Just technology?

This week has seen a number of articles and some TV coverage about the release of Google Glass for sale in the UK.  The coverage has touched on many aspects of this new technology (and alternatives from competitors) and has covered everything from the look and appearance of the eyewear; it’s current and potential uses; to concerns about issues of privacy related to the taking of photographs and videos.

Whilst it will be a while yet before the social, business, organisational, and regulatory implications arising from the introduction of this new technology are known, there can be no doubt that with it (and technologies like it) comes change and the associated intended and unintended consequences.

As a management discipline, Knowledge Management has adapted and evolved over recent years to take advantage of updates to existing, and the availability and introduction of new, ‘enabling’ technologies.

Any knowledge manager who saw the coverage about the use of Google Glass to broadcast a surgical procedure being undertaken at the Royal London Hospital live to students around the world will be able to see the potential of this new technology in supporting the sharing and transferring of knowledge in their organisation.

That said, whilst it is very easy to get enthused (perhaps seduced?) by the latest technology and all that it can (on paper and via stories) offer, knowledge managers will also be aware that technology is but one of the enablers of knowledge management; and that technology alone, without the supporting business processes and ‘people/use/implementation’ aspects considered and aligned, is just technology.

Need to know?

Creating and sustaining a culture and work environment in which the sharing, rather than the hoarding, of knowledge is seen as ‘power’, is at the heart of knowledge management programmes and activities.

Moving from a silo based structure in which information is only shared on a ‘demonstrated need to know’ to a culture in which it is recognised that information becomes more valuable if it is shared, is a theme developed in the following TEDTalks video clip by Stanley McChrystal.

In the clip he gives us his insight into the military case for sharing knowledge.  The clip contains some useful ideas for those responsible for managing and sharing data, information and knowledge in their organisations; and for those concerned about confidentiality.

To share or not to share – but what are the questions?

There are many reasons why employees share, and do not share, their knowledge with colleagues; and I’ve asked the ‘share/do not share’ questions many times over the years in knowledge management related workshops, on training courses and in consultancy assignments.

Reasons given for ‘sharing’ typically include:

  • Knowledge sharing is part of their job role/part of the culture
  • They want to do it/gain satisfaction from so doing
  • They have had a positive ‘re-use’ experience
  • They see organisational and personal value in sharing their knowledge.

Reasons given for ‘not sharing’ typically include:

  • Hoarding knowledge is seen/perceived as ‘power’
  • They are too busy to make the time to do it
  • They don’t know who else might be interested
  • Business systems and IT don’t make it easy.

There are also many reasons why employees use, and do not use, the knowledge of colleagues; and I’ve also asked the ‘use/do not use’ questions many times over the years in knowledge management related workshops, on training courses and in consultancy assignments.

Reasons given for ‘using’ typically include:

  • To save time/be more efficient
  • To avoid duplication/re-invention of wheels
  • Because two heads or more are better than one
  • A personal development requirement/desire to learn from others with more experience.

Reasons given for ‘not using’ typically include:

  • They don’t trust the source/knowledge
  • They don’t know where to find it/how to access it
  • Because “my situation/problem is different to the experience of others”
  • Because creating knowledge is more interesting/rewarding than re-suing the knowledge of others.

So what have I and others learnt from asking and answering the ‘share/don’t share’ and ‘use/don’t use’ knowledge questions?

Well firstly, that answers can of course be grouped/clustered into themes and to do so is a good exercise for a knowledge manager to complete (periodically) with his/her organisation or function within an organisation.  Themes might include: business process related reasons; organisational culture related reasons; resource/time related reasons etc.

And secondly, that thinking about and implementing the actions that can be taken to strengthen/reinforce the ‘share and use’ findings, and thinking about and implementing the actions that can be taken to weaken/smash the ‘don’t share/don’t re-use’ findings, is one way of helping to improve the flow, use and re-use of knowledge in an organisation/function.

Thirdly, that there will be some answers/findings e.g. “because it’s commercially sensitive information” that need to be treated and managed with care.

And finally, that there will be some answers/findings to the questions that will be unique to the organisation/function concerned, and some answers/findings that will be a surprise to the knowledge manager facilitating the exercise and a surprise to many of those participating.

An example of a buddy system – knowledge sharing in action

An item covered by the Radio 4 programme World at One today concerned the George Eliot Hospital and the help and support it is receiving from the University Hospitals Birmingham NHS Foundation Trust.

The help and support are coming via a buddy system and in the item the CEO of the George Eliot Hospital talked about some of the specific and significant problems being faced and how, through a buddy system, support had been received to help with information systems/provision, mentoring, and practical advice about audits for cleanliness.

