What Turkish steps and an Iranian wrestler can teach us about learning during and learning after.

Its 00.15 on Monday morning and Turkish Airlines flight TK0898 from Istanbul Sabiha Gokcen International Airport has arrived on stand 20 minutes late in swirling snow at Tehran Imam Khomeini International Airport. To be fair the journey which started at London Gatwick at 11.55 on Sunday has been very good but with a busy day ahead, and a 60 Turkish Air Stepsminute drive to Hotel Niloo, the chances of being in bed much before 2am are receeding.  Then events take a turn for the worse!

The steps to dissembark have a fault and it will be a further 20 minutes before an alternative is delivered to offload a plane load of very grumpy passengers many of whom are Europeans on the first visit to Iran.

Fortunately I am at the front of the plane so able to converse with the Cabin Cheif.  She is looking at the manual of useful information to give passengers during the flight and there is no entry to cover this situation. So she declines to make a comment while passengers fulminate. It could have all been so different!

I am a great fan of checklists believing them to be knowledge enabled documents which should be, if they are regularly updated, the best practices of an organisation. And as I was to suggest during my client visit the best way to bring about a change in checklists often starts with an After Action Review (AAR) or a Learning Review.

I know organisations where after an event (like the end of a flight) the team would have held a quick debrief using the AAR template:

  • What was supposed to happen;
  • What did happen;
  • Why was there a difference:
  • What can we learn from this;
  • What can we do better next time;
  • What actions should we take; and
  • Can we celebrate success?

The AAR session would have surfaced all the issues about the lack of communication and (maybe) occasioned a change in operating procedures and their checklist – encouraging the cabin staff to keep people updated when things go wrong!

This is where the true value of tools such as AAR come in, they are precursors to a change in procedures or checklists. Many organisations’ Knowledge Management (KM) activity culmiates in the share and reuse step. I have come to realise while working alongside Ron Young and Knowledge Associates that the true value of KM comes from the step of Harvesting which involves turning what has been collected into learning’s and proposed process improvements which the process owner and subject matter experts review and accept or reject.  Checklists then get updated (or not) at that point and the organisation learns from doing!

Lessons Learned when ‘my knowledge is my soul’

For the Harvesting step to work effectively though there has to be an environment that recognises and values the process of capturing and building on learning’s from such tools as AAR. Too often this process throws up dozens of action points few of which get actioned. If you can’t count the actions on the fingers of one hand its unlikely anything will happen as a result.

A few years ago in Khartoum I was to discover that knowledge has a more spiritual feel/meaning in the Arabic and Farsi speaking world. ‘My knowledge is my soul’ is a good indicator of how personal knowledge is viewed and this (taken from a corporate Code of Ethics booklet) reinforces the view that a purely Western approach to the use of tools such as After Action Reviews, Lessons Learned Workshops and Pause & Reflect sessions will not work:

We believe the ethical confrontation with failures should be through awareness, consultation giving the subordinates the opportunity to rectify and compensate for mistakes and applicaton of regulations fairly,,,

So what will? Perhaps this gives an insight.

The Wrestler’s story

During my recent trip to Iran I was taken to the landmark Milad Tower. Around the viewing gallery are a collection of silicon ‘wax’ works of some of Iran’s most famous and loved figures.  There are many poets, writers, a few politicians and one sportsman:

Iran Wrestler

Gholamreza Takhti

Gholamreza Takhti is one of the most, if not the most, loved sportsman in Iran. Here’s why: Takhti tended to act fairly when competing against rivals during his career, something which originated from traditional values of Zurkhaneh, a kind of heroic behaviour that epitomizes chivalrous qualities known as Javanmardi.

For instance, once he had a match with Russian wrestler Alexander Medved who had an injured right knee. When Takhti found out that Medved was injured, he avoided touching the injured leg and tried to attack the other leg instead. He lost the match, but showed that he valued honorable behavior more than reaching victory.

This act of chivalry and exceptional sportsmanship is seen as the desired way to behave and permeates a lot of business dealings.

