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.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

What Knowledge Is Critical to Your Organization?

There are a number of reasons why it is both urgent and critical to understand where the critical tacit knowledge in your organization lives. Is it held in the heads of your senior people, in the heads of bench scientists, or in the heads of those who deal with your customers on a daily basis?

You want to ensure you retain the knowledge, share it more broadly through the organization, and build the internal bench strength and competencies around that knowledge.
But the first question I ask is, “Are you certain you know what knowledge, expertise, and experience is critical for your organization’s success?

You need to ask “What is the knowledge and experience that, in losing, would cost productivity, increase risk, decrease profits?”
In other words, what is the knowledge, experience, expertise critical for your organization to not only survive but thrive?

If you can’t answer this, you are not alone. Many organizations cannot answer that question. Honestly. Large and small organizations, public and private, for- and not-for-profit organizations… few can answer the question. And, if they do, their information might be outdated or based on assumption.
What knowledge is critical to the survival and sustained success of your organization? Is it the knowledge your employees hold around new product development? Is it how they use internal processes to develop products quickly; knowledge about the materials needed, the new designs or technology available? That knowledge may well be based on knowledge about what products are critical to your customers.  And, what is critical to customers will change over time, so there must be an ability to forecast, to predict and to prepare for the future.

Perhaps your critical knowledge is around the ability to effectively leverage your supply chain, to get products or services to those who need them quickly, accurately, cheaply and with little error.  Or perhaps it is in how you service and work with your clients, more than it is how you develop new products. It might be that your organization builds loyalty like no other but do you know why and are you certain, absolutely certain, you can retain that for your future customers? Do you know who your future customers are and what they will want or need, much less what they will pay?
Knowledge about your core competency must be retained, enhanced, reused….but first it must be identified.  And not necessarily by YOU. It must be identified by the clients, the customers, those who purchase whatever it is you have to sell—be it a service, a product or somewhere in between.  It must be identified without emotion or assumption, but as an honest assessment as to what sets you apart from your competitors now and in the future.
There is no substitute, no golden bullet, and no way to ensure your organization’s continued success unless you are certain you know what that success is built on.  There are few more important questions then “What is the knowledge/experience/expertise that you must have for continued, sustained success.”

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Vulnerability, Shame, Courage and Knowledge Sharing

Profound, life changing information and wisdom can come from unlikely sources. When that happens, the impact is often much greater then when such information comes from a talking head on TV, or an expert from on high.

Researcher Dr Brene Brown is such an unlikely source. Yes, you expect her research to be excellent, as her credentials would suggest that. You might expect her data be to provocative given the subject matter of her work is shame and vulnerability. However when you listen to her talk, as she does in the TED series, she is quiet, humble and incredibly powerful. It is like the girl next door takes on the mythological beast and in front of our eyes, slays it...all the while saying "oh my goodness, I can't believe I'm doing this and in public".

If you want to increase innovation, creativity and productivity in your organization or increase the quality of your life, this is a must see video. Does that sound like hyperbole? Not in my opinion. No one likes to talk about shame or vulnerability, most especially in business. And yet, as Dr Brown states, "vulnerability is the great measure of courage", and do we not all need and want courage in business? And, think about those people you find the most deeply inspiring. Is it not true that part of why they are so inspiring is their vulnerability and perseverance?

Dr Brown talks about failure, the need for it, the perceived  shame of it, and the fact that without it, there is little success. Just trust me. See the video, let me know what you think. The link is below.

The first time I talked to Brene Brown was after she did a video with my colleague Jen Loudon a year or two ago. I was so impressed that I wrote Brene and she responded immediately, in her personable, down to earth manner. I so enjoyed the conversation and we both acknowledge that vulnerability and shame are interesting components of knowledge sharing. What rich opportunities exist for those of us with the courage to name it, discuss it, harness the outcomes..... 

See the video. Let's talk. Here's the link and her earlier talks can also be found via YouTube. Brene Brown TED Talk March 2012

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Leader As Role Model for KM

I've been working in the field of Knowledge Management for a long time. I started doing this work back when PCs were not on every desk and hand held devices were mobile telephones as big as a good sized brick.

There are a few things about managing knowledge, or work in general, that do not change. Let me give you a few:
  • Knowledge Management takes discipline
  • Knowledge Management is ever evolving as the organization evolves and is never completely done
  • Leadership must role model the behaviors they wish others to follow

One of the truths about this work is that no matter what you say to your employees or how often you say it, they will do as they see you, the leadership, do.

If you tell them how critical it is to manage knowledge, to share, to document and do not, as a leader or leadership team, share and document your own knowledge, the behavior for them will not stick. If you do not actively participate in endeavors you tell others are critical, the message is not only confusing, but also demotivating for the employees and will have an opposite effect.

It is common sense, really. You look to your leaders to lead, to show the way, to be what is aspired to, and to be the walking role model of what the organization stands for.

When employees can witness leaders not sharing knowledge with their peers, missing meetings, showing up late, or as I saw in a meeting today --falling asleep, the message is clear. Leaders might tell you to do something, to participate,but if they do not believe it, everyone loses.