It was interesting to hear that from the CEO’s perspective the hospital would not have got this help and support through any other process.  It was also interesting to hear how taking advice and learning from others can be difficult/embarrassing.

A buddy system is one of the many ways in which knowledge can be shared and transferred.  It often requires a framework and for resources to be in place for it to operate effectively in an organisational situation – and it requires willing partners – to connect the supply side (those that have it) with the demand side (those that need it) for the knowledge.

And whilst (perhaps inevitably) in some buddy systems all eyes will be on the learning gained by the ‘demand side’ and the change/improvement that results – credit should also be given to the ‘supply side’, not only for sharing their experiences, but in committing resources to do so.

Using a ‘how not to do something’ approach (and humour) to support learning and knowledge sharing

Learning from mistakes or failure can be more impactful and memorable (and therefore result in the desired change of behaviour or action) than learning from good practice or success.

Most of us love to hear a good story, anecdote or joke, and all are interesting ways of helping us understand and relate to a situation, and take some learning from this.  Learning and sharing knowledge in this way can sometimes be easier (and certainly more fun) for the recipient than reading through a set of guidelines or good practice.

Many readers to this blog will be users of PowerPoint and will be experienced at giving presentations.  Some may even have read the ‘good practice’ guide to PowerPoint and will be all too familiar with its pros and cons.

In the following video clip, comedian Don McMillan gives an excellent and very funny presentation on Life After Death on PowerPoint.  Let me know what you think, and whether the ‘how not to do something’ (and with humour) approach might be a more impactful and memorable way of learning and sharing knowledge, than ‘reading the instructions’ in your organisation.

Sharing tacit knowledge – conversations matter

It’s very easy for organisations to focus their attention on managing explicit knowledge e.g. documents, manuals, procedures etc. because this type of knowledge (information) is visible, can be counted, and is growing fast.  But as Knowledge Managers know, explicit knowledge is just the tip of the knowledge management iceberg, and that the bulk of an organisation’s knowledge is tacit and lies hidden below the water line.

In the following video clip, Nancy Dixon tells the story of sharing tacit knowledge at Xerox and reminds us of some key points including:

  • Documents, manuals and training can only be so good
  • Work/problem solving related tacit knowledge is often shared in the ‘un-managed’ parts of an organisation e.g. over lunch.

Stop reading, start watching – using video for knowledge capture, sharing and transfer

Knowledge capture, sharing and transfer are core aspects of knowledge management activities and, as many knowledge managers know, different approaches are required for different situations and for different types of knowledge.

The use of video to help capture, share and transfer knowledge (particularly tacit knowledge) is not a new idea.  That said it is an idea that is being innovatively used by JoVE (Journal of Visualized Experiments) to produce a peer-reviewed scientific video journal.

Knowledge managers may wish to take a quick look at Jove’s web site to get a flavour (you can see the first 20 seconds of some videos without the need to subscribe) of their approach and for further ideas (try their blog) about how to capture, share and transfer knowledge (in this case the reproducibility of scientific experiments) that is difficult, if not impossible, to write down.

The Knowledge Manager’s desk – layout 5

This post is the fifth in a series of blogs about the things (the topics of interest; the areas of concern; the projects underway; the methods and approaches; the tool-kit) that might be on a Knowledge Manager’s desk.

In the first blog layout 1 I highlighted the learning/knowledge cycle of learning before, whilst and after doing.

I used the second blog layout 2 as a reminder that Data, Information and Knowledge are different and that they need to be managed (and leveraged) in different ways.

In the third blog layout 3 I talked about the classification or types (some might say a continuum) of knowledge, namely Tacit, Implicit and Explicit.  It was Michael Polanyi who, in 1966, identified the distinction between Tacit and Explicit knowledge and for those minded to have a bit of fun should try out Karl-Erik Sveiby’s tacit knowledge test.  Information about the implications of implicit knowledge for knowledge management in organisations can be found in the position paper written in 2007 by Carl Frappaolo – implicit knowledge – “a new frontier in knowledge management”.

In the fourth blog layout 4 I touched on the importance of the knowledge cycle – an enabling framework which connects three processes (Creation and Acquisition; Capturing and Structuring; and Sharing and Re-use) which underpin KM, and noted that Sharing and Re-use is often the process most open to improvement in organisations.

The focus of layout 5 is the concept of Communities i.e. people gathering together (face to face and/or virtually) to create, share, apply and manage knowledge; sometimes within teams but also across business functions and the boundaries implicit in an organisations organogram.  Organisations and Knowledge Managers often use and label Communities in different ways and types of Communities common in knowledge management practice are:

Communities of Practice: Groups of people who share a concern, a passion, a responsibility for a specific area and who aim for improvement, building and embedding good practice through sharing insights, expertise and experience.  Members interact regularly; often members have a similar work role and/or area of expertise.

