Thursday, March 03, 2011

Knowledge Transfer for Senior Leaders in Life Science Leader Magazine

In this month's issue of Life Science Leader, Susan Larish and I have an article about the need to bring new leaders up to speed as quickly as possible, and how knowledge transfer expedites that process.

Knowledge Transfer for senior leader transition is a critical tool in a world where knowledge is complex, critical but fragile and highly specialized. We give our new leaders scant time to make changes, to have an impact and yet consider all they need to know to do so effectively.

What do they need to know? They are, after all, seasoned managers, are they not? Let's consider this.

They need to understand the relationships held by their predecessors and others in the organizations-- not just who they worked with internally but who they worked with externally and how those relationships were most effective.
They need to understand how the organization works to avoid making decisions that set them back rather than moving them forward.
New leaders need to understand the rationale behind the technical and scientific decisions made in the past that profoundly impacted the organization. Why? To ensure they do not create redundant work or worse yet make redundant errors.
And they need to be aware of the trends and patterns those with years of experience observe which help them anticipate and prepare for in the future. How long do we give new leaders to gain all of this complex and specialized knowledge transfer? 90 days. A heartbeat of time.

All of this in addition to the budget, the competitors, the regulators, the consumer trends and upcoming needs....

Yet clients ask "why do we need to transfer knowledge, we never did it before?" Instead perhaps the question should be "Why didn't we do this a long time ago!"

Life Science Leader

Monday, February 07, 2011

Common Language:Simple, Critical, But Why So Rare?

I've been using Twitter. The ideas flow fast and furious. This is part of the new information overload, and it is important to determine what is most important and what is not. Today, through twitter, I found a blog post that I must recommend. Michael Schrage of Havard Business Review writes about the need to translate your language to that of the audience (think client, colleague, boss, employee, customer, vendor...) to be able to be heard, understood and add value. Ok, I said the add value piece but that is the essence of what I read in his blog. I've linked to his site at the bottom of the post.

This is also the essence of what I have been writing about the last few posts. As consultants, we don't realize how much jargon, how many buzz words and catch phrases we use until the CLIENT rewrites our stuff to explain it to their colleagues. Once you experience that clients may like what you do but they do not talk about it in the same way you do, you realize the work is in jeopardy-- you may not be able to have the positive impact you wish to. Eventually, if people must translate, it is simply too much work.

That is also true from client group to client group, colleague to colleague. No one has time to translate and therefore even the best ideas can be lost.

My suggestion: Apply your facilitation skills to take time to quickly check assumptions and language during conversations or meetings. Don't make it boring or painful, make it fun.  Ask people to translate a term they just heard-- ask them to tell you what it means to them. The answers will surprise you but they will also lead to rich, provocative and helpful discussions among the group. Suddenly people are aware of why communication goes awry. As you lead them through this you are role modeling for them the skills and behaviors needed to stand in curiosity, ask questions, let go of assumptions and deeply communicate. This is one of those examples of the need to slow down to speed up communications later.  Checking language and assumptions early makes it less likely you'll have mistakes in the product, the quality, the expectations later on when it's more costly.

The theme continues. Keep it simple, straightforward, practice respect and common sense. A great place to start.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Knowledge Transfer for the sake of what?

Businesses large and small are talking about Knowledge Transfer. However, as some twittering types have stated lately, there are those who loudly state that Knowledge Transfer sounds like filling a bucket, not sparking new ideas. Fair enough. The term may be less than accurate. Though  the discussions did not involve me, I will state that in my view it is a term I embrace and will gladly use. It is not the only term I employ. It depends on the work.

The context free debate surprised me however. 140 characters does not give much, if any, space to provide contextual understanding. Yet, I see many folks can be up in arms about the term employed. In 140 characters. No one asked any questions about intention for the term.

 We have to be clear this argument is not new nor is it going away anytime soon. I would rather we all stand in curiosity rather than spend energy debating the terminology. As with many complex discussions, it started some time ago, stems from many sources and  from not being clear on what we wanted to achieve.

It has never been easy for practitioners to accurately name the activities around any type of Knowledge Management. In the early 90's (and yes, I'm dating myself here) many of us had no concept of the term Knowledge Management. We were, in fact, grappling with information overload which was the outcome of the acceptance and excitement around new uses for computing (of all types), new ways of using media....more information then we knew how to effectively or efficiently leverage. The consulting industry, bolstered by forecasts from Gartner and others, decided Knowledge Management was the next big wave and jumped in. However that resulted (and still does I'm afraid) in the confusion around the definition of knowledge management. Was it process, people, document management, knowledge management, information management, information architecture, content management, ERP systems, Decision Support, Business Intelligence...  20 years later that same discussion lingers.

Frankly, I am tired of that same question. I would rather just get on with it and that is what we and others have done.

Knowledge Transfer is the same debate. 

To me and to my firm, purpose is key. We continually ask: For the sake of what?
That is and should be the major over riding question for all of our work, and Knowledge Transfer by any name is no different. If you answer for the sake of what, you will get to the definition of the work be able to ascertain if the work is being done most effectively to reach your goals.

Knowledge Transfer is often more accurate than Knowledge Management, for the work that we do.

Knowledge transfer includes, in my view, the exchange of knowledge. It is not a one way dump of insights and tidbits. The transfer of knowledge can and does happen from the expert, the learner, external influences...whatever is appropriate.

Knowledge Exchange is the term we employed when working with an American firm divesting their operations in the Netherlands. We taught those involved from all locations to work with respect and care, and consider what they were trying to achieve, as well as consider those who benefited from the knowledge transfer---the customers and clients. Specifically as this was in the Medical Device industry, it was to be the patients who benefited. So we ensured the Knowledge Transfer was a Knowledge Exchange, named it that, and were very clear about  'for the sake of what'. The results were excellent and even in the midst of a location shutting down, everyone acted with respect and care and the knowledge was exchanged effeciently, effectively and completely.

