In a world of High Value Work the case for informed and empowered Knowledge Workers is becoming stronger

Whether Lisboa, London or Tehran the pace of change is gathering apace with increased pressure for improved performance, greater efficiency and reduced risk.

Over the last couple of months I have been working in all three of the above capitals. It has been a priviledge and an eye opener: Iran is eagerly awaiting ratification of the Geneva deal and Tehran is awash with foreign companies looking to position themselves post sanctions; in Lisboa they are feeling the effects of a ‘drawn’ election and in unchartered territory over the formation of a new government and whether to continue with a programme of austerity and; in London there is considerable angst about the impact of cheap Chinese steel on an already depressed commodity market and on local communities.

In each of these capitals the role and standing of the ‘Knowledge Worker‘ is different:

  • In Lisboa, many young innovative Knowledge Workers have felt the full force of the austerity programme and fled the country rather than face an uncertain future while the cadre of secure middle managers hang onto their jobs.
  • In London, consolidation (especially in the legal sector) is growing and the push to outsource a core part of the UK Government’s drive to reduce the role of the state. Further afield UK Manufacturing continues to be battered by cheaper cost centre imports with inevitable plant closures.
  • In Tehran, as they face an openiing up of their market place and an influx of of overseas competition, local knowledge is becoming much in demand and creating a sense of eager anticipation in a workforce that has traditionally sought overseas postings as a way of enhancing their knowledge and careers.

What are the implications? 

The role of the informed knowledge worker is going to become more critical and they will need to move up the value chain in order to do so!

If you have not already done so I’d encourage you to look at a recent blog post by Andrew Curry of the Futures Company. The Futures Company has been collaborating with the Association of Finnish Work for more than eighteen months on the idea of “High Value Work”. They define this as work that is productive (it creates new value); that is durable (it creates value over time); and work that is inclusive (it spreads value beyond the business — or the C-suite. This combination, based on the emerging post-crisis literature, also creates work that is meaningful, for employees and customers. They identify four routes to acheiving it:

These are service innovation, based on a full understanding of the customer and their needs; value in authenticity, based on on a full understanding of cultural context; resource innovation, based on a full understanding of material flows; and rich knowledge, based on a full understanding of the technical knowledge held inside the organisation and a method to capture and codify it.

High value businesses combine these; for example, mastery of resource innovation often creates new technical capabilities that lead to new forms of rich knowledge.

Finland is a great example of a country that is highly technological, expensive with a great education system. That it commissioned the work is unsurprising and the findings underpin the growing realisation across many organisations that people matter, are transient in nature and that processes need to be in place to recognise that.

The future role of the Knowledge Worker?

Much of my recent work has been about helping organisations to recognise that if Knowledge Management is to have value above its traditional tactical operational bias there has to be a way of measuring the output (the Intellectual Property ‘IP’ or Knowledge Assets) that is created as a result of the activity.  And generating Knowledge Assets is reliant on empowered and stimulated people. As Andrew’s findings suggest ‘Increasingly business research is finding that people drive value.’

Last Friday I hosted a Peer Assist with a group of senior HR thought leaders on People Stimulation an idea being promulgated by Dr Abdelaziz Mustafa of the Islamic Development Bank Group. A very experienced HR Director and core member of the Association of Development Agencies HR Forum he argues the need of a work enviornment that recognises and stimulates:

  • Human Imagination
  • Individual Discretionary Behavior
  • Deeply Embedded Interests
  • Self-Knowledge, Self-Accountability and Self-Development
  • The One Person Difference
  • T.E.A.M Culture
  • Happiness at Work

While to many this may seem axiomatic it is indicative of the shifting thinking around the way organisations manage and nurture today’s and tomorrow’s Knowledge Workers.

And finally

On Monday I was at Chiswick for the first meeting of the reconstituted BSI KM Standards Committee established to provide inter alia the UK’s input into the global ISO debate on the need for standards for Knowledge Management. While hugely encouraging that KM is now being more formally recognised it was instructive to see how slowly the wheel of change turns.

Finally if I needed validation of the value of embedding effective Knowledge Management techniques I got it last night in an exchange with a Chinese mentee. In discussion over the knowledge capture interviews I’d helped him to conduct for the charity I am involved with. He said:

‘It is interesting how much good ‘after taste’ after the previous interview techniques and knowlege managemnet toolsconducted a few interviews for my research using the time line map, very effective tool!’

