Search This Blog

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Being off ill and being in Vietnam

Sorry for the lack of posts this week - but I’ve been laid up in bed with a respiratory tract infection, which makes me sound like I’ve been a 40 a day cigarette man - which I haven’t.

Anyway, it did give me time to read a little, and I finished reading a book over those three days by Robert McNamara who was the secretary of defence in the Kennedy and Johnson administration.

It does highlight the need for good knowledge sharing and especially going and asking people on the ground. It also highlights how a dominant theory blinded people to what was going on in reality. A sobering lesson for us to think about when dealing in change initiatives. Some managers can twist the theory to suit their own ends and manufacture information that matches the theory and not the reality.

Friday, March 23, 2007

By popular request - The Likable fool and Knowledge Management

Before I started at Law firm X in Birmingham(so this is NOT based on any experiences in the firm), I wrote an article for the Birmingham Law Society in March 2006 covering the use of informal networks in knowledge sharing and how our relationships with our team can affect knowledge sharing.

One of the areas looked at when completing a recent long term project on knowledge sharing in a law firm was the use of informal networks as a means of knowledge sharing within organisations.

As part of my research I asked people within the organisation whether they knew the best person to look for if they needed help on a particular legal problem or project that they were working on. Not too unsurprisingly people knew who was the expert on a particular aspect of the law and also they placed an economic value on that information and avoided using knowledge from people that was not considered to be of benefit.

However recent research in the US & Europe has also highlighted that work partners aren’t only tapped for the knowledge that they can bring but also for their likeability.

From a study covering 10000 working relationships across 5 organisations researchers have discovered four archetypes for teams:-

1. The competent jerk – they know a lot but are unpleasant
2. The lovable fool – who doesn’t know much but is a delight to work with
3. The lovable star – who is a delight to work with and knows a lot
4. The incompetent jerk well they are easy to categorise and desperately avoided

Of course we know that every person would like to work with no 3. However the research highlighted that people would rather work with the lovable fool above the competent jerk. Probably you know people within your organisation, that if you created a matrix as below you could populate it fairly easily

Competent Jerk
Mostly avoided

Lovable Star
Desperately wanted

Incompetent Jerk
Desperately avoided

Lovable Fool
Mildly wanted

However the lovable fool does play an important part in a team. This is because they are liked by a large amount of people they can act as bridge builders for the team and bring in other diverse groups that might not normally interact with one another. So although their performance skills may not be as high as numbers 1 and 3 they tend to make up for it in their bridge building skills.

Of course that leaves the competent jerk. People may not want to work with them in a team and of course people may improve through coaching or being held to account for their behaviour. (It is amazing that many of these people don’t see their poor behaviour for the effects that it has on people). However a lot of these people do tend to work better in isolated settings or by careful re-positioning.

I’m not saying that when you are creating teams you should not have a little bit of grit in it. It avoids the dangers of group think where a group of similar people all work together will give you a limited range of perspectives and people may not be willing to criticise people that they know and like. However a diverse group provides an array of perspectives, which can lead to a better way to accomplishing the task and thus providing added value for you and your client.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Generation Y - aka Generation Why

I was as at a meeting on Tuesday night and was talking to one of the guests who was talking about Generation Y - or as the speaker highlighted they should be known as Generation Why.

This is the Generation of current workers who were born between 1980 and 1994 and are entering the work place. We talked about Generation Why and some of their traits especially how they are masters of using IT.

I thought that it might be handy to put some details of his talk from my notes of the event.

Generation Whyer Characteristics

ADAPT rapidly — INNOVATE constantly — ACCEPT OTHERS easily REBOUND quickly — and are astoundingly LOYAL and COMMITTED!

They have the TIME, TOOLS, and the TALENT to create a better world and better results for your company and/or organisation and can multi task.

They want work that has meaning, creativity and flexibility. They are impatient multi taskers and like to PLORK (play and work).

Some commentators have even alluded to a quarter life crisis in the workforce as this demographic group are hitting the work place with it’s very rigid structures and narrowly presented career options.

They see a career as a plural - ie they expect to have a number of careers.

They don’t want to burn out as they have seen their parents burn out - they want a life and know that due to the lowering birth rate and the war for talent especially in knowledge workers that they are in the driving seat when professional service firms

Because they are a computer gaming generation - they are used to making analysis & decisions at a faster rate.

This last point is going to be somewhat handy as I feel that one of the dangers that lawyers face in the future is that the transferability of knowledge may mean that as the world becomes more and more connected has made it possible to off shore services that were considered non tradable.

Certain areas of the law may become subject to more competition and delivered electronically from anywhere in the world. Therefore people who are highly skilled in say property law may find that in the course of their professional career that they may have to re-train in a completely new area of the law. Any law job that can be standardised is highly vulnerable to being squeezed and eventually economic dictates will overide protectionist bodies like law societies.

