Future role of the Knowledge Manager: The Knowledgeur?

As the book Patricia Eng and I are writing takes shape – we spent a productive couple of days last week editing chapters and agreeing key points for those still to be completed – so my thoughts continue to evolve as to the future role (and skills needed) to be a Knowledge (and Information) Manager.

This week I am charged with delivering a provocative ‘wake up’ call when I speak to the annual conference of the Chartered Institute of Libraries & Information Professionals (CILIP). Here’s the gist of what I am going to say,

Operational KM to the Fore: Strategic KM to the rear

  • The majority of KM programs appear to be operationally focused addressing a burning platform issue or an urgent business problem.
  • These tactical programs address risk (loss of knowledge due to downsizing, retirement, reorganization or acquisition). Some focus on being more efficient and meeting internal and external quality standards.
  • Few it seems are driven strategically as a result of visionary leadership and if you look at where KM is located most surveys reveal its part of an operations division or unit. Rarely is a Chief Knowledge Officer part of the C-Suite of an organization. Often KM is treated like a hot potato.
  • Less than 1 in 5 are strategically aligned.  Where they are its because Knowledge is perceived to be the core product of that organisation.
  • The downside of being operationally driven is that when the burning platform issue or business problem is resolved KM is often left looking for a rationale for being and a new sponsor.

Step forward the ‘Knowledgeur’

So what can KM’ers or KIM’ers’ do, how can they protect themselves and their programme? For some time I’ve suggested that the Knowledge Manager needs to have facilitation and social skills that make them the ‘go to’ person in an organisation. Someone who makes and nurtures connections. Here’s my definition of that person I call a Knowledgeur:

‘A Knowledge Manager (Knowledgeur) is someone who makes use of his/her/others’ knowledge in one activity or market and applies it for beneficial use in another.

Originally inward facing the role is becoming more outward facing with the rise of communities and the subsequent need to collaborate outside of the organisation.’

The Skills (‘…ates) of a Knowledgeur

Here’s what I think you will need to do to if you are to perform this role:

  1. Investigate: Are you putting a burning fire out / solving an immediate business need / addressing a risk (Operational KM) or is this driven by the vision from the top consistent with the organisation’s business direction (Strategic KM)?
  2. Navigate: Work out / Map the critical knowledge areas of your organisation and create a directory of the organisation’s knowledge assets.
  3. Negotiate: Agree the scope of your role with your sponsors and be tough negotiating what success will look like and how it’s measured.
  4. Facilitate: So much of what a KM Manager does involves facilitation. You will become a hub knowing who to go to to ask if you don’t know yourself. You have to facilitate connections, meetings, interactions, events and communities. This requires resilience, a lot of social skills and a real understanding of cultural nuances.
  5. Collaborate: You are in alliance with business areas and occasionally external suppliers or partners. You have to be capable of virtual cross border collaboration.
  6. Communicate: Senior KM’er’s tell you to devote 30% of your time to communicating what you do and getting feedback – its not just about broadcasting. Have your KM Elevator pitch always with you. Let all your stakeholders know what you are doing and why.
  7. Curate: So much of what passes for Knowledge Management is about creating and storing content and making it available for reuse. It’s more than the role formerly undertaken by Information Professionals and Librarians, here we are talking about being a custodian of organisational knowledge and organisational knowledge bases.
  8. Celebrate: The role can be a lonely one as reporting lines and sponsors change, yours is a cost not revenue line and the initial burst of enthusiasm fades. Collect stories, be prepared to acknowledge contributions and celebrate successes.

My address ‘The changing KM landscape, the future of KM and our role in it as KM professionals’ will look at each of these ‘…ates in more detail.

And finally

I am looking forward to seeing the response I provoke at Wednesday’s event at Brighton. Watch this space!

“What’s in it for me”: sharing client knowledge in a workplace with 4 generations.

On March 2nd I was in Broadgate talking to the Chairman and two Managing Partners of a law firm. There, at the invitation of the Chief Operating Officer, we were discussing inter alia how to deepen relationships so that when the senior relationship manager departs, their knowledge, networks and clients don’t depart with them.

