May 28, 2010

The Power to Remember

The lack of corporate memory or how easily companies forget is frequently the topic of blogs and knowledge management papers. What struck me today however is the ability of the Internet not to forget.

One of the things that the BBC News web site includes on its home pages is 'most popular stories now' in terms of read, shared and watched / listened.

What was interesting yesterday and today was that one of the top stories shared and read, if you click on the link it takes you to a BBC web page dated 8 Dec 2006. The story that every one is reading about and sharing is the same story that appeared in Dec 2006.

If you are a senior executive it might be worthwhile checking to see if your knowledge management plan (which identifies the key knowledge that your organisation needs to manage to achieve its business objectives) includes how to manage the Internets memory.

The story that on the BBC that I have used to illustrate the memory that the Internet has should be a wake up call for senior managers. If what appears on the Internet about your company is good and positive, then well done. However if a negative story appears, do you want it re-appearing every couple of years to remind your current and potential customers about that negative aspect of your corporation.

So senior executives and knowledge managers, can I suggest that you dig out your knowledge management plans and just check what you are doing about the Internet memory.

Knoco Ltd

May 26, 2010

Value of Managing Knowledge

We are frequently asked if managing knowledge makes business sense. I first started hearing this question in the mid 1990’s and it is still as valid today. If you are making investment decision one of the things that you have to verify before you commit your valuable resources is the return that will generated.

My college Nick Milton has collected a series of stories about the benefits that companies have reported from managing knowledge and I would encourage you to read that but I thought it worthwhile sharing some data that I recently uncovered.
Essentially what it illustrated was that companies that are recognised for managing their knowledge effectively have Return on Revenues average 12.9% -- over four times the Global Fortune 500 median and Return on Assets average 13.9% -- over six times the Global Fortune 500 median.

That seems like a reasonable justification to investing in managing your company’s knowledge.

Knoco Ltd

May 20, 2010

Knowledgable Nose

I was up in the mountains of Scotland and we decided to visit one of the local distilleries. During the tour we were told that the Chief Noser was about to retire having decided after training his replacement for 12 years that they were ready to take over. Now I know at one point you had to serve as apprentice to your next role for 2 years before you were considered ready to take the role over but 12 years, isn’t that a bit excessive?

During the tour we learned that the tongue has 5 taste receptors while the nose has 38 (sorry to all medical folks if I have forgotten the exact numbers, but the ratio is in that order). We also learned that blended whisky is created when different whiskies are mixed and then the result is bottled. That is known as blended whisky. When malt from a different barrel is combined with malt from another barrel the process is known as ‘marrying the whisky’. As far as I could make out it was because there was no active stirring or encouragement for the liquids to mix. That is then bottled as single malt.

The process by which the decision is reached on what to do with the whisky from a given barrel is called ‘nosing’, literally the person smells the whisky and decides whether it should be left in the barrel to mature even further as it has good potential to be a classic or whether it is ready for consumption. The tacit knowledge on how select one from the other we were told took a long time to learn and in this case it had taken 12 years to get ready to take over as Chief Noser.

Now I found myself wondering, having done lots of knowledge harvesting over the years, why couldn’t you just sit down with the Chief Noser and capture what he did and didn’t do. Interestingly the company has an open door policy to nosing and anyone irrespective of gender, age, educational level can audition to become a trainee noser.

One of the conclusions that I reached was that it made a good marketing story to say that it has taken 12 years just to decide what to do with the whisky. It illustrated an industry that took the long view with things and didn’t rush things it would be ready when it was ready. So even if it was possible to transfer the knowledge quicker than that, it made a better story for the visitors to say that it had taken 12 years. I had also tasted the efforts of some other organisations that perhaps didn’t have the same tradition of producing whisky and believe me it was inferior. So perhaps in some areas it does take 12 years to share tacit knowledge.

Knoco Ltd

May 17, 2010

Language in Storytelling

In some industries and companies there is an ‘official working language’ which is different from the ‘working language’ used by most of the staff. The working language might be Thai, French, German, Norwegian or Arabic to name a few. Frequently the official language is English. It is not uncommon to find quiet a variation in language proficiency across the organisation. This can lead to the dilemma of whether to allow people to share knowledge in their working language or to insist that the must do so in the official language of the company.