It is not to say that China and India will have a comparative advantage in everything because it will take some time to train up their knowledge assets - so it may be that large firms will need to concentrate on the really value added work and off shore the work to other areas to keep their profit margins up. If they don’t then it is likely that they will discover that the increasing competition will have a price deflationary effect.

Of course law firm managers still need to grasp the concept of vertical disintegration where they look to their internal supply chain and see what they can outsource whilst retaining the core areas that provide value by harnessing the unique areas of knowledge in their firms by reducing the time people have to spend on mundane tasks that were important once - but have been superseded by other sources.

Of course while we have the concept of clients willing to pay by the billable hour, there is no reason for law firms to review their processes as a number of other law economic commentators such as Bruce MacEwen have pointed out.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Back in the saddle

Well, having sunned myself on the beaches of Bermuda - sorry Bournemouth but at 18 degreees c and walking on the beach with the sun on my back, I had to keep reminding myself that it was only the second week in March.

Came back to over 200 e-mails at home and 50 here and quite a few blogs to read and catch up on.

One of the things that it has taught me that if firms plan to use RSS technology to send out publications to clients, then the first few lines need to be incredibly punchy to get people to want to read the rest of the article - otherwise it will be marked as read and your message will be lost.

I was reading on one of the blogs about why our policy of standing in the shoes of our clients works so well.

The collaborative environment at Honda is a byproduct of the company’s emphasis on the Japanese concept of the three actuals - go to the actual place, work with the actual people or part and understand the actual situation. … A visit to the site about a specific problem not only prevents engineers from becoming detached from the actual process, it often yields insight into a completely unrelated and unforeseen issue.

If we are trying to help a client, then it is incredibly useful to see them in operation by visiting them at their offices rather than trying to imagine it from a conference room or via a phone. I’ve always followed this approach when doing any research or reports.

It’s a lesson, that I was taught as a young banker - always visit the client and understand their business and their drivers - then you can always sell the best and most appropriate product to them.

Also you understand what keeps them awake and what the choke points are in their business.

Don’t just look at the offices and the machines - also look at the employees and how they talk about their work. If they look passionate and committed, then the company and it’s management are moving forward and the firm is on average likely to thrive, because innovation is more likely to take place.

If the place looks tired and the people look tired, then as a banker this should be a warning sign.

Do you fully understand your clients and their drivers and do you share that knowledge of the commercial world with your colleagues.

Friday, March 09, 2007

A battery re-charge

I’m going to be away for one week and so this blog will go into hibernation from the 9th March until the 19th March, as I am going away for a couple of days. Sandy has made me promise, that I won’t take any knowledge management books with me and that any book that I do take must be fiction.

One of the most important elements in knowledge management is the ability for us to reflect and re-examine what we are doing in our lifes both public and private. I’ll probably muse about a few things whilst looking at the sea and walking along the beach and come back fully recharged and with a host of new ideas to chat with people about. Hopefully the weather will support my wish to walk without being lashed with rain. Still if so there is always the cricket to watch.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

It happens on Mars - why not your organisation!

A friend of mine highlighted a recent article from Australia regarding work done at NASA about training new teams to operate the two Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. Granted their process takes over 12 months ‘apprenticeship’ and requires learning many of the systems associated with the rovers to ensure they have the context require to successfully operate the vehicles.

The process is a kind of apprenticeship, where observation, study, and supervised practice combine to pass on knowledge and skills that book learning or theoretical discussion alone could never teach. We think this is the only effective way to teach the complex and subtle skills a rover driver needs.

The NASA ASK Magazine is an interesting knowledge sharing initiative that communicates success storiesintended to share good practices and lessons learned with fellow practitioners across the Agency. ASK stands for ‘Academy Sharing Knowledge’. The underpinning philosophy is that:-

stories recounting the real-life experiences of practitioners communicate important practical wisdom. By telling their stories, managers, scientists, and engineers share valuable experience-based knowledge and foster a community of reflective practitioners.

One of my beliefs regarding knowledge sharing is that we understand more from stories told by people than we do by reading it off a document held in a database. Stories provide us with an opportunity to tap into the deep tacit knowledge that people have in their heads. The stories also humanise knowledge and make it more real in peoples minds.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Cross Training, Mobile Phones & Knowledge Management

I try to read different publications from time to time to see what is going on in the world and to see if there is any cross-over into my field. Well this weeks browse was the New Scientist blog and it highlighted a patent that Sony Ericcson have drawn up to help people stick to an exercise regime using their mobile phone.