And finally

Effective Knowledge Management relies on effective Personal Knowledge Management.  Appealing to the corporate good and the team ethic is not going to win supporters or make people feel individually empowered.

Addressing the  ‘What’s in it for me?’ question is vital: this is not purely about money but also recognition, self esteem and personal development.  It’s one reason why many senior corporate positions are filled by academics and people value certification as a way of demonstrating knowledge and expertise.

On the downside it can breed a culture of learning but not necessarily doing: ‘if I am to be punished for making a mistake then why would I try to do it in the first place and I certainly won’t acknowledge it afterwards.’

While we in the West think its quite natural to have an open and frank dialogue about what we could do better next time, its not always the case elsewhere. Our challenge is to find a way to surface learning’s and build them back into process while recognising its counter culture in a personal risk averse environment.

how to draw on the experience of others: OpenSpace Peer Assist

Last week I attended the 12th annual Knowledge Management UK event in London.

The format has changed little over the years: predominantly show and tell for IMG_3607an audience that is a mix of new in post and established mid level practitioners all looking for something to take back into their business.

This year I noted an increase in the average age of the delegates and more from Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) sector perhaps reflecting how KM has become an accepted discipline across many organisations. I am particularly looking forward to seeing the feedback comments this year.

I only attended Day One, my colleague Martin White was presenting on Knowledge Collaboration in Virtual Teams on Day Two (I know he will have a few comments to add). Suffice here to give a shout for a couple of the presentations which struck a chord:

Culture Change in bentley motors to facilitate information sharing

Bentley CultureI particularly liked this Bentley Motors presentation as it mirrored my experience helping to intergrate a group of Anglo / Dutch / German / US businesses a decade ago. Now part of VAG group it has embarked on a medium term programme to align itself with their aspirations and working practices without a loss of the perception of quality.

The Hofstede findings when looking at German and UK characteristics pick up nicely where the potential Hofstede country comparisonareas of conflict were likely to be.

The premise behind the programme: information sharing requires the right cultural environment not a set of slloed business units.

building a minimum viable product: Oxfam

This session provided a great illustration of the importance of working to an agreed vision for a KM programme.

OxfamThe slide I’ve picked here makes explicit the concept of get/give – if you benefit from something you have a responsibility to contribute something back in return.

Its a great example of what being a knowledge driven business is truly about.

The second slide provides an image of what collaboration will look like in Oxfam Futurethe future at Oxfam. What’s really interesting is the explicit acknowledgement of the need for information underpinnings (including Search) to provide KM benefits.

There were a couple of others and if anyone wants a truncated account follow this hashtag #KMUK2015.

OpenSpace Peer Assist

My brief was to run an interactive closing session (lasting 1 hour) that enabled the delegates to answer:

  • What problems are you facing?
  • In what areas would you like to share your experience with others?
  • What are others doing that you would like to find out more about?

Typical problemsAs a backdrop I shared this list to stimulate discussion.

It wasn’t needed as many of the delegates were keen to have their challenge discussed and half a dozen volunteers came forward offering to act as the Assistee (host the discussion around their challenge).


Having decided which challenge each delegate wanted to discuss, these guidelines were put up:Peer Assist Process

Below is a snapshot of the discussions taken from summaries which Laura Brooke of Ark Group  captured on her smart phone.

The idea of getting the Assistee to summarise is to consolidate the discussions and reflect back in plenary. I’ve shared them in case some of these might help you to overcome a challenge.

