The Power of Postcards

Growing up, one of the chores I associated with holidays was the sending of postcards to family and friends. With no social media or smart phones, we kept in touch via letters and cards.  Yet the postcard is still highly effective as it is a tactile, non-technological and versatile object.

Here’s a few examples of how I have used it over the past few years:

To prompt future stories

Often at big events (especially the annual corporate ‘show and tell’) delegates leave with a list of to do’s that few will get done!

http://goldcard.ellieharrison.com/

At the conclusion of the annual gathering of country heads of a large global charity the delegates were given a postcard with a picture of the venue for next year’s event (in this case) Mexico City.

They were asked to write a postcard to themselves saying what they would have done by the time they arrived for next year’s gathering.

Here’s the instructions we gave them:

Its 2013 and you are in Mexico at MM13.  Imagine you are looking back on a successful year.  Write a postcard back to yourself or a friend. Describe a couple of events that took place; things you achieved; things you are proud of.

 

To prompt reflections

As part of an enquiry into the Evolving Role of the Knowledge Manager my colleagues and I at Sparknow wanted to get KIM professionals to chart how their working life has changed over the decade.  So we asked people at the Henley KM Forum to fill in a postcard to themselves to show what’s changed.

Here’s a great response:

Hello, we’ve almost forgotten how to pick up the phone or walk over to speak to people.  We spend a lot of time sending “texts” from our phones and reading about our friends’ activities from their “electronic” Facebook page.  It can be quite lonely at times.   Vicki.

To capture takeaways from an event

I was one of the speakers at the inaugural event in Khartoum of the Sudanese Knowledge Society in 2012.

The organiser’s challenge: how to get people to complete an evaluation without filling in a big form at the event while creating an embryonic community?

The solution: take a group picture and then send it to all the delegates as a virtual (PDF) postcard and ask them to share their takeaways from Khartoum.

Here’s the format we used for the takeaways and one of the points made::

I found strange: being asked to opine on subjects at a moment’s notice without any briefing; the sanguine acceptance of ‘Africa time’; being called an Australian; and wearing a cap and casual clothes to run a workshop (the closing session).

 

Overcoming the “How can I ask without looking silly?” barrier: KM Legal Europe

January in Amsterdam has become a bit of a tradition as is leading the opening session at KM Legal Europe.

My brief was to replicate 2016 and provide a stimulating opening. I was delighted with the enthusiastic response and the level of interaction that occured over the two days expertly led again by Chair Raffael Büchi.

So what did I see and hear (and learn), and where is Legal KM one year on?

What trends did I see?

The ‘big’ trends for me were:

  • A headlong rush into document automation. “Automating the drafting of legal documents” = intelligent workflow with knowledge embedded that reduces duplication and saves time. 50% of the room said their organisation was engaged in some form of document automation. And its easy to see why its appealing. One statistic that was shared: a saving of 200 lawyer hours a month from 1,150 templates automated. Interestingly this presents a great opportunity for KM’ers with Document Automation installaton experience. Not enough experience vs. too many installations. Importantly another value of Doc Auto: Training young lawers – gets them up to speed quicker as questions it poses makes them understand.
  • The ongoing challenge of getting adoption for the plethora of KM related initiatives: As one speaker suggested, the key is getting them set up yourself f2f. Don’t subcontract to IT. And ‘Celebrate’ use. Communication needs a good narrative to motivate people and get engagment. F2F meetings vital. Brand it as your product; Use advocates (Butterfly effect); Get testimonials.
  • How often reporting lines change for KM’ers as their sponsor moves on. Few I spoke to were on the Managing Committee, many had seen their sponsorship downgraded.

What surprised me?

  • The ease with which all the delegates (many in suits) enthusiastically engaged with the opening exercise I ran and were suprisingly open and candid about “what do you bring to the event?” and “what are the big issues you are facing and would like an answer to?”