‘Why would I change, there’s nothing in it for me’

Against a backdrop of increased M&A activity and potential ‘Lift Outs’ (hiring of teams from another firm) we talked about why millionaires would share what they know for the benefit of the rest of the firm. I recalled an incident from a previous client, a federation of 13 businesses with very wealthy MD’s who had no intention of passing on what they knew about clients or cross selling for the good of the whole firm. This is what one MD said:

I wouldn’t let …. anywhere near my client;  for a start my business is unique and I don’t want them ruining a relationship which has been built up over many years.  Ours is a relationship business and I have an assistant who knows everything about the client and we store all information on the …. system.

And this from a senior banker:

I have a flat in London and a house in Umbria. I drive an Aston and the school fees are all paid. Why would I want to change?

These are not untypical responses from the upper echelons of organisations.

‘I have no assets so I go where the excitement is’

Contrast that with these factionalGeneration Rent’ (People born in the 1980s who have no hope of getting on the property ladder, a term coined by The Independent’s Tim Walker) examples arising our of conversations I had a few days ago.

Sam‘ is 30. He left college and became a talented electrical engineer.  As part of the BT’s acquistion of EE he now finds himself in demand.  His prospective boss (a newly promoted middle manager) sends him an email in which he tells him how lucky Sam will be to work on his new team – I kid you not!  So Sam retorts, ‘actually I am not going to work for you or on your team…’

Sam lives with his girlfriend, they are able to afford to rent but have little immediate prospect of owning a home. She is training to become a teacher.  Their horizons are near term and they want to work for people who share their values where they can move on when the role (or people they work with) becomes uninteresting.

Sam’s father Matt who is in his late 40’s had a mortgage at 21 fuelled by the belief that home ownership was the ultimate benchmark of a civilised society. Sam doesn’t feel the same, for him experience is more important.

Micha‘ is 23 and has been in work for 2 years since graduating from Univeristy of Southampton. She doesn’t know if she can afford to leave her parents to move in with her boyfriend. Her world is governed by whether she can service her credit card and overdraft and of getting away from a 45 year old middle manager who has read the corporate values manual but disregarded it from day one in his pursuit of a plethora of consumer durables. He speaks the talk but doesn’t walk it.

Generation Rent employees have a very different set of values and aspirations from their colleagues.  Unable (or unwilling) to join the property owning fraternity they are more transient than their predecessers and do not have the same sense of attachment. They will go where the action is unencumbered by physical assets.

They come to firms with a developed sense of online community but are less adroit at human interactions.  Engaging with these organisational foot soldiers is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing senior management over the next few years as they try to make organisations leaner and more productive. And no longer I fear can Senior Managers subcontract the task to HR, Learning, Training or indeed Knowledge Management or rely on the cascading methods of communication that have been prevelant in most organisations seeking to get changes made and messages understood.

crossing a broad chasm

The proportion of people classed as Generation Rent is predicted to expand as UK home ownership becomes a distant horizon.  This gap isn’t going to close quickly so organisations are relying on squeezed middle management to be the water carriers between the top and the bottom. For the first time ever we have 4 generations of workers all working at the same time!

In the current edition of ‘The World Today’ Chatham House’s bimonthly magazine there is piece on a recent members event during which Kevin Sutcliffe, Head of News Programming EU, Vice News had this to say:

There is a notion that television news and documentaries attract an older audience. The logic in editorial meetings at Channel 4 News and the BBC is that people aged 18-35 aren’t interested in the world.  VICE started to put out documentaries about the coup in Mali or the way Egypt and the Arab Spring was unfolding. They were very popular. They had engagement times of about 25 mnutes and they were getting hundreds of thousands of views. So there is great interest from that group in the world. The issue was the way it was being presented. Most television talks down to people, and that is not representative of 16-35 year olds.