Leaders who are not authentic are giving very loud messages to their employees, peers and vendors. Trust becomes a major issue. They hurt the organization and themselves.

Now instead, consider the leader who is openly curious, interested and actively participates in the very things they say are critical. They give honest, respectful feedback with the visible intent to improve the work or the endeavor. Their messages are always clear and they stand up for what they believe to be important. They show that knowledge is an asset to be built, respected, re-applied and the people who hold or share that knowledge are to be respected as well.

When leadership work the knowledge management practices they espouse, dialogue openly about the opportunities and the challenges they experience in managing knowledge, participate in the projects, meetings, and the activities required to get the KM ball rolling, the impact is astounding. Leadership role modeling can create a step change in the culture, the behaviors and the abilities to manage knowledge. There is no greater jumpstart to any change initiative then a proactive, involved, authentic leader. That truth will never change.

That type of leadership is what is needed to have knowledge management stick. It is the type of leadership that a great organization requires for all they do. They are not defensive about any one group or tool or project but role model openness, active listening, and learning from those around them. They think their job is about continually improving because they think the company is about continual learning.

There is no consultant who can replace the value and the impact of an authentic, engaged leader willing to role model KM and the behaviors needed to do that.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Now be honest, are you really working globally?

Many, actually nearly all, of the clients that I work with have locations in more than one country. Notice that I did not say that nearly all of my clients are global. To me, there is a huge difference.
Companies locate in various countries for many reasons: merger, economics of manufacturing, tax laws, customer reach, new market expansion, the list goes on.
Working across locations does not necessarily mean they are skilled at working globally.
Companies working effectively on a global basis are dealing head-on with the challenges of cross-cultural communications, time zone issues, language barriers, and the need to collaborate across all types of boundaries. There is much more to working globally then simply having multiple international locations.
I remember these same topics discussed in boardrooms in the mid 90’s, when expansion was the name of the game and money flowed freely. We may have missed some valuable opportunities to create the processes, cultural understanding and infrastructure that would have facilitated global success. Perhaps we were running too fast after the short-term opportunities and forgetting the long-term needs and benefits. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
The need to work effectively globally will not go away, but will instead be enhanced as US-based companies put even greater emphasis on emerging markets. It may suddenly become apparent to those working in the US that they are the minority in their organizations and most of their colleagues are located across an ocean or at least across a border. I believe that preparation now will be the key to competitive advantage in the future. How will you communicate and share critical learning in lightning speed across geographic and cultural gaps? How will you ensure that everyone in the organization, no matter the location, is as fast, bright, well prepared, and knowledgeable as your best people? There is no time like the present to begin that journey. Or, do we want to continue to work in multiple international locations? Working globally makes a great deal more business sense.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sustainable Knowledge: A Story

Let me tell you a story. A cautionary tale, actually. Once upon a time there was a Knowledge Management Consulting group doing some client work in a terrific, intelligent, innovative organization. The objectives were clear-- help the organization learn how to identify, transfer, reuse and develop new knowledge, innovation, ideas and learning. However, no one had set the objective for sustainability. (And there, my friends, lies the caution).

Along the journey, many roadblocks were met and most, through the hard work and dedication of the team, were handled. Pilot projects were identified, processes put in place, employees and sponsors alike understood what was involved, the business benefits and the need to transfer experiences, insights and expertise. People were willing and certainly the organization and those who worked there held a great deal of critical knowledge.

As the work continued, it became more clear that though the innovation and the experiential part of knowledge transfer was interesting, even intriguing to the organization, what was not so interesting was the work it takes to sustain and continue to keep the knowledge alive and refreshed. The creation and  implementation of a sustainability plan-- creating and editing the documentation or other vehicles to capture knowledge, keeping the Wiki's up to date, ensuring videos were edited and, most difficult, creating the architecture plan for where the various pieces and types of knowledge would live-- was not the fun part for these intelligent, fast paced learners. Remembering to communicate that new content, in whatever form, was available seemed to be a bother rather than a show of pride. They had done the work to identify and transfer, but capture and compilation, along with labeling and meta data creation, was not where they wanted to spend time.

And so, eventually the good work the team had done was lost in and amongst the other data stored in various document management systems, in SharePoint sites and shared drives. Sometimes it even languished on hard drives.

The Knowledge Management consultant moved on to a new role elsewhere. But the organization's knowledge transfer was not sustained. There had been a great deal of work, even some culture change, but the next generation of employees were still left to spend their valuable time searching, sometimes in vain, to find the internal knowledge around their projects. Most simply stopped trying and used the external web to find information rather than reuse the hard won, expensive, time consuming and critical internal intellectual capital.

The moral of the story: Do not start what you can not sustain. Discipline is a GOOD thing. If an organization is not disciplined about their documentation, they will not be disciplined in the long run about their tacit knowledge. Start with the end in mind. And make sure everyone is willing and able to stick through the long term work of sustainable knowledge transfer. It might not look as sexy as the knowledge gathering, but the end game is much, much more valuable.