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Saturday, May 26, 2007

Sorry for absence of posts

I've been somewhat busy doing some research for a new position in knowledge management. Therefore I haven't been able to blog as much recently as I've been on business in London. However normal service will be resuming shortly.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Boiling frogs, Barons and the need for Knowledge Management

I was at an event last night and was asked following a comment by myself that there were now more knowledge management positions in a variety of firms - why firms have suddenly started to take knowledge management a little more seriously.

I thought that from my experience of law firms, that some of the more progressive ones had realised that they needed to do things and change ahead of the curve. I've compared it to paying a fire insurance premium. If you pay now then it is likely that the costs will be low rather than if you go back after you have had a fire.

I was thinking of some work by Charles Handy that influenced me - which was the boiling frogs syndrome. If as a company you wait to long to attempt transformations when the size of the trouble are obvious then it is highly likely that like the frog you are too late. Great companies know that the best time to change and embrace the hard work required by management to make knowledge management successful is from a position of strength.

However as Handy points out this can be quite dangerous for a chief Executive or a Managing Partner - as they may see a longer way ahead in the distance and know that the status quo is not the alternative and realises that the competitive environment is changing and the company needs to reinvent itself.

Sometimes though there managerial barons don't always recognise or want to recognise the change - as sometime do financial markets which take the short term view and the murmuring starts and sometimes the CEO/MP is forced to resign.

The failure of knowledge management strategies are quite often those that are stymied by a lack of senior managerial support who put obstacles in the way as they don't see why they need to share knowledge and don't let people attend knowledge transfer meetings or more subtly let it be known that the way to get ahead in an organisation is by doing X rather than by sharing knowledge.

The second reason why companies need to understand knowledge management is to help people deal with the infoluenza epidemic stalking organisations where people aren't always short of information - they are deluged with it.

A good knowledge manager working with IT and the Librarians can help people to make sense and identify patterns in information.

By doing this then wise managers can tap their staff for ideas and for identifying those early stirrings of trouble from say customers that can encourage the CEO to create a new vision for the company. By utilising knowledge management techniques, the company can identify without the need for expensive consultants can sharpen it's business acuity. So by encouraging knowledge management in your organisation you can lay the foundations for survival for your company - and more and more companies are realising that the sharing of knowledge means increased profits.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Work Wise week in the UK

I noticed in this morning's paper that it is Work Wise Week which is sponsored by the IT Forum foundation with the laudable 5 year aim of making the UK work place to develop smarter working practices such as allowing people flexi hours and allowing flexible working practices. This has been going for a year now and they have had a conference today setting the 2nd year objectives.

For more details - click on the link below

Work Wise

What I did note is that this Friday is National Work from Home day. No I have to say that I find working from home once a week a really good idea. As a knowledge professional it allows me to catch up on some reading and to reflect on the lessons learnt and also from my reading renew my dynamism for work by reading fresh ideas. I also know that I get more done in a day at home in terms of forward work - than I would at two days in the office.

I have said in earlier posts that we all need the time to reflect - but that in today's work place it is difficult as a manager to be seen to sit in a chair at your desk and read some articles - because invariably questions are asked as to what work you are undertaking. From some managers I have talked to over the last few months - they share that sense of guilt - but also can't find a quiet and comfortable place to read without being disturbed - even if they have the luxury of an office where they can close the door.

In a knowledge based economy - managers need to work on ideas to take their team/department forward and maybe it is time that managers at their next round of appraisals ask for one day say every two weeks to work at home without interruption. It also might be something that companies can do to help the environment - just imagine if more people didn't commute in one day a week not only on public transport but also in car levels. Maybe one day in the future people will have permits to work in the city 4 days a week as an aid to reduce traffic congestion.

Anyway do look at the web site and see if you can get your company to embrace a different way of working practices and not always the 9 to 5 system.

Friday, May 11, 2007

The stages of learning

As I have a bit of time on my hands at the moment, I thought that I would look back over some of my articles in my folders. I found one that I had cut out in 1999 from the Harvard Business Review. It tackled the stages of learning which of course relates to knowledge management. In 1992 I read a book by Charles Handy which changed my life called "The Age of Unreason" which drove me to realise that if I was to have a job that was sustainable for the rest of my working life, I would need to keep reading and learning and staying up to date with events in my field and beyond it.

Because of this the article argues that learning is to use my words sedimentary as it creates a foundation for tackling the next level. Learning is based on experience - but we need to be aware that we are learning a lesson and pay attention to find those lessons - but also have the time to reflect on them also.

Organisations like schools - think that there is only one way to learn. Does everyone like to sit in a room in say a law firm and listen to a support lawyer or an outside expert deliver a talk and chalk lecture. They have not learnt in many ways that there are other ways to learn that takes into account that people do have different learning styles. I enjoyed the way that I was taught on my MBA - in going away to read a case study and then discussion it with my colleagues in a syndicate and revelling in the interaction and new ideas that they came up with based on the different foundations. It made me feel that I was in control of my learning and not in the teachers control. It was a more adult way of learning.

