Knowledge but not as we know it: “looking at business through a microscope and telescope”

Many moons ago before the introduction of GDPR I used to provide a semi annual update of my activities to people who said they were interested in what I was up to. With the requirement to get permissions from the recipients and a book to help complete those updates went to the back of the queue. Over the last few months though much has happened so here are a few reflections.

SmartWorking Summit

It’s Mid October and I’m back in Docklands to attend Quora’s Autumn Smart Working Summit. With attendees focused on work place environments and effective working practices (including genuine diversity) it picked up on a theme I’d heard recently at many Sussex business sessions namely how to manage mental health in the workplace.

It seems that many of us are not happy with our working environment (people get distracted every 3 minutes in an office apparantly) or indeed our managers.  And since the young are seemingly ill disposed to stay more than 2 years with any employer the traditional social contract between employer and employee is undergoing a massive shift.

Many of the speakers and contributors from the floor talked about “3rd place working” and the need to curate good environments both physical and virtual.  Many bemoaned the use of corporate safaris to see how others set out their space and over lunch a few of us debated the value of floor, meeting or community hosts to facilitate working in hub environments.

Does this matter? Yes!  Workplace productivity is down 9% in the last decade in the UK and compares unfavourably with the rest of the world. In a report released in January 2019 by employee engagement organisation Engaging Works the UK ranks 10th in the world for workplace happiness. They note:

“What is perhaps most striking is that eight of the countries which sit ahead of the UK in 10th place also sit above the UK for productivity, where the UK is a global laggard.

From a knowledge sharing perspective this is important. People are more likely to share if they feel engaged and supported yet few I spoke to involved in the design of office environments had knowledge sharing as a critical success factor when designing space. Neil Usher’s excellent Elemental Workplace came to mind at this point.

Selling your business

I had the great pleasure of attending a Masterclass run by BCMS at a rural location in Kent last week. A boutique M&A house they assembled a group of owner businesses to share tips on the process. It was slick and impressive.

A few stats stood out:

  • Few companies sell to competitors.
  • You need to talk to (interact) with at least 200 potential buyers.
  • Traditional valuation methods (DCF / NPV) are a thing of the past, sell based on a mulitple of future earnings as an acquired or merged business.

Underpinning their model is a dedicated research group who maintain what Founding Director Dave Rebbettes described as a massive M&A database. It took me back 25 years to my Corporate Finance days when using search I helped create a knowledge base to tell us what ‘we’ knew about a business, their people and the markets they operated in.

The word “Curate” was used a couple of times to describe how data is assembled but not in the context of managing knowledge. Once again I was left pondering why as I did last year when I wrote: “If so few Mergers & Acquisitions are successful why is Knowledge Management so often ignored?”.

Post coffee (and chocolate) we were treated to a presentation by Green & Black’s Co Founder Jo Fairley. Jo charted their journey from 1991 when they set the business up in their lounge, disposing of large stake to an investment group, being acquired by Cadbury’s, then Kraft and onto the current owners Mondalez.

Jo highlighted how post acquisition by Cadbury’s in 2005 the company suffered a loss of knowledge exacerbated by Kraft’s takeover of Cadbury’s.  Interestingly Arthur Shelley who was then CKO of Cadbury’s spoke about a similar issue when we interviewed him for “Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion”.

Recognising the importance of not losing the DNA of the brand, Mondalez have hired Jo as part of an induction process to illustrate the ethical (Fairtrade) historical legacy of the brand for new employees.

I ticked off some key points Jo made in response to a question about 3 things they got right. I was delighted these match Bees Homes top 3 aspirations:

  • Great product and branding
  • Great customer service
  • Capture the testimonials

To which I would add, “Create Brand (chocolate) Ambassadors” to ensure there is conscience in the brand.

Recognition & Awards

In a recent personal reflection the widely respected Euan Semple noted:

… the stress of working with different businesses all the time is getting to me…  So what to do? I don’t feel inclined to start marketing myself for the consulting and speaking. I never really did. I wrote stuff, people read it, and work came in. I am not even really sure why this has changed. But I am not sorry.

The outpouring of suportive comments on Facebook and LinkedIn must have been rewarding to Euan for ‘putting it out there”. Why does it take something like that though for people to acknowledge and recognise contributions made by others? As many of you will know since 2012 I’ve included a section on my site Who I admire (and why). In it I recognise people I’ve worked alongside who’ve shaped the way I think and act.