I have asked him to write a guest blog to reflect on some of the knowledge capture techniques we used. Watch this space!

Importance of KM in Health: the story of Doctor Anwar and making use of what he and others know in Sudan

Meet Anwar, a Sudanese doctor. Just one of 5 fictional characters created by delegates at the Knowledge Management for Health in Sudan event I spoke at, helped plan and run.

Sudanese Doctor

Anwar

This exercise, Scenarios for the future, was set in 2020 and invited the 80 or so delegates drawn from across the whole of the health industry in Sudan to consider what a day in the life of each character might look like.  This was a new and warmly embraced concept in an environment where my information is my soul and much of the debate about the future takes place against a backdrop of uncertainty and increasing austerity where:

  • 2/3rds of all drugs are purchased ‘out of pocket’ not from health system
  • drugs are proportionately more expensive than in other domains
  • funds from external sources are available to assist with health informatics.

Having settled on a description of each character the delegates who were by this time in groups of 8-10 then set about imagining what their day might look like on January 1st 2020. A vivid imagination is required and was evident in the quality of the stories that were told by each group’s nominated storyteller.

The story of the Health Worker

Ismail’s story – Health Worker

I will in due course and with the organising committee’s permission publish the two ‘winning’ stories; yes we did do voting while the storytellers left the room.

One of Sudan’s leading pharmacists noted in a one:one conversation how important listening was and how difficult a technique this is for many to use when prescribing drugs.

By inviting each of the storytellers to play back the story to each of the other groups it was good to hear them say in the summing up that by the end they really felt they were the character.

 

The previous day I’d invited the delegates to change the way they looked and think about issues and barriers.  Using when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change exercise conducted in the best breakout rooms I’ve ever worked with, the delegates who are naturally loquacious soon grasped the concept of seeing the room through the lens of different professions.

Breakout room

Breakout room

This change of mindset was important: it allowed the subsequent round table (well round conference room) session that discussed:

‘What are the biggest issues we face in sharing knowledge and information about the health of our nation and how can we overcome them’

I’d invited each delegate to introduce themselves to three people they didn’t know. This worked well and encouraged a very frank discussion. The main issues highlighted were:

  • no systematic collection of information and limited understanding of its value
  • transparency of process (where do the figures go) and credibility of the data
  • lack of human resources to do the collection
  • limited statistical information to undertake scientific research on
  • ownership of data and the whole process – fragmentation
  • accountability to deliver
  • communication/awareness of what each organisation is doing – lots of ‘stuff’ is happening but there is a real risk of duplication of effort e.g. many of the disease control programmes are creating their own informatized information systems

Delegates recognised the tremendous strides being made by the Public Health Institute (one of the event’s sponsors and host of the official dinner) in developing professional public health administration programmes, the creation of a Data Dictionary and the publication of the first Annual Health Performance Review though many bemoaned the lack of official  support for research projects where Sudan has a prominent global position, Mycetoma Research Centre an example.

I came away from reflecting on a discussion I had around the event:

Its all about ‘informization’ – the ability to report from a health centre level with ‘point of sale’ data collected via PDA’s / mobiles as well as computers; about logistics management as a result to ensure supplies get to where they can do the most use.

This can be monitored by the minister, routine reports can be prepared showing which centre reported, which district has complete reporting, which state has complete and timely reporting and % of stock outs of basic drugs or vaccines etc.

And inspired by many of the presentations I’d seen on the morning of the second day from University of Khartoum’s research centre and of course the Public Health Institute who are reaching out to try and create greater awareness through public forum, newsletter and other events.

Perhaps the presentation that struck the biggest chord was from EpiLab
who have achieved impressive results in helping to reduce the incidence of TB and Asthma and whose research and community communication techniques are highly innovative. I loved the cartoons they developed on how to self treat and prevent the incidence of illnesses which were drawn up BY the local communities.  Their pictures and their words are published as guides for the nation and I know they will make them available so I can share them in future blogs.

