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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Revisiting a classic

When I studied knowledge management I was handed probably one of the classic articles on Knowledge Management written in 1998 by Larry Prusak and Liam Fahey.

It has recently been republished by Stan Garfield but for those managers who haven't read the article here are the 11 deadly sins with regard to the practice of knowledge management especially in US and from my own experience in UK firms.

  1. Not developing a working definition of knowledge
  2. Emphasizing knowledge stock to the detriment of knowledge flow
  3. Viewing knowledge as existing predominantly outside of the heads of individuals
  4. Not understanding that a fundamental intermediate purpose of managing knowledge is to create shared context
  5. Paying little heed to the role and importance of tacit knowledge
  6. Disentangling knowledge from its uses
  7. Downplaying thinking and reasoning
  8. Focusing on the past and the present and not the future
  9. Failing to recognize the importance of experimentation
  10. Substituting technological contact for human interface
  11. Seeking to develop direct measures of knowledge
Stan had the idea of approaching Larry Prusak and ask for his comments as to how this article had stood the test of time and where the deadly sins still applicable - ie had KM moved on.

I agree with Prusak that we have made some progress but still a lot of firms do for example still see KM as having a large IT database which acts as a repository for documents or as I call it the large bucket approach with the hope of finding the odd gold nugget in it. But organisations have made slow progress on the people side of the equation.

In my next blog I'll be listing some of Prusak's comments and be putting my own observations on it. Also I've been reading tonight an article from Gunther Stahl from INSEAD on talent management as this is a theme that I've been commenting on recently and I think that managers will find them of interest.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

An interesting find to bring the human element into search facilities

I was browsing through Stumbleupon and came upon an article on cnet news highlighting a new programme launched by a company called Attendi. What this is a combination of a chat service and a search engine and I wondered whether this might have applications within knowledge management in an enterprise setting by bringing a human touch to the process.

I wonder whether this is a trend as I was reading in an American magazine which I subscribe to an article about a guy called Jason Calacanis who is developing a new search engine called Mahalo- who is hiring people who build search results by hand rather than relying on an algorithimic approach like Google. It's early days but an interesting trend to watch as people get overwhelmed by the information that Google provides look for and possibly pay for a customised service.

Anyway back to Attendi which highlights that it wants to dos something slightly different and to be the search engine that "bypasses Internet content and head straight for your brain." The aim is to provide answers for questions individuals have that have yet to be indexed on the Web.

Thinking about this in an enterprise setting - let us say that you want to find out for example how many widgets it takes to build a particular machine or what are the best precedents to use for a merger in Germany. A lot of internal search engines will bring up a collection of document with a variety of relevance to the issue that you are looking to find.

Searching on Attendi brings up a list of people who have volunteered to give information. Each person (or "Attendi") has a viewable profile. You can ask the system if you can chat with that person. If they are available online and respond, a chat window appears and you can ask them to share their expertise.

But answering the "Whats in it for me' question beloved of people when asking why they should share knowledge here's a thought.

Perhaps every time you answer a question or offer to share expertise this links into HR or even better you are ranked by your peers for the quality of your advice/information and you move up the rankings, this would be very useful say at appraisal time when your line manager looks at what you have done to share knowledge in the organisation . It would also be helpful for new starters to find out who the key players are.

Something I'd really like to work on one day with an innovative organisation and an open IT department to help the business mobilise it's knowledge resources.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Thoughts on the uses for an internal blog

I was talking to an old colleague this afternoon as I was helping her with regard to starting an internal blog within her organisation as a means of helping her disseminate legal knowledge that is regularly updated in a format that people would find useful rather than the traditional e-mail approach.

She asked me if I had a simple few reasons that she could cite and how it could be spread in other areas of the organisation.

I've always been of the view that a blog could be of use for project management especially for updates as to progress rather than using an e-mail process but also as a means of capturing some of the lessons learnt. I also feel that it is also highly useful where people are spread out across the firm and being bought together on a project that either is multi office either in the UK or potentially where a project is spread across time zones.

There was also an article last June at by CG Lynch providing a set of reasons why an internal blog should be started by the company and I provided the details to my colleague. However I feel that they are a good starting point and I list them below as a reminder for myself but also as a guide for my colleague.

Here are some Reasons to Start themselves:
  1. Your enterprise e-mail applications are not easy to search.
  2. Your e-mail is lost in the eye of the "cc storm."
  3. Ex-employees can take it with them.

    If it's in a blog it's there when an employee leaves and not lost when an e-mail account and all the information contained in that account is archived when that e-mail account dissolves on the company systems.

  4. Too much wasted time checking in with colleagues.
  5. Organizational openness and accountability.
  6. People might already be using them.

    I utilised a password protected blog at one firm to provide a proof of concept blog to senior management.

