December 18, 2014

Our EVP Is Retiring, Can You Help?

At Knoco we receive many requests from clients to conduct knowledge capture and transfer projects for them but this one was a bit special.

I will use the term ‘EVP’ to describe the head of the organisation and ‘VP’ to describe those in the level below that.

The person on the telephone described how the EVP had over the last couple of years transformed the organisation and its financial performance but that the EVP was about to retire and they wanted to capture the knowledge of how the EVP had achieved that.

As I listened a couple of thoughts went through my mind;

  • Why hadn’t the EVP shared this with the VP’s over the last couple of years?
  • Were the VP’s afraid of the EVP and hence afraid to ask question about what the EVP was doing?
  • Would the EVP trust me and honestly tell me what they knew?
  • Why aren’t they using an internal resource to undertake this work?

The last thought was covered by the person on the telephone who explained that the knowledge of the EVP was so strategically valuable to the company that they couldn’t take the risk that an employee might leak it.  They were trusting me not to leak commercially sensitive information, not the first time that a client had placed such trust in me, a considerable responsibility.

I agreed to conduct the interviews and package the material.  Some ground rules were put in place;

  • No members of staff were to be present in the room when I conducted the interviews
  • I could audio record the conversation but only I could listen to it and then only when I used headphones and not speakers
  • All notes had to be shredded at the end of the interviews
  • The completed ‘knowledge asset’ was to be vetted and approved by the EVP
  • Once the knowledge asset had been approved by the EVP, an copy was to be created for each VP, personally delivered to them by hand

In order to use our time productively I did the following;

  • I asked the EVP what topics we should cover during the interviews
  • I asked each of the VP’s what topics they would like to see covered during the interviews
  • I asked each VP; “If you had a private audience with the EVP, what specific questions would you like answers to?”

Once I had all that input I created a compiled list of themes, by priority that I submitted to the EVP as the agenda for the interviews.  I didn’t send the specific questions, but ensured that they would be covered within the themes we would be discussing.

The time of a EVP is not always their own so while we had a schedule of one hour sessions in the diary, we had to be flexible depending on what was happening in the company and the outside environment.

The first interview was spend on getting to know each other and building a level of trust that would allow the EVP to comfortable share the most intimate, commercially sensitive knowledge with me.  Only once that was established did we move onto the first theme.

After that the project followed the familiar Knoco knowledge capture process but within the ground rules established at the beginning of the project.  In due course I delivered the knowledge asset to the EVP for review, edit and final approval.  Once that was complete, a copy was made for each VP (which I hand delivered) and all raw materials destroyed.

The thought process of the EVP had been captured and was now available to the VP’s.  It is highly possible that the specific circumstances in which the EVP applied that knowledge will never occur again but at least the VP’s have a knowledge asset in which the EVP shared in detail how things were approached, the risks considered and the approach that was taken and why.  Knowledge at this level of seniority is very seldom tactical or of a transactional in nature but rather insights, suggestions, things to think about.


December 17, 2014

Time To Reflect

At this time of year in my native Scotland, people take time to reflect on what has been happening in the year that is rapidly drawing to a close.  Being involved in ‘knowledge management’ I find myself thinking of the things that I have done this year to transfer my knowledge to others and the different ways in which I have tried to encourage them to re-use the knowledge of others.

Delivering KM training courses is just one of the ways in which I have attempted to share my knowledge of KM with others but perhaps the one that I am most proud of was the work that I was involved in to transfer knowledge from senior to more junior engineers.  The remit was to close the time to competency for different grades of engineer and to put in place a process that would allow that to continue in the future.  I found the work to be highly stimulating in part because the senior engineers were so keen to leave a legacy of learning in the organisation and partly because the younger engineers were so keen to learn.  What was also rewarding about this work was that it would create a process that would create a pipeline for engineers to gain the knowledge that they need to do their job.

I have also been acting as a Business Mentor with the Chamber of Commerce to transfer my knowledge of starting and running a business to management in other organisations.  What was so gratifying about this role was the way in which these managers were prepared to ask questions and then listen to another person’s perspective on that topic.  Perhaps the knowledge will help to safeguard existing jobs and perhaps create new ones, something that I find very rewarding.

