August 30, 2006

Faith-based KM: Sometime You've Just Gotta Believe

My next post was actually going to be on the impact of KM with regards to employee retention & recruitment (I'm in full recruiter mode y'all - but the cold calls still suck, hehehehe), anyway, I was responding to Jim Lee's most recent post and liked what I wrote enought to re-post here.
Hmmm, a couple of observations on "valuable content"...I think its important when attempting to promote knowledge sharing activity that people are given a certain amount of latitude in what they share - many people don't immediately recognize the value in their contributions and often wait to share something "special" (and end up not sharing anything at all); I tend to favor encouraging sharing even when it's not particularly valuable just to get people in the habit of sharing.

In terms of identifying value in knowledge, in my opinion, that's part of the role that the knowledge manager plays - identifying areas for further/deeper exploration and becoming involved in the process of building the value of the knowledge base/repository. For all knowledge content, you have to read between the lines and ask "what value does this information have?", "how can this information help the organization achieve it's goals?" - and whether you yourself have any answers (or not), kick it back out to the masses and invite them to answer those questions, as well.

Too many organizations just expect that people know (1) the value of the knowledge they possess and (2) how to communicate that knowledge. This is another important role for knowledge managers - educating people on how to share, in addition to why, what, when, and where (without being too restrictive, limited, or controlling - all of which are counter-productive).

It's interesting here to note that while blogging reflects people's willingness to have a voice and share the contents of their head (however redundant, idiotic, shameless or sardonic), so many organizations are afraid of encouraging the practice internally, because they don't know what they'll get (or, more precisely, they know exactly what they'll get and they don't want to deal with it).

Something to think about: the more you attempt to control the process (and content) of knowledge sharing, the less sharing you're likely to have; and while the narrow focus may have its benefits, are you getting all the knowledge you need/want? I say worry about implementing "controls" after you've created some solid momentum.

As for measurement, I don't know if Stan intentionally or unintentionally left measurement off of his list, but I think it is a topic that gets too much attention. I absolutely see the value in incorporating measurement protocols into your KM strategy, but too much time is expended on trying to quantify the value and the benefit and to what end? Is it helping to get KM up and running? For most organizations, the inability to adequately develop measurement standards prevents KM from even getting out of the gate. I'm not saying it should be a free for all (you can have basic metrics tied to your overall goals), but perhaps organizations should try a more faith-based approach to KM and just go with it until there's actually something to measure.

Sometimes you've just gotta believe.

August 20, 2006

Applicable Knowledge: Culture audits and inter-departmental relations

Once again, BtoB magazine delivers some thought provoking (to me, at least) articles in its most recent issue.

The first article, CMOs, CFOs work on ROI, relationships, examines how these two departments are now coming together to improve their relationship and better demonstrate the value of Marketing. From a KM perspective, there's obviously tremendous value in building these types of bridges. Unfortunately (in my experience), since most KM strategies are managed, funded, and operate within the organization in which it was established (i.e., Operations, Strategy, Contact Center, Marketing, etc.) KM professionals tend to stay pretty close to home and leave the bridge-buidling to whomever is heading up their deparment. If you don't happen to be the primary contact with key executives like the CFO, CMO, COO, and CEO, then begin by creating a plan to acquire some political "juice" and position yourself - as the KM professional - as the go-to person on all things knowledge management. Most of these folks don't really want all of the day-to-day details, but they like having periodic updates and knowing that there is a person (or persons) they can go to with questions or for information when needed. Building this type of "equity" is also a powerful benefit when growing a KM strategy; what I like to call "guerilla knowledge management".

Trying to figure out where to start with your plan? Education, baby! Remember, "an educated consumer is your best customer." Start by - lightly - educating key execs on your company's/organizations KM efforts: KM goals and vision, key deliverables, challenges, opportunities, lessons learned. If you're publishing a KM e-newsletter, be sure to include them in your distribution list - don't assume that they are receiving this information.

Also, if your execs are local (or if you have the opportunity to travel to HQ), take some initiative and introduce yourself in-person. Try to schedule 15 or 20 minutes with each of them to say 'Hi', put a face to knowledge management, and pick their brain on KM and how they see its strategic direction within the company.

