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Friday, April 27, 2007

RSS in 3 minutes

Just come back after attending the KM in the Legal Profession conference in London. It was helpful and I’ll be posting some observations over the next few days once I’ve reflected on it some more.

I’ve come back to read my blogs and there is a great three minute guide to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) with pictures and video. At a part of the talk a few people did not fully understand what RSS - so hopefully this might be of use to us all.

Here is the link so enjoy and maybe if you are trying to explain it to your boss it might help.

Just come back after attending the KM in the Legal Profession conference in London. It was helpful and I’ll be posting some observations over the next few days once I’ve reflected on it some more.

I’ve come back to read my blogs and there is a great three minute guide to RSS (Really Simple Syndication) with pictures and video. At a part of the talk a few people did not fully understand what RSS - so hopefully this might be of use to us all.

Here is the link in the title to this blog so enjoy and maybe if you are trying to explain it to your boss it might help.

Friday, April 20, 2007

A teaser

Next week will be a quiet week for the blog as I am away on Monday, then at a conference in London on knowledge management, where I am delivering a talk on knowledge management and innovation.

So the next week (w/c 30th April) will be me sharing some of the points that I picked up on. This weekend I’m off to the dreaming spires of Oxford - so I hope that the weather is good

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Theory X, Enterprise 2.0 and another reason why people don’t share knowledge.

I’ve just been reading an interesting article by Andrew McAfee on Monday and Tuesday, who cites that in his MBA class talking about Enterprise 2.0. His students cited the concern that people who posted to a blog, edit a wiki will be perceived by their organisation as slackers and not spending enough time on their ‘real‘ work. Some commentators have stated that the inverse might be true that a busy knowledge worker wouldn’t have time to utilise new technologies.

Upon further investigation, he discovered that these MBA students had experienced the reality of work. A lot had come from professional service firms which in the US do tend to be results oriented culture that tend to value hard work long hours and this is particularly prevalent in consultancies which focus on the billable hour.

These students had quickly learnt how to get on in a firm is to understand the sub culture - they saw those people who rose through the ranks and they also saw how their leaders talked about what contributions were important and those that were not. Interestingly, to me from my Organisational Development studies, they were experiencing another part of the famous work study carried out by Elton Mayo in the 1930’s at the Hawthorne works and especially the work practice known as binging.

These students went on to explain that people in organisations that value ‘busyness’ - people in firms who contribute to blogs and wikis and other elements may be seen as non workers, laggards or goof offs and don’t have enough real work to do or ‘aren’t spending enough time on their real jobs.’

This means that if your organisation falls into this category and you are a knowledge based firm is that you can benefit by providing collaborative software and having processes that encourage knowledge sharing and potential innovation pools. However, these may fall down at the people part not because the contributors are necessarily too busy - but as Mc Afee says that they don’t want to be seen as not busy enough. I have had personal experience of this in a previous job so probably this is why the article resonated with me.

The problem for leaders in the organisation is that cultures take time to change and it will take a lot of hard and consistent work to convince people that it is a smart career move rather than a poor one to contribute to a blog or a wiki.

Increasingly at forward-thinking companies, managers understand the connection between learning, innovation, and higher productivity — in fact, employees at these companies may even be encouraged to spend time learning and experimenting with new technologies.

There was another quote from another blogger who highlighted the following.

Ironically, instead of being a drag on productivity, engaging in the collaboration, knowledge creation, and mashup workarounds that Enterprise 2.0 offers may begin to increase productivity, and enable knowledge workers to get more done in shorter time. Maybe even the most old-fashioned crack-the-whip managers will see the sense in that — eventually, gradually, and once they see their companies losing market share to nimbler competitors who have embraced some of the newer ways and have looked at increasing knowledge sharing in their organisation.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Personal Note

I very rarely go into a personal blog but I think that readers may indulge me on this occasion.

I had a phone call last night 16th April from my father who advised me that my grandfather Arthur passed away quietly in his sleep at the age of 100.

I reflected last night on his life and will probably reflect some more on it over the next few weeks and imagined what he had seen over 100 years of life from when he was born Edward the 7th was King and Herbert Asquith of a dominant Liberal party had just become the Prime Minister in the Liberal landslide of 1906.

He worked in one job throughout his life - working for Dunlop based in Liverpool and was their chief accountant.

He retired from Dunlop in 1968 and came out to South Africa on a holiday and stayed for 18 months working for my father. He had a pension that he drew from 1968 to 2007 longer than he had worked for the company.

