I was approached recently by a former client to see if I would be willing to update a piece of work I was involved with a decade ago.
I was initially reticent as much of my last 5 years has been occupied setting up and running a business (Bees Homes Property Limited), co-authoring a couple of books (“Navigating the Minefield” and “KM Cookbook“) conducting global masterclasses as well as undertaking pro bono work (President CILIP and a founding member of Eastbourne’s “Cobra” Committee and BSI’s KM Standards Committee). Frankly, as we were also dealing with a family bereavement, the last thing I was interested in was another assignment.
And it came concurrent with another request for assistance but I was attracted by the learning opportunity of revisiting previous recommendations.
I’ve always been a proponent of “Give / Get” or “Paying it forward”. That, if you put yourself out for others and give without expectation of reward, people will remember when you need to ask of them. And so it proved.
I sent a note (via LinkedIn) to some of my network. Here’s what I said:
I’ve been reflecting on 30 years of “KM” experience as a precursor for a new piece of work. I’m asking friends and close connections these questions.
…would you mind taking a stab at answering them. Obviously your response would be treated in confidence.
I was hugely appreciative of the many and varied responses and offers to chat about them. While preserving confidentiality I am sure the global contributors (drawn from industrial engineering, pharma, defence, law, consulting) will allow me a few observations. This was the first question:
What’s the #1 business issue you’ve been addressing?
Data Governance. All parts of the business are impacted by a lack of enterprise wide, fully integrated data governance strategy, tools and behaviours.
Timely provision of reference projects as well as exchange of lessons learned in the project business to avoid mistakes.
Embedding LfE (Learning from experience) in projects meant a long detour to first define a projects approach to embed into (!)
The amount of time it takes to approve consumer-facing knowledge has been my biggest challenge.
Ability to accurately map current capability and knowledge in digital and information professionals or subsequently plan for future needs.
Knowing what each other is doing and what each other knows.
Dealing with hybrid work model. From KM side it is document automation.
In 2017 in “Navigating the Minefield” I wrote as a summary observation on the programmes we’d looked at, Operational KM to the fore, Strategic KM to the rear.
Interestingly, 5 years on, the majority of the above are focussed on “burning platform” issues, hence tactically driven rather than strategic.
The exception is driven by the founder who insists senior managers take ownership of content placed on their practice management system. They recognise that their core product is knowledge and needs to be findable and reused where applicable.
It’s a theme I am finding time and again as organisations attempt to answer:
Where do I find?
What did we do?
What if they leave?
How do we create and share new knowledge?
Communication is at the heart of effective KM. Presenting findings or seeking input to an idea is often about putting yourself in the shoes of the recipient.
The simple act of putting a “Draft” watermark on a document when circulating it for comment among seniors and peers will send a powerful signal about ‘working out loud’ and challenge existing hierarchichal ways of working.
I’ve found a visualisation to be worth a thousand words. Here’s six drivers I believe underpin many KM programmes. I’d be interested in the thoughts of others.
In case you are wondering about the relevance of the picture (of a road in the medieval town of Warkwick) it’s where I got the idea of this article from!
When I set out on my Presidential journey last January it was in the expectation I would get to meet a cross section of the membership at the annual conference as well as regional events. As it turned out ‘my year’ was almost exclusively virtual. The upside: I got to meet a number of international members and speak at international events. The downside: I didn’t get to visit other parts of the UK to see first hand the important role libraries play in the community.
I’d spent much of the previous 3 years promoting the idea of an independent accreditation for the Knowledge & Information Management professional, so I had high hopes that KM Chartership / Fellowship along with the recently released ISO KM Standards might come to prominence during my term of office.
As the global community was attempting to get to grips with restrictions caused by and the aftermath of the pandemic I was intrigued: What will the new normal look like?; will work be a hybrid of virtual and in person?; will it revert to being location specific?; and will the communal spirit endure? I hypothesised that in 2021,
I am convinced that those who succeed will be agile, collaborative, tenacious, excellent facilitators and a trusted resource, good at curation.
How accurate was this hypothesis?
One of the initatives I introduced was “Presidential Musings. I invited a variety of prominent industry figures to examine some of the questions I’d raised. These were captured in CILIP’s flagship publication Information Professional and can be accessed below.
We started with the ISO KM Standard and it’s likely take up. We then looked at the rapid growth in digital publishing and it’s potential impact on Libraries. Following on, we examined the impact of onboarding new employees in a virtual world. We looked back to look forward in assessing the role of Libraries over 100 years. We tracked the journey of a senior University Librarian who changed roles and continents. We debated (and captured thoughts on) distributed working and its impact on urban centres. We rounded off with a look at the role Knowledge & Information Professionals played in helping to run a successful Olympics during the pandemic.
As I look back at each article I am extremely grateful to everyone who gave of their time and knowledge. I hope you find them as enjoyable to read as I did to research and write.
