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

Cuba: a country of contradictions where trees grow in buildings

By marrying mid March my wife and I inadvertently chose a time when others focus on the impending Easter holidays and children are in school, timing which has proved advantageous in realizing our ambition to try and take our main holiday around our anniversary.  Neither of us are really sun lounger lovers, we have low boredom thresholds and eschew the type of small talk and hail fellow well met types often associated with a resort located in an isolated spot.

Jibacoa: an idyllic place to unwind

Jibacoa with an exceptional coral reef off the beach and free water sports yet only 75 minutes from Habana, Cuba seemed to offer the perfect wind down and fascinating capital city combination. IMG_0844

And so it was to prove though not in the way either of us had expected.  If you are interested to read more about the resort my review is on Trip Advsor: click here. Would I recommend this – yes without hesitation with caveats mentioned in the review.

The build up to the trip, booked 9 months previously, had been somewhat chaotic.  We’d relocated to Meads Village, Eastbourne in February and were taking time to come to terms with leaving Lewes where we’d spent a very happy 5 years. I’d just returned from to Khartoum running workshops to look at how the health industry might make better use of its and others’ knowledge. The day before we were to depart I had been in London kicking off an important piece of work for HMRC and Ana was but 2 months into a new job. In short we were in need of a bit of r & r.

Virgin, visas and when 5 names is too many

10 days prior to departure I discovered via Trip Advisor that we needed visas to enter Cuba and that as independent travelers were on the hook to obtain them ourselves. The advice from Virgin Atlantic (our carrier) was unhelpful: ‘we don’t arrange them but there are companies who do’.  Yes for £90!  Fortunately Virgin Holidays (through whom I’d booked accommodation – same name but a very different company), were much more helpful. £15 was added to our invoice and blank visas arrived a few days later. And for good measure after an email exchange the local representative had sorted transport to and from the resort.

We checked in online on seats 80D & 80H (Upper Deck on the 747-400 is a mix of Premium Economy and Economy and more like a small cabin).  Arriving at bag drop we encounter a small issue. Please bear with me this gets complicated and has a Cuban twist at the end.  My wife’s actual name (that appearing on our wedding certificate) is Ana Luisa Madeira Aguilar-Corney. Her Portuguese passport (for global travel) omits the name Corney whereas her citizen card (OK for EU travel) is more straightforward and does not.

I’d booked her in the name of Aguilar as I usually do but Virgin Atlantic’s bag drop representative decided that was wrong and Ana could not travel in that name. After my terse exchange and harrumphing had made the situation more intractable, Ana intervened and worked out a solution.  A new ticket would be issued (free) in the surname of Madeira Aguilar and off she went with the Virgin representative to arrange it.   A slightly delayed flight did not lessen our anticipation of 11 days of blue skies, warm sun, good food and a fascinating culture.

surviving on £18 a month

Cuba is one of the few remaining states that maintain a centralized structure. It’s ‘contract’ with its people: in return for free education, health, heat, power and financial support (less than £20 per month) to a minimum subsistence level, the state has the right to deploy its citizens as it thinks fit and to decide where state funds are allocated. Habana

So Cuban doctors and teachers can be found in Venezuela, Pakistan and a host of African countries as a quid pro quo for the supply to the Cuban state of commodities such as oil and gas. And it has a thriving pharma industry, is strong agriculturally and thrives on its national obsessions, Baseball and Basketball.

It has placed a safety net under its citizens who are being allowed a degree of latitude, owning properties and businesses and making money where they can. And the Cuban is nothing if not imaginative when it comes to ways of making ‘CUCs’ (local acronym for convertible pesos which has parity with the US$ and is worth about 24 times the Peso, the currency used extensively by the indigenous population) from tourists.

Tipping is not permitted but is one of the few ways to augment the meager salaries (CUC25 per month) applied uniformly to every profession. In this bastion of socialism there is little financial benefit to be had from being a doctor, a teacher or a lawyer. Ania our guide had graduated as a lawyer was teaching at university but made most of her money from tips taking tourists from the resorts into Habana. Toilet attendants charge for toilet paper (there is a shortage of many basic commodities we take for granted).

a crumbling infrastructure struggling to cope with the digital age

I digress.  The impreIMG_1247ssion is of a country where the fabric and infrastructure is held together by sellotape and its not uncommon to see trees growing in buildings.

Like most centrally run economies every opportunity is taken to make its bureaucracy felt (to get on a state run train you have to arrive early for ‘check in’ and buying a ticket is a minefield requiring an intimate knowledge of the train formation – one window for carriages 1-4, another for 5-8 etc) yet it feels safe and there is little evidence of the military or the police other than at wayside checks for speeding motorists.