Communities of Purpose: Groups of people who share a common goal and who are being held accountable to achieve a specific objective or set of objectives e.g. task forces, steering groups and project teams – the existence of a goal implies a shorter time horizon than a Community of Practice.

Communities of Interest: Composed of people with a common interest but who are likely to have different roles in the organisation and no specific accountability for action; the motivation is to ensure currency on the topic.  These can be formal or informal depending on the demands imposed on members or decided by them.  They will be light on structure and have autonomy to run themselves.

Establishing a Community (e.g. deciding on its type: Practice; Purpose; Interest etc.) and then mobilising and sustaining a Community (Communities have a life-cycle) requires facilitation support and proactive management.  As noted by Wenger, McDermott and Snyder in their book Cultivating Communities of Practice, “while communities form naturally, organisations need to become more proactive and systematic about developing and integrating them into their strategy”.

The Knowledge Manager's desk - V5.0

Conversations matter

Encouraging knowledge sharing and supporting knowledge transfer activities are key aspects of organisational life that are often facilitated by knowledge managers.  Whilst the business drivers and context for these activities (the for what purpose?) may vary e.g. office relocation; downsizing; merger or acquisition; implementation of a new/revised process; innovation or trying to do more with less, the tools and techniques used have a common thread – connecting people to people.

Earlier this week I facilitated an ‘audience with’ conversation.  The business driver and context for this activity is that a key employee (a go-to person) is soon to leave the organisation and there is a requirement to share and transfer the individual’s knowledge to others. In essence, the approach underpinning an ‘audience with’ is to get the audience (the customers/demand for the knowledge) to ask the questions ‘they have always wanted to ask the individual, but have never had the time so to do’.

I often end an ‘audience with’ with a short After Action Review, particularly when the approach is new to those and the organisation concerned.  On this occasion, I was struck by one of the responses from the audience to the question ‘what did you/we learn?’  In summary the response was that facilitated activities like an ‘audience with’ can very helpful in enabling conversations to happen because whilst this person had sat next to the individual who was leaving for the past couple of years, they had never asked (the individual leaving) these types of questions.  In other words, it took an event like an ‘audience with’ to encourage and facilitate such a conversation.

Conversations matter, and this point was reinforced at a TFPL Connect event I chaired this week.  In the context of encouraging and supporting innovation to happen, the subject of the use of space (office accommodation, buildings, meeting rooms etc.) was high on the list of ‘enablers’, and I was reminded that there is a difference between an open plan office working environment and a round table around which to huddle.

All too often, open plan office working has been introduced in organisations, in part, to help support knowledge sharing by breaking down the barriers of offices and ‘no go’ areas.  In reality, what often happens is that members of staff then go on to create little work areas of their own and slowly build small barriers (of books, files, equipment) around them.  Whilst this may be a natural instinct for many, it can also result in less conversation, or perhaps, less of the right sort of conversation i.e. the conversations that really matter and the sort that happen at events like an ‘audience with’.

The Knowledge Manager’s desk – layout 4

This post is the fourth in a series of blogs about the things (the topics of interest; the areas of concern; the projects underway; the methods and approaches; the tool-kit) that might be on a Knowledge Manager’s desk.

In the first blog layout 1 I highlighted the learning/knowledge cycle of learning before, whilst and after doing.  I used the second blog layout 2 as a reminder that Data, Information and Knowledge are different and that they need to be managed (and leveraged) in different ways.

In the third blog layout 3 I talked about the classification or types (some might say a continuum) of knowledge, namely Tacit, Implicit and Explicit.  It was Michael Polanyi who, in 1966, identified the distinction between Tacit and Explicit knowledge and for those minded to have a bit of fun should try out Karl-Erik Sveiby’s tacit knowledge test.  Information about the implications of implicit knowledge for knowledge management in organisations can be found in the position paper written in 2007 by Carl Frappaolo – implicit knowledge – “a new frontier in knowledge management”.

The focus of layout four is the knowledge cycle – an enabling framework which connects three processes which underpin KM.

  1. Creation and Acquisition – which are about… The generation, discovery and acquisition of new knowledge which will yield a competitive advantage when exploited in the market
  2. Capturing and Structuring – which are about… Codifying and structuring knowledge to facilitate sharing, learning and transfer
  3. Sharing and Re-use – which are about… The optimal use of knowledge for policy and decision-making, scenario planning, problem solving and value creation

Sharing and Re-use is often the process most open to improvement in organisations.

The Knowledge Manager's desk - V4.0

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