A case for raising ISO standards: an emerging KM driver

bir-sept-16The following article was published in Business Information Review Magazine.Summary

This article seeks to raise awareness of the moves by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) to establish a set of Knowledge Management Standards. In it the author Paul J Corney will suggest that the adoption of such standards has the potential to become a game changer for Knowledge Management professionals providing a clear rationale for future KM Programs.

A case for raising standards: home and away.

Summer has finally appeared and visitors to London can be heard bemoaning the lack of air conditioning that is commonplace in their societies where 25c is the norm rather than the exception.

The political climate too has been hot enough the past month with the Brexit vote, the flurry of resignations that accompanied it and a slew of economic forecasters downgrading short-term UK growth predictions.

The brave new dawn promised by the Vote Leave campaign is predicated on striking bilateral trade deals quickly!

Yet as anyone involved with cross border negotiations will tell you, they take time to reach consensus.

I have previous (or current). I am a member of the British Standards Institute (BSI) committee providing input to the International Standards Organisation (ISO) working party responsible for drafting.

Invited to join the ‘great and the good’ of the UK KM world a year ago, I accepted as I’d seen in assignments and tender requests how important this was becoming. But I wasn’t convinced the process would be a speedy one since the ‘call to action’ from the Israeli Standards body who were behind the proposal for a set of international KM standards was already a couple of years old.

This is how the US standards body alerted its members in 2013:

The Standards Institution of Israel (SII), Israel’s member body to the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), has submitted a proposal for a new international standard focusing on requirements for knowledge management systems.

As the U.S. member body to ISO, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) invites all interested stakeholders to submit comments on the proposal by Friday, February 14, 2014.

The proposed International Standard would set down requirements for organizational knowledge management systems, including the creation and maintenance of such systems, the nurturing of a knowledge management culture, measurement of organizations’ knowledge, and approaches to sharing knowledge management solutions.

The standard would cover businesses, nonprofits, government organizations, and other groups of any size and in any field.

An emerging KM driver?

Is this the game changer for KM that some are predicting? Potentially and here’s why.

I am co-authoring a book. ‘Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion’ will draw on KM programs of leading firms and practitioners. My co-author Patricia Eng was previously Head of KM for the US Nuclear Regulatory Authority so knows a thing or two about making sure lessons are fed back into processes. As part of our research we asked a wide range of practitioners were the impetus for their program had come from.

A couple spoke about compliance audits being the driver a few mentioned improving productivity but the vast majority said they were addressing a business issue or risk. None pointed to adherence to a quality standard.

So in the Keynote Speeches I have been delivering this year I have been suggesting that increasingly there will be four key drivers for KM programmes:

  • Strategic / Visionary
  • Risk
  • Process Efficiency
  • Compliance with Quality Standards

The ISO standard will provide impetus to practitioner requests for KM resource. The C-Suite understands Risk and Compliance so the door is already ajar!

‘In Search of Excellence’

Followers of Tom Peters will recall this seminal work from 1982 described in Forbes Magazine as “An essential book for founders and CEO’s”.

In an excellent review of the tome published by Forbes in 2014 Scott Allison notes:

Before company culture became a well discussed topic, Tom Peters and Bob Waterman urged readers that perhaps the single key piece of advice from their findings was “figure out your value system: what your company stands for. What gives people pride?”

And it describes how excellent companies have family-like atmospheres, make a point about being transparent with and sharing information widely, and insist upon informality in communications between workers.

There’s also more open doors and open spaces instead of corner offices and cubicles.

Why this reference? Well the UAE Federal Government as well as the Dubai Government has laid out a set of excellence programmes aimed at raising the levels of service provided by their government departments.

If you visit the offices of the Knowledge & Human Development Authority in Dubai for example (they are responsible for the quality and growth of private education) you will discover that they have made extensive use of open spaces and informality. It works for them and has improved service.

Broadly aligned with those in EFQM’s Excellence Model Dubai & UAE Federal Government have added specific clauses that make reference to the delivery of Knowledge Management especially Knowledge Transfer and Learning Lessons.

As a result government entities in Dubai face periodic reviews to assess the efficacy of their KM operations. Assessors are sharpening ‘green pens’* and setting out inspection timetables as I write this.

Recognition of superior KM performance by the Dubai Government Excellence Programme is highly sought after. Failing to meet the minimum quality criteria is not!

The certification conundrum

While adherence to UAE Quality Standards is mandatory the same does not apply with ISO or EFQM.

It will be the decision of the user as to whether they wish to be certified against it – it is not a requirement.