Knowledge Capture In a Legal environment

  • On getting people to talk about experiences: Documents don’t work, stories of events do!
  • On conducting After Action Reviews and getting people to acknowledge when things go wrong: often spoken about in meetings but minutes are not always taken and when they are they are not interactive so need a better way to record.
  • Asking someone to tell you what they know won’t work, instead ask them: What questions do you get asked all the time?  If you don’t know what people know at least you should know who to go and ask?
  • Challenge of self perceptions: Some people think they know a lot others don’t think they know anything important which is where a 3rd party might come in to tease out the valuable stuff.
  • Where to store: If you put everything into a site it would be too much. SharePoint to apply an automatic taxonomy.

how to measure real value on km and learning from experience

  • Saving time: at the beginning of the journey take an estimate of time to be saved and OpenSource Peer Assistmeasure throughout.  Help to develop people faster.  If KM is making a contribution on a project that should be recorded.
  • Improving the onboarding process so that new hires do not lose interest and leave.
  • Idea box (self funding): adopted by an expert, any returns should be applied back to KM.
  • Managing records: looking at information that has gone past sell by date and not legally required.
  • Why are we asked about KM value: should be a given that its needed.

system adoption

  • Practical examples of what’s in it for me tailored for each office.
  • Huge challenge getting people to fill in profiles on a people finder: need to show good examples with leaders to the fore.
  • Collaborative groups: form a community among the leaders of each.
  • Contributions to the system: change appraisal process to recognise the contributions.
  • Steering Group: make better use of it as system advocate.
  • Metrics: really good internal measures should be used for advertising.
  • When all else fails shut down the other systems!

How to get leaders to take km more seriously

  • While senior people understand the value they don’t back it financially.
  • Siloed approach to communications: – a set of inconsistent messages even from KM champions.
  • While KM is part of a strategy its often seen as a tick box exercise.
  • Accountability: make objectives more transparent.
  • Business Case: more analysis on where we are starting from and show tangible stuff.
  • Reporting lines: KM should be an agenda item on senior level meetings just like risk!

Engaging with it

  • Make them heroes part of the vision for future which they jointly own and where their role is clear.
  • Recognise their workload and surface their inability to deal with multiple objectives with current resources.
  • Reaffirm the importance of the KM development strategy and its priority.
  • Look at success in other organisations: take IT ‘guys’ along to other organisations who have made it work.

what the participants said

Here’s a few of the comments from the Assistees and Assistors (names removed to preserve anonymity):

“Peer assist is a very powerful tool to deliver”
“I very much enjoyed being able to discuss a particular challenges with a group of peers.

Interesting to hear others’ view points and ideas and the types of challenges they face”
“Very good speaker – Style of session was very useful and interesting, more like this please!”
“Engaging, fun, informative – learned a lot from the session”
“Very good peer assist. I got a few ideas generated by the group for my situation”

and finally

Perhaps what surprised me the most was the show of hands I got to the question:

A Peer assist is a process that enables the gathering of knowledge drawn from the experiences of colleagues before embarking on a project or piece of work, or when facing a specific problem or challenge within a piece of work – How many of you have used Peer Assists in your business?

Less than 10% put up their hands.  Even with a modesty factor it still means less that 25% of Knowledge Management professionals at the event had used one of the most basic and valuable tools to draw on the experiences of others.  I’m glad I gave people the chance to try it out and learn from each other in so doing to solve real problems they are facing.


Future of Legal KIM: ‘Death of Difference’ and the need for effective legal project management

A really timely thought piece ‘Becoming the law firm clients really want’ landed on my desk this week. The future of LawBy Peppermint Technology Research, it characterised the future of law firms as being ‘the death of difference’ noting that legal will become much like other sectors. This scenario has profound implications for lawyers, professional support lawyers and legal knowledge & information management (KIM) professionals.

On December 9th Martin White and I will be hosting a breakfast breakout event at the RSA The future for Legal KIM: An Outside-In perspective.  In it we will look at some of the issues facing KIM professionals. Martin and I have worked in many industries across many countries; we’ve seen and been involved in seismic shifts in the KIM roles in engineering, energy, the 3rd sector, publishing, software and finance. Our thinking in putting this event together was to share some of our experiences in a relaxed setting with like minded legal KM’ers.

So over the past few weeks in the run up to the event we have been looking at the four big issues research had told us were near the top of the legal professions ‘must do’ list.

