How to end the day with a satisfied feeling

Isabel De Clerq and I have never formally met though, like many, we are virtually connected. So. it was with great pleasure / anticipation when this little green book, with a nice note from Isabel inside the front cover, landed on my doormat a few weeks back.

This is a book you will not want to put down. As one page merges into another, the dog eared pages multiply and whomever is in the vicinity hears “listen to this, we do that..”, accompanied by nodding. I knew I was going to enjoy “Hybrid Work: A manifesto” as the opening paragraph is set in Isabel’s kitchen and my good friend Luis Suarez‘s thoughts on #distributedworking are referenced early in the book.

I promised Isabel (who has a love of Portugal) I would read it overlooking the Rio Tejo.

New Year’s Day by The Rio Tejo

It’s a book that spawns ideas. Here are some of my reflections.

What complements my thinking?

  • Meetings: Isabel places great emphasis on meeting preparation and conduct. A few decades back I was Business & Strategy Advisor to a fledgling dotcom business Sopheon. Globally acquisitive, with offices in Amsterdam, Maastricht, Minneapolis, Denver and Guildford, we added to the portfolio of companies by acquiring a software business in Frankfurt. It became rapidly apparant that work was needed to get everyone on the same page especially when holding meetings. We drew up a code of conduct “Meetings Matter” around preparation, attendees – roles and purpose and proposed outcomes. It worked and I use it for all client meetings.
  • Connection between people and organisation: This stood out

The presence of that greater good; the knowledge that your contribution matters; a match between your values and those of the organisation; and the fact that you can develop yourself through your work, these four elements ensure a strong connection. A connection that goes further than an office building with a trendy lounge and a matching coffee corner.

Unanswered questions?

  • In Suggestion 4 – “The office as a vibrant hub” – Isabel casts doubt on its future role and that of the ubiquitous coffee corner unless underpinned by a deeper connection between people. While I totally agree with the importance of a collaborative and supportive culture (see my most recent blog Simple steps), as Gillian Tett wrote in an excellent article in The Guardian last year quoting from a study on performance of virtual vs in person co-located trading teams:
    • “in-person teams had more incidental information exchange and sense-making, and at times of stress this seemed doubly important.”
  • In “Suggestion 7” Isabel dares to dream. “I dream of an organisation where knowledge workers end the day with a satisfied feeling.” The term “knowledge workers” has never sat comfortably with me since I heard it back in 1994! To some extent we are all knowledge workers not merely those tasked with white as opposed to blue collar tasks. Tradespeople who use their hands also draw on knowledge. Likewise farmers, who might equally be termed agricultural engineers, often develop a sixth sense of weather and growing patterns based on knowledge. Where, if at all, does the term knowledge worker start and finish?

What are my takeaways?

  • Importance of neutral space and focus time: a few years back in advance of a masterclasses with Martin White on Managing Virtual Teams we ran a survey that asked contributors where they had their best ideas and conversations and where they worked best. The overwhelming response was “Not in the office”, universally they noted the importance of a space that was not home! In my 3rd CILIP Presidential Debate (Shift happens – the future office / library in a connected world) the premise was that “In the future, rather than being fixed in one place with a single purpose, people will move seamlessly between different contexts – home, work, college, community – at a time and place that suits them, enabled by always-on smart devices.” The conclusion, that people wherever they are working still need some neutral (decompression) space.
  • It’s ok to clarify: – “I heard you to say and understood you to mean” is a phrase I’ve often deployed with organisations with a polyglot of nationalities where English is a second language. It is especially important in hybrid work where the propensity for miscommunication is great. I advise every team I work with to develop a practice that encourages clarification.
  • Virtual peripheral vision: When I am giving an in person speech or masterclass I can guage the audience’s response and if need be to focus more on areas of uncertainty. I’ve not yet honed my virtual peripheral vision so build in more “I heard you to say” time to understand what landed.
  • From 90 to 60 minutes per session: Hybrid work is tiring and as Isabel suggests it is most effective when everyone adopts the same mode of communication rather than having virtual outliers. I try and build breaks every 60 minutes when working virtually rather than the traditional 90 minutes blocks I use when conducting in person sessions.
  • People who ‘wing it’ tend to get exposed in a Hybrid Work environment so preparation is one of the critical success factors!