  • That despite the promotional hype, machine learning engines still require a lot of manual input upfront from people with domain knowledge to get started which is why there is a growth in companies offering to do the setup work. Need to have engaged partner to drive document automation yet some lawyers enjoy drafting docs – issue: WIIFM (What’s in it for me?) is not addressed.
  • That some firms really get the value of KM. European Law Firm of Year; Swiss Law Firm of Year, UK Law Firm of Year. A Common thread? All have KM Heads who are attending the event. The European Law Firm of the Year had a Senior Partner, the Partner responsible for KM and the KM Head. They are one of few firms to have adopted ISO 9001 Quality Management -realised needed something to unify disparate offices and integrate aquisitions. The dna of the firm: based around the Practice Management System their default system (CRM plus) containing a body of knowledge on the Baltic region which can be put to multiple uses for the firm. It also serves as a timesheet for billable time. Challenge is how to replace so they embarked on a firm wide stakeholder engagement to produce a requirements specification. Note it was not seen as an IT Project!
  • The way in which the dynamic / energy changes at an event when it reverts to “Show and Tell” vs “Ask and Share” The lesson those engaged in the creating and running of events like this took away was that you need people energised from the ‘get go’ each day.
  • That many thought you could engage in Knowledge Capture via forms and macros. As I tweeted: My great fear – you don’t get critical knowledge captured by completing a form – you need to do it around events and in person!
  • That Data Breaches have become a way of life – firms need process for dealing with them as penalties are punitive.

Quotes that stuck (or got tweeted)

Machine learning needs external input to get it going, its a classic case of GIGO – Garbage in Garbage out!

AI: not magic, evolved from sophisticated search. Previously Autonomy inspired plus document automation and NLP thx

AI: when it works its looking at human processes and how to support /emulate with computers to help them make better decisions.

Choosing the right system for your firm is not an IT project, it is a deeply strategic decision – Aku

One revealing survey result from Lawyers: “How can I ask without looking silly?” – loss of face is a real barrier to adoptiion!

Adoption Tips for Sceptics: Articulate savings; Flatter Rocket Scientists and invite contributions; Ignore unbelievers who often turn when others are doing it and they feel peer pressure to join them.

Knowhow management is not a “ding an sich”, separated from other business functns. It’s just a regular part of good management.

 

What advice would I give Legal KM’ers?

  • Your role will involve more Curation and Facilitiation (2 of the 8 ‘ates I talk about elsewhere in describing the future role of the ‘Knowledgeur’) as the need to consolidate corporate knowledge becomes increasingly digital. Tools should be based on the strategic direction of the firm; learning (not training) sessions ensure people are versed in their use. But don’t forget one of the most important KM tools is Coffee – one new KM leader had 420 coffees in first couple of months!
  • Don’t be afraid to use external speakers to stimulate an in house response and introduce an element of competition. Round table cafes are successful in Switzerland – over food!
  • Embrace technology as it’s here to stay. Where possible use the systems already in house. Develop practice groups to help produce requirements specifications. And make sure you are clear the role each tool is playing.
  • You can achieve a lot with a little. Real change is often simple and inexpensive. In one example the PA’s wanted a practice group to organise calendars and email traffic and Intranet needed quick links. Both were low level but effective and resulted in improved productivity. Where possible use the systems already in house.
  • Be opportunistic: A Good KM /comms /engagement. The Brexit vote gave impetus to a “Hot Topic” project in one firm. By consolidating all that was known and equipping lawyers with answers the profile of the team rose. Learning: people like getting together to discuss topics.
  • KM Legal needs to be closely aligned with Learning & Development and HR. One firm developed a 1 week corporate program (mini MBA) that included KM focused on competency gaps. Their KM Committee reports straight to Managing Partner. It has teeth and includes core functions of the business.
  • Develop a suite of simple facilitation tools and techniques: One firms uses POSE acronym to drive all meetings: Purpose / Owner / Safety / Engagement. I’ve often used DEBRIEFS.
  • Become part of the business development process: Many firms now see KM involvement as important to winning new business or as part of the broader service offering.

And finally:

AI: when it works its looking at human processes and how to support / emulate with computers to help them make better decisions

I see this as being an evolution rather than a revolution. We are at Stage 3.

