‘your entire career is your exit interview’: embedding knowledge capture & retention techniques

This tweet, from this year’s KM Russia event, reminded me of an interview I had with a senior Asian banker a few years back.  Retiring, after three decades during which time he’d been pivotal in the regeneration of Asia after the crisis of 1997,  he was asked at his exit interview, ‘have you returned the stapler?‘ The sense of disappointment in his voice was palpable as he told me (I paraphrase), ‘you devote your life to an organisation and then puff, you are gone along with your sense of identity’.

It echoed a similar conversation with the former CEO of a major reinsurance group whose departure remains a source of unhappiness because his experience and network of contacts were not considered important enough to devote time and resource to by his successors who were taking the company in a new direction.

Fortunately many organisations are now making knowledge capture and retention part of the ‘way we do things around here’, recognising the need for effective processes throughout the life cycle of employees and projects. One such organisation is Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs who employed us* to run a pilot programme capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge’ to equip senior business heads with tools and techniques they might use to capture and retain critical knowledge.

In previous posts I described the programme modules 1-3. Here I’d like to share with you modules 4 and 5.

HMRC’s Pilot Programme: : Modules 4 & 5 Analysing & Sharing

Analysing how to analyse and organise the material that has been captured
Sharing how to share the knowledge that’s been captured how to engage with your audience

Analysing (cataloguing and curating) the material captured is often overlooked, the assumption being that search will reveal all. The delegates were invited to listen to a couple of recorded interviews and consider how they might catalogue the material.

We accepted that not every piece of critical knowledge (defined previously as the knowledge HMRC would struggle without if it lost’) is likely to be recorded on voice or camera. However the process of thinking about how to catalogue material does provide a steer on the importance of structuring what you are capturing. We spend money on creating taxonomies which is another form of categorisation and cataloguing.

Here’s one example tablog 2ken from a piece of work featured in ‘making Knowledge Management work in your organisation’ (an Ark Group publication). It shows the process adopted for the creation of a Living Archive. Note the importance of the indexing or cataloguing process (in red).

blog 3And here’s the cataloguing process that is referred to above and was shared in HMRC module 4.

In Sharing (Module 5)  we looked at numerous ways of engaging with the stakeholder community previously discussed and identified in Module 2. Our aim here was to illustrate that no one size fits all and that each person or group might respond differently.

The delegates had to map the profile of the audience and then think about what might be the best method of engaging.

Blog 1Aside from examples of companies who have successfully use: Baton Passing, an Audience With, Fellows, Knowledge Markets, Dare 2 Share Fairs and Memoirs on Camera we discussed the (now discontinued) practice wherein a returning diplomat would complete a Valedictory Despatch after his or her tour of duty overseas ended.

Parting ShotsAs in previous modules the delegates were asked to consolidate their learning ‘off line’ and as a way of consolidating all the exercises were given an assignment to be working on before we reassembled for the final session.  I will conclude this series of blog posts next time and look at how we evaluated the programme.

Parting Shots by Matthew Parris

*Sparknow and Knowledge et al worked in partnership to deliver this programme.

“True tacit knowledge can’t be passed on when people leave”: embedding knowledge capture & retention

On Wednesday I had the pleasure of meeting and listening to Karen McFarlane who is Head of Profession, Knowledge & Information Management (KIM) for the UK Government’s Civil Service. I’d been invited as a guest by NetIKX as a precursor to a talk I am giving there early in 2014. And with due permission (Karen’s ‘day job’ is quite sensitive) I posted a few Tweets on what I heard which you can find on their twitter feed for the event #netikx63.

The Knowledge Council – setting frameworks and strategy for the KIM Profession

Karen outlined the work that has taken place over 18 months at the Knowledge Council to develop a framework and a new Government Knowledge & Information Strategy (GKIS). Her aim is to ensure people in KIM roles have KIM qualifications with good succession planning. A profession (currently 1,000 people across government are considered KIM professionals) that will attract and maintain talent and create an environment where KIM civil servants can move across roles equipped to do so.

These comments (which I am paraphrasing) stood out:

There is a real concern about loss of knowledge when people leave which is why a lot of effort has gone into building a knowledge harvesting toolkit for the KIM community….