And finally

Hybrid (Distributed) Work is undoubtedy the way to go – it’s revolutionised the way we interact with each other. Imagine how without it we would have coped with the effects of the pandemic. Our challenge now; how to retain the human characteristics that differentiate us from AI powered machines and create environments that allow everyone to prosper not merely those with access to technology?

Isabel’s lovely little book poses many questions as well as answers, it gets you searching for your own solutions. I commend it to you!

Virtual Teams: simple steps to help with self isolation

What do you do when one of your team has to self isolate just before Christmas and is unable to join the pre Christmas celebration? Put the celebrations on hold, go on with the show without them, or make them centre stage of your event?

The team at Bees Homes chose the latter and having dusted down a few of my “Managing Virtual Teams” notes, we asked our Team Executive, Gemma who was self isolating, to come up with an online quiz to accompany our hastily (re) arranged pre Christmas gathering.

It proved to be a success with much laughter. Why?

  1. Snacks (and wine) were shared as we had passed by her home on the way to the office and left food – Gemma had what we had.
  2. Gemma was the host so drove the pace of the event which lasted a couple of hours.
  3. Drawing on some great ideas on this Team Building site, she came up with a “Spin the wheel” quiz and added questions such as “What is your favourite Christmas Song?”
  4. The whole team were visible throughout – see Gemma’s view from my laptop.
  5. We have spent time in f2f team meetings developing a collaborative and supportive culture.
  6. Gemma is someone who responds well to adversity and takes responsibility.

It reinforced many of the tips I’ve given clients over the last couple of decades about managing virtual teams.

Happy New Year!

Dad are you really a spy?

Undertaking international assignments

Many years ago Nicola, my daughter, asked this question. I spent at least 3 months of the year going to places that would not feature on any list of recommended travel destinations. And when I came back much of what I would discuss was somehow from another world. She was mystified (and probably still is) which is one reason I started recording my adventures and writing books.

I’ve learned much about people, places and culture to the point where I have more friends outside of the UK than in it. Someone asked me how many countires I’d visited – while not yet in three figures the number is not far off.

During a 40+ career I’ve managed countless assignments while pursuing a portfolio of activities and dealt with many clients while I was a banker plying my trade in the Middle East.

So, I was delighted when, on assuming office as CILIP President, I received a request from one of their special interest groups, International Libraries & Information Group, to give a talk to them about working internationally.

They very kindly recorded the event for posterity and here it is:

Don’t “reinvent the flat tyre”

By the skin of our teeth

Phew! Having arrived in Lisbon on December 20th concurrent with the announcement that estrangeiros were being banned, my wife and I headed for the Covid-19 testing centre so we could spend Christmas and New Year looking after my poorly Mother in Law. Imagine our relief as we caught the last flight back to the UK (and a period of self isolation) on January 4th before the cancellation of all flights.

While there I’d prepared my first Presidential message to the 10k+ members of the Chartered Institute of Libraries & Information Professionals (CILIP). In it I’d set out a few objectives and I’m delighted to note that a couple are underway.

The first of my “Presidential Musings” is about to be published in CILIP’s flagship publication Information Professional. “To certify or not – the value of an ISO standard?” features a couple of highly respected senior managers who give their thoughts on how organisations might seek assessment against ISO 30401. Patricia Eng was an obvious choice, being the first globally accredited ISO KM Auditor and the former head of KM for a national regulatory body, as was Carol Aldridge, one of the few KM professionals I know of who has introduced ISO standards into her organisation. Carol’s summary comment is very apposite:

“Demand may come if and when organisations see this standard as a convenient means for evaluating suppliers’ KM performance as well as a framework for assessing their own.”

And the good news is that subscribers (CILIP members) can now view this via a downloadable app.