It’s been a very hectic period since I returned (just in time before quarantine was reimposed) from Portugal. Since face to face communication is at a premium and Zoom / Team dominates working conversations I thought I’d reflect (#workingoutloud) on ‘stuff’.
KM Cookbook: Virtual Mezze Masterclasses
In the last few weeks, Chris Collison and I have run “behind the firewall” virtual masterclasses for the South African Knowledge Management Community (KMSA) and a prominent law firm. Well attended in each case they were held on Zoom / Mural and Teams / Miro. Both were exceptionally well received- no technical glitches to report – and the brekaout sessions around the KM Chef’s Canvas stimulated much discussion and “to do” lists.
The Walford Award & Presentation
In a couple of weeks time I will be giving the annual Walford keynote address to CILIP’s K&IM Community and presenting this year’s award to the hugely deserving Naomi Korn.
The 2019 event was followed by an enjoyable dinner with other award winners: 2020 is going to be held en famille. I like that the organisers have given me free reign to choose a topic the title of which will be: “Who needs knowledge professionals?” It’s not too late to sign up, see here.
The Knowledge Management Officer
A month ago Professor Eric Tsui asked me (and a number of others in the KM community) if I’d be willing to create a short video clip for his Hong Kong students about what it takes to be a Knowledge Management Officer. It made me reflect on how much or how little the role has changed since I first came across the term back in 1994.
Certifying the certifier: ISO KM Standards
My good friend and coauthor Patricia Eng has been hard at it these past few months preparing for the December launch of Dr Ron McKinley (previously Chair of the ISO Technical Committee that helped develop 30401) and her program for aspiring ISO KM Assessors.
The topic of who certifies the ISO KM assessor has generated much space on KM chat groups with claims and counter claims about who is and is not authorised to undertake an ISO KM Assessment against ISO 30401.
Patricia has always passionately advocated the separation of the consultant and auditor role. Of late there is a danger, with the slew of announcements from The Gulf claiming to be the first program to be certified, that the line is becoming increasingly blurred so the sooner she and Ron can begin accrediting would be assessors the better.
Ron’s Linkedin post ISO 30401 Certification Authority of a few weeks back is worth skimming through. I am looking forward to seeing them differentiate between and knowledge audit and a Km systems audit.
Cobra meetings and Kruger report
I continue to serve on my town’s ‘Cobra Committee’. Comprising Eastbourne’s civic leaders, business heads, health professionals, volunteer groups, enforcement officers, tourism chiefs and our MP, it meets virtually to ensure a coordinated response to issues presented by Covid-19 and that lessons get translated into policy responses.
It’s been tough for the local authorities to interpret guidelines from above while managing social cohesion and with half term holidays approaching the community is bracing itself powerless to prevent an influx of visitors from areas where the incidence of Covid cases per 100k is four times that of our town.
One of the topics I raised at this week’s meeting was the recent report “Levelling up our communities: proposals for a new social covenant“. Attempting to build on the community spirit that has emerged during the Coivd-19 pandemic, the report from Danny Kruger MP, sets out a vision for a more local, more human, less bureaucratic, less centralised society in which people are supported and empowered to play an active role in their neighbourhoods.
The importance of digital inclusion, digital literacy and collaborative public spaces, are topics that, as President Elect of CILIP, I care passionately about. Libraries Connected suggests:
“Libraries are at the heart of communities, reflecting and responding to local needs. They get more visits each year than any other cultural service, with a reach that extends right across income brackets, ages and ethnicities. They play an important role in promoting well-being and community cohesion by producing a range of cultural activities with their local communities, and providing many with access to vital online services.”
In 2013, when I was one of the founding trustees of the Zero Food Waste Charity Plan Zheroes seeking to redistribute edible surplus food to those who needed it, I hoped the issue of free meals during school holidays for those struggling to feed their family might be off the agenda by 2020. Alas it is not. Our MP Caroline Ansell showed her mettle this week, resigning her government post having voted with the opposition on the provision of school meals during the holidays.
The moral maze!
Interestingly and unrelated to the above, CILIP CEO Nick Poole tweeted this:
“When you strip it down, when you get right past politics and the law, the bedrock is morality. Each of us is at liberty to make a moral choice about how we treat the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. We ought to judge our politicians on the morality of their choices.”
To which I replied:
“@NickPoole1 Eastbourne’s current MP @Caroline_Ansell made her moral choice yesterday and resigned from HMG. @StephenLloydEBN the previous MP resigned the LibDem whip a few years back, also over a matter of conscience. Must be the sea air!!!”
And he responded:
“Thanks Paul! I honestly think we should fete politicians who vote with their moral conscience to the rooftops – anyone who remains in Government is morally complicit in its actions.”
November is shaping up to be very busy. I was due to start it in Lisbon but the twin demands of work and threat of enforced quarantine on my return caused a postponement. Instead I’ve 5 speeches / events to run from the confines of my Home Office or that of Bees Homes Country Office and views to die for!