He was a lifelong supporter of Liverpool FC even in their days in the old Second division and although he was in a care home in Manchester, my parents had the Liverpool Daily Post delivered to him and the nurses in the last year as his eye sight deteriorated read to him the articles relating to Liverpool win lose or draw.

He also taught me lessons in employment that belonged to his generation but they weren’t the worst outlook in life.

Accept the fact that the world changes and enjoy the ride.

He was a cautious man but recognised that human beings must progress and that our history was born of that desire. He understood that organisations had moved from being ones where machines ruled to ones where knowledge workers would drive the future organisation.

He was very proud of my thesis regarding knowledge management which he read at the age of 97 and I was very proud that he was able to comprehend how the world of work had changed.

He felt that our generation was fortunate as we had never had to know the full horror of a conventional war in Europe or had had to be conscripted.

He felt that it was your duty as an employee to give 100% to them but to go home at the end of the day and give that same level of intensity to your family.

He also felt that there was a social contract between employer and employee but recognised that the job for life could be a curse as well as a blessing.

He did not feel that managers had a monopoly of wisdom and that it was a wise manager who listened to his subordinates views and then make the decision.

He respected other peoples professionalism but expected them to respect his also once a managerial decision had been made.

The most important lessons in life he taught me were:-

‘Treat people the way you would want them to treat you’

‘Always look in the mirror when shaving and ask what you can do in your work today to make a difference. When you brush your teeth at night ask yourself whether you succeeded or where you needed to improve.

‘Continuously read and listen to things you don’t normally do - the brain is like a muscle and needs to be exercised in different ways to avoid a lopsided brain.’

Anyway, thank you for indulging me with this blog post - normal service will be resumed in a few days.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Innovation Insights

Over the weekend I was reading an article with Bill Campbell, who runs Intuit but prior to that was involved with Apple.

Two interviewers spoke to him recently for his thoughts on Innovation and as I’m on a bit of a roll here as I’m talking in a few weeks time on knowledge management and innovation in London so some additional quotes might be useful - but also it does chime in with what I’m talking about. Although the thrust of his discussion relates to Engineers some of his comments would cross boundaries. Quite a lot of his thoughts are already reflected in some of the work that I am looking to carry out in this firm.

With regard to innovation, he feels that it is important to provide people with time to work on things of their choosing that may be breakthrough thoughts that can replenish your business core. (I’ll be writing about core businesses another time.) These projects are then reviewed and evaluated and have the opportunity to become a mainstream product.

He acts iike a venture capitalist would act and wants people to come up with a basic business plan in terms of who is the product for, what do you think the market is likely to be. What will this do and how much of peoples behaviours will have to change. Effectively Campbell is operating what is known as a Schello screen with a Real/Win/Worth it bias - I have more details of this if people are interested.

He feels that it is important to give the’ crazy guys some stature and importance. He feels that if you start from that you have a better chance of maintaining a cutlture of innovation.

He also feels that it is important for a CEO to meet with people and have an open forum where people could highlight what was making life difficult for them with regasrd to their work or what they were struggling with and how projects that might be being balked could be bought forward. The important thing is that the innovation should be looking to solve the problems that consumers/clients want.

Campbell then goes out of his way to say that he is not an innovator - he sees his role as CEO to ensure that the right people are in the room and that the crazies have an opportunity to contribute. He sees empowered people having the opportunity to contribute is one of the single most important thing that you can have in a company.

He also expects that he needs to accept failure - if you demand perfection, then people are less likely to innovate because you cannot anticipate every nuance in a complex world.

As I learnt in my entrepreneurial studies most entrepreneurs deal with the imperfect idea and tweak it as they go along. Remember the great quote from Edison who spent ages trying to get the bulb to work and said to a friend who asked him why he had failed to develop the bulb.

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.

He also feels that it is important to give people time off - especially if they have been working on a long or hard project to go and have some time off outside of their normal holiday and when they come back they are refreshed and can do the hard work. Also he feels that they can reflect on their experiences and pass those lessons on and use the break as a means of looking at a project with new eyes which means that they will do better work.

Campbell then goes on to say that in addition to innovation that he also pushes hard on best practices. He wants his employees to have a hunger to discover best practice so that in the absence of innovation there is the small tweak that will make the team/organisation more effective He gives high grades to people who know what is going on in their industry and can adapt quickly to meet the problems that clients have.

Effectively he is saying that technical excellence is a base but that it needs to be aligned with commercial knowledge - not only of the client but the industry drivers also.

