Trust, leadership and culture

It’s almost 6 months since the first lockdown was imposed in the UK yet the media is awash with stories of second waves of infection and a failure to meet demand for testing. Add the continuing furore over the “oven ready deal” to leave the European Union the electorate was promised in Q4 last year and its clear that trust in our organs of state is being seriously eroded.

Is that relevant in a business context? I would argue yes. Business doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It is on the receiving end of policy decisions made by government, often having to interpret guidance that is unclear. ‘Thriving on ambiguity’ works in a diplomatic environment enabling many interpretations of a word or phrase and allowing all parties to present outcomes as beneficial to them.

Professor Geert Hofstede who conducted one of the most comprehensive studies of how values in the workplace are influenced by country culture notes:

British are comfortable in ambiguous situations – the term ‘muddling through’ is a very British way of expressing this. There are generally not too many rules in British society, but those that are there are adhered to (the most famous of which of course is the British love of queuing which has also to do with the values of fair play).

In work terms this results in planning that is not detail oriented – the end goal will be clear … but the detail of how we get there will be light and the actual process fluid and flexible to emerging and changing environment. Planning horizons will also be shorter.

It is not a sound approach to managing a crisis or meeting treaty obligations.

If guidance is not informed by the best knowledge and data, or deemed politically expedient to ignore it, frustration, chaos and a polarisation of society is the outcome.

Once trust gets eroded at the top of society, and professionals tasked with enacting the guidance are held accountable for the actions of their masters, there is a ripple effect on business (and life). How for example can NHS Trusts conduct effective After Action Reviews or Lessons Learned exercises if any admission of error may result in dismissal or court action?

And the behaviours people see in their leaders often reappear further down the chain.

What is becoming increasingly clear in the UK is:

  • There is a shift towards a hybrid model of home and hub working;
  • Many organisations are reshaping their workforce concurrent with the phasing out of furlough; and
  • Law firms and HR specialists are awash with requests to draft new contracts and assist with the laying off of workers.

What might you ask has this to do with Knowledge Management? Unfortunately a lot.

In the ISO 30401 KM Standard considerable attention is paid to the role leadership and culture plays in developing an effective Knowledge Management programme. Underpinning both is the need for trust: that what we are being told is the truth; that decisions are based on an assessment of all the facts; and that those tasked with coming up with solutiuons are not in some way tied to those who gave them the contract to do so.

Today, few organisations are equipped to handle the impact of the pandemic on their organisational knowledge and even less on the efficacy of their knowledge and search systems (“where do I find…?”).

This is not a new situation. A few years ago I was in a client’s office when some key employees with very domain specific knowledge announced their departure. If you want to read more about the approach I encouraged the client to adopt take a look at: Going but not forgotten: how to conduct knowledge capture in a hurry“.

Impact of country culture and values

My recent (restricted) travels resurrected my interest in the role country culture plays in how people (and organisations) respond in a crisis and how they collaborate (or don’t).

A month previously I’d been in Germany staying with a Dutch friend. I’d seen the Germans universally adhere to track & trace, to social distancing and the wearing of masks. My Dutch friend had described in some detail how her countrymen struggled at first but were ultimately respectful of others. In Portgual over some amazing bottles of wine, superb food and horse riding (sorry I just had to put the picture in) I’d asked family and friends of all ages and status to rank their government’s performance. Each came out at about 7/10.

The media in these countries has for the most part been broadly supportive and in most cases the prevailing feeling was one of trust. I didn’t get a sense of polarised societies. As I’ve lived and/or worked in all three I was intrigued.

German Values, Gezellig & Saudade

Perhaps most revealingly each country’s characteristics play out in the way they’ve responded:

Germany

Hofstede notes:

…A direct and participative communication and meeting style is common, control is disliked and leadership is challenged to show expertise and best accepted when it’s based on it.

Communication is among the most direct in the world following the ideal to be “honest, even if it hurts” – and by this giving the counterpart a fair chance to learn from mistakes.’

Separate research revealed 5 core values most Germans aspire to:

Family, Order, Punctuality, Truthfullness and Attitude towards work.

Netherlands

Hofstede says:

.. keep the life/work balance and you make sure that all are included. An effective manager is supportive to his/her people, and decision making is achieved through involvement. Managers strive for consensus and people value equality, solidarity and quality in their working lives. Conflicts are resolved by compromise and negotiation and Dutch are known for their long discussions until consensus has been reached.