In August I wrote about Dr Gada Kadoda from Khartoum who helped found the Sudanese Knowledge Society.  I was delighted the BBC recently recognised her as one of the “top 100 women of 2019 for her work in rural communities.”

Continuing the recognition theme Bees Homes, one of the businesses I helped set up and run, has since inception led an annual Pride of Eastbourne” campaign at Christmas.

We encourage people to nominate those they feel deserve recognition for the good they’ve done for others. The winners, chosen by the Mayor and Chamber of Commerce members, each receive a Sussex Hamper which the nominator presents.

While on the subject of awards I was humbled to receive this email a few months back from the Walford Prize judging panel. The award is given each year to a person deemed to have made a significant contribution to the field of Knowledge & Information Management:

The judging panel were most impressed by your energy and enthusiasm and complete commitment to spreading the word about knowledge and information management not only in the UK but worldwide.

I pick up the award alongside KM luminaries Patrick Lambe and Nick Milton (winners of the best book for their Knowledge Manager’s Handbook) at a ceremony next week.

And finally

I wanted to share my response to Euan since it reflects where I am today after 20 years running a portfolio of activities:

Euan Semple you and I have talked before about having a portfolio of activities where a thin red line or thread connects everything you do. I know many people who’ve taken a jump from the security of a “day job” to being in what today is known as the gig economy. And in the majority of cases they are more fulfilled emotionally if less financially enriched. I’ve watched your journey from corporate to ‘consultant’ to ‘traveller’ with admiration. I’ve always believed that people are judged by the stories others tell about them. You’ve spawned many. Keep travelling!

On the subject of travelling I will end this update with something Jo Fairley said about how to run a successful business.

Look at the business through a microscope and a telescope!

Now off to do just that!

What Lisbon, Eastbourne, Neil Usher’s book and Knowledge Management have in common: Importance of environment.

Hands up, I wimped out and decamped to Lisboa to work and write when winter (Inverno in Portuguese) hit Eastbourne last week. I had a few people I needed to catch up with, some reading I’d promised I would do as well as prepping for forthcoming masterclasses.

Since my teens I’ve found a change of scenery / the right environment often acts as a catalyst for generating ideas. Indeed one of the questions I ask when trying to determine how knowledge flows in an organisation is “where do you have your best ideas or conversations?” The venue/space is important.

Which rather nicely brings me onto one of the books I vowed to read while I was by the Tejo.

The Elemental Workplace: Everyone deserves a fantastic workplace

I first heard Neil Usher at the SocialNow Event run by Ana Neves in Lisboa in 2017. He gave an entertaining presentation in which he presented his hypothesis that there are 12 essential Elements (design principles) all good workplace designs require. Coming hard on the heels of research I’d conducted earlier that year and a Masterclass I’d run in Asia on Collaborative Knowledge Spaces this was music to my ears. I’ve always believed in the importance of planning for “Orchestrated Serendipity” when designing spaces that encourage the sharing of knowledge. Neil’s presentation struck a chord and I vowed to go and see some of his projects.

I was delighted therefore when I learned Neil had ‘put pen to paper’ and written The Elemental Workplace” an easy to read tome that I imagine will become essential reading for people looking to create a stimulating enviroment in which to work.

Already my copy has plenty of dog ears and I found myself drawn to Part One – Why, and Part Four – What could possibly go wrong?

If you take nothing more away from the book than remembering these three quotes in Part One it will have been a good investment:

An effective workplace is one that is built on the principle of simplicity, an effective workplace is one that inspires and energises and an effective workplace is one that can facilitate learning and development.

Moving onto Part Four and this paragraph under the heading “Build it and they will come” stood out for me:

On your travels and in your research, you will discover amazing physical spaces that just do not work, because the creators believed that was enough. It is never enough. Change has to be nurtured, enabled, facilitated, continued. Build it and you will have just built it, nothing more.”

Perhaps my favourite sentence in the book is on on P36 under the heading “Ether”

A fantastic workplace can make a huge contribution to the customer advocacy of an organisation by creating a natural association with admirable values and looking after its people.

This is a book those involved in Knowledge & Information Management should read a few times. The checklists are great but you will have to work out who owns the collaborative knowledge space topic and where the idea fits in your own programme (if at all).

Murals changing society

And so to Lisboa where I spent a hectic Sunday morning out and about seeking examples of Street / Urban Art. Bear with me as I tell you why. Fortunate enough to live in Lisboa as well as Eastbourne I’ve been struck by the difference in the way some of the less salubrious parts of both cities have dealt with urban deprivation.