And yet if you are a manufacturer of locomotives for example you will need the IRIS Kite mark in order to sell your engines or rolling stock. To get / maintain that Kite mark requires certification and assessment. KM is included in their standards so implicitly the manufacturer needs to be able to demonstrate that they ‘do’ KM.

And finally

Gazing into my crystal ball I am prepared to speculate that others will follow Dubai / UAE’s lead and that ISO KM Standards when released circa 2017/2018 will have an impact on KM programs. KM’ers it’s a good time to start flagging this as a potential issue!

*The pen colour of choice for auditors in the financial services sector.

References

http://www.forbes.com/sites/scottallison/2014/01/27/an-essential-book-for-founders-and-ceos-in-search-of-excellence/#23f82b152062

http://www.khda.gov.ae/en/

International Organization for Standardization

Good Knowledge Drives Good Business

This is an article inspired by a session I ran with new businesses as part of Surrey University’s Investor Readiness Programme and my work with Plan Zheroes, It sets out to illustrate why good knowledge and information management matters to a new business.

A business is the sum total of its intellectual capital/property (‘knowledge assets’).  Drawing on examples from hospitality, renewable energy storage and third sectors, it will demonstrate the value of checklists, a technical backbone, the right cultural environment and feedback loops in identifying, nurturing and exploiting knowledge assets.

Here’s what Claire & Luke (Editors of Business Information Review) had to say about it in their Editorial:

Good knowledge drives good business

Another regular contributor to Business Information Review, Paul Corney shares his experiences of working with emerging enterprises and business start-ups in developing good knowledge and information management practices. Reflecting Screen Shot 2015-09-02 at 09.16.05on the experiences of small and medium-sized enterprises in the business and third sector, Paul illustrates in his article why information and knowledge management matter to new businesses. As Paul notes, ‘ultimately a business is worth the value of its intellectual capital/intellectual property. These “Knowledge Assets” might take the form of patented products, an efficient process, a unique piece of software or brand and reputation built over time’. The lessons here for directors of start-up are obvious, but there are lessons also for those who work with information on a day-to-day basis within larger or more established organizations.

I’m glad Claire & Luke ‘got it’.  Well run and profitable business is about making effective use of knowledge and creating and enhancing its Knowledge Assets. So it follows that:

Putting in place effective measurement is key in order to demonstrate value. As KM standards get integrated into global quality and manufacturing standards so the drive for better KM will be felt. Young organizations can get ahead of that curve by putting some of these simple techniques in place today.
As a footnote I am particularly delighted to have been asked to serve on the BSI KM Standards Committee that is going to input into the to be publsihed ISO Quality Standards.

And finally

You can get the full article from here: Business Information Review Q3 2015

Tips for working on international assignments (part II)

The quarterly edition of Business Information Review is now out, the article I wrote is in it, so I wanted to share some more of my other top 10 tips to make an international assignment a success.  In the previous blog post I listed 3 tips in answer to the questions If I were advising someone about to undertake their first international assignment what would I tell them?

Here are some more:

Ten tips (4-6)

  • Engage multiple stakeholders: one person or department does not make a working relationship, so make sure you have a wide selection of people and that you interact with at least three levels if possible.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate: I cannot stress strongly enough the need for regular dialogue and face-to-face interactions. Weekly calls are important as are end-of-mission summary sessions and don’t forget the visualization.
  • If you are working in another language with translators, make sure they understand what you are doing: for a keynote speech in Colombia, I spent an hour in advance with the translator going through my slides and key points – make them part of the team and acknowledge their contribution*.

* A few years earlier I’d been asked to give the 2nd day Keynote at the inaugural Russian Intranet Forum. I took the opportunity of an early arrival to go check out the venue and facilities. I arrived just as a Belgian speaker was starting his presentation. The translater Tatiana was given a torrid time by the English speaking members of the audience who suggested her use of the specific business terminology was wrong. Suffice to say no one enjoyed the experience.

stoli

So over a glass of the local tipple Tatiana and I went through my speech and slides.The hour we spent was the most valuable use of time I could have made.  She and I became a team, the audience were in far less truculant mood and as a result much more receptive to the messages I was trying to convey.

 

Tips for working on international assignments (part I)

Thanks Frank (Gardner)

It was he who encouraged me to blog about my experiences and I have always wanted to be able to share some of the techniques I’ve come to adopt when undertaking international assignments. The offer by Sandra Ward and Val Skelton, Co-Editors of Business Information Review, to write an article for the forthcoming edition was too good to miss and so today I submitted that piece.

Here are just a few snippets from my submission (the pictures won’t be appearing):

Abstract

In today’s global village the ability to work cross border and cross culture is increasingly important. This article looks at the lifecycle of an assignment from winning and negotiating to working and collaborating concluding with reporting and getting paid. It examines what it takes to run successful international assignments while identifying a number of potential pitfalls to be avoided and issues to be considered.