  7. I'd also like to add that it is important for people to have the ability to use within Internet Explorer 7 or an easy to use aggregator internally.

    This is so that people receive the signals that a blog has changed as well as the ability to tag any posts with internally relevant markers say for example in a law firm it might be say company law, takeovers, Europe so that people can search by tags.
Blogs aren't the be all and end all for knowledge sharing technology - the world is evolving and we can't be sure what new technology will come along - but I do consider that they are an interesting way forward and are a key element of any knowledge management strategy in a knowledge based enterprise.

It is important to remember though that these must support the business processes in a firm and aid the employees in that firm to do their job efficiently. We must also consider that there are other techniques that we can utilise - it all depends on the type of work being undertaken and what people feel works best for them. It must work for the individuals that work for the team as well as supporting the company and it's delivery of a service to it's clients.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

How to fill the talent gap

I was reading last night - couldn't sleep too well about a recent article by Douglas Ready and Jay Conger in the Wall Street Journal about how global companies are finding it harder to fill critical jobs - either by struggling to find recruits or because as the demographic forces work against them and the other pressures haven't developed internally people to step up into these roles. Also I wanted to write a longer article as this is my 102nd blog posting since I started Knowledge and The Cardinal.

The article highlights that organisations aren't looking at these as a whole but as separate issues. They analysed about 40 companies and the conclusion was that companies need to have a unified plan to tackle these issues as a whole rather than individually. They hypothesise that the five problems that I'm going to write down are starting to converge and that "the perfect storm was brewing'

The saw the five problems as follows
  1. Emerging Markets

    As companies flock into the BRIC countries and other emerging markets the demand for talent is outstripping supply. Also companies external to the local market aren't always fully aware of the cultural sensitivities and what motivate someone in the local market may not in say India.

  2. Narrow Thinking

    Because a number of firms are still focused on the business unit and to maximise the opportunities of that unit rather than looking to generate new profits from harnessing mixed products that utilise a number of skills to deliver a new product or service to either existing or new customers. A lot of firms are based on maximising say their billable hour target rather than on their collaboration with other colleagues. Basically we don't have enough managers who look beyond the box.

  3. Demographics

    I have talked about this on a fairly regular basis in other posts but effectively the baby boom generation is leaving or will be leaving the work force with all their experiences over the next 15 years. The article says that 30 million managers will be going in the next 5 years. Also because of the delayering and the move towards the lean organisation - reduced the opportunities for people to develop. It is interesting to note (and there may be another reason for this such as staff retention as the ability to reach partner is curtailed) that for example law firms are creating some new tiers in their organisations be it Director or Senior Associate. This neatly brings me on to Point

  4. The Expectations Gap

    We know that Generation Y in our workplace does not see that working in one organisation is a lifetime contract - studies have shown that they expect to work in about 6 -8 locations in their working career. As the talent shortages bite home in the next few years expect to see more demand by employees for what they want from work and maybe to the chagrin of IT Departments wanting to use computers other than Dell (Apple Macs anyone)

  5. Revenge of the Clones - or as the writers call it Blind Spots

    When I was doing my masters under organisational behaviour one of my professors mentioned studies that stated that managers tend to hire promote and reward people who look, think and behave like them. This leaves people open to some major blind spots in attracting the talent that your organisation needs in the future.
As part of their study at these 40 global companies 97% of respondents said that their company had a formalised succession planning process for senior executives. However 97% said that their company didn't possess a free and flowing talent pipeline.

So what are their proposed solutions

  1. Make your talent plan match your business plan.

    If you know and can exploit the capabilities that let you as a company provide unique and profitable value to your customers then you should look to build those capabilities amongst the people that you employ. This is for everyone and needs extensive training and goes beyond the pony and trap show that most corporate inductions are.

  2. Talent Management is everyone's job

    It's not just HR's job the best firms had deep commitment and accountability amongst senior managers to develop the next managers. Managers need to recognise that they are coaches of growth and learning as well as making the numbers and making sure that their talent pipeline is as full and as flowing as it can be and committing to deliver on this.

  3. Support Matters

    I remember talking to one lawyer who had just been made a partner who said to me that the jump was like going from the 1st Division of English football to the Premier Division. The lawyer felt that although the promotion had been based on the ability to hit high billing hours nothing had been really prepared in taking on the challenges to face the new assignments. I'd always felt that people in that position as well as proper managerial training should be assigned a per partner mentor and then for the 1st year as a partner would help them as they stepped on to that ladder by providing coaching and feedback. Well this is what one of the proposed solutions is.

  4. Measure what matters

    Ask your HR department what metrics they are using and if they have one for talent development. for instance what is your retention of key employees and high potential ones (if you have identified these people in the first place). Also look at why you have to go outside your organisation to hire someone new - is it because you haven't developed your talent line internally - or is it to meet the needs of a new strategic direction.