Apparently they have patented a wireless device that acts as a pedometer - which is set to a target - say 10k in steps per week,
If the owner hits the target the device then downloads a ring tone, a music track or video clip by way of reward. Or, if the owner slacks off and misses the target, the device deletes a file from its memory.

If two people are competing to help each other lose weight, Sony says such devices could compare users’ exercise scores. The person who clocked up most steps then steals a reward from the loser’s device.

Anyway this got me thinking about ways in which knowledge sharing could be enhanced in a law firm using a variant of this system.

I’ve noticed on my walks round the office that a number of people have either iPods or other MP3 players on their desks.

Would it incentivise you to pass on knowledge to say your Professional Support Lawyer (PSL) and it was voted on as the best piece of knowledge passed on to the PSL that week and you got a £20 iTunes voucher from them. The reward would be quick and publicised and you would not have to wait until your next appraisal.

Any comments gratefully received.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A sense of rare honesty.

Over the last few days a number of people have been linking to this entry apparently sent as a memo from a boss to his team in the US. I very rarely cut and paste an article in it’s entirety onto my blog - normally I pass comment and put a link in to the site. I understand though that it is from a Management Consultant, Coach and Trainer called Michael Wade - so on that basis that is the health warning - but from my own and probably most peoples working experiences, would this be a great note to be handed to every new manager.

At the change of every presidential administration in the USA, the Press secretary, leaves a flak jacket for their successor with a few notes of advice placed in it. Perhaps this note is in a new managers flak jacket….

But as they say rules are meant to be broken and enjoy the note.

  1. I am sometimes under enormous pressure from upper management; pressure that you seldom see. Anything that you can do to make my job easier will be greatly appreciated.
  2. Your interests are important, but please remember that I also have to juggle the concerns and feelings of a bunch of other people, including individuals outside of the department.
  3. I may not have been given a huge amount of training before being named to a supervisory position. As a result, I’ve had to learn through trial and error. That’s not always bad. Many of my responsibilities can only be learned through practice.
  4. If you are a former co-worker of mine, please recognize that supervising former peers is one of the toughest jobs any supervisor faces. The support that you give me is crucial.
  5. I will make mistakes. Please give me the same understanding that you’d like me to give you when you blunder.
  6. If I do something dumb or am on the verge of doing so, please tell me. Don’t hint. Tell me.
  7. I don’t like unpleasant surprises. Let me in on bad news as soon as possible. (Things that you believe are obvious may not be that clear to me. On the other hand, you’d be surprised at how quickly the latest gossip reaches my ears.)
  8. I expect you to take initiative. If you keep bouncing things to me, I’m going to wonder why I have you around.
  9. You should ask questions if you don’t know what to do. On the other hand, you should not have to be taught the same thing over and over again.
  10. Let’s respect each other’s time. We each have a job to do and the more we can reduce unnecessary interruptions, the happier we’ll each be.
  11. Don’t let all of my talk about meeting goals and producing results lead you into unethical behavior. You always have my permission to be ethical.
  12. If either of us has a problem with the other’s performance, let’s talk about it.

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rapid Blogging and Knowledge Management

I was talking to an old friend on Friday night over a curry who was involved in web design and obviously he worked on the odd project over time.

He highlighted that as clients were so demanding and frequently changing the specification he got quite used to coming up with quick and rapid iterations. However he also added that this could be bolstered in my case by getting some target audience feedback at every step.

As readers of this blog are no doubt aware, I am looking to undertake some work on primarily blogs and to a lesser extent wikis as part of a KM strategy.

I’m involved in a meeting on Tuesday (6th March) to come up with some terms of reference for trialling a blog and possibly a wiki in an area of the firm. I think that it is always a good idea to pilot something first in a team that wishes to pilot it and are keen enthusiasts for it.

By working with some trial baloons they can improve the process by giving me real life user feedback both good and where there are areas for feedback so that we can do some rapid iterations and quickly improve the product. They also give users a sense of participation and they can also act as ambassadors to spread the word like a virus through the organisation.

Not every section of an organisation will want to take it up immediately but it is key to find pockets within a team and help them to use the new tools and let word of mouth do it’s work - hopefully for the good. The key thing as my friend stated is to go and sit and work with them and help them find solutions quickly rather than sitting in an ivory tower. This is one of my key objectives - is to sit and work with people who are just starting out and help them to develop the tools and techniques that they need to help them do their work and also make it as easy as possible to share information.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Been off ill

Sorry there hasn’t been a post since Monday as I was off on Wednesday and Thursday with a bit of a virus - that laid me low. But I’m back in the saddle today and raring to go.

One advantage is that you catch up on some reading between long sleep sessions and I’ve started to read a book on the Wars of the Roses - so I’m sure that I’ll learn some lessons from it that I’ll share.