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.