It is an interesting article and is definitely going into my folder of articles covering innovation as it is one of my passions and one which knowledge management can help to deliver in a firm.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The civilised workplace

I received from McKinsey recently an article by Robert Sutton whose blog I subscribe to and which had prompted me to revisit the article I wrote on the Likable fool and I mentioned the Competent jerk. If as a reader you want to read the report in full, then click on the title bar of this blog

Suttons article which I have posted in full highlights the danger and effects of employing people who are basically nasty to people around them and the damaging effect that it can have to the people but also to the future well being of the organisation.

Our organisation of course doesn’t condone people who would behave in this way but the article is useful as an aide memoire as to why we would not and should not tolerate people who would behave in such a disrespectful way to fellow employees and to the behaviours that we need to be aware of.

People who practice these behaviours do real and lasting damage not only to people but to the organisation:

Word of mouth or worse on a site like stating that your organisation is peopled by nasty people can potentially undo your own hard work on potential recruitment—but also on the retention of people especially among your best and brightest, who can walk out to work in a more congenial setting. New recruits especially those from Generation Y are especially savvy in working out what firms they want to work for and the working environment.
Damage your firm’s reputation among potential laterals and even clients
Nip collaboration and openness in the bud and;
Stifle innovation and creativity.
So as a knowledge manager, these issues strike a chord as they are restrictors on the sharing of knowledge and also bringing new knowledge into your organisation to refresh the knowledge pool.

However, Sutton goes on to highlight the cost of or as Sutton calls it the Total Cost of Jerks to your organisation.

Damage to victims and witnesses
  • distraction from real work; time and energy devoted to coping or avoiding
  • honesty becomes not the best policy; a climate of fear, psychological safety undermined
  • motivation and energy levels reduced
  • absenteeism, usually due to stress related illness
  • and worst of all, a prolonged exposure to bullying can turn people into bullies as it becomes a part of the firms culture.
Black hole for management

  • time spent appeasing, calming, counselling jerks
  • time spent chilling out, reinforcing, nurturing victims
  • time spent reorganising to get people out of the jerk’s line of fire
Litigation and HR costs
  • I think that we can imagine these.
Overall impact of condoning jerks
  • stifles creativity and innovation
  • dysfunctional internal competition
  • difficulty in attracting new people of the right calibre and having to pay over the odds to get them to come to work in your firm
  • People don’t go and put those little unpaid extras in.
Sutton highlights the steps that can be taken but he also highlights in the article as to the 12 most common abuses (or as he calls them his dirty dozen) that make people/employees feel worse about themselves.

These are:

  1. Personal Insults.
  2. Invading co-workers personal territory
  3. Uninvited physical contact
  4. Threats and intimidation, verbal and non verbal
  5. Sarcastic jokes and teasing used as insult delivery systems
  6. Withering e-mails
  7. Status slaps intended to humiliate victims
  8. Public shaming or status degradation rituals
  9. Rude interruptions
  10. Two-faced attacks
  11. Dirty looks
  12. Treating people as if they were invisible.
So what steps does he recommend.

Make the rule public by what you say and, especially do

As the head of Barclays Capital puts it, “Hotshots who alienate colleagues are told to change or leave.” Only when people feel safe highlighting to someone on their bad behaviour will you know that your efforts have been successful.

Weave the rule into your recruitment and dismissal procedures.

Perkins Coie a law firm based in Seattle, a Fortune “100 Best Places to Work” in 2007, for the 4th year in a row, reject rainmakers for just this “no jerk” reason. As senior partners Bob Giles and Mike Reynvaan report, “We looked at each other and said, ‘What a jerk.’ Only we didn’t use that word.” As my grandfather instilled in to me from an early age - treat people the way you would like to be treated yourself.

Apply this to a client

Don’t let your people be abused from the outside or from the inside. Even consider this: Fire clients who are abusive. Joe Gold, founder of Gold’s Gym (550 locations in 43 countries) did this from the very start, in his first gym on Muscle Beach in Venice, California, where Arnold Schwarzenegger was an early customer.

Is being a jerk contagious

According to Sutton - Yes.

Which is why a jerk-free workplace begins with us as an individual. This is common sense in my view. If I’m attacked, my first, human but not very nice basic instinct is to counter-attack. Most people if they don’t have the status within the organisation to counter-attack directly, tend to do it through oblique means. This can manifest itself by the person becoming disillusioned, losing faith in the firm, giving less than their best effort (or certainly not going the extra mile on nights and weekends).

A quote that Sutton utilises is an Arab proverb that “A wise man associating with the vicious becomes an idiot.” and this is borne out by a number of anthropological studies into human behaviour.