Another example of language can be seen in this video clip on Alliancing. I use the term 'retail station' which many of you will relate to as a 'gas station'. I also talk about 'green and yellow stickies' while many of you will know them as 'post-its'. So when you are telling stories to transfer learning, pause for a second and reflect on whether the language or words you are going to use will be understood by your entire audience.

More examples of the use of video in storytelling can be viewed here.

Knoco Ltd

May 12, 2010

Knowledge Sharing Using Wikis

If I was a knowledge manager in a company I would prefer wiki to blogs.
Knoco has grown around the world by franchising and initially we had all our know-how documented in a franchise manual on a DVD. While this contained a huge amount of know-how and experience on how to set up and run a knowledge management consulting company it wasn’t interactive.

As we grew we recognised the need to include what the franchisees were leaning into the franchise manual so we decided to convert the franchise manual into a wiki format.

One of the reasons that I like wikis is that it is easy to identify what you need, for example if I was about to introduce a community of practice and wanted an agenda for a launch event and the slide pack that goes with it, I would go to the ‘Communities of Practice’ section of the wiki, and then into the ‘launch events’ section. Initially you would find our experience of doing these launch events but now because any of the franchisees can upload their experience you will also find hints and tips from around the globe. You would be able to see things that had been done in different locations and hence it would allow you to see any differences in approach due to local culture or perhaps changed due to industry factors.

Using the wiki allows our knowledge base to grow, topic by topic. We can see what areas are ‘hot’ and contain a lot of new learning while in other areas there is less updated material.

The wiki also allows us to track who did what and when. It provides an audit trail of new and amended content. This allows us to follow up on points that we didn’t understand or perhaps where we feel that the new material doesn’t have sufficient context to allow it to be fully understood and hence replicated by another franchisee.

The wiki also issues alerts to new material being added so each of the franchisees can receive an alert that new material has been added and in which area.
Blogs seem to be more suitable for broadcasting and less for collaborating to build something together.

Knoco Ltd

May 11, 2010

How To Avoid Losing Your Country

The news is constantly filled with details of how dire the economic situation is in Greece, France, UK, USA etc but this isn’t a new situation but one that again demonstrates the consequences of not learning from lessons identified and then applying them. Let me recall the story of the Darien Adventure.

A banker with the Bank of England came up with the idea of establishing a Scottish colony in Panama (this was in the days before the canal) and transporting by land goods that had arrived from the Pacific and then shipping them to Europe. He sold the idea to the people and very shortly a huge sum of money had been raised from the general population. Five ships were fitted out and set sale to establish the colony.

You have to remember that I wasn’t actually there at the time, it occurred in the seventeenth century but the history books tell us that the two global super powers at the time, England and Spain didn’t like this scheme, we are even told that the English ambassador to Holland even threatened to embargo any merchants who traded with the new venture. But off they went, indeed we are told that of the first cadre of 1200 settlers, only 2 knew where they were headed, the rest had sealed instructions only to be opened once they were at sea.

Once they were there they tried to treat with the natives but found that the natives had no use for the combs and mirrors that they had brought with them. They also found that the wigs they had brought with them to wear weren’t really suitable for conditions in Panama. But worse was to come. The Kings of England and Spain prevented resupply of the new colony or ships trading with it.

Eventually they returned to Scotland, only 300 made it back but they didn’t learn and they then sent another 1300 settles in three ships, this time only a very small number of them survived to return to Scotland.

It we look at this through a knowledge lens we can see that as this was a new venture they should have had the following;

Knowledge plan to identify what knowledge they would need to successfully deliver their venture. For example they needed knowledge on how to trade in a world in which the two major powers were set against stopping them.

Peer assist should have been used where they presented their plan and invited their peers to help them make it better. Perhaps their peers might have been able to tell them at that the natives didn’t want to trade food for mirrors and combs.

BDAL should have been used to find the new knowledge that they would need, for example how to establish a colony in Panama.

AAR should have been done by the colonists to ensure that what they were learning was embedded in their work processes; this was after all a matter of life and death.

A retrospect should have been held when the first set of colonists left so that others might learn before setting out on the second venture. Perhaps they should have created a knowledge asset on how to establish a colony or trading venture.

The people of Scotland had invested all their savings in the venture and it had been lost. The history books tell us that the Scottish economy was in such a bad state that within 7 years it had to agree to the Act of Union, becoming a junior partner to England in the newly created Great Britain.