  • Lawyers come and go – capturing knowledge at speed
  • Getting the best from virtual teams
  • Collaboration and KM beyond the firewall
  • Bringing it all together – legal project management

I began with Going but not forgotten: knowledge capture in a hurry, Martin then wrote  The opportunities for digital workplace adoption by law firms and  Certifying virtual teams – a key skill in digital workplace implementation.

bringing it all together – legal project management

Today I am going to focus (from a KIM perspective) on the challenges of setting up a project management infrastructure that allows an organisation to learn from previous experiences and feed back learnings from the project back into the business.

There are many project management disciplines being used in industry. The Stage-Gate new product development (NPD) methodology is one example in which the veracity of new products are assessed and resources allocated according to a set of criteria for each stage of the process. Knowledge capture is built into the process.

Irrespective of the system you adopt below are a few of the questions you will need to be asking (I’ve omitted the obvious budget ones):

set up (learning before)

  • What do we know about this subject and what has been done before?
  • Who is an expert (internal and external) and can we get their input before starting the project?
  • Who should we invite to the Kick Off meeting and how do we want to structure that?
  • What structures are we going to use for management, monitoring and decision making?
  • Who is going to be on the Project Steering Group and how do we manage those stakeholders and others? How often should they meet and in what format?
  • How are we going to capture the outcomes of meetings, store the material we generate and make people aware of what’s happening?
  • How do we collaborate across teams and boundaries to ensure the best possible decisions are made based on the best?

conduct (learning during)

  • Who do we go to for answers to tricky questions that arise and how do we do that?
  • How often are we feeding learnings back into our project?
  • Who is providing updates and in what format?
  • Where are we storing progress reports?

conclusions (learning after)

  • What format will the debrief take and who will be invited?
  • When and where will you hold it?
  • Who will be tasked to action the outcomes?

I remember a conversation once with Professor Victor Newman on his Baton Passing Technique which arose in part to ensure project knowledge is passed on.  He said:

The big problem in managing learning to have an impact is to know what knowledge is useful, to whom, the form it should take, where and when it is best applied and when best to share it

Baton PassingAlongside is an extract from the slides Victor and the British Council made available.  It works, I’ve tried it!

I have used in addition: After Action Reviews, Pause & Reflects, Retrospects to name but three.



Earlier this year APQC published an interview with me in which I described the concept of DEBRIEF as a technique for capturing learnings at the end of various stages of projects. I will talk more about that on the 9th.  It’s not too late to sign up here!

and finally

Too often the KIM team are excluded from the project management processes in favour of an accredited (Prince 2 trained) Project Manager. In my view that’s a grave mistake, there are KM techniques for each step of the process and the good KIM’er will be well versed in facilitating such interventions.

If you fail to learn from what you’ve done then you will not improve as a business and will be uncompetitive with those who do.




‘…there’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge’: learning lessons from winning teams

So says Paul Azinger, the last US Captain to win the Ryder Cup, in the aftermath of the 2014 event and the accompanying soul searching. He implicitly acknowledges the importance of building on what ‘you’ know as an institution if you are to be successful.  This is what he said:

A big difference between us and them is that Europe always has a succession plan. McGinley was surrounded by past captains and future captains, and they all reap the benefits. We’re lone rangers as far as captains go. Nobody knows what we’ve done in the past. There’s zero collaboration or institutional knowledge.


why Team Europe’s victory is relevant to business

Why is the outcome of a biennial golf match of interest to lawyers and others who work in highly rewarded and individualistic roles? Because the players are all ‘Rock Stars’ in their own right who come together sporadically to play (and win) against their peer group.

What stands out about the European approach? Meticulous planning, attention to detail, clarity over roles before, during and after each Ryder Cup match and a willingness to acknowledge that no one player is bigger than the team.  Business is no different relying on a collaborative team approach and a set of shared values.

In October 2012 Apple CEO Tim Cook reshuffled his team, this is how it was reported in a Bloomberg Business Week interview:

“The key in the change that you’re referencing is my deep belief that collaboration in essential for innovation – and I didn’t just start believing that. I’ve always believed that,” said Cook. “It’s always been a core belief at Apple. Steve very deeply believed in this.”