“Don’t know how to be poor”

A very busy month followed: 4 days of masterclasses, a couple of board meetings, numerous Zoom calls, a webinar on search, plus 2 Cobra meetings in my home town Eastbourne to discuss the ongoing pandemic.

From relative obscurity and a very low rate of Covid-19 cases per 100k Eastbourne entered the top 10 of most affected areas in the UK with an average of nearly 1k cases per 100k. Civic leaders and health professionals attributed it to:

  • An influx of day trippers driving to the South Downs National Park to meet friends
  • A large proportion of blue collar manual workers unable to work from home
  • An influx of homeless people from outside the borough being housed in local hotels

A campaign to change behaviours around the use of masks while shopping and fuelling the car is being put in place since 30% of cases were attributable to those activities.

Perhaps most worrying is the dramatic rise in demand from working class families seeking assistance to feed their children and too proud to visit food banks. As one of the volunteer group leaders put it, “they don’t know how to be poor” and need a lot of assistance and direction from volunteer groups to signpost them to the help that’s available.

The good news is our local vaccination programme is ahead of schedule (my 93 year old mother had the jab in December) and collaboration, between everyone involved in the supporting the local community, remains excellent.

Osmotic learning

One of my Zoom catch up chats was with the engaging Ian Rodwell of Linklaters. We talked about how in a virtual environment you might recreate the serendipitous encounters that are often the source of new ideas and connections. Ian is working on something he describes as “Scheduled randomness” – watch this space for more, and as Head of Client Knowledge & Learning his focus is on Osmotic Learning. “Lockdown Learning” and “Return to the Office Toolkit” are recent outputs.

Ian’s challenges are I imagine mirrored by many: how to maintain lockdown momentum, motivation and focus in a virtual environment; how to build on the extended reach that tools such as Zoom and Teams provide; and how to keep the contributions (top tips) coming from officers.

I heard similar concerns about keeping up momentum expressed in a subsequent conversation with another global Knowledge Manager. We talked about the difficulties of managing across continents and time zones, of maintaing peripheral vision while facilitating virtually and encouraging contributions from junior members of staff. She noted one downside of Teams is that it can create silos.

Being remotely human

Having introduced Dr Bonnie Cheuk to the members of CILIP’s K&IM SIG I wanted to be sure to attend the webinar she ran a few weeks back entiled: “Digital transformation, learning and development and knowledge management: is the line blurring“. I was glad I did.

Bonnie’s title is is Senior Business and Digital Transformation Leader, AstraZeneca. So much of what she does is around facilitation and creating an environment for knowledge sharing to occur. I had the pleasure of working with her and members of her team a couple of years ago during the transformation of the business and know how important a number of the initiatives she put in place were in accelarating changing ways of working. The unprecedented discovery and production of the AZ/Oxford Covid-19 vaccination is a great example of more agile working and effective use of tools such as “Pause & Reflect”, “Working out Loud” and “Paying it Forward”.

I was particulalry drawn to her example of creating a regular online hangout around the virtual global watercooler as an attempt to redefine learning and unlearning and create a human space in a remote environment. More on that in the future, below is a sneak preview!

Agile KM

While on the subject of Agile working, Chris Collison and I had the great pleasure of running a “behind the firewall” KM Cookbook Masterclass over a couple of days for the Agile Business Consortium’s senior leadership team and board. Using a combination of Zoom and Mural we used the KM Canvas to address issues that will arise as they develop their KM capacity.

What stood out to me, apart from how smart they all were, was the ease with which they navigated the canvas and how rapidly and candidly they were able to identify gaps and needs.

Professionalising KM

Much work has been going on in the health sector. Apart from Chris Collison and my masterclasses with Public Health England, Health Education England (HEE)’s Library & Knowledge Services, who have been doing an amazing job providing evidence based knowledge to front line workers, recently launched a five year strategic framework Knowledge for Healthcare Mobilising evidence; sharing knowledge; improving outcomes. Led by Sue Lacey Bryant, a CILIP Trustee and the 2018 winner of the Walford Award, it is very much at the core of a drive to professionalise Knowledge and Library Services across the health industry. Who can argue with this:

Knowledge and evidence are business critical because the quality of care, patient safety and service transformation is underpinned by informed decision-making.