Stage 1 Search: Making documents, images and audio/video available and tagged;

Stage 2 Review & Connect: Analyse/summarise documents, images & audio/video push to relevant people. Identify patterns, connect; and

Stage 3 Predict & Facilitate: Using raft of data, information & accumulated knowledge to predict likely outcome & facilitate

One of the real highlights was that 20 people joined me for an impromptu conference dinner at a nearby Pho Vietnamese Restaurant. It reinforced the importance of food and drink in being lubricants for great conversations.

I took away a feeling that this question is still not being addressed satisfactorily and that firms remain at risk when people and teams leave or are acquired:

The risk of critical knowledge loss is not just about what people know, its about who they know and what networks they might know.

Perhaps AI will help in consolidating the know how of firms and hence build resilience into their models which remain vulnerable if people (and teams leave). Certainly the approach being adopted by the European Law Firm of the year of integrating CRM and workflow with precedents and transaction management is a bold step. Only time will tell if its successful and becomes the blueprint.

“You have the wrong passport”: KM in Khartoum

I’ve been in Khartoum. I was there as President Trump announced the ban on travellers from 7 countries which included Sudan. The impact on morale (a week after the outgoing Obama administration had eased sanctions on the country) was palpable. Bans don’t hit the powerful they hit ordinary people with families overseas or like many I spoke to who visit the US for work or research.

a week on “Managing Knowledge in a Connected World”

So it was a poignant backdrop to the week long visit as part of the series of events “Managing Knowledge in a Connected World” I’d organised with the Sudanese Knowledge Society.

Those of you who follow the work I do might recall a change of approach this year. Included in a paragraph on my values and approach for 2017 I said:

I am counting my blessings and getting on with doing ‘stuff’ I think will make a difference in different parts of the globe and where less is definitely more.

This was the first opportunity where I felt my presence might act as a catalyst to advancing KM practice while providing encouragement and support. Sponsored by some of Sudan’s leading companies and universities and also the World Bank Group Sudan it comprised four main events:

  • Workshop on Sudanese Internet Content — 28 – 29 January
  • Forum on Knowledge Sharing — 30 January
  • Masterclass on Knowledge Audits — 31 January
  • Reverse Brainstorm Session on Virtual Work — 1 February

Khartoum International Airport

As with any visit where you are reliant on others to make arrangements there is an amount of trepidation as you step off the plane and enter the customs hall: will the person who is going to help me get a visa be there; will the authorities let me in?

After a short delay, while I negotiated with the immigration authorities over paying my ‘entry fee’ in Euros (which I had and they don’t accept) vs Dollars (which I didn’t have and they do accept), my welcoming party arrived to settle the entry fee and ease me through.

Corinthia Hotel Khartoum

I was excited by the prospect of returning to a country I first visited in 2010 and to a hotel (Corinthia) that remains an iconic structure in a prime position overlooking the Nile. My initial impression is Khartoum has changed little since I was there in 2013. It has a feel of Jeddah in the mid 80’s but with a few iconic structures.

The absence of cranes in sharp contrast to Dubai where I stopped en route suggests a country that is struggling economically due to the loss of oil revenues from the secession of South Sudan.

enriching Sudanese intranet content

Day One/Two: Early morning in Khartoum is magical when you overlook the Nile and the view from my suite is amazing.

The call to prayer evokes a fond memory of decades of travel to the Middle East (and Arabic speaking Africa) and the mid to high 20’s temperature a welcome change from the grey cold that is the England I left behind.

I was asked to give the opening Keynote at this event and to set the following two day’s of activities into context.

My laptop is not compatible with the projector despite having the adapter. As always I have backed up my work on DropBox and given secure access to Professor Gada Kadoda the driving force and inspiration behind the Sudanese Knowledge Society.