Cook said that he wanted to ensure that Apple takes its already “enormous” level of collaboration even higher. “There are many things. But the one thing we do, which I think no one else does, is integrate hardware, software, and services in such a way that most consumers begin to not differentiate anymore.”

“You have to be an A-plus at collaboration,” Cook continued. “And so the changes that we made get us to a whole new level of collaboration.”

Here’s how commentator Kristine Kern (@kristinekern) of the Table Group saw this move:

Let’s be clear: Ousting a rock star from your team — or asking them to change their ways — is not always something you can do. But it’s something you should consider. “Like most things, it’s not black and white,” Kern concludes. “Organizational health requires rock stars do both stellar and healthy work. Which shouldn’t be a problem: Most true rock stars rise to a challenge. Just don’t be afraid to demand it.”

why shared values matter

Some time ago I was the Business & Strategy Advisor to an Anglo-Dutch company in the professional services / software business. It was around the dotcom boom period when investors were falling over themselves to back the next hot opportunity. Company valuations were bizarre: at one point on revenues of $20m we had a market cap that was 40 times bigger. Our AIM share price went from £1.25 to £16+. It was easy to be profligate, we weren’t and I take personal pride in having taken the lead on travel budgets and integrating the acquisitions we made.

As we grew (acquiring first a US firm, then a German one) and shifted our centre of operations (and development) from Europe to the USA the Executive Management team all recognized the importance of having a set of values and a structure that could transcend global operations while recognizing cultural nuances peculiar to the location of each office.

What might go down well as a motivational incentive in Denver would need tweaking to be embraced in Maastricht let alone in Guildford. We needed a framing device that everyone in the business could buy into and in the management’s case the cojones to ‘get with the programme’. So we organised a cross company group of all levels to work through what they wanted out of the business – how they wanted to be treated as employees and in most cases, shareholders.

To this day I can remember the constituent parts:

  • a clear vision understood by all
  • a meritocracy that rewarded success and took action on poor performance
  • inspiring and visible leadership
  • a place that was fun to work where you could pick up the phone to anyone.

We had 6 locations and office sizes ranged from 12-50.  We had a central sales/CRM system everyone used and we had quarterly conference calls with the management team where people could ask what they wanted. Board meetings rotated around the various offices, one was virtual the next in situ. When tough decisions were required we were clear about why they were being taken and communicated that.

Of course technology and process played a role, the corporate intranet was a good information source. We conducted Peer Assists, After Action Reviews; we fed our learnings back into the development process and we used what we learned to reengineer the business around the Stage-Gate New Product Development Process.

The going got tough, people got let go, yet Sopheon survived and today has an award winning software, Accolade, with embedded Knowledge deployed in the innovation and new product departments across hundreds of organisations globally.

so what

Whether business or sport, people respond to good leaders who provide guidance and clarity, hold people to account for poor performance and recognize/reward exceptional performance. They are also good at making the right decision and leading teams through implementation by inspiration, perspiration and collaboration. I’m sure those will feature prominently when Captain McGinley releases the inevitable ‘Building a winning Ryder Cup Team’, book.

Good decisions are informed by good knowledge: of clients, of markets and of resources. Knowledge Management when performed well becomes ingrained behaviour and Knowledge Sharing is a core element.

and finally

I am indebted to Euan Semple (who talks and writes common sense) for my summary. Taken from his excellent tome ‘Organisations Don’t Tweet, People Do‘ Euan argues that in today’s interconnected world it is increasingly important to be seen to add value and to be seen to be knowledgeable and willing to share that knowledge. He goes further:

In the old days ‘knowledge is power’ used to mean holding on to it and only giving it out judiciously to certain people. In an Internet world there is no point in having knowledge if people don’t know you have it, and if you are not prepared to share it. Web tools enable more knowledge to flow more readily around your organisation. Taking part in this process is going to be more obviously a part of being more productive than ever before. Being able and willing to share your knowledge will become a key business skill.