Learning before you start a new venture is vital, you might lose your company or even your country otherwise.

Knoco Ltd

May 7, 2010

Knowledge Management Plan to Avoid Disaster

I was sent a link to Leaning Your Way to Disaster which is based on the recent activities at Toyota and BP. The blog suggests that leadership must take accountability for the cumulative impact of decisions. For me it also highlights the need to have a knowledge management plan in place to ensure not only you have the knowledge that you need but you also know who will be responsible for managing that knowledge especially when there are a number of relationships involved.

Knoco Ltd

May 5, 2010

How Easy It Is To Forget

Much is written and discussed about lesson learned and the corporate memory. There seems to be fairly general agreement that corporate memory can be short term with organisations frequently forgetting what they already know. Indeed one of the presentations as last week’s conference took that as its theme eg use what you already know before asking consultants to help you with something.

Perhaps our ability to ‘forget’ the context within which things were learned extends beyond our business environment. Tomorrow we have a General Election in the UK and while the media seems to be getting itself into a frenzy about it, there are less tangible signs of campaigning around where I live than I can ever remember. During recent days I have been discussing with friends and colleagues, not who they will vote for but will they vote at all. I have to put my hand up at this point and say that I have already voted, I use a postal ballot due to the amount of travelling that I do, but I found a fairly large percentage would probably not bother to vote.

For those that don’t intend voting consider this. After the First World War, in the UK, Parliament agreed that women would be allowed to vote if they were over the age of 30, were a householder or married to a householder or if they held a university degree. Prior to that, women had no vote in the UK.

It wasn’t until 1928 that women were allowed to vote on the same terms as men in the UK.

I wonder just how many of those who probably won’t vote in tomorrow’s elections will reflect on the struggle that a major part of the UK population went through to get the right to vote? If they understood the context behind why they should vote then perhaps they would go and vote.

Knowledge management comes across this challenge all the time. We assume that because one person or group has learned something that everyone else in the organisation will automatically want to hear about it and adopt the learning. But people are busy and getting their attention can be hard. If however they understand the context behind what you want to share with them, then perhaps they will be more inclined to listen to you.

So no matter who you are or where you live, voting is important. Our ancestors went to considerable lengths to get us the right to vote. Who you vote for is entirely up to you, but don’t let those who went before you down by not voting.

ps I have just recieved feedback from someone that I had been coaching. It seems that it had a very positive impact. I think I will go and treat myself to lunch somewhere nice to celebrate. Doesn't it feel good when you can help anothe human being?

Knoco Ltd

May 3, 2010

Research On The Use Of Wiki's

I was at the Oil and Gas KM conference in Aberdeen at the end of last week and it was great to see so many familiar faces amongst the new ones. I have to admit however to finding out that it has been eleven years that Chris Collison and I have met face to face. I can still remember Chris as a fresh faced member of the BP team. I am glad that his career has flourished, he is a nice guy.

There were lots of good papers at the conference but one that really stood out for me was the presentation from Shell. The presenter (I haven’t got his name to hand) shared the results of some work that he has been doing with university students and new graduate entries to Shell. There was a lot of good stuff but I found it especially interesting when he shared that 1% of us edit a Wikipedia page and less than 0.2% have created a new Wikipedia page, this is despite almost 100% of the sample groups, including the conference attendees having used Wikipedia. When you then take that into the workplace, if we provide Wiki’s will the use / editing / creating a new page follow the same pattern as the presenter suggested?

If my notes are correct the research seems to indicate that while everyone loves corporate wikis, it is the 35-45 year olds who edit the pages. Perhaps it is because those younger than that don’t think they have sufficient experience to be able to provide useful edits.

The other thing was that the research in the new graduates groups seems to suggest they don’t see the purpose of Twitter. I can’t remember what he said but that as I just wrote down ‘they hate twitter’.

It also indicated the need to get your document management systems up to date and fully functioning as the use of the corporate wiki had increased the use of some documents by 350%. This is because the reader was following the text in the wiki, reading who to contact for additional information plus the link to the needed document was included in the text. They didn’t have to search for the document, they went to the wiki, read the text and then clicked on the link to the required document.

The use that they are putting blogs to is very novel but that’s for another post on another day.

Knoco Ltd