    How many talent reviews do you hold and is it a real one or do you see it as a bureaucratic form to be filled in and filed away. Also are your managers appraised on how they ensure that peoples training and development aspirations are delivered on an annual basis. I've seen on more than a few questions training aspirations placed on a form and then re said at the next appraisal.
I thought that it was an interesting article as talent as well as knowledge sharing is I believe one of the biggest managerial challenges that faces us over the next 10 - 15 years. I think that professional services need to review the way that they develop their talent - and some are but one wonders how many are just talking the talk......

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

McKinsey on Management practices that work - lessons for knowledge managers

Recently received some information from McKinsey on the subject of what makes companies perform well. They studied and reviewed over 100,000 questionnaires to uncover the practices of 400 business units in 230 companies around the world. Unfortunately, it doesn't say how many of these were knowledge based organisations - but one can imagine that there was a goodly percentage.

The analysis eventually discovered a common winning combination: They were

  1. clear roles for employees (accountability), 
  2. a compelling vision of change (direction), 
  3. and an environment that encourages openness, trust, and challenge (culture). 
Apparently no other option came close in improving organisational performance.

What’s more, the study found that organisational and financial performance correlate directly. An analysis of a global energy group’s production facilities, for example, suggested that for a facility of typical size and margins, better organisational performance had a payoff of $25 million to $30 million. Whilst this doesn't directly extrapolate to say a professional service firm - energy groups have been fairly successful in delivering returns on knowledge management. 

I was particularly interested in point no 3 as if that type of culture is truly in operation then it is likely that knowledge sharing in an organisation will flourish. 

Also it needs courage from the leaders not to abandon the way forward when the transition to a new way of working and performance may suffer slightly whilst your team are developing new ways of knowledge sharing. 

It also does not take into account the concept of tight and loose coupling as mentioned by John Roberts within an organisational structure and my next post will be on this concept.

However one area that is lacking is in disciplined experimentation and an ability to fail. I've always found that if we are allowed to fail responsibly we not only learn lessons but can pass those lessons on to fellow co-workers.

Although an interesting article, I feel that it needs to perhaps extend this research to the knowledge based organisation.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Another Comment on PSL's courtesy of Ron Friedman

A bit I forgot to add to my earlier post on PSL's I noted on Strategic Legal Technology blog and Ron Friedman which backs up both claims that the role of the PSL in UK firms is definitely changing and that the traditional PSL role will diminish in forward thinking law firms..

He wrote and I quote directly from his article.

At the risk of oversimplifying, UK firms have focused on a relatively labor- and human-intensive KM, relying heavily on practice support lawyers (PSL). In contrast, the US firms have focused on relatively technology-intensive KM, relying far more on software than on humans.

The traditional role of the PSL, however, appears to be changing. One sign of the change is the upcoming September 20th conference in London, Capitalising on the client-focused professional support lawyer role by the Ark Group. I have co-chaired Ark KM conferences in the US, so know that Ark gives careful thought to constructing an agenda that reflects current issues.

I am intrigued to see that this conference “will review the drivers for the PSL role becoming increasingly client-focused and how professional support needs to be able to encompass elements of client service, marketing and business development in order to remain competitive with other firms.” Speakers are from leading firms, including Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, Allen & Overy LLP, DLA Piper UK LLP, Eversheds LLP, Herbert Smith.
 LLP, Norton Rose, CMS Cameron McKenna LLP, Addleshaw Goddard LLP, Berwin Leighton Paisner LLP."

Thought for a Friday afternoon and a response

From Jeffrey Pfeffer

"Everybody has equal access to knowledge - however not everyone acts on it which gives an organisation competitive advantage"

I also read a great article from Bruce MacEwen who writes the excellent Adam Smith Blog on Knowledge Management. I wrote back to him and he was kind to post my response which is here but if you want to read it in full then click here .

I notice that there is a comment from another reader and I'd like to comment a little.

To me yes there are hidebound firms - but I do agree with his comments regarding altruism and have seen people that do give information for no desire for reward but academic research has shown that people do expect reciprocal altruism - or as I call it the God father approach to KM. 

I also don't believe that the PSL is dying out, I feel that the role needs to change and this is agreed by the reader who is looking at the role of the PSL in his firm and that the old style PSL who just does research will diminish and disappear. They will have to add value to the process and get involved in value added processes such as say an employment PSL running training course for particular clients. However, I think that firms will have to review their PSL's career paths - something I see this week Herbert Smith have started to do.

I have also read 'The Modern Firm" by John Roberts and also have read The Wealth of Nations so am fully aware of Adam Smith's views expressed in his work on Moral Sentiments and Wealth. 