Collaboration is the mechanism by which Knowledge is often shared. It is something Apple and the US Ryder Cup designate (a forecast from me – Azinger to be the US Captain in 2016) recognise as being a core ingredient for a successful venture. So should you!

How to become smarter: turning knowledge into an asset

Last week my 86 year old mother fell over an uneven paving slab on her way back from the library. Southfields Road PavementsThe swelling and bruising came out immediately and fortunately her wrist which took the impact of the fall wasn’t broken. Hand

She was badly shaken up by the event and took to her bed as a result.

Living in a location where a good number of the 100k residents are past retirement age according to a 2013 article Seaside town first place in country with average age of more than 70 and with many suffering impaired vision I decided to report the incident in the hope that the pavement might be fixed qucikly.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover a facility built on a Google Maps platform for reporting damaged pavements on the local government website (in 8 languages) and a twitter feed for instant access. So far so good.

The automatic response to my filing (and picture) was likewise encouraging and included the phrase ‘we will investigate’ along with a reference so I could track the progress.

I wondered whether in the light of mother’s predicament what the process is for making a claim – she wasn’t going to, that’s not the way her generation are wired! On the face of it everything seems well managed (except the walkway) This paragraph (also from ESCC’s website) stood out:

Thinking of making a claim

Please consider the following points before you submit a claim. Making a claim can be a lengthy process and may not result in a pay-out. Any compensation is paid from public money so we will always be robust in our investigation of claims. The decision on liability will be based on the facts of each case and the law. Because of the legal defence available, on average, 70% of claims are unsuccessful.

The last sentence (my underlining) is instructive and made me ponder whether the use of the technology is for offensive or defensive purpose? Have we become such a litigious society that every corporate body feels compelled to get their retaliation in first and use  social media as a broadcast and defensive mechanism not a collaborative platform?

I digress. Let’s be charitable and assume good intentions and applaud this as an example of good knowledge capture and retention.  What we don’t as yet know is whether this will become a good example of how knowledge can be put to good effect and improve a process (or in this case fix something that isn’t working).

The concept of Knowledge Capture & Retention seems to be much in demand: I will have run 3 Masterclasses on the subject this year alone (next London event 18th November). And having just completed a 7th visit in 12 months with Ron Young of Knowledge Associates to an industrial/engineering client in the Middle East where small changes in processes can have a material impact on performance I know how important it is to have a process that turns what you have collected into valuable Knowledge that changes the way you work or the new product development processes you follow. If not you have a set of ‘lessons identified not lessons learned’.
So what’s the secret?

When Knowledge becomes an asset

Most organisations go down the Knowledge Capture route – they create buckets (increasingly in SharePoint) to store what they have captured to make sure that the best knowledge is available when a bid, a presentation or a decision is to be made.  And that’s fine as far as it goes. Rarely do organisations add on the Knowledge Harvesting step. Here’s what that entails (drawn from Knowledge Associates’ 9 Step KM Process that acknowledges and builds on the original BP model of learning before, during & after):

  • Conduct a learning or After Action Review
  • At the end of that process ask the question does what we have discovered have the power to change/improve the way we (and those associated with us) work?
  • If the answer is yes then you have what is known as a Knowledge Nomination and these should be considered at a separate gathering.
  • Now convene, if you don’t have one as part of a Community of Practice, virtually or in person, a group of Subject Matter Experts with expertise on the process or way of working. Ask them to consider whether the Knowledge Nomination will improve our process and should be adopted.
  • If they agree then change the process. If they don’t then make sure you have captured the Knowledge Nomination and the reason for its rejection.

I have always believed that the purpose of Knowledge Management is to help organisations make better decisions and work more effectively. The simple steps I’ve outlined above should help in acheiving those objectives.

I wait now with interest to see the outcome of the saga of the loose paving slab. Will the outcome merely be a repaired section of pavement or will the team think about how this was caused and put in place measures to stop it happening next time?