March 21, 2010

We Don’t Do Lessons Anymore

We don’t do lessons anymore.

I am sure you would have been as surprised as I was when I was told that. I was sitting speaking with someone and they were outlining what they did and how they did it. I was truly impressed not only by the experience of the person who was telling me this but also about how they went about it. Then the bombshell, “We don’t do lessons any more”.

Just as well I wasn’t drinking tea that the time as I am sure I would have spilled it. As calmly as I could I enquired if they could share a bit more detail with me. “We don’t do them anymore because nobody liked doing them” was the reply. As we sat and talked some more it transpired the reason that nobody like doing them was that they felt nothing ever happened as a result of lessons sessions. These were very busy people and doing something that didn’t add value or didn’t seem to have a purpose didn’t go down well with them.

As the story unfolded we got to the ‘put them into the database’ part, then the ‘nobody ever looks at the database, part.

I prefer nowadays to think of ‘lessons identified’ and a lesson only being an interim step. My preferred sequence is;
• Activity
• Lesson identified
• Action identified based on the lesson identified
• Someone made accountable for closing out the action
• The action closed out and the learning from the lesson identified incorporated in procedure, standard, work method statement, training programme etc
• Lesson identified achieved
• Staff made aware of the change to the work method etc.
• Updated work method etc routinely used

I suggested the instead of thinking about lessons as the end state that perhaps they should think about them as being an interim step. Time will tell if they decide to change their approach.

Knoco Ltd

March 13, 2010

Culture - what does lunchtime tell you?

Changing the culture is a common objective of a knowledge management program. While this seems a laudable objective before you can change something you need to be clear on what you already have. A common assumption is that a company has one, single, unified culture and that any cultural change program just needs to change this one thing. It is similar to saying that everyone in the company drinks tea, so we want to convert them to coffee drinks.

Culture just isn’t like that.

If you want to see culture in action look at the dining habits of the organisation at lunchtime. Some will bring a sandwich from home, some will have bought the sandwich from a vendor, some will go to a local restaurant and some will go to the staff canteen. Even who they have lunch with will have diversity; some will sit with colleagues they work with; some will use it as time to meet with colleagues in other departments or disciplines; males will sit with males ; females will sit with females ; males will sit with females ; some will sit along national or ethnic or tribal lines. The variety is huge.

Is this culture in action? Perhaps not in the purest sense but it does serve as a reminder that humans are complex and as an organisation is made up of humans, the organisation will also be complex.

Before you can change the culture of an organisation you need to be clear on what you have already. If you are not clear on what you already have, how can you possibly move it towards what you want?

Knoco Ltd

March 8, 2010

KPI's Drive Knowledge Flow

I have worked in performance driven environments all my working life, targets, milestones and deliverables are the things I was brought up on and while I think having targets is a great idea I am now getting a bit concerned about the widespread use of key performance indicators or KPI’s.

Don’t get me wrong I think KPI’s are a great way of making clear to individuals and the wider organisation what it is you want them to achieve and how it will be measured but (don’t you just love the but word) I am getting a bit concerned about the unintended consequences of some of the KPI’s that I have seen in use.

Good KPI’s are ones that are carefully thought through and aligned with the behaviours you want staff to display. I tend to think about KPI’s as guided missiles, you point them in the direction you want and off they go. If you have got it correct it will go where you want it to, get it wrong and it will turn back and get you!

It’s also useful to think about what else is happening in the organisation as the same time. Let’s take the following hypothetical (imaginary) scenario. The company has announced that the new document storage system is available. Nothing wrong with that. Now let’s assume that the management want staff ‘to share their knowledge’. Again nothing wrong with that. Now lets assume that a KPI is put in staff appraisals that reads ‘did you share knowledge with other members of staff?’. Simple yes or no is the measure. Again nothing wrong with that. But how will staff be able to convince their line manager that they have satisfied the KPI? Unless further information is given on how the KPI will be satisfied then they might assume that because there is a new document management system they can upload a document that and hence that will qualify as ‘sharing knowledge with other members of staff’.

The staff have done nothing wrong, they have read the KPI and then in the absence of a clear description of what is required to satisfy the KPI they have created their own. In this simple example you could end up with a lot of documents in the new document storage system but nobody re-using any of them.

If you want to use KPI’s to drive knowledge flow in your organisation, that’s great but can I suggest you think through what the unintended consequences of what you have put in place may be.

‘Systems thinking’ was one of the fundamental skills in the toolkit of the founder members of BP’s knowledge management team. As they were introducing something new (knowledge management) to the organisation it was a useful tool to teach them to think ahead and try to understand what the unintended consequences as intended consequences might be. The next time you are reviewing the results of lessons learned or a retrospect just ask yourself, “was this result of not thinking through what the unintended consequences might be”.

Knoco Ltd