Baggage trolley at El Fashar Airport DarfurI am lucky; I’ve worked across five continents and experienced many different cultures over the last 40 years. I’ve been shot at in Ireland, detained in Sudan, been part of an aid convoy in the Philippines after Typhoon Ondoy, slept in a tin shack in Darfur, shared a room with a desert rat while watching oil fields burning in Saudi Arabia in the aftermath of Desert Storm and landed in Barbados after the island’s only hurricane.

When I reflect on a few snippets from a lifetime of conducting international assignments it’s perhaps unsurprising that my daughter frequently asks the question at the top of this piece.

Winning the business

We’ve all had ‘we’d like to invite you to tender for’ requests from organizations we’ve never met. As you become more visible and published so these increase. As a rule unless you can trace a direct link to someone you know or somewhere you’ve been then you are being used as padding for a tender process. Be warned. It takes a considerable effort to respond to tender requests especially when there are procurement specialists intermediating….

Negotiating the ‘deal’

….An African friend of mine signed up for a consulting engagement with one of Africa’s major organizations. It looked great and met all of the criteria outlined above. Payment was triggered by receipt and acceptance of a set of reports and recommendations. Now 9 months later he is still waiting for formal approval for his reports. His mistake? He had no milestone payment and no upfront mobilization fee. Next time he might insist on a payment for delivery with balance on acceptance.

Travelling and staying

… Before I decide on whether to go or not to a country I check out what and whom I know who might help – I conduct my own ‘Peer Assist’ – and visit the members’ library at Chatham House.

…Accommodation can make or break an assignment! A client will often give you an allowance or have preferential rates. Expensive doesn’t always mean good; proximity to your client is vital as is the ability to work in your room. For Darfur Victoria Ward and I had to undergo UN security training. It taught me a number of things I use today when asking for a room:

  • Above tree line and below floor 7
  • Preferably not facing the street
  • Proximity to fire stairs.

Working & communicating

The Culture Map which notes that human speech varies depending on whether there is a “high” or “low” level of assumed shared cultural context. This affects vocabularies: the English use more words whereas North Europeans (and Americans) tend to be more forthright.

Why is this relevant? If you don’t adapt your style and (in my case) speak slower, write more succinctly and with less jargon, there is huge potential for miscommunication….

Importance of set up

If the way we speak, write and hold ourselves is important so are the technological underpinnings. Consider this: in many organizations the jump drive (memory stick) is banned. There is a limit on email size (try sending a video to a client), browser activity is monitored and restricted and guest access behind their firewall requires countless sign off and takes days!….

Listening ears and noticing eyes

How you are received on arrival is usually a good indicator of how important your visit is…

…I also find it pays to listen more than talk especially in the early parts of an assignment, as someone once said ‘you have two ears and one mouth and should use them in that proportion’…

Friendly ‘fire’

Assuming you are by now super observant and minding your P’s & Q’s, the next big challenge facing you is how to work with your immediate stakeholder group. You need to establish separate sounding boards not just your project sponsor…

Handling left field moments

Even the best of us can inadvertently put a metaphorical foot wrong. Our actions are magnified when we are dealing in a different environment and out of our comfort zones….

…Perhaps my most surreal experience occurred in Sudan when I was invited to visit a major company for a discussion only to find on arrival there were 200 people assembled to hear my presentation on ‘Knowledge Management in the Energy Industry’. After recovering from the shock I conducted a 45-minute Q&A session prompted by an opening, ‘What keeps you awake at night?’

Reporting and getting paid

I’ve had mainly positive experiences dealing with international clients and getting paid. Typically the more ‘developed’ the country the worse organizations (especially governments) are at making payment if you are an SME.

However I’ve found people will try and find a way to pay you if they feel you’ve done a good job. Your challenge is to manage that perception!…..

Ten tips

If I were advising someone about to undertake their first international assignment what would I tell them?

  • No credit cards in SudanClarity is key, ambiguity is the enemy of progress: be clear about the terms, what they are going to get, when and in what format and what help and assistance you need from them in order to deliver it.
  • Prepare for the unexpected: plan for disasters and have a backup (if you are on medication take that in your briefcase); save your work to the cloud (securely of course). Adopt my 50/50/50 rule and always have that amount of £, € and $ in your wallet.
  • Keep detailed field notes and conduct regular After Action Reviews or Pause & Reflect sessions as a team: It’s vital to be able to reflect on what you’ve heard and to have the ability to play that back in regular progress reports.

I will share the rest of the article and the remaining seven tips over the coming months.