#Distributedworking is now becoming the norm. The housing market is awash with urban buyers looking for country idylls in which to combine home and work as a result of Covid and firms relocating and changing their working patterns. Here’s just one example from Reuters of 19th October:
“Deloitte said Saturday it would close four of its 50 offices in the UK — but staff will remain at the big four firm on work-from-home contracts.“
An updated report from thinktank New Financial notes 332 financial services firms have already moved jobs out of London because of Brexit, up from 60 last time they looked in March. It makes sobering reading but presents a huge opportunity for the agile, tenacious and knowledgeable professional.
As I will suggest in a forthcoming presentation awareness of the importance of the role of knowledge professionals is growing as firms struggle with knowledge loss due to downsizing, finding ‘stuff’ in opaque systems, collaborating effectively and facilitating virutal conversations.
It promises to be an interesting 3 months: the US Election; further global lockdowns; UK’s severing of ties with Europe; and yours truly taking on the role of CILIP President at a time of great change!
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…?”).
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:
…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.
.. 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.
“… 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.”
… 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!
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!
It’s been a while! But as those who look at my postings elsewhere will know I’ve been fully occupied with the launch of The KM Cookbook which ‘hit the stands’ last Friday.
A few month’s back I was in Asia (KL and HK – before events took a turn for the worse) and asked to write my reflections for Information Professional. What follows is the full version of the truncated article that appears in the July / August edition.
Flying, food and fun!
Bottom: the author at dinner with Rupert Lescott (Dubai), John Hovell (Washington) and Janice Record (Hong Kong); top left, Patrick Lambe in action; and top right, Stand Up KM.
Q) What do these photos have in common? A) They were all taken at places I’ve been in the last few months sharing stories from the KM Cookbook.
From London to Lisbon, Kuala Lumpur to Hong Kong, people and organisations are actively engaged in knowledge management related activities.
And at each of the events there were a few stand out moments / presentations. Here’s a focus on Asia.
In Kuala Lumpur for a Masterclass (my 4th) at the International Islamic University of Malaysia I was looking forward to teaming up with Straits Knowledge and Patrick Lambe. As organisers of the KM Exchange in KL they had assembled a large crowd from across South East Asia for a share and learn day which I had the pleasure of kicking off.
This Peer Assist technique stood out:
A session with a panel (I was a member) judging the most innovative solution to a set of “KM Challenges’ posed by pre-selected members of the audience (one was a regulatory organisation).
Some of the delegates working through the “before, during and after” of a KM Audit
The following day’s Masterclass on the KM Cookbook and ISO 30401 was a delight once I’d shifted location and rearranged the furniture to create the collaborative workspace environment an interactive event needs.
The “Are you audit ready?” session was lively with those delegates from a regulatory / quality background particularly prominent and willing to help the group come up with a set of ground rules to prepare for a potential future KM Standards audit.
So, to Hong Kong (officially the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region) for another Masterclass (run jointly with Eric Hunter and hosted by Janice Record Director of Knowledge at DLA Piper) and two sessions at the KM Asia event.
KM Asia was less well attended than KM Exchange. At one point, I was wondering if there were going to be more speakers than delegates, reflecting an apparent disinterest in the term KM. There were few local presentations and limited audience interaction.
Its Day Two, I am leading a mid-morning session on ISO KM Standards 30401 following presentations by Patrick Lambe, Hank Malik and I. I invite the audience to stand up and then find someone they’ve not met. We all continue to stand up for the rest of the 30-minute session hence Patrick’s description of it as “Stand Up KM.”
I penned this tweet as I left Hong Kong for London:
“Great way to end what has been a fascinating couple of weeks in Asia: Breakfast with Larry Campbell. While Knowledge Management as a title is not de rigueur in HK it was nice to note the activity is still very much alive in the way organisations use data, precedent and knowledge of their people.”
The working out Loud dilemma
It was notable that though presenters talked about “Working out Loud”, very few shared their reflections publicly and even fewer used Twitter. I’ve written much on this in the past. It’s a challenge working cross borders and culture to find a mechanism that works for all.
In the flippant “Stand Up KM” paragraph I noted how it’s Day Two before the delegates are encouraged to fully participate. And that only worked when I encouraged people to change seats and wandered around the audience with a microphone inviting them to pass it onto others.
And finally – moments of laughter (eventually)
For many years when travelling east I like to get away from it all. Often it’s at Silvermine Bay on Lantau Island Hong Kong. 30-minutes from the airport it’s a world away from the bustle of Central but 40 minutes by fast ferry.
I arrived from KL early Saturday evening, took an early snack to get a peaceful night ahead of a busy week. As darkness fell I switched of the AC and opened the windows to let the sea breeze in. A mistake!
Picture by https://www.flickr.com/people/63048706@N06
There was a deafening sound rather like whales calling each other outside the window.
My curiosity stirred, I dressed and went in search of the source. I traced the noise to the drains and water courses that run into the sea.
The culprit, Giant Chinese Bullfrogs seeking a mate! Note to self: don’t go to a beach hotel in Silvermine in April!