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

Mind the (knowledge) gap

Anyone who has travelled on the London Tube over recent years will be familiar with the ‘mind the gap’ and ‘fast train approaching’ safety announcements.  The original ‘mind the gap’ announcement was in the news recently when the widow of the actor behind the warning was reunited with a 40-year-old recording of his voice – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-21737161.

Gaps appear in all walks of life (!?) including gaps in our knowledge, and when undertaking knowledge sharing, transfer and retention activities, organisations should not only consider the knowledge that exists, but also that which doesn’t - i.e. the gaps.

Gaps in our knowledge should be treated as learning (knowledge acquisition) opportunities, rather than as signs of weakness; and as highlighted in the following article on the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, you probably don’t know as much as you think you know – http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2012/05/discover_what_you_need_to_know.html.

So rather than ‘minding the (knowledge) gap’; think about ways to ‘bridge’ and ‘manage’ it.

Leveraging good practice – where and when?

Identifying, sharing and embedding good practice and learning into everyday organisational processes is a core knowledge management activity.  There are many approaches to so doing, but all are underpinned by the belief that, as Paul Miller puts it in the introduction to his book Mobilising the Power of What You Know, “on any given day, in a large organisation, there are many people working on the same problem – duplicating work, re-inventing the wheel or, worst of all, failing to use what the organisation already knows.  If only we could harness it all…”  (There are a number of books on knowledge management listed on this site for your information.)

One of the barriers to embedding good practice and learning is the organisational push-back of ‘not invented here’, i.e. this is not our learning; not our good practice; and in any event, our context is different!  Sometimes this barrier can be raised further if the practice is positioned as ‘best’. 

That said, in any organisation there are aspects of work activity that are ‘common’ and where business benefit (effectiveness and efficiency) can be gained through the use and adoption of good practice.  One of the skills a knowledge manager requires is to know where and when to apply good practice, and where and when business or operational variation dictates that other approaches are required. 

For me this challenge can be described in terms of ‘levels of connectedness’.  That is to say, when should your knowledge management effort and energy be made trying to join up and connect parts (processes; activities; functions) of an organisation, and when should they be ‘left alone’ and dealt with in a different way. 

The challenge of ‘levels of connectedness’ is often impacted by a change in technology – a change which makes that which has gone before less necessary or redundant, or which requires radical change for it (the technology) to be of use.

One such example (and a good change/knowledge management related story to boot!) is that of the railways and of the need to establish standard time and time zones in order that the railway system could operate and function (for the benefit of passengers) effectively and efficiently.  This story is taken up in a Lessons Worth Sharing video clip from TEDEd. 

 

What are the ‘standard time and time zone’ equivalent examples that require change and improved levels of connectedness in your organisation?  It is likely that these are the places where the identification, sharing and embedding of good practice will have the most beneficial impact.

Obsolete knowledge

Obsolete

Many of the questions I am asked by those interested in learning more about Knowledge Management and by those with responsibility for Knowledge Management in their organisations are focused on ‘knowledge capture’ and ‘knowledge sharing’. 

A typical ‘knowledge capture’ related question might be asked because a subject matter expert is about to retire from an organisation and there is an urgent need to capture the individuals knowledge before they leave. 

A typical ‘knowledge sharing’ related question might be asked because an example of re-inventing a wheel (incurring time and cost) has occurred, when the know-how (to complete the activity) already exists in another part of the organisation. 

Whilst knowledge capture and knowledge sharing are important aspects of an organisation’s Knowledge Management activities, we also know that knowledge can have a fairly limited lifespan and that it must be constantly updated and evaluated.  One could argue that it is far more important, and far more difficult, to replace outdated knowledge than it is to capture existing. 

So with this in mind, I’m looking forward to more questions like the above being asked in 2013, but looking even more forward to being asked questions about dealing with, and replacing, outdated knowledge. 

Photo from practicalowl’s photostream on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/practicalowl/

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