bed fellows, they are closely intertwined, or they should be. They reinforce each other and they complement each other. They are not, in my opinion, competitors or if they are, someone in your organisation should be asking very serious questions. Resources within a business are a scarce commodity, when was the last time you heard of anyone who didn’t want more resources or a higher budget! So use them wisely and effectively.

By conducting a skills assessment or knowledge assessment an organisation can identify the current position but perhaps of more value is the understanding it will provide of the skills and knowledge the organisation will need in the future. For many organisations the key knowledge in 2009 has been how to survive until the end of the global recession. This is the business equivalent of having a hole in the hull of the ship and needing to survive until you reach the safety of the port. But once in port you need new knowledge, perhaps how to repair the hole or find someone who can. It’s the same in business, as we move out of recessions companies will need new knowledge, knowledge of how to grow a business and move into new markets.

I blogged earlier about how the MAKE Awards clearly illustrated the link between successful businesses and the use of knowledge management. Clearly they have understood the last bullet point.

Knoco Ltd

September 16, 2009

KM Pays Dividends

One of the recurring themes on knowledge management site is return on investment, in other words how do I know that investing money in managing knowledge will pay dividends?

It’s correct that before investing in knowledge management you should consider the return on that investment. Creating a business case for any new business venture is a prudent exercise and one that helps to ensure that the scarce resources of the organisation are used wisely. There are many books published and courses run on how to create a business case, indeed there is now a thriving business in writing business cases.

In case you aren’t aware of it, sites such as elance allow people from around the world to ‘bid’ to undertake creating your business plan. For example, when I looked earlier today when I was thinking about what to write in this blog, I noticed that someone had posted an invitation to tender to write a business plan in connection with a restaurant. When I looked they had received twelve bids from around the globe to do this. We certainly live in a global economy.

So however you decide to do it, identifying the value that you expect the investment to generate is a good idea. If you don’t know what you want, you possibly won’t know when you get it!

In identifying the return that you expect you don’t need to be too specific. The early work we did in BP involved a simple matrix that mapped ‘degree of difficulty’ verses ‘anticipated financial benefit delivered’. I still like this method because it takes into account how difficult it might be to deliver something. Especially when you are getting started you might want to settle for a smaller return but one that is almost certain to be delivered verses a very large return which might not be delivered. It’s about managing risk. Having a number of smaller items that are easy to deliver balanced by a longer term, more difficult to deliver item is a good strategy.

When I was reviewing the 2009 Global MAKE Finalists I couldn’t but help but feel that anyone who questioned the value of managing knowledge should read this list. The list reads like a global who’s who of successful and well known organisations. Perhaps they have discovered the secret to being successful in business? Perhaps their inclusion on the 2009 Global MAKE Finalist list isn’t a coincidence?

Being successful in business didn’t just happen for these companies, it took leadership and a vision of what might be possible. Knowledge management thrives in an organisation where leadership provide the environment that allows individual time to think, to reflect and to learn from others. Unless that environment is in place you may put a lot of effort into introducing knowledge management to the organisation and be disappointed by the results. If you want to test to what the environment in your organisation is like, why not request your copy of the Knoco KM risk evaluation template which will assist you to calculate the risk to successful delivery of your KM implementation. Being informed allows you to design a productive way forward. I look forward to seeing your company appear in future editions of the Global MAKE Finalists.

September 15, 2009

Knoco Clients in MAKE Awards Finals

It's great to see so many of Knoco's clients in the MAKE Awards Finals.. They deserve it for all the effort they have put into and continue to put into managing their knowledge and achieving business benefit for their stakeholders. Well done everyone.

September 8, 2009

Corporate Memory Leaks

I was reviewing the books that I wanted to read over the next couple of weeks / months and came across Building Expertise – Cognitive Methods for Training and Performance Improvement by Ruth Colvin Clark. The other book that I think I will read is Knowledge Management, Organisational Memory and Transfer Behavour; Global Approaches and Advancements (Advances in Knowledge Management Research) by Murray E Jennex.

Corporate memory is something that fascinates me. It never ceases to amaze me how organisations can appear to ‘unlearn’ something that has happened in the past. I was conducting a knowledge management training session and invited a senior executive to address the group before we got started. I expected him to say how important managing knowledge was to the future of the organisation and how the career progression of those in attendance would be affected by their ability to understand and deliver on those expectations. Instead of giving the usual address he invited everyone to take their paper and write down the answers to the questions he was going to ask. I won’t bother repeating the questions as they were very specific to the company in question but essentially he said, “Did X happen in 1995, 2000, 2005 or never?” He posed about five different questions with different dates but I started to note a pattern in the questions.

I noticed that the dates were roughly five years apart.

What he had learned was that it took roughly five years for that organisation to unlearn something!

