“Anytime, anywhere, any device”: Working smarter in a knowledge world

Last week was fun. A couple of enjoyable dinners, an interesting day at the BSI KM Standards Committee helping to shape the UK’s response to the latest draft of the  emerging ISO KM Standards and a thought provoking day at Quora Consulting’s flagship Smartworking Summit. I will focus on the latter as it impacts the former.

Why are you here?

As I said in answer to that direct question posed to me by one of the speakers during his address:

Because John invited me for which I thank him.  I am also here as the discipline I focus much of my time on (Knowledge Management) relies heavily on the right environment to facilitate the sharing of knowledge. Also as a member of the BSI KM Standards Committee which is looking at ISO standards for KM I am keen to seen something in there that reflects the move towards smarter working.

I coud have added that, following the lead of Professor Clive Holtham and Victoria Ward, I have been banging on for a long while about the importance to Knowledge Management of an effective physical environment, it’s one of the indicators I look for when performing a Knowledge Audit or Assessment at any organisation.

The event:

The very well attended senior level event (of the near 200, 75% were C-Suite Directors) was held near St Paul’s and had as it’s focus in the morning “unlocking the full potential of women at work”.

quora-summit-pmThe afternoon comprised a series of breakout sessions. I went for the “Creating productive workplaces” session facilitated by John Blackwell, Quora’s founder and CEO.

As an aside it was nice to see Euan Semple again who was cofacilitating a round table session that draws on an interesting piece of work he is doing and was entitled “Building Bridges, dismantling siloes”.

Interesting fact of the day from Wednesday’s Smartworking Summit – collectively, the registered delegates interact with over 80 million employees on a daily basis – impressive!

Smartworking in context:

Statistics released by the Department of Work and Pensions and The Office of National Statistics are terrifying for the future of the UK economy which has already seen productivity fall by 17% over the last 10 years. These stuck out:

  • The UK will need to fill 13.5 million job vacancies in the next ten years but only 7 million people will be leaving schools and universities during that same period. And further, 70% of those graduates will be female.

The Summit’s premise was:

“…there are only two realistic ways of plugging this 6.5 million job vacancy shortfall – encourage people to remain in work beyond the conventional retirement age and crucially, attract far more women into the workplace.”

The morning speakers drawn from some of the UK’s largest employers shared their stories.

I liked:

  • The ‘Come Back’ returnee programme for a 12 week period which helps Mums rejoin the organsation after pregnancy leave.
  • The carers work programme wherein flexible working hours (often in chunks of 30-60 minutes) are offered to remote workers who look after those incapable of doing so themselves.
  • The bottom up shadowing programme wherein senior staff are mentored by young employess on the use of Social Media.
  • Anytime, anywhere, any device. The strapline of a programme at a financial services firm who are faciliting a blend of working practices and estimate that 40% of their work will be done flexibly.
  • That Cabinet Office and BSI recently launched a Smart Working Code of Practice.  PAS 3000 gives recommendations for establishing good practice for the implementation of Smart Working, against which organizations can be benchmarked. It covers changes to working practices, culture, working environments and associated technology.
  • The following quotes:

On expecting staff to focus for 8 hours a day: “You can’t leave your life at the door”

On the imposition of a dress code for the office: “How about we trust you to do the right thing?  If you look in the mirror and ask whether you can get away with wearing this it’s probably wrong”

On the need to change mindsets: “What the boss does gets copied”; “It’s great to talk, its better to listen”; and “Climbing the greasy pole to reach the corner office”.

I was surprised by:

The results of Quora’s recent survey.  Here’s what they said:

We have just released our latest research publication titled “Creating today’s workplaces for tomorrow’s talent”. This study engaged with just short of 3,000 people to explore the correlations between productivity, employee engagement and retention, and amongst its stunning findings are;

  • In 1990, 10% of the workforce was over 55.  By 2010 that had risen to 26% and, by 2030 the proportion of workforce over 55 will exceed 50%,
  • Just 21% stated that the impact of changes at their organisation are tracked and measured.
  • Only 33% regard their workplace as optimised for productivity,
  • Less than half trusted their manager to do the ‘right thing’ by them,
  • 66% stated the main reason for leaving their job was because they ‘found their managers dull and boring’.

Among the conclusions are that workplace design needs considerable fresh scrutiny into the productivity impacts of light intensity and spectrum, daylight, sound amplitude and direction, air quality, air temperature, odour, and occupant location and activity, and provision of quiet space.

Lastly, given that the brain takes 30% of all energy input into the body, the provision of nutrition needs a complete rethink.   Considerable attention needs to be given to eating frequent, portion controlled small meals focused on nutritional value.

I am concerned about:

  • The rate of commercial redevelopment that is taking place in London. If the workplace of the future is so uncertain and large organisations are consolidating their sites, making workspace more collaborative and shared, who is going to occupy the offices being developed now?
  • The scarcity of skilled British workers to fill the impending void at a time when the authorities seem to be making it harder for overseas workers to come to the UK.
  • A survey that found only 1:5 believed their leaders would do the right thing.

I took away:

  • The notion that the future cv will evolve from being a list of employers to a list of interesting projects and that 75% of new graduates today are predicted to leave within 2 years due to dull management and an unproductive environment.
  • The revelation that we now have 4 generations working at the same time so personalisation of approach is really important. Generation Rent employees have vastly different value sets from the Baby Boomer employees.
  • The suggestion that the leaders of the future will be Influencers with a focus on outcomes and that some organisations are using Social Network Analysis to identify who they might be.
  • The need to manage nutrition as well as the physical and virtual environment of the workforce. Better nutrition and conditioning = better performance in physical activity so why not in the workplace?the-edge
  • A desire to visit The Edge the greenest most efficient ‘smart’ building in the world when I am in Amsterdam in January. The Edge has proved a big attraction to prospective employees of the building’s tenants who include Deloitte’s.
  • The importance of effective knowledge capture and retention to ensure that, whatever technique is used, knowledge from skilled elders gets passed on.