Wikipedia notes:

“… gezellig, does not have an English equivalent. Literally, it means cozy, quaint, or nice, but can also connote time spent with loved ones, seeing a friend after a long absence, or general togetherness.”

Portugal

Hofstede says:

… a close long-term commitment to the member ‘group’, be that a family, extended family, or extended relationships. Loyalty in a collectivist culture is paramount, and over-rides most other societal rules and regulations. The society fosters strong relationships where everyone takes responsibility for fellow members of their group.

Echoing the Dutch example there is a word that sums up the national consciousness:

Saudade is a deep emotional state of nostalgic or profound melancholic longing for an absent something or someone that one cares for and/or loves. Moreover, it often carries a repressed knowledge that the object of longing might never be had again. It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places, or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, and well-being, which now trigger the senses and make one experience the pain of separation from those joyous sensations. However it acknowledges that to long for the past would detract from the excitement you feel towards the future. Saudade describes both happy and sad at the same time, which is most closely translated to the English saying ‘bitter sweet’. Wikipedia

In Portugal unlike the UK 70% of professional staff are back at work. Everyone wears a mask when in public, hand sanitisers are everywhere, the mercado has a disinfectant machine to go thru before entering, there is a curfew on the sale of alcohol after 8pm, nightclubs are closed and police are seen enforcing the use of masks in supermarkets.

The government has recovered from a slow start, is seen as being transparent and The President who is widely admired leads the public. Statistics and data are trusted.

Back to Hofstede. Here’s what his team concluded about dealing with the British:

Critical to understanding the British is being able to ‘’read between the lines’.’ What is said is not always what is meant. 

Remote working implications

Over the past few years I’ve run a number of Masterclasses on Managing Virtual Teams. What this period has reinforced is the need to think much more deeply about set up, composition and language especially since I will be runing a number of virtual events in the coming months. The first of these is on September 30th for KMSA .

What do I takeaway from my excursions and time helping my town to respond to the crisis:

  • Country culture is amplified in a crisis
  • Remote or virtual working exagerrates country culture
  • People need some form of social interaction to make virtual work
  • Virtual facilitation requires taking a step back to let the silence hang!

And finally

For the last 6 months I’ve been involved in my town (Eastbourne’s) response to the crisis. I encouraged the civic leaders to follow KM principles and for a time that was successful especially in the planning phase. All meetings have been held virtually and participants from Leader of the Council to Volunteer Heads adapted well to using Zoom and MS Teams.

The majority of the 110k residents would probably applaud the collaborative non partisan efforts. The homeless were housed, people rallied round making PPE, incidence of infection is among the lowest in the country despite it being a town dependent on tourism and a number of recovery initiatives originated from within the group.

And yet it’s been galling to witness the disconnect between the headline announcement and the article (guidelines) those charged with implementation are faced with!

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.

 

 

why networks (and meditation) matter in a virtual world

It’s been an effort getting back into the swing of things after a lovely Christmas spent in Cascais!  Maintaining a portfolio of activities as I have since 1999 requires a considerable amount of self motivation and a supportive network. So it was nice when ‘on cue’ a couple of my oldest friends / former colleagues (Martin, James and Victoria) got in touch to arrange catch up sessions and Tony Melendez of Saudi Aramco posted a picture (see below) of the 50 copies of The KM Cookbook his KM Team ordered for the management of the world’s largest oil company.

Importance of reflecting

Over the past few months I’ve been full on helping my fellow partners at Bees Homes LLP run our annual ‘Pride of Eastbourne’ campaign. It culminated in the donation of 5 hampers to deserving people/causes prior to Christmas. Apart from managing the logistics of the campaign and mobilising mayoral resource, there is also the media and a “pause & reflect” to run so that, following good KM practice, lessons are transferred back into process for the next campaign. Taking the time out to reflect on any campaign, event or project is essential irrespective of size and number of stakeholders.  Our session which included debriefing with the Chamber of Commerce yielded a number of learning’s that would not have surfaced if we’d have not met face to face. It enabled us to also reflect on why the campaign was a success. These were deemed critical success factors:

  • Clarity of roles / absence of hierarchy;
  • Clarity over timings / regular updates;
  • Willingness of everyone to pitch in; and
  • Clarity over budget.

