Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A Framework for Knowledge Transfer

Today I had an interesting exchange in the 'Knowledge Managers' group on LinkedIn. I enjoy reviewing questions posed by the various groups I participate in on LinkedIn but found this one quite interesting. www.linkedin.com
The subject was on the transfer of tacit knowledge and goodness knows I have a few opinions about that.

I posted that frameworks help organize the deeply held knowledge to be transferred from experts, to help make the knowledge applicable and actionable. Again I thought of the complexities of knowledge and the importance of organizing what has been accumulated over years and years of experiences, decisions, missteps and successes. We do struggle to identify what needs to be transferred and what does not. Not only do we need a framework to organize but we need to discern in some objective way, which areas of knowledge should be the focus to apply the framework on. Let's start there.

Unique, relevant and critical are the three terms I use to begin to determine if what someone knows needs to be transferred to the successor or the organization. Why? Because if many people hold the knowledge, is it necessary to transfer? No. It's a commodity.  What if it is unique but not relevant for the future? The expert may know something fascinating about the history or background of the product or company, and that knowledge might appeal to the KM practioner. But does it have an impact, will it matter in the future? Much of the historical knowledge held will matter, it may well provide context behind decisions, structures, processes. But not all of it is relevant and we must discern (with verification) if it is relevant. And then there is the issue of what I call critical. Is this knowledge crucial? One way to consider this is to imagine what might change if the knowledge is lost. Will things slow down, will quality fail, will products be more difficult to produce? Will relationships falter?

Are these criteria for discernment scientific? No. But do they work? My 16 years of experience says yes. I have applied these criteria in many situations and, like the framework, they have yet to fail me. It is less about the criteria being perfect and more that they are practical. Applicable. They are relevant.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Get to the point, what do you want from KM?

Ever experienced this? You have a major issue with a product or process and you need fast answers. You ask the folks near you, and they give you the names of people they think may have some expertise to offer. Two of the three have retired. hmmm...

Ok, so you find the one that's still in the organization and find that she is on vacation. In Bali. No cell phone with her. hmm....

You turn to online search within the company portal. You try search term after search term and you get document after document with titles that seem not to make any sense, and nothing quite on point. Or maybe they are but it will take you hours to weed through to find out for sure.

Now what. You think, "Hey, I know, I'll try Google!". So you look outside your own company to answer a critical issue by using information that you can not verify from sources who may well either be competitors or vendors, reliable or not. What is wrong with this picture?

And yet, when you are asked to participate in knowledge management initiatives, what answer do you give?
"I don't have time." Really. You don't have time? Just how many hours per week or per month do you spend looking for answers to critical questions and not being able to locate what you need?

This is so very common in our organizations today. We have time to spend two hours trying to locate someone who has expertise in the area we are working on, only to find they have moved on or they aren't the ones to answer us, and then an hour or two trying to find the relevant documents only to be frustrated enough to turn to the external searches like Google where we do not utilize the learning of our own organization but turn to information we must then (and hopefully do) validate. Is there not some logic missing in this picture?

What would be logical is to solve the challenge of not being able to use the expertise, experience, information and knowledge your company holds because you can not locate it.

Many companies have some type of knowledge management initiatives they are working on. What is the purpose of the knowledge management initiatives you are asked to participate in? If it is not to meet your business needs, then tell the folks offering them up that they are on the wrong path. Tell them, respectfully, what you really need from KM. And then be prepared to spend the time to make it worthwhile. Do not expect a silver bullet but know that it takes time to identify critical knowledge and experts, and make that available, it takes time to develop the right processes and tools and more than that, it takes time and role modeling to change the behaviors that got the organization into the shape it is now in.  A focus on business value and time to make it work is crucial to making KM effective. Make sure you get what you want from managing knowledge and that you take the time and the responsibility to put your shoulder to the wheel to make it work.

Get what you need from the KM effort by getting to the point. Think of the great work you can do with the hours you would have been spending looking for things you need but can not find. That is where you can get to but not overnight. However, as more people transition from the organization or within it, the problem of finding the expertise will be worse not better without the extra effort. Go for it. You'll be glad you did.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Answer to every problem is community

The quote that is the title of this post is from Meg Wheatley. I heard it today as I listened to a recorded call from the Global Sufficiency Network called "Sufficiency: the Power of Enough".  As I listened to the various presenters I could not help but think how our work, the transfer of knowledge, is impacted by and impacts both the concepts of community and sufficiency or abundance in the organizations in which we serve.

Much of the work that our firm is doing now is around helping companies transfer deeply held knowledge from their long tenured experts or leaders back to the organization. The knowledge they hold is critical and yet so often we hear: who is the next expert to take this person's place. The next expert? I think the radical but honestly much more powerful question should be: who is the community that will take this person's place.

It takes a community mindset to run a business-- it takes partnering, sharing, vulnerability, giving, receiving, assisting, being of service, mindful leadership.--- all pieces of a community mindset. Command and control has not gotten us far enough, or maybe has put us into some dangerous and unsustainable territory. Asking the question 'Who is the community' would require thinking that we have enough time to learn, to teach, to help, to change as well as to produce. How radical is that? Does having time in the organization to teach each other, learn from each other, communicate and collaborate like a community sound like a warm, fuzzy, non-achievable, unpractical or unrealistic goal?

So what will happen if we do not act as a community in business? What will be the impact if we simply continue to work as we are and expect somehow, by some miracle, things will get better on their own?

What is the consequence if organizations continue to ask more from people and provide less resources to accomplish it, and people continue to work harder, to burn out, to not feel they have time to learn much less time or freedom to make a mistake? What will be the impact if people continue to feel the burden of work like a load of stones to carry rather than the excitement of knowing you have the time and resources to do an excellent job, to go above and beyond and to truly contribute to the success and the ability of the organization to thrive, not just for a short term survive?

I do not see clients thriving at the moment. Perhaps, in pockets there may be a sense of real contribution and collaboration but for the most part, I see clients feeling they can not take time to learn. They want a silver bullet -- they literally want a tool for people to share knowledge and never have to be trained on them. They are not asking about how to shift the mindset and change the culture as the necessary backdrop to increase the competencies around collaboration or communication....or learning. Instead they want a stand alone, drop this in type of tool and do not want to talk to the organization, do not want to take the time or see the need to reach out and provide the leadership to say-- we expect you to communicate with each other and share your learning, share your knowledge and here is what that looks like, here is what that means and how it will support our organization's future. They are not building community. Nor are they setting expectations for what they want to achieve by sharing knowledge. They want an instant fix to a much bigger problem.

I believe this is not ill intended but it is the result of the hamster wheel of having to continually do more with less, and the result of an  increase in workload without an increase in competencies. They are worried, frustrated, and feel that they have to run fast, not stop, just get it done. Community looks like a time waster. If they only knew that anything less does not support a sustained organization. Anything less is a short term road to long term failure.

Take time to look at the Global Sufficiency Network. Choose the nuggets that work for you. They offer many ideas about what community looks like, and the actions involved. We need to have the courage to make the changes that will keep us all thriving.

If you'd like more from Meg, you'll find her work here: www.margaretwheatley.com/