It was an honour, a challenge but nevertheless great fun enhanced by the warmth of the welcome and a genuine sense of appreciation. Sudan’s people are among the most engaging and intelligent I’ve met. One anecdote from a conversation with a young professional in the communications business illustrates their dilemma:

‘…of the 95 people who graduated in my year a few years back 90 are now working overseas, the majority in highly paid good positions…’

In my address I acknowledged the support I’d had from many people in preparing for the event. They were: Ahmed Mohammed, Dr Alim Khan, Dr Anshu Banerjee, Ana Neves, Andrew Curry, Archana Shah, Chris Collison, David Gurteen, Dr Gada Kadoda, Dr Ehsanullah Tarin, Dr Madelyn Blair, Sofia Layton, Steven Uggowitzer, Victoria Ward

‘…it can be quite lonely at times’ I reflections from Henley KM’ers

‘Dear John, I never imagined 10 years ago the true impact of knowledge. The bureaucracies of the paper world are gone and communities are what deliver value at a local and a global level.  All my knowledge of technology was of only passing value. The networking skills are what are helping me thrive.’

Just one of the many postcards sent back from the future (2020) to today by the delegates at Henley Business School’s 12th meeting of their KM Forum. Putting learning at the heart of the organisation was the theme of the annual two day retreat and I was there running a Sparknow timeline exhibit that featured highlights of the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ research we’ve carried out.  More of that in a future post.

This post is about the exhibit and how postcards were used as a technique to develop a delegate view on the changing environment and role of a ‘knowledge manager’.

why a postcard?

In many ways the postcard serves a powerful metaphoric role for key dimensions of knowledge management and of time:

  • It is personal/private but at the same time both shareable and publishable via a noticeboard.
  • It maintains its quality of having been individually authored, so the link to the originator stays explicit.
  • It is light, compact, and highly portable.
  • It is asynchronous, but interactive and annotatable
  • It is an ideal vehicle for messaging
  • It is time saving for the author.
  • It is an early form of multimedia, allowing an almost infinite range of attached images

Sparknow’s research into the use of postcards goes back over a decade. Victoria Ward and Professor Clive Holtham of Cass Business School and others from Sparknow wrote about the uses of the postcard in re-forming organisational time, place and meaning” for the ‘In search of time’ conference, held in Palermo in 2003. A copy of that paper and one presented in 2010 on slow knowledge can be found here.

why a timeline?

Our experience suggests people respond best when they are asked to situate comments against a time and place (and often an object or event) as a backdrop.

postcards and time lines as a combination.

The visual impact of a series of postcards on a timeline is visually compelling.

image

materials for the timeline

By putting up background material for the three focus points on the timeline (2002 > 2012 > 2020) we were able to provide context for the postcards people were writing; to get them thinking back from 2020 to today and then from today to 2002. We were particularly grateful to Andrew Curry and The Futures Company for letting us reference their work. Andrew wrote an interesting and thought provoking blog to accompany The World in 2020 publication we drew on to design the exhibit.

image

looking back from 2020

the questions posed were:

Imagine you are writing back to someone in 2012 from 2020 (or to 2002 from 2012). Tell them:

  • about your daily life
  • what’s changed about your job as a ‘knowledge manager’ and the environment in which you work
  • what kit and tools are different now from then.

image

looking back to 2002

and the outcomes

More than 25% of the delegates completed a postcard.  Each revealed something about the writer and their vision of the world.

A couple of revealing postcards from today back to 2002

You’re still in KM.  And for a while it’s even in your job title.  You do a lot of technology.  You spend a lot of time in “programmes” and service development, development in general, is project-based rather than continuous.  The KIM profession is government recognised, but frequently struggles to find direction and leadership.

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.

Many felt strongly that being networked will be one of the key differentiators in 2020; that technological advances will continue to enhance our ability to work wherever and whenever we want to but that time savings (to enjoy more leisure) is a forlorn aspiration.

Few saw the ‘knowledge manager’ title as being around in 2020, it being best illustrated by this:

The Knowledge Manager is extinct. Culture and behaviors of the knowledge manager are embedded into all employees as the modus operandi.

though another said in 2020:

I am working as an advisor, consultant, advocate, counselor, co-creator. I work to Board level leadership but I roam The Organization, working to improve colleagues’ personal and group knowledge management.

Technology has simply become the channel, its just the ‘thing’.

a great piece of advice:

Try to write letters as much as possible because otherwise your handwriting will get even worse.

what would I do differently next time?

Actually not too much though I’d probably have more people versed in the material, able to explain the significance of the dates to ‘visitors’ to the exhibit. And I’d make sure I had enough people around to help put up an 18 foot poster when I arrived at the venue.