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!