The two day event is predicated on the assumption that content is key to the success of a country and business. These points emerged:

  • Information and Digital Literacy Skills are in short supply;
  • Slow line speeds make uploading of content in a web based environment difficult;
  • There is limited use of the internet in Sudan but everyone uses mobiles to connect with such as Facebook which is widely embraced;
  • People don’t trust “Facebook News” (or any other) and there is limited content or data. But what there is people don’t know about;
  • There is no recognised and agreed Arabic Natural Language Directory (the base on which software such as Artificial Intelligence might build); and
  • There isn’t a culture of sharing (and storing) content in organisations.

creating a knowledge sharing environment: the role of HR professionals

DAM HR Forum

Day Three and the program shifts from strategic to operational. I am ‘booked’ for an evening with leading HR professionals. I begin by moving everyone around and asking them to make introductions. I repeat the instruction a couple of times. The third time I just ask them to move and the attendees naturally engage and answer the question, “what does KM mean to you?”

In plenary reflection they note how a neutral object (me) created an environment that broke down barriers enabling them to engage in a way they would have not done before.

Three hours fly by. The group has identified barriers to knowledge sharing and come up with a number of ways to overcome them. They leave engaged and animated at 10pm in the evening after I close with a few illustrations of what a Cheif People Officer who looks after the KM function does.  Grateful thanks here to Penny Newman who answered a few questions from me prior to my visit to Sudan.

masterclass on Knowledge Audits: a practical guide

‘Room 1’ Proposed Masterclass venue

Day Four and I am up early to check whether the room we are going to spend a full day in is fit for purpose. As expected there are a few ‘niggles’ to be resolved but its so much better than the room originally allocated.

Theoretically Room 1 may have seated 20 but with no natural light and little space to move around it would have sucked all the energy out of the room.

14 turn up and all really engage as the feedback confirmed.

Actual Masterclass venue

“It was a wonderful opportunity to have participated in a such an informative session, I hope we could get more such opportunities.
I found your Talk and Master Class about KM and KA very interesting and informative.

Was delighted to be among the participants, thanks to Paul to be able to cover all this important material without us losing interest and enthusiasm. It is a novel and rewarding start that we will hopefully plan and implement at our different organizations.”

reverse brainstorm on working virtually

Graduate group in a reverse brainstorm session

Day Five was spent with the future leaders of Sudan and another 3 hour session with graduates and members of Education without Borders Sudan. After showing a few videos and slides about working virtually I asked the 65 people present to get into 6 groups of 10 and discuss what they could do to make virtual working fail. Though not much room to move about everyone jumped at the chance of getting into a practical exercise.

A couple of observations on the facilitation technique I used:

  • Getting everyone’s attention is a challenge. This time if people didn’t ‘come to order’ quickly I made a point of asking the recalcitrant one’s what they were discussing pointing out to the room that often people carry on conversations because they are enthused.
  • It’s good to share. The act of going round the room in a circular fashion to see what the other teams have done creates momentum and illustrates that its not just about your ideas. Some teams ended up using ideas from other teams in their final submissions.
  • Voting (everyone has a sticky dot to place on the issue they think is most important) is a great hit and provides a visual image of how the room thinks

and finally

As is often the case you learn so much about a country and its people from its stories and proverbs. Having read a number before I left Gatwick I kept this in mind for all my sessions:

Our wasted days are the days we never laugh

After a week there and seeing how my visit served to pull many people together this one struck me as being apposite:

If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a closed room with a mosquito.

And so to the title: if there is one abiding memory I took away its the resilience of the population and the young who have had so many doors slammed in their faces yet come back for more. I recall one moving story from a very bright and well qualified woman who was repeatedly told by big western institutions: “You are the perfect fit for the job and we’d hire you tomorrow if we could, we can’t, you have the wrong passport!” She is marooned in Khartoum unable to get a local job that fits her expertise and unable to leave!

Now onto the next ‘mission’ which is to Kuala Lumpur and a Masterclass on “Working smarter in a knowledge world: why space matters for collaboration, innovation and knowledge transfer” in conjunction with the International Islamice University of Malaysia. Much more on that next time.

A new way of working at The Edge, the world’s smartest (and greenest) building

the_edge-gallery04

Last Tuesday I spent the afternoon at the world’s smartest and greenest building as the guest of Miriam Tops of Deloitte and Erik Ubels of OVG Real Estate (and formerly CIO of Deloitte).

Imagine arriving at your place of work and being directed to an area or office suitable for that day’s work; where the lighting and heating adjust automatically to suit your preferences; where the coffee you like is dispensed from one of the best coffee machines available; and where if you need anything a concierge service is on hand to get it for you.

