Sunday, December 09, 2012

What does standing in curiosity have to do with knowledge transfer?

'Standing in curiosity' is a term I use often, especially when working with clients around knowledge transfer.  Let me explain first what I mean when I use that term and then why that is a critical component to knowledge transfer.

First, let’s talk about curiosity.  To me, the word invokes a sense of wonder, of non-judgmental exploration, of a mind open to new ideas, of being willing to not know while wanting to learn.  Curiosity means that you do not need to think you know everything, instead that you would like to find out more, to see new things and that you are open to possibilities.
Being curious then means that you are ready and willing to learn and explore and that your mind is open to new possibilities. What an incredible place from what to learn and gain knowledge.

Why do I say that we need to stand in curiosity? I intentionally use the word ‘stand’ to evoke the sensation that your body is involved, not just your mind. I use the word to create imagery that lets you feel present, that curiosity is all around you, that you are standing IN it. Now not only is your mind open, but your somatic self, your entire self, is also involved.  Standing in curiosity means you are as open as you can be to learning.
Now why is that so critical to knowledge transfer?

Let’s think about what is happening when we are transferring knowledge. First, there is the holder of the knowledge with their experiences, their background, with years of building up their expertise from all of the accumulated decisions, actions and observations. Let’s call them the expert.
The learner is often someone with their own experience in the area, their own background and years of learning—it does not matter if that learner is young or older, they bring their own level of understanding to the experience.
It could be very possible for the learner then to judge what they are hearing or learning or observing from the expert through their previous experience BEFORE they are able to try it out, to ponder it, to assimilate it.  The learner may dismiss new ideas or ideas they might build upon because they are not open or curious but rather letting their own experience close their mind to the possibility that there is more to learn from what is being transferred.  They may say to themselves “that’s not how it really works” or “I don’t do it that way” or “I’ll let them talk but I know better”.

A learner who stands in curiosity does not take everything that is being told them or transferred to them as absolute or true without question. Instead they are listening, pondering, finding out how it all works together and listening to the whole story, the context, the background and rationale.  They are turning it all over in their mind and taking out what works for them, what the nuggets are to build upon, adding to their own repertoire and understanding.  They are open to the possibility that there is something new, some novel approach or idea, some helpful background for them in what they are learning.
For the expert, having a curious learner makes sharing knowledge much more fun, more of a give and take, a more engaging experience.  The quality of the experience can be enhanced and what’s more, the outcome can be a shared learning, a bigger aha.
Standing in curiosity takes nothing more than an attitude shift, costs nothing to the learner and creates an experience more valuable for expert, learner and the organization

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Is Disagreement a Form of Knowledge Sharing?

Many of you will be familiar with 'TED Talks,' which is such a great way to share ideas, insights, viewpoints and learning virtually. As with everything, quality varies and the measurement of what is interesting is a subjective thing.
Another vehicle used in the ‘TED’ series are the TED Conversations, allowing people to post questions and have others respond, similar to what LinkedIn allows. Usually however, these comments on 'Ted Conversations' are thoughtful and provocative, meant to add value not necessarily add to one’s popularity, as can happen with LinkedIn.

Gowtham Reddy of Hyderbad India posted an interesting question: “In what ways may disagreement aid the pursuit of knowledge in the natural and human sciences?”
I love this because I believe discourse is a way to build on what you are learning. No one can learn from simple and continual agreement, no one stretches in that way. But honest and respectful disagreement, dialogue, discussion, now that is where you start to build, to uncover context for people’s viewpoints, to integrate new ideas. Honest and respectful—those are key terms.