I found this encouraging and supports a comment from Gordon Vala-Webb who Sandra Higgison interviewed a few years back when my colleagues and I at Sparknow were conducting research into the Evolvng Role of the Knowledge Manager. In response to a question that indirectly asked how his KM initiative at PWC Canada impacted all ages and levels of seniority Gordon said:

Our biggest portal users have been here less than six months

What is striking about all of these examples is the expectation and motivational gap between those at the top and those lower down the organisation which prompts this question: Is a fundamental shift needed in the so called Social Contract between employees and firms to bridge this chasm and make organisations more sustainable?

How to close the gap

Create a Corporate Social Contract (with embedded KM aspirations)

In a recent piece of work engaging with a brand new Senior Management Team I encouraged them to get their personal values and beliefs on the table and craft their own commitment to each other and the team.  It mirrors this piece extracted from Harvard Business Review For Great Teamwork, Start with a Social Contract https://hbr.org/2012/04/to-ensure-great-teamwork-start

To turn groups of employees into great teams, a powerful first step is to form a social contract — an explicit agreement that lays out the ground rules for team members’ behaviors. A contract can cover territory such as how members will work together, make decisions, communicate, share information, and support each other. Social contracts clearly outline norms for how members will and should interact with one another.

Team norms exist whether openly stated or not. A good leader should facilitate sessions with his/her team to uncover the existing norms, both positive and negative, that impact team functioning. Establishing a social contract can reinforce positive behaviors while helping teams to overcome dysfunctional ones.

I’d add one aspect here: the development of Knowledge Competencies (at a personal and corporate level) should be a thread that runs through this document.

Contemplate disintintermediatimg middle management

This will be heresy in some quarters but I generally believe we are at a tipping point when it comes to how organisations are working.  The interpretation of messages from the top and flow of ideas to the top while often seen as an important filtering process seems to me more likely to alienate Generation Rent employees who are used to collaborative not command and control environments. Dialogue has to be more transparant not more opaque.  Social media is exacerbating the naming and shaming of bad organisations who are often characterised by a broadcast rather than collaborative approach to internal and external communications.

Go 3 Levels down for an effective client relationship

When I set up a client strategy process at an investement bank the first challenge was how to widen and deepen relationships with our major fee earning clients so that we could accomodate the departure of a key Relationship Director. We only considered a relationship ‘secure’ when there were three contacts at three levels across our and their organisation. We documented what we knew and kept it current with regular contacts at all levels.

However, then, as now, successful ‘rain makers’ could demand want they want; a case of a slightly skewed symbiotic relationship, wherein Senior Management pay lip service to values statements and Corporate Social Contracts while bowing to commercial reality? The process worked primarily as I reported to the General Manager and CEO and carried ‘the pen’ with a mandate for change and the ultimate sanction of appointing a different Relationship Director if another refused to participate.

In another meeting last week in The City I was with the KIM Head of a large global law firm overseeing the process of deepening relationships with clients. He recognised the need for a meaningful client relationship to be 3 level deep and the importance of illustrating the differences in the way we all see the same event or object. His company is getting clients in at 3 levels for show and tell and share sessions as a way of cementing a relationship and getting expectations and aspirations out on the table.

Focus on Risk and Assets as a framework when thinking about what Critical Knowledge to keep

What struck a chord during last week’s meetings was the notion of risk – most organisations understand risk but few set about managing Knowledge in that context or seeing Knowledge as an asset. While a lot of work has been done on the Risk of Knowledge loss less has been done on  the value of Knowledge Assets.

Critical Knowledge Matrix

Following a conversation between John Wade (Gill Jennings & Every) and Paul J Corney

This is how one organisation is starting to think about how to contextualise the capture and retention of its Critical Knowledge. This statemant (also from HBR – Managing your MIssion Critical Knowledge – January 2015) sums it up well:

Few companies think explicitly about what knowledge they possess, which parts of it are key to future success, how critical knowledge assets should be managed, and which spheres of knowledge can usefully be combined

Its a topic I will be picking up over the next couple of weeks at KM Middle East in Dubai where I am making a speech on Why effective knowledge capture and retention matters  then running a workshop on Unlocking the true value of Knowledge Management: identifying and assessing your organisation’s Knowledge Assets and then Singapore where I will be running Masterclasses.