In fact, HEE helped fund the enhancement and rewrite of CILIP’s Professional Skills and Knowledge Base (PKSB) which is due to be launched to the profession in Q2 this year. HEE use it as a core tool for helping to develop its professional staff. Mapped to ISO KM Standards 30401, it is a major development and goes a long way to providing a set of core competences against which to benchmark a knowledge professional’s development.

“In conversation with…”

l’ve begun the initiative of direct engagement with CILIP’s members I flagged in my presidential message. These chats have been both enjoyable and heartwarming; hearing the stories of people coping and thriving in a pandemic will hopefully inspire others. I will be summarising these conversations in my regular column in Information Professional.

And finally

Ahead of the recent round of Virtual Mezze Masterclasses we asked participants to imagine they were at dinner with a partner.

The responses from many KM ‘newbies’ were hugely insightful. Here’s a selection:

Knowledge Management is about leveraging information, knowledge, experience and connectivity, it can speed up processes and learning allowing you to start off on the best foot and be creative.

How to ensure that knowledge and experience of every individual in a community is shared in such a way that 1+1=3

Bringing together knowledge and evidence from across a range of sources and synthesising this to enable easy interpretation.

Knowledge management is really important to everyone because it helps us all to do our jobs and keep our organisation running. Imagine if there hadn’t been any guidance or procedures, when you first began your job. How would you know how to do it? Capturing the knowledge and experience of others that have come before is important for this. But equally important is that you know where to find it – even starting with knowing that it exists. So, having a structure and knowing how to use both the structure and the information is very important!

Without it I guess we’d keep re-inventing the wheel or the flat tyre. Time consuming!

This, from Aku Sorainen senior partner of one of the most successful European law firms, and a reviewer (a “restaurateur”) of The KM Cookbook, neatly sums up the value of KM to knowledge based institutions.

Anniversaries, reflections and the importance of why: in Bruxelles, Eastbourne & Khartoum!

Reflections, space and sabbaticals beside the sea in Eastbourne

I do some of my best thinking on my daily ‘walk to work’. It’s a ritual I’ve followed from my early days as a commuter and I’ve found that, no matter what I am working on (or where), this reflection time is vital. I’m fortunate; I live close to the sea (in Eastbourne & LIsbon) and today as the tide was going out the scent of moss on rocks and seaweed filled the air.

As seen on my  Feburary 13th ‘Walk to work’

It was a special moment and for some reason triggered a recollection of the scent of Bakhoor (wood chips soaked in fragrance oils) I was to discover on my first business trip to Jeddah 40 years ago. Then, as Business Class did not exist, I travelled in First on a Lockheed Tristar 1011 that landed at the old Jeddah airport close to the centre of the city. It was August and blisteringly hot just before the Hajj so the airport was full of people all in white arriving for their once in a lifetime pilgramage to Mecca.

I digress. As if by divine intervention who should appear as the sun made an appearance through the clouds but the Rev Giles Carpenter, Vicar of St John’s Eastbourne who was out for his morning constitutional with his dogs. Giles, a family friend, has a quiet yet persuasive manner. He has built a vibrant church community based on actions not words. His is a 24×7 role and interestingly his employer recognises the importance of a time out / reflection period. Giles is off on a sabbatical having just completed the 5 year mission of the church which has been a collaborative not top down process similar in style to many KM programmes.

Inside the EU in Bruxelles

Fast forward 40 years and I’m in Bruxelles with Chris Collison working with the Knowledge Management Community in the European Union. We are here, at the invitation of Marie-Veronique Lecomte, to run a Masterclass, on the ISO 30401 KM Standards as viewed through the lens of the KM Cookbook, then host a clinic on KM issues they are facing.  It’s been many years since I was here on Communities of Practice with Richard McDermott and though I’ve been to the city a a few times since its my first excursion via Eurostar from Ebbsfleet Int.