The transport system is in decline. While it is possible to travel by train from Habana (at the North end of the island) to the South the journey takes anything from 12 hours to a day!  Buses & coaches are the mainstIMG_1278ay and a combination of old and new.  The car pool will delight petrol heads. From mid 50’s US icons (Chevys /Cadillacs /Oldsmobile’s) to 70’s Soviet boxes (Ladas/Muscovites) to the odd newish Asian  (Mazda/KIA) interspersed with rickshaw style pedal and motorised ‘taxis’ of the type you’d find in Mumbai or Khartoum. Despite the appearance many of the classic cars have reconditioned diesel engines which spew out vast quantities of pollution. The taxi drivers are rightly proud of their ability to barter parts and manufacture workarounds to keep their vehicles on the road.

IMG_1152The architecture is priceless but crumbling (Central Habana is a gem or will be if it ever gets fully renovated).  Everywhere you go there is something to look at and its easy to see why UNESCO is funding the gradual restoration of the capital.IMG_0988

 

 

 

 

 

The Internet revolution is passing Cuba by due to lack of effective access. Whether this is deliberate I know not but productivity is low and frustrations immense – it felt like going back 10 years pre wireless – and one of the perverse pleasures was to pass the Internet room at the resort and listen to the expletives from users trying to perform simple tasks like flight check in only for their money to run out as the page loads.

Most have mobiles and many of its young citizens have Facebook accounts but are severely constrained by the lack of access to the Internet anywhere other than at the slow dial up outlets where there is always a queue and which charge a fortune £5 per hour.

SchoolSchool children are well dressed (a feature of the Caribbean) and polite and everywhere people’s default reaction is a smile. The young aspire to leave and are influenced not by social media but what they see on TV. London 2012 made a huge impact and union jack attire was ubiquitous. UnionJack

 

 

 

 

 

an eclectic population

Cuba’s citizens are a mixture of all those who have settled there.  African, Indian, South American, Russian and now Chinese. Clothing ranges from ragged to chic; hairstyles are eclectic and of all colours. It is a country that is on the surface devoid of racism and homophobia.

People1

Take a wander around the city and you will see all manner of sights sounds and smells. Tennis

Tango

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1216

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet there is an aspect of Cuban society we found reminiscent of South Africa during apartheid.  Cubans are banned from hotels unless they are staying in them.  Our guide, Ania (a lawyer as I said earlier) was prohibited from joining us for dinner or from coming to our suite despite the fact we were paying guests.  It must breed a sense of resentment.

‘authentic Cuban cuisine in a great setting’

Finally the food.  People say don’t go there for the food. Well on our final night we ate at a restaurant Asturias Bar which was great – here’s my review on Trip Advisor

Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

when Cuba, Portugal and Spain come together

The sting in the tail?  We discovered when Ana gave Ania a card that Aguilar is in fact one of the most popular surnames in Cuba dating back to the time when the Spanish controlled the island. There are also Aguilars in Chile (indeed Felipe is a famous golfer on the tour) and some in Colombia. Ana has never quite understood the Spanish link since to the best of her knowledge her father whose name she bears rarely went there and his ancestors were born and bred in central Portugal.

Finally as if to confirm the Cuban/Portuguese link Ania’s boyfriend who is Cuban has taken Portuguese citizenship and now lives in Lisboa and sells Cuban cigars!

‘…a complaint is a gift’: engaging with customers & stakeholders

The British are uncomfortable with directness. It’s probably why one of my Saudi friends said he preferred dealing with the Americans and the French because he knew where he stood with them as they said what they meant. We tend to say ‘it was fine’ when asked if we enjoyed an experience or a meal when what we actually mean was ‘I wouldn’t serve it to my cat’. We avoid confrontation, write a bad review on Trip Advisor and congratulate ourselves on doing that and vowing never to return.

It’s also about confidence and I am reminded of the Michael McIntyre skit about the ritual of tasting the wine before accepting it to drink.  Few people have the knowledge or confidence to send it back. Here’s the clip.

Some good friends became so as a result of constructive criticism my wife and I once gave.  We’ve never just said that’s not very good, we’ve always tried to say how we might improve it.  Of course there’s a risk you get thrown out of a place and told you don’t know what you are talking about but by drawing out the positives (an Appreciative Enquiry technique I try to apply when giving feedback) your opinion is usually valued.

And yet if you run a customer focused service business such as a restaurant or hotel you need constructive feedback if you are to improve and Claus Moller got it right when he wrote the excellent book ‘a complaint is a gift’.

trouble in paradise

Having decided on 10 days r & r the last thing on my mind was a bout of constructive criticism.  However the majority of the people we met were so willing and genuine my wife and I felt obligated to spend time with the resort’s management when issues started to arise.

What follows is an edited extract from the letter they asked me for (I’ve removed any reference to names – it would be unfair) after the second meeting we had with the most senior member of the team on duty.