One of the techniques is a Mastermind Chair; another, getting people to ask ‘what questions do you wish you’d asked…Try and identify the critical people… many departments use social media to share knowledge…

...True tacit knowledge can’t be passed on when people leave, you need a strategy to ensure you don’t get to that point…

Some organisations are now making use of Alumni networks to keep access to people who’ve left…

And finally… Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) are now sharing stories on their intranet…

an accredited career pathway

Karen painted a backdrop wherein the topic of knowledge & information management is higher up the agenda in government than it has been for more than two decades. All of which is really positive as is the work being done with external bodies such as CILIP on accreditation and training and career pathways for KIM professionals in government.  Its impressive progress which the soon to be released GKIS will place into context.

This brings me back to the capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge’ pilot we* have been running for HMRC’s businesses under the supervision of their KIM professionals.

HMRC’s Pilot Programme: Setting Up and Capturing: Modules 2 & 3

My previous postings looked at why HMRC had set up the pilot programme, what critical knowledge is, how to identify it and why it is important.  Modules 2 & 3 of the programme focused on:

Setting up how to identify and approach the knowledge holders & networks how to design a knowledge capturing approach
Capturing develop an understanding of different capture techniques benchmark against existing approaches

‘Our’ delegates recognised:

  • not everyone who changes jobs or leaves has critical knowledge whose loss will severely damage the organisation.  Its important to be proactive to identify where it resides and with whom – the knowledge holder.
  • everyone is different. Each person who partially retires will feel differently about what they want to give back. Some people might initiate. Approach each person differently in order to find out how they feel about knowledge capture.

In Module 2 we looked at the setting, preparation and clarity of purpose which are all key to successful capturing of knowledge.  A key task is to think seriously about how a request for time with a knowledge holder is likely to be received.

A typical Knowledge Holder?

A typical Knowledge Holder?

Profiling and Archetype Mapping are used extensively in design, it is even more important when dealing with intangibles to have identified and acknowledged likely preferences of the person you are approaching?

A large exhibit in Asia

A large exhibit in Asia that sought to identify major events in the life of an institution. Passers by were asked to note on a timeline events that were of interest to them.  This helped to target key players for future interviews and the subject areas to be covered.

Focusing on the individual is just one aspect of knowledge capture & retention: it’s vital to focus in addition on decisions, events and processes (documented as well as practiced) to see what knowledge is called upon in the first place and from where and then what is produced during the process.

Another key aspect is to create the right environment for the discussion/interview/observational session.  This is especially important when the intervention is to be recorded or a large response is sought.

The delegates spent time thinking about the right form of consent, how they might craft the invitation to participate and the mechanism they’d use to capture material.

Module 3 was very much about trying out. The delegates looked at:

  • Sketchbooks
  • Interviewing
  • Recording
  • Group Elicitation
  • Reverse thinking

Types of interviewsThey discussed a variety of approaches to interviewing, comparing those with the checklist already developed for HMRC.

And they worked on interviewing (and listening) skills comparing and contrasting experiences.

As part of the benchmarking exercise we encouraged delegates to look at the 47 step knowledge capture process as articulated in Professor Nicholas Milton’s book Knowledge Acquisition in Practice which was very successfully adapted by John Day, at Sellafield that in itself drew on work done by Shell on its Retention of Critical Knowledge (ROCK) programme.

As in the previous modules offsite work involved listening to audios developed exclusively for this programme including a clip on Baton Passing, a technique used by the British Council adapted for their use by Professor Victor Newman.

importance and danger of Knowledge Harvesting

To return to the beginning. The Knowledge Council’s focus on equipping KIM Professionals with tools and techniques in Knowledge Harvesting is admirable. Yet I felt there is a missing skill from the training ‘suite’ shown by Karen McFarlane at the NetIKX meeting, namely that of facilitation which for me is critical.

If knowledge harvesting (what I might call knowledge capture and retention) is to become an ingrained ‘way of working’ across government then people in the business need to be equipped with those skills as well. KIM professionals must have the skills to facilitate others in Knowledge Harvesting not just conduct them.