As we explored it further it became apparent that the cultural norm within this organisation was that you would move jobs roughly every 18 to 24 months. In some instances the movement would be triggered by promotion, in some it would be moving to another area to gain new or additional skills or perhaps it was to fill a resource need on a project. The reasons changed but the cycle was roughly 18 to 24 months.

What he had noticed was that if four people held a post in succession for the normal 2 years, let’s call them A, B, C and D, then if an incident occurred half way through the term of A being in post, then by the time it came for C to leave the post and D take over, typically the incident would have repeated itself with resulting injury, loss of life or loss of production. They had also found that while the incident might not have been exactly the same as before it was so similar as to make no difference.

One of the reasons for this repeating of incidents was that the focus was on determining what had happened, learning lessons. A lesson learned document would be produced and it was assumed that everyone involved would read and apply any recommendations made at the time. Now while A was still in post everyone tended to remember the incident and applied the advice of the lessons learned. However by the time that B took over the role memories were starting to dim and the specifics of what happened where getting lost. By the time C took over the role very few if anyone could remember the incident, it was no longer in the daily conciseness of people, and if asked about it some people could probably remember vaguely something happening.

To avoid this pattern of behaviour continuing in the future a process was put in place that did two things. The first was to go back and look for incidents that had happened in the past and identify what was currently being done to avoid it being repeated at some time in the future. The other thing that was done was to ensure that an action was put on every lesson that was learned and that action remained in place until it could be proven that it had been fully auctioned. So in future whenever they conducted a After Action Review or a Retrospect, any actions which arose would be assigned to a specific individual and target date for implementation of the action set. Outstanding actions were reported to senior management who ‘encouraged those who had not closed out their actions to do so’.

The human brain is great for storing sentiments and big picture memories but rather poor at storing the minute detail that can made the difference between success and failure.

Knoco Ltd

September 2, 2009

Overselling Knowledge Management

I have reached the stage in my career where giving something back and helping people who are starting out on their career or perhaps moving their career path in a different direction is very important to me. I am very happy, and often make the offer, to people who are new to knowledge management or perhaps have been recently appointed to the role of knowledge manager, to give me a call and have a chat. This allows them to bounce ideas about, seek a second opinion or just generally share some of the thoughts and challenges that they are experiencing in the role.

I received such a call earlier this week which I thought would be worth while expanding and sharing on in this blog. In essence the person who had relatively recently been appointed as a knowledge manager wanted my advice on how to sell knowledge management to their executive board.

It would have been extremely easy for me to have responded along the lines of ‘don't sell it to them’ but that would have been condescending as this was an issue that was obviously taxing and troubling them.

Let me try to explain why I think you shouldn't try to sell knowledge management to executive boards and senior stakeholders.

In some ways this reflects my experience of marketing and sales. There is one school of thought which says that you can push a sale on to someone by badgering them until they eventually submit and agreed to the sale. This is the super slick salesmen type approach, one to which I do not subscribe. Rather I believe that you should work back the way from what is the identified stakeholder need or if that is not available work with the stakeholder to identify what that need may be. Once you have done that you can then illustrate how what you have to offer can help to satisfy that need. What I'm trying to say is that when you're talking to the executive board or senior stakeholders trying to push the benefits of knowledge management to them might not be the most effective way of communicating or engaging them. Rather attempt to uncover their need or desire for the business. This may be growth of market share, it may be expanding into a new geographical territory or perhaps it is the successful launch of a new product.

If you can identify what that need this then you can start to illustrate how the knowledge management framework or a specific knowledge management processes such as BDAL (Business Driven Action Learning) can help to deliver the desired outcome. By approaching them in this way you're more likely to engage them in a conversation which adds value to them. They will buy into the overall concept and will most likely give you permission to proceed. Trying to push knowledge management onto them could result in a pushback or rejection. I remember in one instance where a senior manager said to me, "Don’t tell me that knowledge management will wash my clothes whiter than white because I don't believe you!" What he was trying to get across was that by promising that knowledge management could solve world famine, make my clothes whiter than white, make me beautiful, make my teeth sparkling white, I guess you get the picture by now, in this experience people associated with knowledge management had been over promising what the results might be and frequently ended up disappointing. All he wanted was a conversation about the challenges facing him in that role and how, if appropriate, the application of knowledge management could help to overcome or perhaps partially overcome some of these challenges.

As we finished our chat on the telephone I suggested that instead of trying to present knowledge management in a way that could be misinterpreted or in a way that could be interpreted as over promising, that they consider a softer marketing type approach being led by what the senior executives needs and desires were and building from them.

Perhaps in a forthcoming blog we may to explore the difference between needs and wants in the context of knowledge management.

Knoco Ltd