That doesn’t mean the exchange can’t get a bit heated, emotional or passionate. None of those words has to rule out being respectful. Passion is a good thing, where dominance or disrespect are not useful and can be quite hurtful.
Of the 26 responses Gowtham received, many stated that they thought it critical to have disagreements and that disagreements can build knowledge, but only if open communication and open-minded attitudes are present.
Why then are we so afraid in many of our organizations to disagree? If an organization wants to thrive, to be the best it can be, to move forward quickly and intelligently, there must be enough variations of opinion to ensure all avenues of knowledge and information are considered.  If you must agree, there are no checks and balances and you can be assured missteps and mistakes will be repeated. No organization can afford that. And yet, people in many companies feel disagreement puts them at risk.
As a consultant I have witnessed this first hand. I have seen people allow research projects to continue even when they know they are not going to succeed because they are afraid to disagree. I have seen money spent needlessly on decisions that are not effective because people thought their jobs might be at risk if they brought forward another viewpoint.

Shouldn’t it be just the opposite? Shouldn’t people who do not bring forth another well considered respectful opinion when they have it, be fired for not speaking up?
And why should this even be a consideration? Time. That is what I have heard from leaders—we don’t have time to disagree.
Can you imagine? You have time to redo, you have time to start over, but no time to disagree.
What that tells me is that people do not know how to respectfully and concisely disagree, have a dialogue about the problem they are trying to solve, express the various viewpoints and make a good solid decision. They don’t know how to do that efficiently and effectively, so they fear that disagreement and decision making take time.
Sometimes when we are off path, it can be so obvious from the outside and so consuming when you are in the middle of it.

For knowledge to be shared fully and completely, we must be allowed to disagree. We should be expected to have varied opinions. We must be each other’s check and balance.
To express disagreement effectively and respectfully we must know how to present our arguments and how to determine what factors are critical in decision making.
Yes, knowledge sharing happens during respectful, honest and concise disagreement. And building the competencies to get there can only help an organization thrive

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Impact of Social Media and Enterprise 2.0

The Hynes Convention Center in Boston will be buzzing June 18-21 with new technology, new contacts and hopefully lots of new ideas. Enterprise 2.0 is coming and I am looking forward to it.

What will we see this year to change the way we work or even-- one can be optimistic-- the way we think? Social Media is changing fast and the impact on the world around us is immense. We are more connected (and in ways less connected), more aware (and in ways less aware) and more savvy (well...?).

We are more connected in that we see so much of life around the world-- we meet people virtually, we share ideas and immediate stories, even in 140 characters. We can and do use social media to create change. We share private information faster then ever but do we really, truly share ourselves? Are we connecting and reflecting or just connecting? Are we really aware of the lives of those we meet virtually or do the few characters and quick communications simply a way for us to keep our assumptions basically intact while we can say we know people around the globe? Are we wiser, more savvy or just more networked? Do we use that network to build our experience and our deep knowledge, honestly?

I look forward to Enterprise 2.0, as I look forward to all opportunities to learn, to explore, and hopefully, to connect and change. I'll keep you posted!

Friday, April 13, 2012

How do you bring new Senior Leaders up to speed quickly?

There are some very unique aspects of knowledge transfer when you are dealing with Senior Leaders-- especially those with long tenure or deep expertise.

New Leaders, as we have discussed before, are given less time then ever to have impact in the organization. 90 days is the current estimate. A daunting task. And not all Senior Leaders are skilled at sharing their knowledge with those moving in to their roles. There is more then knowledge involved-- there is also pride and sometimes their own sense of identity. Everything we do in knowledge transfer must be done with respect.

With Senior Leadership transition, it is critical for the new person to understand the background and history of how things have happened in the organization-- NOT to be stuck in the same old, same old. On the contrary. Often when Senior Leaders retire you are bringing in new blood or promoting to help bring fresh perspectives and new ideas to the Leadership Team.

But to ensure new Leaders are heard, build credibility, and are able to influence in a way that is effective, new Leaders must have some understanding of what has gone on before, what works or what does not in the team, in the role, in the organization. Even to shake things up, it helps to know what it is they are trying to change-or not, and how that might be done in the most  beneficial and successful way.