At other times however, Knowledge Transfer is dialogue, sometimes during a community of practice, sometimes during a lessons learned session, an active learning session, a peer to peer review....the list goes on. We tell stories, we do case studies and all the time we are transferring knowledge.

Before we jump on each others' language and terms, can we not simply ask what the intended result is, what the for the sake of what is, and understand the terms may not be absolutely correct. The intention is what matters. The words are powerful and critical, but perhaps we can also give each other a bit of a break, and get on with it. Let's just do good work, together, We all have much to gain from learning together.

Instead of debating terms, let's ask each other what the result of the work was, and was it valuable to the client. Now there is a debate worth having!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Shared Mind Maps for Personal KM

Mind mapping is an interesting technique to help organize and visualize your thoughts. I recently heard a mind map 'expert' say that a mind map exactly represents what goes on in your brain. No, I do not buy that, not even close. I should hope our brains are much less simplistic than the brightly colored diagrams set on flip charts or butcher paper. The statement was a bit of a surprise.

Without being flip, there is a lot of value to mind mapping and for those who have no other recourse in getting their networks and areas of influence down on paper, and who need to separate the wheat from the chaff as far as what knowledge is critical to share, it's a decent place to start.

What would be even better however is to do this with those around you, those with whom you work on a daily basis. Look for overlaps and notice the gaps between the maps. You may well see where knowledge is held in common, and that may give you one piece of information, and you may well see what knowledge is held by only one, and that may give you  a different piece of information.

At the very least, the exercise may well help generate excellent and insightful conversations between you and your colleagues around what knowledge you each hold, what is critical and how that impacts your work.

My caveat here is to be careful how you assess the information. Think about the filter you are using and make sure you are wisely leveraging this very interesting tool. Trends and patterns provide critical information when you analyze carefully.

Maybe you can map how you think about mind mapping.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

How fast can a leader learn?

90 days. 3 months. A heartbeat of time. That is how long we give leaders to learn.

Even the President of the United States gets 100 days to get up to speed. Or, at least that is what we say. But if we are honest, we are looking for immediate changes.

Think of what we are asking. The leader needs to be in place, understand the organization, the business, the customers, the stockholders, investors, leadership team, regulators, the competition, the global marketplace...AND make noticeable positive changes. All in 90 days. And if not, we, as share holders or employees or colleagues, get impatient and wonder if we made the right decision to put that leader in place.

What are we asking? Once we ask such a thing do we give that person the tools they need? No. Usually not. We say we do with succession planning...but does that provide the person with the in-depth knowledge, the experiential, contextual background to deeply understand the rationale of the past to avoid making similar mistakes for the future? No. Not because we don't want to but most of the time because we don't know how. Or we simply use magical thinking to say it is all in who we choose. Really. They don't need help because they can pick it up fast, they are smart.

And then we wonder why leaders stay approx 5 years in their top jobs and why they make decisions with such short term gain. You have to wonder whose fault that really is. We set unrealistic expectations and then we reward the wrong behavior.

I have seen time and again the gains made by using a process to illuminate and transfer the deeply held, experiential knowledge held either by the previous leader or within the organization. Not to keep people stuck in the past but to move them forward with the background to make better decisions, good decisions consistently. This work is no longer a luxury, it is a necessity in this fast paced and complex world. Do you want to take a highly visible leadership role without an understanding of the relational or organizational knowledge needed? The cost of doing nothing or the same thing over and over is too high. It is time Knowledge Transfer is seen as the critical business tool that it is.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Why Do We Complicate Knowledge Transfer?

I often say to my clients that if people practiced common sense, talked to each other often, openly and honestly and did not make assumptions, I would have much less work. Yes, that is overly simplified but we so often make knowledge transfer overly complicated.

Again today I was reminded of this as I read the blog posting from Mike Myatt at N2Growth. Mike writes about leadership and communication and this posting spoke to the need to carefully choose your words, the order in which you say them and the respectful way in which you speak. Again, this is not complicated yet the impact is profound.

Why is this new news? Why must organizations pay to have external consultants remind them how to communicate, collaborate and team? Somewhere along the line we've lost the plot and we've made it more complicated.

There is no doubt Knowledge Transfer is an asset to a company. We just completed a project with deep business value. Using the Knowledge Transfer principals we facilitated the transfer of manufacturing knowledge between sites around the world resulting in a measurable increase in both capacity and quality in each site. The practices and processes for Knowledge Transfer were essential in this work. However two of the big first wins were the creation of a 'knowledge holders list' to identify those people across all sites with experience and knowledge in the specific manufacturing process, and the creation of a list of system components and parameters to ensure all participants began with the same data on the various manufacturing systems. These two pieces connected people to those they needed across the globe and took away assumptions about the systems they worked with.  Those two pieces required work but it they were not complicated. The clients loved them.

The same can be said for transferring tacit knowledge between people. Again, the standardized processes we bring are critical but it all begins with respectful communication, asking questions from a stance of curiosity not judgement, and listening completely without assumption. Begin there--- begin with respect and a lot of interest and curiosity and you will see the difference.

Of course we enjoy having the work. More than that, we are energized by making a difference. So, let's make a difference by asking real questions, by listening openly and by communicating with respect often. Let's think about how to let others know what we have learned. At  then end of meetings, let's ask what our biggest learning was, who else needs to know and how will we tell them. Let's not make it overly complicated.