So no matter where you are in the world or what your role is; why not take a few minutes out of your busy day to reflect on what you have done this year to share your knowledge with others and equally importantly, what you are going to do in 2015 to share that knowledge.

December 15, 2014

I’m Not Competent To Re-use That Knowledge

When knowledge and know-how is transferred either verbally or by captured and writing it down there is an assumption that the person receiving that knowledge will be willing and able to use it.

In the vast majority of cases this assumption is probably accurate or near enough to make no real difference to the eventual outcome but what about the situation where the receiver don’t think they are competent to re-use it?

The situation might be that ‘management’ have decided that knowledge about an activity needs to be transferred from person A to a group of people, one of whom is person B.  Everything goes according to plan but it soon becomes apparent that person B isn’t being as proactive in re-using the knowledge as expected.

During the discussion with person B they comment that the knowledge is good, the context is clear, it is sufficiently detailed to be able to replicate it, the artefact's and templates to allow re-use are also there but something is missing, that something is the belief by person B that they are competent to be able to re-use that knowledge, self belief in their own abilities is missing.

Once that lack of self belief in their own abilities was clear a plan was put in place to coach them into understanding not only could they re-use that knowledge but they could also contribute to the body of the knowledge as they become a more and more skilled practitioner.

December 8, 2014

I Can Relate To You

I would like to use this blog post to share with you an experiment that I conducted back in 1995 about trust and its role in re-use of knowledge.

We wanted to understand what was necessary to get people to re-use knowledge, to do that we created a piece of text to represent ‘knowledge’.  The text was SAR

  • S - specific
  • A – actionable
  • R – recommendation

It was specific which meant that it contained sufficient detail and context that the reader was able to understand the background to the advice and also be able to replicate the circumstances (if they wanted to) in which the advice had been learned.

It was actionable in that it contained numbers and other artefact's (the recipe) to allow the reader to replicate the advice being given.

It contained very clear recommendations, not woolly, unspecific stuff, but very detailed advice that would allow the reader to go and do it.

Once we had that piece of package knowledge we then created four versions of it

  1. Text without any name attached
  2. Text with a name attached
  3. Text with photo , name and contact details attached
  4. Text with ‘icon’, name and contact details attached

We then asked people who would be able to potentially use this knowledge which version they were most likely to read and apply.  It wasn’t much surprise to find that option 3 was the only they were most likely to read and then apply.  They seemed to ‘trust’ this version most and frequently commented

  • I can understand the context behind the recommendation
  • I could believe that person doing that activity
  • They look like me and the people I work with
  • There are contact details so I can ask follow up questions

This later point seemed to be very important eg the ability to ask follow up questions.  One person described it as the ability to ask about the things they hadn’t wanted to write down for internal political reasons.  The other key aspect seemed to be a judgemental one eg do I believe that this person actually did this activity and hence wrote this advice, the photo allowed this question to be answered for the vast majority of those we asked.

This ‘does this person have credibility’ issue was highlighted when the person used an icon instead of a photo eg why are they hiding behind an icon, what have they got to hide, what else are they hiding?  Credibility was also reduced where the person used a fun or social picture rather than a passport type photo.  Readers seemed to think this person was less credible, perhaps they didn’t take their work activities seriously and this was why things hadn’t gone the way they had expected.

It’s almost 20 years since I did this experiment and many aspects of the business environment and the technology we use have changed but I suspect we as human beings haven’t changed that much and the findings above would probably be repeated if we did the same experiment today.

December 4, 2014

Preventing Head Leakage

I have just completed the Creative Writing Course at the Open University and one of the things they recommended at the very beginning of the course is that everyone start and keep a ‘writers journal’.  The journal is where ideas and observations are recorded for future possible use.  Possible characters are created and developed.  Things that you see and read about in daily life are recorded for possible inclusion in future plots.   Possible plots are created and developed over time.  The writer’s journal is in effect the writer’s knowledge asset.

Why do they recommend everyone keep a writer’s journal; one reason could be that the brain (memory) leaks and while you think you will remember that good idea you had for a plot or character or opening line, the reality is that you won’t.  Much better to quickly jot it down in your journal.

So the next time I awake at 0400 hours in a hotel room with a great idea for a character, I will write it in my journal rather than risk not remembering it in the morning!