A personal knowledge management challenge for senior managers

The higher up an organisation an employee climbs, the more likely it is that their working knowledge, of how those lower down the hierarchy complete daily tasks, will diminish.  

Why?  Because it is very easy for senior managers to become detached from the day-to-day functioning of their organisation and the activities they (as more junior employees) used to complete; not because they want or intend to; nor because they in any way feel they are now “above these things”; but because an endless succession of meetings, and being fed volumes of ‘management information’, gets in the way and prevents them from so doing. 

This lack of knowledge can lead to poorer decisions being made and the accusation levelled from those on the shop floor that the management team “are not in touch”.  So how can a senior manager address this issue and reduce the risk of being, and being seen to be, out of touch? 

Well one way is to take a leaf out of Sir Terry Leahy’s (previously the CEO of Tesco) book and ensure that, on a regular basis, a senior manager goes back to the shop floor and undertakes the everyday tasks and activities completed by more junior employees.  In Terry Leahy’s example (explained in his recent appearance of Radio 4’s Desert Islands Discs) this meant spending a week a year in one of the Tesco stores completing tasks such as stacking shelves and working on the check-out.  This time and experience not only reminded him of what is involved in completing these tasks, it also provided the opportunity to work with, and get feedback from, those on the shop floor in ways in which ‘management information’ finds difficult to communicate.  And critically, it provided the opportunity to meet and talk with the organisation’s customers.

Keeping in touch with the everyday working and processes of an organisation is a personal knowledge management challenge for any senior manager, director or CEO.  However, without a plan and the actions in place to maintain this working knowledge, organisation-wide ideas for improvements and change are less likely to be successful. 

…or for those readers of this blog familiar with Tesco and its marketing campaigns, the above points might be better described as ‘every little (bit of knowledge) helps!’

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