My view is that if law firms or any other organisation wish to survive, then they will need to adapt and allow their employees and the organisations they serve to be able to create knowledge, capture that knowledge, connecting people and then finding ways to circulate that knowledge.  

One quote is quite apposite from Adam Smith "How selfish soever man may be supposed there are evidently some principles in his nature which interest him in the fortune of others and render their happiness necessary to him though he derives nothing from it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Meredith Levinson's ABC of Knowledge Management

If you are a manager and you are trying to get the hang of this knowledge management exercise, I came across last night on the CIO Web site this great article by Meredith Levinson which I would commend as a good starting point. Even if you are an experienced knowledge manager - it is stool a good aide memoire.

It answers those questions such as
  • What is Knowledge Management?
  • How can I sell a KM project in my organisation?
  • What technologies can support KM?
  • How can I demonstrate the value of a KM initiative?
  • and a number more
So if you'd like to find out more then click on this link to CIO - ABC of KM

By the way it might come up with an ad - just click on skip this ad to move it on to the article.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Bad Day at Black Rock

Been a bit busy on the job hunting front and had a bit of a bad day on Friday when 3 jobs I had been interviewed for came back to say that unfortunately I had not been selected - mainly due to over experience - anyway onwards and upwards.

I had an interesting e-mail on Saturday evening from a colleague which highlighted how people are using Amazon's Mechanical Turk as a means of searching for the lost aviator Steve Fossett. This involves people getting involved in Human Intelligence Tasks or HITS and getting paid for it if it is acceptable. 

I noticed that by this afternoon it was on the BBC web site so I imagine there are links all over the blogosphere. I'll be doing some this evening - but if you'd like to help then click on this link below.

Another example of using the crowds of people approach and viral marketing to provide useful knowledge. I often wondered when I was devising the knowledge management strategy at one firm whether there was a way we could use a mechanical turk approach to solve problems. I did come up with an answer to this but am not putting it out for the moment. 

Off on the search then.......

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

About to start a project - do you use prospective hindsight

One of the ideas, that I worked on was a variant of that well known practice within knowledge management of carrying out an after action review to gather the lessons and knowledge from every major project. The area that I looked at was going to be a before action review. The aim was two fold - one was to gather some of the participants  thoughts on the project and to tap in to their tacit knowledge. The other was to stop projects failing which they tend to do at regular intervals. I wanted people to bring their experiences to the table and to contribute any reservations or benefits before the team set off down the road so to speak.

There is an interesting article within the Harvard Business Review for September 2007 which highlights work done in the 1980's by Mitchell, Russo et al which discovered that 'prospective hindsight - imagining an event that has already happened increases the reasons for future outcomes by up to 30%. 

Gary Klein has utilised this research to suggest a pre-mortem approach to projects, which is used to identify risks - and asks team members to imagine that the project has failed spectacularly.  

Project members then write down independently every reason that they can think for the failure. Then team members are asked to read one item from their list (bit surprising this one as people depending on the culture of the firm will probably read out the one that is the least politically sensitive). 

It was interesting to read how this had been used to tap into a participants tacit knowledge and the groups social network to solve a potential project stopping issue.

It is interesting that Klein concludes as I did in my proposal - in that project team members then feel valued for their intelligence, experience and that other team members can learn valuable lessons from them. 

Also by examining problems at the start it also acclimatises people to look for early signs of trouble in the project and hopefully avoid the need for a painful after action review where people are too busy avoiding blame that useful knowledge doesn't get discovered and used for the benefit of the organisation.

Monday, September 03, 2007

All work and no play

If you have Google Earth and the latest version of it - they now have a flight simulator as an option

If you click here are the instructions

With a mouse it is quite a tricky operation and I've had a few prangs but getting the hang of it. Joysticks I think would be a better option. It works on both Mac and Windows platforms.

Anyway - enjoy

A light day

I've been chasing a few things up today but did some light reading over the weekend about projects and harnessing the wisdom of expert crowds as well as some old McKinsey articles about 'the war for talent'.

A couple of quotes stuck out from some of the articles and I thought that I'd like to share them with people just for a thought stirrer.

From Mary Cullinane at Microsoft's Partners in Learning.

"Companies are getting worried that they're not going to be able to find enough good employees."

From Scott Allen and David Teten in their book "The Virtual Handshake"

"Your success is driven in large part by your ability to leverage the community you build around you."

And finally - courtesy of  David Gurle quoted in Fast Company.

" A communications tool is only as good as the number of people it can reach."

I thought of these quotes to bear in mind when thinking about knowledge sharing in organisations when we consider the role of new collaborative technology and the human element. I'll be posting in a bit more detail on some of my reading during the week.