Last minute captureThe alternative scenario is that the KIM professional gets called in to do a last minute ‘tell us what you know’ knowledge harvesting session with a prominent person and the resultant  ‘pearls of wisdom’ are placed on a database that few look at or listen to.

*Sparknow and Knowledge et al worked in partnership to deliver this programme.

capturing & exploiting corporate knowledge in HMRC: bombs, cakes and critical knowledge

The impending release of the UK Government’s Knowledge & Information Strategy has shone a spotlight on the need for all areas of government to capture, effectively manage and share the knowledge and information they create and receive…if they are to deliver a world class and publically accountable digital public service.

I wonder how many UK taxpayers associate HMRC with being at the leading edge of government practice? Yet a few months back 14 senior business people gathered for the first modules ran by Victoria Ward and I of a Civil Service Learning pilot programme* entitled capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge. 

The venue was Whitehall, London yet the delegates came from around the country and represented a wide variety of disciplines from across HMRC: VAT Directorate; Anti Money Laundering; Large Businesses Service; Corporation Tax, International and Anti-Avoidance (CTIAA); Specialist Investigations; Local Business Comliance: and Excise, Customs, Stamps & Money Services (ECSM).

in advance

We asked the delegates to:

…bring along an object. An image, document or small artifact that illustrates a memorable event with which you were involved during your last couple of years in the business. It might be a decision, a new piece of policy or a transaction.  We are going to ask you to talk about the object and use it during the exercises so please think carefully about what you might choose.

Here’s why: Objects stimulate conversations; people feel comfortable talking about them in environments where otherwise they might not open up. They reveal insights other techniques fail to unearth and so are effective as icebreakers and as triggers for more in-depth discussions on events and projects.

One of the core beliefs I’ve developed working with Sparknow is that, to be effective and valued, knowledge management has to be about helping to improve the decision making capacity of individuals, teams and organisations. Indeed it features in the opening sentence of the World Bank’s definition of KM:

…Knowledge provides insight for decision making…

So, much of early stage investigation into critical knowledge has to be around events and decisions and how knowledge has (or has not) informed them. Objects have proved to be a good way of facilitating those early dialogues and feature prominently in the work we do.

By combining timelines and objects to examine an event or decision in an Anecdote Circle we imagined this would act as a real stimulus in helping to place clarity around the concept of critical knowledge.

module one: Positioning

aims

  • understand the importance of critical knowledge to HMRC

objectives

  • able to identify critical knowledge
  • see how and why others identify and capture critical knowledge

Reassuringly people were prepared and had an object, an image or something in mind (this is often not the case). Here’s an extract from Victoria’s fieldnotes taken during the plenary debrief on the memorable objects session:

My object wasn’t that helpful, it was just a document…But it was a conversation starter, very simple very plain, a trigger… It brought a story to life and helped with focus

The Anecdote Circle helped the delegates identify the event or decision they wished to examine in more detail.

For that we invited them to use a tool, (worksheet) for conducting a more in depth (Deep Dive) type of discussion, Sparknow has christened the Narrative Grid.

Narrative Grid Worksheet

Narrative Grid Worksheet

Comments were broadly favourable and the Narrative Grid was to feature later in the programme by which time they were more attuned to its benefit and skilled in its application.

From looking at critical knowledge from an internal perspective we shifted to the external environment drawing on examples from the nuclear industry, the health industry and the regulatory industry to illustrate how they had set about identifying what critical knowledge was in their business and why they set about capturing it. A common theme running through each example, with which the HMRC delegates were able to empathise, was the need to mitigate risk especially around the departure of staff with considerable expertise and experience.

There was broad agreement that critical knowledge:

‘It’s the knowledge HMRC would struggle without if it lost’

And in working through examples the delegates were able to identify two compelling metaphors: bomb defusing and cake makingcolored_wires_bomb_cutter_3268

  • In defusing bombs the precise critical knowledge is knowing what wire to cut.
  • For recipes, it’s not just the recipe, ingredients, marinading, but how hot is my oven?