 

KMUK 12 closing: getting wet in the shallow end!

At David Gurteen’s Knowledge Cafe Monday run by Arthur Shelley, who coincidentally I interviewed as part of the ‘evolving role of our knowledge manager’ enquiry, I bumped into Adrienne Monteath-van Dok of Plan International who was one of the speakers at June’s KMUK event.  Adrienne said she’d enjoyed the closing session I’d facilitated and that I should share the mechanics with the wider community – so here goes.

If you recall I’d used a ‘swimming pool’ exercise as an ice breaker to promote dialogue and I returned to the same theme to create a sense of animated closure.

I’d left up the six ‘stations’ round the room:’changing room’; ‘poolside’; diving board’; ‘shallow end’; ‘deep end’; and ‘bar’. This is how the 25 minute session was conducted:

I began by describing each of the ‘stations’ :bar = had lots of experiences/war stories and in a position to raise a glass to congratulate or commiserate.

I invited each person to return to the position they’d assumed the previous day. NB ‘newcomers’ had to choose their station at this point as well.

At this point as delegates moved around the room there was a lot of reacquainting and an audible buzz.

The delegates were then asked to consider three questions (and remain standing):

  • What surprised you at KMUK?
  • What are you going to take back to your organization?
  • How do you feel at this point?

I invited them to share the answers with the person next to them.

I concluded the exercise by walking round the room with a roving microphone; each delegate I approached was asked to give a rapid fire answer and to pass the microphone onto a person of their choosing.

This took about 5 minutes culminating in a very positive response (in the shallow end) from a delegate who said what he’d heard over the two days made him believe that far from being dead and in contrast to the feeling he took away from KMUK 2010 KM (in whatever guise it appears) is very much alive. He felt re-energised as indeed did I.

Many events end on an exhausted low note; from the feedback KMUK 2012 wasn’t among them.

Knowledge retention: questions that say a lot

One technique Sparknow uses when trying to understand how information and knowledge flows in and around an organization is to ask a set of short simple ‘vox pop’ questions. They are short questions, the answers to which are usually very insightful.

While I am in Bogota, Colombia this week speaking at the 5th Knowledge Management & Organizational Learning Summit I am going to be continuing our ongoing enquiry into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ by asking the delegates to think about these simple questions:

  • How do you describe what you do to others?
  • Is there an image, an object or a sound that sums up your experience of working in this field?
  • What tool or technique do you find you use more than any other?
  • What is the biggest issue you have had to face in getting people to support what you are doing?
  • What aspect of your work are you most proud of?
  • Knowing what you now know what advice would you pass onto someone looking to follow in your footsteps?

I

knowledge management I an old wine in a new bottle?

I was back in Khartoum for a couple of days at the end of March at the invitation of the Sudan Engineering Society and University of Khartoum.  They’d asked me to talk about knowledge management, research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ and the implications for Sudan.

Apart from the honour of addressing 150 or so engineers, acadamics and ministers on Wednesday at the National Telecomunications Center, my presentation at the Faculty of Mathematical Science on Thursday was made at the end of the working day (so at the start of the Sudanese weekend) to a crowd of nearly 200 including families.  It brought home to me how keen the Sudanese people are to learn and exchange ideas especially since the Campus had only just reopened after a period of unrest.

Knowledge management as a formal discipline is in its infancy in Sudan. There are pockets of good practice albeit under different labels and many companies are following the well trodden path of focusing on technology such as an intranet as a way of storing ‘stuff’.  It’s not easy though operating in an environment which restricts access to software updates as an example. That said there is a groundswell of interest led by Dr Gada Kadoda who is mobilising a group calling itself the Sudanese Knowledge Society who are about to meet formally for the first time.

image

Photo Taken outside the National Telecommunications Center Khartoum with some of the founding members of the Sudan Knowledge Society

The Khartoum presentations prompted an interesting exchange with one of the participants who attended both. Here with his permission is an extract.