And finally:

Fast forward two days and I am at Chiswick for the BSI Meeting.  The first person I meet is someone I heard speak a few years back in Amsterdam at SocialNow.

Dana Leeson is a Digital Workplace Architect at BSI helping to transform bsi-spacetheir working practices and environment.  One metric they are using: reduce occupancy levels (from 100% usage of the office by their staff to the mid 70’s).

Theirs reflects similar initiatives across UK government who are reducing the number of buildings they occupy and introducing co-working hubs for many departments.

 

 

Why stories matter for Knowledge Management: From Colombia to Iran via Portugal

A year or so back while I was in Colombia I was asked to do an interview for publication in Brasil.  It was about the role of storytelling as a effective technique for Knowledge Management and I thought I’d share (in English) some of the answers I gave then which I believe are still really relevant today. Here’s why:

Last week in Tehran as part of Stage 2 of an exciting KM project I have been invited to work on I was in a room with a dozen or so senior managers and engineers. We were trying to map a process to see where it could be enhanced / reengineered by embedding KM techniques.

There were flow diagrams, boxes and arrows.  The process (and the engineer describing it) came to life when he was invited to ‘tell us a story about what happened’. He opened up – it was as if I had given him permission to be himself and let go of ‘corporate or technology speak’. He then went onto describe what we styled ‘The Lube Oil Pump Incident’.

At the conclusion (and in the following day’s sessions) our sponsor and I encouraged everyone talking about a process to use narrative and to think of a title for their story.

It brought back two questions I was asked for the Brasilian article which I conducted while I was Managing Partner of Sparknow LLP:

Why stories? What is so special about them?

Hi Ana, thank you for this opportunity. Let me tell you why I think the use of narrative (storytelling) is a hugely powerful and insightful technique not merely for use in organizational KM.  Stories have the power to unhinge and unearth insights, experiences and emotions often hidden in the jargon and protocols of corporate world.

Sparknow’s tradition in using story in KM goes back to the late 90’s when the Founder Victoria Ward commissioned Carol Russell (a storyteller with origins in Jamaica and story roots in Ghana) to write and tell a story about the KM journey at one of the UK’s leading Banks.

Not long after ‘Corporania’ was completed and shared to much acclaim Sparknow was running a series of open sessions at the KM Europe conference held in Den Haag.  Among the attendees was a Geographer from Switzerland who had recently been asked to head up knowledge management at Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) in Bern.  Manuel wanted to explore story-telling tools as a way to increase knowledge transfer between the Agency and its partners, different places, and the edges of the organization and the centre; that began a 5-year joint exploration that culminated in the production of Building bridges, using narrative approaches to knowledge management still viewed by many as one of the most useful works on organizational storytelling, and tangible evidence of how effective the use of story can be in KM.

I digress. To illustrate the point a bit more clearly.  Everyone can remember their best teacher or professor and I’m sure they were good because they shared anecdotes and stories that brought a topic to life. My law teacher was brilliant at describing in a humorous way cases that illustrated the law of tort. Moreover great leaders tend to be adept at using stories to engage and communicate, its one of their core skills.  So sharing lessons, bringing strategies to life, getting messages out across the organization, getting buy in to new ways of working and perhaps most importantly hearing what people actually think and care about are all improved by the use of a story in whatever form it is told. I’ll talk more about that later.

For me a big turning point was conducting an interview as part of an inquiry on behalf of the UK Tax & Revenue.  We were asked to find a way of augmenting quantative surveys to identify among other things how clients (taxpayers) perceived them and the help they gave.  While the interviews were but 20 minutes they were constructed in such a way as to encourage the interviews to tell the stories of their experiences in seeking help.

This particular interview which ended up being called ‘tippex and the kitchen table’ helped paint a graphic picture (through the words of the interviewee) of what it felt like to be filling in a tax form which you had to keep correcting through a lack of knowledge while running your own business and bringing up two children.

How is this relevant to KM?  By playing back the interview (with permission) to a wider audience it set the backdrop for potential changes in the way the department worked with clients.

Stories are prone to misinterpretation. Is there the danger of that causing problems in communication? If so, how can that be prevented?

Context is key. What I takeaway from a story might be different to you because of when and where I hear or read it and what my knowledge base is.  The same though applies to every form of communication. How many times do organizations seize up because of poor email practices and verbosity? This is a real issue across continents and languages and I can recall how the knowledge transfer in an R&D function stopped purely because of a different style of email communication.

The way to reduce the potential for misunderstanding is to give people the skills, the confidence and the equipment to identify, collect and share stories. And to ensure they are targeted at the right audiences in a manner that can be understood. Here is how we’d go about tackling the issue of whom to target and what to share with them. This applies equally to a KM programme as to a piece of engagement or communications.

1 |  Develop a strategic story that explains the direction in which their organization is heading, the prizes, the pitfalls and what’s expected of them. Bring it to life through words, images, etc that can be used to explain it to everyone with an interest in your organization. This provides a context for more specific communications and discussions.

2 |  ‘Support the strategic story with a series of smaller, individual ‘stories’ – accounts of people’s experiences in parts of the organization. These smaller stories can be used to bring the strategy to life, generate enthusiasm, spark ideas, resolve dilemmas, spread thinking and initiate conversations.

3 |  Create resources and assets to enable leaders and managers to put the story to work. Deliverables could include an engagement programme or roadmap, communication materials and experiences to bring the story to life, a story database, workshop designs and agendas, toolkits, training and ad hoc advice.

 

“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.