Don’t let this happen to you or the firm that you work for the effects can be devastating not only to people but also to the future of your organisation.

Following up on innovation

Occasionally as a blogger, you do get serendipity and someone actually writes about he need to heighten the level of rewards for innovation for employees.

It is interesting to note that in Thursdays Birmingham Post (12/04) Fergal Dowling at Irwin Mitchell highlights that one of the problems for innovation in the Midlands by an organisations employees, appears to be the thought that the employer will effectively leave them empty handed and not reward them properly for their innovative idea.

He highlights the provisions of the Patents Act 2004 which lowered the threshold for which employees could claim compensation from their employers for ideas their companies took on and patented.

There are two problems for employees - one is lack of knowledge of the amended act but also that the employee has to take action against their employer - which even in the best of job circumstances may not be the best career move.

Moving on from the initial post he suggests that companies be more up front and have a policy where new ideas/inventions are rewarded above and beyond how some organisations do it for those innovations that might bring a new product or a different way to do business.

Perhaps by having a two tier system as I mentioned in my earlier post, may move innovation forward by encouraging people to come up with more business oriented thoughts in addition to those small scale improvements. There is room for both in an organisation.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Get tough on Innovation

I was reading an interesting article over the weekend on that old standby - i.e, how to draw out employees creativity.

A lot of firms have ideas boxes or on line versions so that people can post an idea which allows people to place a summary of their ideas and then it goes through to either a committee which then winnows it out before it goes to senior management for a yea or nay. It is good as far as it goes and many useful initiatives do come out of it.

However, is there a case for taking it up a level and asking people to prove the viability of their idea from the start. Of course we might have to review the way that we look at innovation in an organisation by providing the right support and incentives by teaching people the economics of innovation maybe working with someone from the finance team or an experienced manager in the firm

The other area, is that we might need to increase the level of bonuses - ie a set %ge of the savings or increased earnings. The article highlighted that by taking a slightly harder approach found between a 20 to 40% increase in the number of workable initiatives. It was interesting to note that organisations that cut them back observed a significant decline in innovation activity.

The other element is that you must publicise your successes and keep instilling the concept that ideas are valued but also that an idea must have an economic impact. Maybe one day more organisations will undertake what 3 M and Google do and set time aside for people to be innovative - but that they need to come up with a proper business plan rather than a summary.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Moving on from Blogs...

We all know about blogs and that they are seen as a light way to capture knowledge in an organisation.

However, whilst lying in bed I was looking at a you tube video featuring Chad Vader (Darth Vaders stupid brother) - go to you tube and put it in a search field.

I wonder if we shall soon see the rise of the video blog as a way of capturing information or even used as a way for senior management to inform staff of events and invite comment from staff, rather than a bland e-mail. You could utilise it to capture peoples thoughts on a variety of issues and put it in a richer and more accessible media format than the very static formats that we use. It is important to remember though that the technology is useless without people engaging with it and utilising it at a time that suits them.

The cost of this technology is steadily diminishing - and one day I hope to be able to do something like this at home and produce it as a proof of concept.

I’m not saying that blogs are on their way out - far from it - it just means that we can utilise a variety of formats to spread information around the organisation.

KM on the decline?

There has been an interesting article from the Harvard Law school which caught my attention last night - before watching the mighty Liverpool crush PSV Eindhoven.

Knowledge Management on the Decline?: The law of diminishing returns is affecting those firms that invested heavily in giant IT databases - because a lot of that information is becoming available on line and it’s quality is steadily improving. It does beg a question as to say in 5 years time will in house precedents (or at least the vast majority of them) be as quaint as a horse and cart going down the streets of Birmingham.

Therefore firms will need to look at the way that people share knowledge if they wish to maintain a competitive advantage over their rivals.

Competitive advantage comes from possessing some attribute that is valuable, rare and not easily substituted - the tacit or people knowledge in a firm is that advantage not as previously perceived what is held in a database.

Another article highlights the rise of Generation Y lawyers who want to have their own internal blogs as a way of advertising their expertise to other people in the firm, so that they can undertake work on interesting projects.

Firms have noted a significant rise in the number of requests for blogs especially and even Microsoft has noticed - putting a blogging facility into Sharepoint 2007.

Also they want to have a say in developing more flexible taxonomies than the ones that they feel are foisted on them by IT departments that aren’t lawyers and don’t always bear reality to what and how they work.

Always remember, the technology is there to help people with their day to day work and that without the people getting involved - you end up with an expensive white elephant