And this is what the local paper (The Eastbourne Herald) printed:

 

President Elect (CILIP)

Some of you will be aware that on January 1st I was appointed President Elect of CILIP having been nominated by my good friend (former Chair and fellow BSI KM Standards Committee member) Karen Macfarlane. It took a few months to come to closure as for the first time I will be in a figurehead role devoid of executive authority.  Here’s why I said yes:

“In 2017 in ‘Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion’ I noted inter alia that to achieve corporate legitimacy, KM professionals would benefit from the introduction of a set of universal standards plus recognised practitioner led accreditation. I was pleased to have been a member of the BSI Committee that contributed to the development and publication of the ISO KM Standards 30401 and the CILIP project board overseeing the development of the Knowledge Management Chartership accreditation.  

I am delighted to be appointed as President Elect CILIP as it allows me to remain close to and promote the ongoing development of a global practitioner led KM Chartership and Fellowship while expanding CILIP’s global reach.”

Knowledge Matchmaking

My wife Ana was at a charity event recently where she bid for and won a morning’s session with someone ‘Calmer Self‘ who helps:

…busy, successful people who are struggling to find moments of calm in their day to day lives…

Ana gifted it to me so two weeks ago I spent a ‘morning on the couch’ much of it in a state of meditation. I found it insightful and thought provoking. Among a number of observations handed to me were:

…when you offer advice and help to others it’s ok to truly let it go and to know that it is ok for them to do what they want with what you have given them… that it is perfectly acceptable to protect yourself from people that take too much from you energetically.

This resonated in respect of my previous writings on Knowledge Matchmaking. Perhaps this is the missing #10 on my list?

KM Cookbook

Nick Poole CEO, CILIP  (who own the publisher Facet) told me a few weeks before Christmas that the book is now well on the way to being their best seller (in 4 months) which is great news. And that was before this bulk order from Saudi Aramco.

What’s been particularly pleasing are the reviews, the highly respected Portuguese KM’er Ana Neves said:

“The authors’ combined experience permeates every page: it is in the book’s concept and structure, in the useful artefacts they developed (like the KM Chef’s Canvas, for instance), and in the way they expertly led and made sense of the interviews to then compose the 16 core chapters of the book – the KM approaches taken by different organisations.”

My coauthors and I have been delighted too at the wilingness of people to send photos of their copy in some amazing venues to contribute to the ‘Chelfies’ Gallery.  How many of the faces do you recognise?

Forthcoming Q1 ‘Gigs’

My aim over the coming year is to build on the success of the KM Cookbook and specifically draw on the KM Canvas to help organisations review existing programmes, build a new one or prepare for a future KM Audit against ISO 30401.

Chris Collison and I are booked for an event at the EU soon and I will be helping the good folks at NetIKX at the end of January to consider: Virtual working and learning: is it working for you?

In March I will be running sessions at the annual KM Summit, a K&IM Professional Development Day and AGM (a CILIP event) plus addressing a group of award winning entrepreneurs in Brighton on the importance of Knowledge Management to SME’s.

And finally

2020 is here. I’d already mentally devoted the bulk of it to helping Bees Homes and Coastway Financial expand and take a step back from KM Consulting other than associated with KM Cookbook. A recent email from an organisation to me (among others) with a Request for a Proposal (RFP) convinced me of the veracity of the decision. Dated 19th December the email asked for a written response to be on the desk of the Procurement Team by mail on Sunday 22nd December.  And it gave 17th December as the last date for submission of questions of clarification. Having spoken to like minded people I trust I immediately contacted Procurement to ask if they’d had no luck with an earlier mailing to prospective consultants or whether this was a mistake.  I received no formal acknowledgement but I and others got an email within 4 hours saying:

“… received various requests for the extension from our potential bodies and the Consultant Selection Panel members for this assignment came to the consensus to provide the extension for the submission date…”

How can Knowledge Management possibly thrive in an environment where the conduct of an audit of work done is a ‘tick box’ exercise aimed at justifying spend?  Life’s too short!!!!

 

New Year, new book: getting the KM Cookbook over the line

Stop press: 4 February 19

Today Chris Collison handed over the first iteration of the manuscript to Facet Publishing. The countdown begins to the May publication date.