As the Head of GAU Lisboa  Urban Art Gallery (GAU) explained:

The Galeria de Arte Urbana of the Departamento de Património Cultural (Department of Cultural Heritage), from Câmara Municipal de Lisboa (Lisbon’s City Council) has as it’s main mission the promotion of graffiti and Street Art in Lisbon, in a official and authorized scope and in a pathway of respect for the patrimonial and landscaped values, in opposition with the illegal acts of vandalism that harm the City.

The district of Padre Cruz is the largest Urban Housing development in Europe with some 8,000 homes. Violence, poverty, drugs and deprivation were rife in 2016 before the Municipality introduced the concept of Urban Art with the active engagement of the local community.  The transformation has been amazing: residents now have a pride in their community and the incidence of crime has decreased dramatically.

I am not comparing today’s businesses with Padre Cruz but I am posing the hypothesis to those who are skeptical about the importance of creating the right environment for collaboration, knowledge sharing and human interactions – Orchestrated Serendipity!

Rua da Gloria Lisboa.

Back in Lisboa I found myself surrounded by numerous visitors all marvelling at the murals that have been painted in various parts of the city at the behest of GAU.

It’s not a coincidence that the resurgance of a vibrant artistic and technologically gifted workforce has at its fulcrum a decision taken by the Municipality to set up GAU at a time of deep austerity.

That they curate the work providing a legacy for future generations is also farsighted.

And finally

Why is this relevant? Because as part of our commitment to our community Bees Homes (the business we set up some 10 months ago) is working with the authorities in Eastbourne to try and transfer some of the knowledge gained in Lisboa and create a version of Urban Art here. We all know that a house ‘staged’ properly with good pictures will attract more buyers and achieve a better price than one that is not. The same surely applies to the environments in which we live and work?

Adapting Neil’s strapline: “Everybody deserves a fantastic environment that inspires and energises”

 

 

When your environment speaks to who you are and what you do.

An invited guest at KM Legal UK in Canary Wharf I was looking forward to a less participative role at Ark’s flagship event for Legal Knowledge Management professionals. But the keynote speaker was unable to attend and so at very short notice (2 hours) I agreed to talk about a topic which I’ve been spending a fair bit of time on these past few months namely “Developing Effective Collaborative Knowledge Spaces“.

A separate account of that event and the NetIKX afternoon I ran the previous week on a similar theme will appear in due course. Suffice to note both were very well attended with enthusiastic participants.

I want to focus instead on my visit last Thursday evening after KM Legal to Aecom‘s London office in Aldgate. I confess I knew nothing about them even though as I discovered I’d seen their work in many countries.  When Malcolm Weston, who was at the NetIKX event and gave an interesting description of his organisation’s building, asked if I’d like to see what they’ve done I jumped at the opportunity. And I’m glad I did.

In gauging how effective the space is I refer to some of the elements Neil Usher had used a few weeks ago in Lisboa at SocialNow in a great presentation describing the collaborative environment he created at Sky.

Here’s how 4 of his 12 stacked up at Aecom.

daylight

One of the prime contributors to an effective collaborative environment, it was noticeable how Aecom had maximised the use of natural daylight especially for breakout areas.

Ambient lighting is supported by excellent desk top lighting that can be adjusted for different tasks.

 

influence

I have always believed in the importance of plants. Aecom appear to agree as each ‘hub’ or work area is separated by plants not filing cabinets or screens as many organisations do.

refresh

Nutrition is key: few of today’s ‘factories’ house manual labour of the sort that was common twenty years ago.

 

 

 

It’s about refreshing the brain so Aecom provide great food at great prices in a wonderful setting.

space

Texture and soft materials are hugely important in creating moods and absorbing sound. Two great illustrations: canvass chairs for individual conference calls and soft furnishing and fabrics outside of the client meeting rooms.

and finally

I chose not to find out what Aecom did or what it stood for before I went hoping that it would become clear from the way their space is planned.

Words that came to mind as I toured their building: professional, quiet, understated, calm, dedicated, experienced, innovative.

Aecom’s office housed over 5 floors 4 of which are interconnected by an internal staircase (all protected by fire proof materials) had been really well thought through and feels like its a great place to work.

It serves as a great flagship for their London operation, part of a global organisation that in their words,

“Worldwide, we design, build, finance, operate and manage projects and programs that unlock opportunities, protect our environment and improve people’s lives.”