That’s the start of a day in the life of a knowledge worker at Deloitte Amsterdam.

The Edge is a contemporary new building located in an emerging business district close to Schipol Airport, the motorway and railway, yet a 15 minute drive to the centre of the city. It is home to 2,700 workers with desks allocated on arrival each day to accommodate approximately 50% reflecting changing work patterns.

a fusion of Data Analytics and great contemporary design

Conceived by the largest real estate technology company in Holland OVG it is an astonishing example of how to use natural light, the sun, the earth and other natural materials to power a building, provide a sustainable infrastructure while creating an innovative environment in which to work. A helicopter view of the roof would reveal little expensive equipment apart from solar panelling which is also built into the external facade.

The EdgeIt is the forerunner of many such buildings and OVG are not resting on their laurels. Erik and his colleagues have far reaching plans to change the way buildings and those who inhabit them work.

IMG_5877_1024

The ‘smarts’ lie in the way data analytics sourced in part from the lighting and delivered by a smart app are used to stimulate a new way of working.  These were developed by the project team which Erik headed and which drew up countless simulations of working practices based on a set of personae.

The Knowledge Management component is interesting. Erik and Miriam (who heads Deloitte’s Dutch KM activity) were part of a Knowledge Council which also included Talent / People Management (HR), Facilities Management and various other practice groups.  The council’s input was valuable in determining how the building might be used,

Deloitte RobotThe building never sleeps: at night a robot patrols the ground floor obviating the need for on site security and maintenance.

 

Return on Investment

Innovation comes at a cost. Many of the components were more expensive but will deliver a payback. Already the company has seen:

  • Lower energy and service costs due to investment in climate ceilings and new sustainable technology (LoE)
  • Acquisition of new business (clients love the building and all it says about Deloitte)

I am sure there are many ‘hidden’ benefits around productivity, staff acquisition, engagement and retention which are not in the public domain but integral to making the building such a success.

and finally

If anyone is looking for a great example of the idea of ‘Orchestrated Serendipity’ The Edge is the building to go see. Don’t just take my word for it, take a look at great (shortish) videos shot by Bloomberg and CNN Tech and an excellent piece by the BBC’s Technology Team.

A huge thanks then to Miriam, Erik and Andrea Stevenson who heads Deloitte’s Global Outreach KM team and who connected me to Miriam.

 

 

Managing networks and Working Out Loud: Collaboration and Knowledge Matchmaking skills

The world is shrinking. At any given moment I know where many of my friends and colleagues are. Technological footprints are heavy and long lasting.

This week for example I see that Arthur Shelley is in Moscow with Ron Young at KM Russia, Donald Clark is in Belfast picking up an award, Phil Hill is getting fit (ter) in Thailand, Patrick Lambe is having breakfast in Lisboa. Gregga Baxter and his wife are supporters of WaterHealth in India.

Through cultivating personal networks I also know what’s happening this week in Khartoum, Tehran, Dubai and Harare. To many that may seem frivolous information; to others (including me) its valuable and if I don’t know then I know a man (or woman) who can. Let me illustrate the issue with a true story.

the art of network management

Many years ago I was charged with setting up the forerunner of a Knowledge Management function for a financial services business in the City of London. It struck me how badly senior officials shared diaries let alone knowledge about clients.

One day I was in the office of the Treasurer of the national oil company of a prosperous Middle East country. As I was about to leave he asked me to stay for the next meeting.

In came four suited bankers. My client took the lead introducing himself and me (as his Advisor). He then asked each one to introduce themselves. And to everyone’s surprise they were from different offices and areas of the same institution. They had all flown down on separate planes to see the same client.

The Treasurer said his diary was open to meetings with the institution but not multiple visits. They lost face not to mention the cost of the travel and opportunity cost.

So knowing what I did I came back to London and, with the support of the CEO, developed and introduced Visit Information Centre (VIC) which showed all visits to our organisation and all meetings outside of it.  Embedded in the day to day workflow the aim was to maximise the valuable time our organisation spent with a client and make sure those in any meeting were briefed on the latest activity. Today this is or should be standard practice; then it involved a shift in mindset.