——

The past 3 months have been hectic as Chris Collison, Patricia Eng and I raced to meet a publisher deadline of 31st January. I’ve enjoyed the discipline of conducting interviews and turning them into chapters that showcase their KM activities.

I’ve also enjoyed working virtually as a team even though bandwidth in Chile and at some airports can be a challenge (Patricia is touring South America and Chris spends more time on planes than I do).

It all begun over dinner as most good things do. Having run a joint Masterclass in Lisbon in May 2017 Chris Collison and I were sitting in a restaurant overlooking the River Tejo supping a wonderful Alentejo Red wine enjoying Arroz do Marisco (Portuguese Paella).

Over the next 6 months we had a number of discussions culminating in a decision to go ahead and write a book using the release of the ISO KM Standards as a backdrop.

A book that makes no promise to help the reader ‘pass’ an assessment, more one that draws on great examples from leading global organisations and highlights aspects from their KM Programmes others might find inspirational.

I’ve learned so much during this time and could not have wished for a more varied group of organisations to interview:

  • PROCERGS of Brasil
  • MAPNA of Iran
  • Saudi Aramco of Saudi Arabia
  • Petroleum Development Oman
  • Dstl (Defence Science & Technology Labs) of the UK
  • Transport for London of the UK
  • Financial Conduct Authority of the UK
  • TechnipFMC of the US, UK and France

There have been so many interesting stories and reassuringly endorsement of the importance of the “8 ‘ates (soft skills essential for KIM’ers) I’ve spoken about and led masterclasses on. It’s also been interesting to learn that one organisation has aligned it’s own KM consultancy effort to the new ISO 30401 KM standard.

Introducing the book

The KM Cookbook serves up a menu of success stories and strategies for organizations wanting to know more about Knowledge Management Standard ISO30401 – whether they intend to pursue certification, or simply seek to use it  as a framework to review their existing programme and strategy.

Knowledge Management (KM) has been around for over 20 years as a set of tools and methods for connecting, collecting and creating knowledge. Lots has been written, and there are tens of thousands of practitioners out there—in-company  specialists and consultants.  Unlike Lean, Agile and other business improvement methodologies, KM has never had a single agreed set of tools, or a commercial accreditation or standard.  Attending a KM conference can feel a bit like visiting an international street food market!

In many ways, the arrival of an internationally agreed standard and vocabulary, imbues fresh professional credibility and to the field of Knowledge Management. It provides knowledge managers with a ‘brand-new kitchen’, and a moment during which they can pause for a moment and consider the service that they provide to their organisations.

Why a Cookbook?
For a potential restauranteur who has gone beyond casual street-food and is looking to sell a service to customers, the challenge – and the opportunity – is to provide a distinctive offering with consistency and professionalism.  To do that successfully requires a number of elements:  credible reputation, premises, staff, tasty and appealing menus and recipes, compliance with relevant food hygiene standards, and, of course, blood, sweat and tears.  And at the heart of it all, with its appliances, utensils and food stocks, is the restaurant kitchen.

In the KM Cookbook, we use the metaphor of the restaurant, its cuisine, owner, chef, staff, ingredients, menu-planners, customers – and a restaurant critic to serve up ISO30401 on a plate for the readers. The second half of the book explores sixteen different examples of KM in practice, through the words of their ‘KM chefs’.

Imagine you had the opportunity, not just to enjoy a new, well-equipped and fully inspected kitchen – but also the chance to sit down with KM ‘chefs’ from around the world, across different industry sectors and listen to their stories. That’s exactly what we have set out to do with the KM Cookbook.

Who we’ve written it for

Our aim has been to produce a highly readable, slightly tongue-in-cheek dinner companion for a wide readership. We hope anyone looking to see how Knowledge Management can make a difference to their business will enjoy this as a good read and that KIM Professionals, Senior Management, Quality Management and Human Resource Professionals will find much of specific interest to them.

Agreeing a framework and table of contents took time; we narrowed down the immediate target audience to:

  • Senior Management: trying to decide whether to adopt the standards
  • Practitioners: tasked with implementing the standards and remaining compliant
  • Assessors: who will assess organisational KM activity against the standards to help them understand KM

Draw up a chair –  we hope you’re hungry!