Hi Paul

Thank you. I have attended both sessions. All day on Wednesday and the Thursday evening session… Few years ago while I was working in the UAE, I came across The European Business Excellence Model and the work of Peter Senge at MIT ( The Learning Organization ). Is this KM a new Fad, old wine in new bottles or is it a real contribution to your management thinking? It seems to me I am getting mixed signals…. To this day I still remember Business Processes Reengineering, as advocated by Prof Michael Hammer at MIT
Best regards

Mustafa

The Rio Tinto video (about a Community of Practice) in my humble opinion is a Quality Circle drill, which was helped by the advance in ICT…

And my reply:

Dear Mustafa thank you for your kind words and the background.

You raise a number of interesting points, let me answer them in sequence:

  • Old wine in a new bottle: to continue the analogy, if it is then it is ageing quite well as some 10 years ago Professor T D Wilson at Sheffield University in a paper entitled ‘The nonsense of knowledge management’ wrote the following:

The inescapable conclusion of this analysis of the ‘knowledge management’ idea is that it is, in large part, a management fad, promulgated mainly by certain consultancy companies, and the probability is that it will fade away like previous fads. It rests on two foundations: the management of information where a large part of the fad exists (and where the ‘search and replace marketing’ phenomenon is found), and the effective management of work practices. However, these latter practices are predicated upon a Utopian idea of organizational culture in which the benefits of information exchange are shared by all, where individuals are given autonomy in the development of their expertise, and where ‘communities’ within the organization can determine how that expertise will be used. 

  • Yet today as our research has indicated people and organisations are organising themselves to make better use of what they know and if knowledge management is a convenient label to achieve that then who are we to complain.
  • Quality Circle vs Community of Practice: Yes and no would be my response.  However for me the concept of a quality circle is much more around a particular incident (yes that was highlighted in the clip) but the idea of a Community of Practice is that it represents an ongoing and dynamic resource. The bigger point here I think is that the engineers were able to post something onto the platform used to run the CoP and locate people who’d had the same experience.
  • As to BPR and the other management ‘fads’ I would say there is a difference.  I see km as a horizontal thread running across the organisation; its a way of doing if you like a common sense approach to improving the sharing of what people and organisations know.  BPR et al gave no consideration to the transfer of know how from experts about to depart or how to bring people who’ve just arrived in the business up to speed as quickly as possible. Where km falls down is that it is often put into a corporate siding – the place where communications, marketing and HR don’t want to tread and as a result does not have the institutional clout that more established disciplines have.

km has been written off many times and yet as research into the evolving role of the ‘knowledge manager’ has uncovered there are still a large number of people engaged in km type activity. Even with km in their job title (and many still don’t) they are having significant impact and reach across their organizations.

Yesterday for example I received a copy of the excellent Asian Development Bank Intersections digital newsletter and was drawn to an article entitled Ahead of the curve: the long reach of short tales by the Knowledge Management Center headed by Olivier Serrat which said

In 2010, ADB embarked on its most ambitious story-driven exercise yet. It launched the ADB Sustainable Development Timeline multimedia project, which currently hosts over 11 hours of sympathetic reminiscences and expertise rendered in video from 72 ADB staff. The material is broken down into 1–5 minute snippets covering a veritable plethora of topics, e.g., communities of practice, corporate governance, gender equity, forest conservation, knowledge management, renewable energy, sustainable infrastructure, etc. But, beyond these, the interactive platform also contains short documentaries of projects shot on location, sounds, B-roll footage, animations, graphics, voice-overs, videos, statistics, photo essays, etc. The product has been warmly received, both in and outside ADB, and augurs well for ready use in staff recruitment and induction, learning and development, conferences and other events, education, and external relations.

I am looking forward to continuing this discussion when I am at the 5th International Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning Summit in Bogota in May. More on that in a later posting.