So fast forward to 12th December 16; its 2pm and I am having an exchange on Facebook with Patrick Lambe about Lisboa where he is spending a week. Concurrently I see that Ana Neves (founder and organisor of SocialNow and “Mrs KM” in Portugal) is online on Skype. I know Ana lives a mere 15 minutes train ride from where Patrick is spending the afternoon. I also know both of them well and believe they would benefit from meeting each other.

Using Messenger I hook them both up and they meet later that afternoon to discuss inter alia an idea I thought both might profit from.

meeting-by-the-tejo

Tea by the Tejo

I coined the phrase “Orchestrated Serendipity” to describe occurences such as this. I have also used the term “making correlations between seemingly unrelated pieces of information”.

In this example I have nothing potential to gain other than knowing that two people I like and respect are now acquainted so my network grows stronger.

Here’s an example of how one thing can lead to another.

an example of ‘Working out Loud’

A few weeks back out of the blue Martin White of Intranet Focus shared a draft white paper on Digital Workplace Governance with myself, James Robertson, Jane McConnell, Sam Marshall and a couple of others. His invitation, which left it up to us as to how we might respond, read:

Colleagues
The attachment is me working out loud on digital workplace governance on a Friday afternoon
Regards
Martin

Our approaches were different. Some came back immediately. Others took their time. Some used comments in Word, others rewrote paragraphs. As Martin said, “the responses always challenge your own thinking.”

I am sure John Stepper (who is widely credited with kicking off the Working out Loud movement) and Ana Silva who is a great proponent of it would be enthused.

Knowledge Matchmaking?

These two exchanges got me thinking about the way I work, the organisations I’ve worked for, the clients I’ve worked with and the networks I am involved in. I have never acted as an introductions broker seeking reward so do organisations and people see value in it?

Previously as a Senior Manager charged with developing new business, my ability to match a need with a solution was prized and rewarded even though the correlation was opaque to my bosses. More often than not the intuition paid off. But does the same apply today in a Knowledge Management environment where logarithms and Artificial Intelligence are making the correlations I used to make?

Perhaps more importantly do people in Knowledge Management have the time, the confidence and the knowledge of the business to be able to put forward ideas and broker connections?

If they do then here’s a few tips:

  1. You have to be in it to win it: if you sit on the sidelines this will never happen.
  2. Be willing to take a risk: yes you might fall flat on your face! But experience tells me that if you go the extra mile people will come back for more.
  3. Be willing to do this without expectation of reward: it’s always difficult to measure the impact in a world of KPI’s. You have to play a long game but be willing to cut if you feel you are being taken for a ride.
  4. Be willing to acknowledge the contribution of others: from personal experience I’ve found there is nothing worse than someone taking what you’ve suggested and packaging it without attribution. A photo is a great way of saying thank you!
  5. Build trust so people are willing to confide in you and trust your judgement: unless you are willing to find out about people and what they do you will never be able to make these connections.
  6. Be clear about why you are making the introduction or sharing Knowledge: I used to be in the cc camp that so many inhabit believing that by informing everyone I was covering all bases. People are too busy and ignore ‘junk mail’.
  7. Develop your internal filtering mechanism: you have to know your business and identify who is going to be a taker vs. a reciprocator.
  8. Respect the contribution people make if you ask for advice: whatever you get back from people is important. They have committed scarce time and each time you ask for a response you are drawing on your reserve of credibility.
  9. Develop a skin as thick as a Rhino: you will be disappointed when others don’t follow your lead and use the contacts or information without acknowledgement. And remember 90% of people online are lurkers so will not go public with their thanks.

And finally

To prove that this is a reciprocal situation. In August I attended an Improvisation event in Oxford. It wasn’t on my radar but Nancy White had posted a comment about it so based on her recommendation I decided to attend: As a Quid pro Quo I wrote up my experiences for the greater KM4Dev community.

If you want good reading on collaboration, Martin and Luis Suarez have been exchanging comments on a fascinating blog post from Luis: “Stop blaming the tools when collaboration fails”.