    Flower Bomb Cake by Madeline Ellis

    Flower Bomb Cake by Madeline Ellis

 

 

 

 

 

Module One ended with us providing the delegates with a set of references and reading. We also provided a link to an interview I’d conducted with Gordon Vala-Webb a promiment KM’er in Canada who was in charge of a project to capture and retain knowledge for a regulator at a time when many of its most experienced staff were about to retire and would impact them operationally. Gordon gives an eloquent explanation of how a large govenrment organisation tackled this and determined the knowledge they could least afford to lose. Here are a few snippets:

…we took a risk management approach and got each of the branches to fill in a risk assessment form as part of the annual business planning process… a high score would have resulted in the branch developing a risk mitigation plan… we provided guidance on different approaches which included videoing, interviewing, expanding procedure manuals…in some cases they kept the retiring staff on call…

…I believe if we had not had this program people would have been scrambling to keep operating…

More to follow on Modules 2 through 6 over the next few weeks.

 

*Sparknow and Knowledge et al worked in partnership to deliver this programme.

why the UK Government is seeking to capture and retain critical knowledge

As I write this an updated Government knowledge & information Strategy is being crafted.

Following the recognition of knowledge & information management (KIM) as one of the professions of government and building on Information Matters published in 2008 it represents another important milestone in the journey towards a more flexible workforce able to recognise, capture and retain that knowledge & information critical for its current and future business.

More on that in due course once the Strategy has been released.

turning the km & i vison into reality

Recently HMRC (through Civil Service Learning) commissioned Sparknow and I to run a set of pilot programmes on capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge. HMRC like all areas of governement face the threefold challenge of:

  • equipping new joiners with sufficient knowledge and information that they are able to hit the ground running (while making the most of the knowledge they are bringing to the organisation)
  • ensuring that when staff are reassigned they have sufficient time and access to the knowledge they need to transition into the new role
  • capturing the huge experience and knowledge (often tacit) from staff who are coming up for retirement, whose job may be dissapearing or who are leaving to pursue a career elsewhere.

In welcoming the participants our sponsor said:

This proposed programme…aims to make knowledge retention part of the engrained behavior and the way ‘we’ work. It should be a continuous process fuelled by the belief that everyone has something to contribute and much to learn from sharing knowledge.

Our challenge then: to develop an informative, participative and enjoyable set of interlinked modules that gives exposure to a dozen or so tools and techniques that will help to identify, capture and reuse what are often termed ‘critical knowledge assets. And find a measurement (we used Dr Donald Kirkpatrick’s Learning Evaluation Model) to assess the success of this capacity building initiative.

View from first training room

The view from the venue for modules one and two.
Picture by Victoria Ward

Over the next month I am going to be taking a more in depth look at the modules we ran and the areas that stimulated most interest among the dozen or so senior HMRC staff from different areas of the business around the UK.  So as ‘they’ say: ‘watch this space’!

when knowledge & information  flow

As part of the discussions leading up to the programme we developed a vision (a future story) of what an knowledge & information friendly environment might look like:

I’ve just returned from ‘an audience with…’ session with  John who is about to retire. It was different from the usual breakfast briefing – we got to learn about topics and events we’d identified as being of interest. Hearing those described by someone who’d been through it all was really insightful for a relative newcomer.

I relocated this year: thanks to Agnieska who’d built a bridge between my predecessor and me there were few surprises and I still see Jane for a regular catch up. I am much more aware of things that are going on, who I can go to and ask a question. Most importantly I now have a set of useful questions and the confidence to ask them in any situation.

I am keeping my Decision Journal: who’d have thought it but it’s  been immensely valuable as a prompt when having conversations.  And I am now a timeline convert and shocked my Director when I  used postcards on a timeline to share my regular update.

I do feel that should I leave it would be easier to pass on what I’ve learned in a more illuminating way. If only I’d begun it earlier – using objects as prompts has made sharing experiences intuitive.

The business has benefited: an idea brought in by a new staff member resulted in process improvements that improved collection rates; when Roger transferred to East Kilbride the transition time was much shorter as he was able to tap into the networks of his predecessor and the insights that emerged from the sessions with Priyanga prior to her departure helped shape the new set up in Southend. Whereas before we may have lost touch, now she still feels a sense of attachment and was at one of the recent breakfast events that are now open to alumni.