The event is extremely well attended (50+) and begins well with many favourable and welcome comments on the KM Cookbook. Throughout the day the group are enthusiastic and energetic. The stories we share from the book are particularly well received and relevant. Unsurprisingly, when we get to the KM Canvas and they start to work on some of the questions, what emerges is a community at different stages of evolution facing the familar challenge wherein KM strives to have a commonly understood identity and purpose.

Having followed the technology route using Yammer and Teams as a way of encouraging collaboration WHY KM I find myself asking? What problem is KM the solutiion for and how (if at all) does it map back to the strategic direction of the European Commission?

Like the International Olympic Committee (IoC), the European Commission faces a significant challenge to transfer and make use of knowledge: from consultants who come and go; from new and departing staff; and from relocating staff.  How does it build on what it knows especially in Directorates such as Joint Research Centre (JRC)?

So if that’s a ‘Why’ then, taking a deeper dive into the How, locating expertise across such a diverse organisation is a huge issue. I think back to a Masterclass Martin White and I held on Expertise Discovery 2 years ago. Ahead of that we ran a survey to see how prepared organisations are to tackle the challenge of locating and utilising expertise. Here’s an extract that illustrates a few of the areas that JRC might need to address if it goes down the technology route:

In reality probably 10% of employees leave each year and are replaced by a similar number of new employees. Your organisation will have taken a lot of care in selecting these new employees on the basis of the expertise and experience they will bring with them.

One of the surprising outcomes of the survey is that little attention seems to be paid to bringing this expertise to the attention of people who might need it or who relied on the employee who has now left. The newcomer will (hopefully) be asked to create a profile but remember that the expertise system has been tracking documents have been written and other contributions that have been made by the person they have replaced for perhaps several years. How long do you think it will be until  the system presents the expertise of the new employee as at least equivalent to their predecessor? A month, six months, a year? Until this point in time the investment in the employee in terms of their expertise will be minimal other than to their immediate colleagues.

The expert who has left will leave a trail of knowledge behind but they will not appear on the list of employees or on the email directory. Even in small organisations it can take time for the disappearance of the expert to be common knowledge. Will people searching for expertise and find a name as a result of a document the expert wrote, a network they were part of, or a corporate presentation they gave, be directed to their replacement? This of course assumes that there is someone taking over a role and having the same expertise. Or will the search turn up the expertise equivalent of a 404 error? Managing this situation is not easy and in our experience there is often a difference of opinion as to whether it is the responsibility of HR, their business manager or IT as owners of the application.

Some of the EU’s ‘KM Chef’s’ with their certificates and hats

We all left with much to ponder on and a resurgent community keen to begin.

Knowledge Matchmaking in Khartoum

Concurrently I was ‘in’ Khartoum for the Sudanese Knowledge Society Symposium on Citizen Science. One of a series of events it was aimed at mobilising local knowledge on topics important for the development of a country undergoing significant political change.

I’d agreed with the organising committee that I would donate a KM Cookbook to the ‘project’ they deemed most worthy and I was delighted to see the list of contenders.

Unable to be there in person I did nevertheless record a piece to camera which I’m told was well received and I was delighted to learn that ‘Public Transportation’ was chosen.  I am hoping that the Transport for London Menu chapter of the book proves of use to them.

I owe thanks to Ana Neves and Ron Donaldson for their willingness to share their experience on mobilising citizen knowledge with Dr Gada Kadoda and the team in Sudan.

And finally

As President Elect I attend, but do not vote at, CILIP Board meetings and I attended my first in January. As a charitable organisation established by Royal Charter it is well placed to become a natural home for the Knowledge (and Information) Management Community. Over the coming months it will be unveiling an exciting programme of events and witnessing the first graduates of the KM Chartership Cohort.  This has gained a lot of support and generated much global interest: the latest enrollment was full in a day.

I remain on the Project Board overseeing the Chartership and Fellowship project and will be talking more on this in March at the KM Summit in London.