I am as promised documenting the ‘issues’ we’ve had during our stay as a way of hopefully helping you and the rest of your team to build on the solid foundations you have.  So I am going to describe each incident and then give you a few suggestions on behalf of us both as to how we think you might improve:

  • Friday 15th: The morning after check in we changed £300 at the front desk.  We had read on Trip Advisor that guests had been short changed in the past so we adopted a strategy of my wife ordering and me watching.  The amount due was 434 but we were given 430.  And we were asked to sign the receipt BUT were not given a copy until we asked for it.  Needless to say we challenged the person who apologised and gave us the remainder. We brought this issue to the attention of the representative that morning.
  • Sunday 17th: We ate in the upstairs ‘A la carte’ restaurant. We managed to get a booking for 9pm (we were told it was the only slot available). When we arrived it was sparsely populated.  The food was inferior to that served in the buffet and the wine (Spanish house white) was full of sediment.  When I drew it to the attention of the headwaiter his response was a shrug of the shoulders!
  • Tuesday 19th: A few days previous we’d purchased a bottle of Carmenere from the shop nearest to the nightclub. Along with crisps and biscuits it came to 12.50. On Tuesday afternoon I bought another bottle, with crisps, and was charged 13.60.  Again no receipt was offered. We returned to the shop and asked for an explanation: a mistake we were told. We asked to speak to the hotel manager (who was unavailable). Instead we had the pleasure of talking to you and are glad we did.
  • Wednesday 20th: The day of our wedding anniversary was spent in Havana with one of the local taxis. We had a superb day and ate delicious local food with them in the taxi at a spot where the taxi drivers buy food opposite the railway station. We’d booked into the downstairs ‘A la carte’ at 8.30pm and were looking forward to celebrating our anniversary in style. We arrived to find half a dozen guests only and ordered mixed tapas with two lobsters.  The Tapas was tasteless – I tried each and left most of it – and the lobster came coated in cheese accompanied by tinned carrots and peas.  We left without eating more than a mouthful each and went to the main area for dessert hugely disappointed that a special evening had been ruined.
  • Thursday 21st: Since the heavy rain on Tuesday our room had developed a nasty smell in the bathroom. That morning it was worse and we notified reception who promised to send someone down to sort it.  We returned that afternoon at 6pm to find the bath covered in excrement.  To the credit of the duty manager we were immediately relocated though obviously we had to repack and unpack and missed the reception you’d invited us to.

In your defence I should note the following:

The service in the pool bar, the piano bar and the buffet has been good: in the case of Vivian and Adimirys we have nothing but praise for their willingness to go the extra mile to provide exemplary service.

The facilities are good and the rooms perfectly acceptable especially those like 1182, which have been redecorated.

The manner in which you have dealt with our issues has been to your credit.

suggestions for improvement

Ana and I have experience in the hospitality and service industries. We are happy to give you some suggestions in the hope it might help turn what is a good product into a great one:

  1. Make both of the ‘a la carte’ restaurants places people want to go not places you give tickets away for.  How many people actually pay to go again having eaten there once? Stop serving canned vegetables such as carrots and peas and serve fresh food of a standard that is appreciably higher that the buffet.  And please employ staff that are as good if not better than the buffet area.
  2. In the buffet serve good Caribbean food as a permanent option using fresh ingredients: we believe you have a local head chef so serve curried goat and other food from around the region rather than doing themed nights that feature frozen food.  As an example Oriental Night had tasteless Sushi, frozen spring rolls and pasta not noodles.
  3. Staff training:
    1. Yours appears to be a culture where people who are in the front line in the restaurants don’t know how to deal with reasonable comments. For example, early in our stay we watched a Canadian turn up to eat in the same beach ware for breakfast and dinner.  When another guest and his party pointed this out to the duty manager in the buffet he had no idea how to deal with this.  Instead of politely pointing out to the offender that there was a dress code for the restaurant and that perhaps it might be better to sit on the terrace, the comment was ignored and the individual continues to turn up shabbily dressed.  The impact is hugely damaging since the party of 8 whose last night it was left with a very negative impression.
    2. My point: as you have dealt with our issues so should your staff.  Other businesses I have worked with have a weekly meeting where the stories of good and bad experiences are discussed and the favourite story chosen as an indicator of practices to be applauded/improved.  If you want more on this see the way Ritz Carlton uses stories to improve performance or go to www.sparknow.net (the business I used to run) to see how big corporations are changing behaviours and culture using the power of stories.

so what happened as a result?

The management circulated our letter to all heads of department and called a management meeting for the following day to discuss the ideas and suggestions.  Subsequently we received a thank you and the offer of a complimentary stay should we choose to return which one day I am sure we will.

The business takes reviews people write very seriously and to its credit uses them as a discussion topic in management meetings.  I know of other restaurateurs who shake when their smart phone alerts them to a new review as they’ve borne the brunt of unfair criticism in the past.

In today’s world service businesses cannot ignore criticism especially with social media tools available to the dissatisfied customer. They have to be willing to embrace it, be upfront and turn criticism into compliments and turn customers into brand advocates willing to give a more positive slant.

In our case I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the venue or the way they dealt with our issues (and in fact have in my own Trip Advisor review).

IMG_0904