Bust just remember this - no person can be forced up the ladders of learning - but then as WE Deming quipped - Learning is not compulsory - but then neither is survival.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sorry for the delay

Sorry about the lack of posts the last few days - I've been away but also had some issues to deal with - normal service will be resumed soon.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The well led team, a stepdaughter and why employees are scared to talk out.

I have always found serendipity, in reading articles and then relating them to events in life.

On Monday night, I was talking to my (prospective) stepdaughter and she has read some of the posts and asked my advise on an issue that is affecting a friends team at work. They are worried about negative feedback that they have been receiving from current customers and a trend is becoming apparent. However the atmosphere in her company is such that they feel that if they speak up then their career might be stalled in it’s tracks.

I’m afraid that I didn’t have any sage advise for her except by asking her to weigh up the pros and cons of bringing it to her superiors attention and that if the pros outweighed the cons to speak up. But also to consider whether it was a firm that she wanted to work at long term. After all would you truly want to work for a company that had such poor values.

However, this form of self censorship is quite common and research has been carried out and a summary appears in this months edition of Harvard Business Review by Detert and Edmondson - see previous post

Research has shown that this form of censorship goes from the lowest up to quite senior management.

Companies can have grievance or ombudsman processes - but the main reason is that people don’t feel safe to speak up or sometimes even creative ideas. The main reason is that self preservation is the reason - or if in doubt keep your mouth zipped.

Looking back through some notes - it isn’t always the hostile manager - there is an inhibition where there is a perception and the belief in some chilling stories. We have all heard them - oh you don’t want to say that - remember X in Department S - he spoke up and was out the door 3 months later. In a confessional moment - it has happened to me in my career.

Funnily enough employees have a belief in the hierarchy in organisations where we believe that a boss would feel either betrayed or embarrassed by a junior member of their team offering constructive criticism or more creative ideas.

This is done normally without any real supporting evidence and so remains unchallenged by people in the organisation even though it might be a corporate myth and isn’t covered by the espoused values of your organisation.

It is interesting that this is similar to a recent talk that I attended last week by Gerard Fairtlough where he highlighted that cultures of companies are sedimentary. These stories if they take hold can become part of that sediment.

I talked about my late grandfather in an earlier post and he even in more hierarchical times felt comfortable with a junior coming up with constructive criticism.

Perhaps managers need to explicitly invite and acknowledge peoples ideas and thoughts no matter how low in the organisation it comes from - and to not view it as a personal attack and if they feel that there are myths and assumptions to challenge them.

The article highlights that ideas are best expressed in public rather than private so that issues can be openly discussed and I would add that the wisdom of crowds can help to lustre the jewel of innovation and knowledge sharing in the organisation.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

We are off to Athens

Great team, good performance, cool under pressure and backed by good support - a law firm possibly but as a lifelong Liverpool FC supporter - a great night.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Knowledge Sharing and the well led team paradox

I was reading an article by Amy Edmondson over the weekend which had an interesting paradox, that I’d like to share with you.

We all know that without learning organisations, teams and managers can suddenly find themselves trapped like a mammoth in a tar pool in yesterdays world.

Edmondson has been looking at how organisations can better access and utilise the talents and the insights of their employees. She found that employees sometimes find it very difficult to make a difference at work and to help their organisations make the jump forward - sometimes out of a culture of fear or by receiving a comment from a senior manager that acts as a dissuader on them feeling safe to put forward other ideas.

Most people would logically think that organisations that have teams that report less errors are the efficient ones. Edmondson’s work shows that the more effective teams are the ones that report more mistakes.

Upon investigation, she discovered that well led teams with good relationships don’t actually make more mistakes just that they feel comfortable in owning up to them because they had managers who tended to have open discussion, accepted trail and error rather than teams with punitive leadership and poor relations

It was due to an understanding that learning comes from being messy. When we are learning there isn’t always a precedent to guide us and provide us with guaranteed results. I am a three fingered typist - and not a touch one - if I started to learn how to touch type - my productivity would drop in the short term - but in the medium to long term - I would learn to type a lot faster.

Learning processes by their very nature tend to involve facing failures. James Dyson is recently quoted as saying that it took 5127 attempts before he got his vacuum cleaner correct.

I’d like to say that I’m referring to the new mistake where we are in unfamiliar waters. This is where if errors are made then we can carry out a review, see where we could improve, what we did well and also if anyone else needs to know the lessons learnt. This is different to the mistake made when there is something that we have past records to go on. That may be just an error of understanding and some coaching and mentoring may be of use for that error.

The presence of problems doesn’t signal high performance to most people and therefore managers need to recognise this reality and factor it into the cost of learning. As Edmondson highlights, the here and now appearance of high performance will seem more valuable and preferable than learning with its messy and error ridden nature. Not learning is an option but not one that a knowledge based organisation would want to take if it wanted to survive in the long term.

It is important that organisations learn best through group learning so that the interaction of individuals based in small groups is harnessed.

Each element of an organisation might face a different challenge based on it’s market - ie one might work on technical abilities to attract clients - some may have a more business developed approach which harnesses several strands.

We have talked earlier in this blog as the manager as coach rather than just a supervisor and to encourage learning behaviours by remembering to tolerate initial failure. This article I believe bears this out and highlights an interesting paradox that we should consider whilst training