Joining a Leadership Team or heading one is somewhat like joining a family. A family has history, stories, myths, realities, past experiences that exist and those experiences have helped to form how the family now works together. The Leadership Team also has shared experiences and a way of working (or not working) together and to make great change it takes not only a good mind and great courage, but also depth of understanding.

When I am doing knowledge transfer for Senior Leaders, my focus is on getting new people up to speed quickly with as much critical knowledge as possible to help them build credibility. I not only interview peers and close working colleagues but go a bit broader. The interviews are confidential, and having an external person do them is helpful-- I have no political skin in the game and my focus and goals are clear.  From the interviews, I build questions for the outgoing Leader to help create rich and targeted dialogue between the new and outgoing Leaders. This dialogue leads into topics critical for a new Leader--topics range from personnel strategy to anticipation of future trends/risks/opportunities, and budgetary challenges to the role played by the outgoing Leader on the Leadership Team.
Although these discussions may happen without such facilitation and rigor, in my many years of experience, they do not happen as deeply and completely if there is not another person present keeping a focus and ensuring the questions are fully answered.

The process does not take a long time, scheduling is often the biggest challenge, but the outcomes are incredibly valuable. I also develop for the new Leader, a learning plan or on-boarding to help them use their time in the new role to effectively gain the knowledge, skills and experience that has been recommended.

As one Minneapolis based Senior Leader said recently:
"I wish I had done this in my previous role as well, I have a full picture of what I need to know to make decisions quickly in my new role."
There you go, that's what makes this work fascinating and rewarding-- you can see the impact almost immediately.
Consider this for your own organization-- how can you make a new person effective as quickly as possible within the culture that exists now. 

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Outsourcing, Knowledge and Competitive Advantage

Outsourcing figures vary widely as you review conflicting media reports. And in the last few months the number of stories of companies now…ok, wait for it…in-shoring, is growing. What does that mean? They have taken the work done via off-shore outsourcing back to the U.S.

Yes, this seems confusing but was it that hard to spot the trend upcoming? Companies under tough economic pressures decided it was more profitable to use resources outside of the U.S. to build products, service customers, even to create new ideas. And they created strategies to move work from the U.S. to locations with lower costs, like India or China. That trend has not stopped, but it is shifting. Now the work is less profitable off-shore as wages rise in step with the increased labor demand, and companies are feeling the effects of less-than-satisfied customers.

One of the difficulties in moving work was that to retain excellence, they also had to move deeply-held organizational knowledge. Even those companies not good at identifying and transferring knowledge in one country now needed to transfer very critical knowledge (for example, how to speak with and service their customers) to another country with a different culture, language and traditions.
Were the outsourcing companies always successful at training and sharing knowledge with their new international colleagues? No. We all have examples of miscommunications and understanding when asking how to fix a technical issue or work out a charge on a credit card. Nonetheless, as the new colleagues gained experience, they began also to gain their own critical knowledge, to hear what the customers thought or wanted, and to therefore gather business
- critical learning.

We lacked in creating effective processes for sharing the deep nuances of the products, the customers or the culture with the new outsourcing partners. But we also lacked in creating processes to collect their learning and bring it back to the heart of the organization.  Companies were increasingly out of touch with the front line of what was happening with customers and products.  That front line often creates competitive advantage by allowing companies to hear their customers wants, needs, concerns and quickly address them, beating out slower moving competitors.
In short, all of the out-sourcing, off shoring, in-sourcing, on-shoring, in-shoring has simply taxed our already less than stellar skills at transferring knowledge. Few companies do this very well, and the additional burden of needing to quickly move the knowledge already not flowing in the organizational caused less than adequate processes to break down.
What is the learning? That the knowledge held by the companies about its products, processes, customers, supply chain, distribution channels—all of that knowledge is key to profitability and sustained success. Treat knowledge like the asset it is. Tend to it, share it wisely but share it well. And never underestimate the power of a well-informed, experienced employee.