I thought the second article, Does your company need a culture audit?, was especially cool because in my last post I suggested formalizing the Knowledge Audit process within the KM field. In the knowledge auditing process that I use I do include a cultural component that attempts to gauge attitudes about knowledge sharing, but it could (and should) be ramped up a bit to cover general attitudes/perceptions of the overall company culture and mission. After all, corporate culture will either kill or save a knowledge management effort, in most instances, (the exception, I think, being Contact Centers) and attempting to generate buy-in without assessing the culture can result in a disastrous faux pas like trying to sell pork rinds to Muslims. Knowing your audience and understanding the boundaries you are working within is critcal.

August 16, 2006

Wanted: Free Knowledge - Apply Within

Two posts in one night....ooooooohhh, hehehehe.

Last week, over at my highly off-color Friendster blog, I recounted my experience interviewing for the KM spot at one of Atlanta's pharmaceutical companies. Mostly the interviews went (IMHO) very well, but the last one sucked big honkin' rocks and became the inspiration for the post "So what does a knowledge manager look like, exactly?".

Inspired by my recruiter training and looking back on this interview and at least one other, I came to an interesting conclusion: I was had! It occurred to me that what was for me, an interview, was for the company, a consultation. They were using me (and everyone else they interviewed) as unpaid consultants to help them determine what type of KM strategy they needed and what direction they should go in.

Ain't that a blip!?!?!

Now, I don't have any proof and I'm not naming any names and someone could accuse me of being bitter about not getting an offer - which I'm not; after my experience with Brierley, I've become very good at interviewing the organization as thoroughly as I'm being interviewed, and if they decide they don't want me for one reason or another, I take that as a sign of a poor fit, not a lack of qualification (unless I've been told otherwise) and a good fit is a necessity for me these days.

Anywho, I came to this conclusion because at least two organizations re-issued revised position descriptions following multiple rounds of "interviews" with yours truly (and others, I'm sure). I'm not saying there is/was anything unethical about this or that specific ideas I presented found their way into these revised descriptions, I just think that large, multinational corporations should (and can afford to) hire one of the many qualified and respectable consultants in the field to perform a Knowledge Audit and assess the organizations needs before attempting to fill a KM post. The final assessment should provide the basis for the KM strategy and vision, identify the skills and experience needed for a knowledge manager in that particular organization and, among other things, function as a recruiting tool.

After all, every knowledge manager brings a unique set of skills and experience to the table, which is a beautiful thing because every organization needs something different. However, it is exceedingly rude, disrespectful, and just plain cheap to waste someone's valuable time engaging them in an interview process that can't or won't be consummated because the organization doesn't really know what it wants.

This is why I stress in every interview and conversation I have on KM that a knowledge manager has to be a consultant and not a salesperson. You have to be capable of diagnosing the organizational situation and prescribing an appropriate course of action - maybe you're the right person to tackle the situation, maybe you're not; that is each knowledge managers ethical dilemma - accept the challenge or take a pass. But it is unwise and poor knowledge management to go in selling a solution based solely on what you've done in the past or around a particular set of applications you're experienced using. Large consulting firms do this all the time and I challenge anyone to justify the validity, logic, and, more importantly, the success of mass-produced KM systems/strategies.

At any rate, this whole experience and line of thinking gave me a great idea for carving a niche in the KM market - selling my services as a combined Knowledge Auditor and Recruiter - perform the audit, flesh out the overall strategy, identify the skills needed in the top KM spot, then go out and recruit someone for the job.

And, in line with that statement, I think there should be Knowledge Auditor certification training; just like accountants go through to become CPA's...a CPKA. That would be cool and worth going back to school for but then, what isn't?

I'm such a geek.

Reflections of a...Recruiter?!?!

So much to blog, so little time in the day. Hopefully, I'll be able to write a couple of posts tonight before hitting the sack.

Well, last week I took the plunge and began training as a recruiter with The Bolton Group here in Atlanta. It's 100% commission which, on the one hand, is janky as all hell, and on the other hand, trés cool because it provides me with all the tools I need to learn the business while I (ethically) continue my search for a KM position. Besides, the ultimate goal here is to develop a niche within KM and that's the prize I have to keep my eye on.

As a people/community development centered knowledge manager this is probably a horrible thing to say, but recruiting over the last week and a half has brought me back to ancient (read: high school) wisdom I used to swear by: people are basically stupid.

With all due respect to corporate loyalty and to Accounting/Finance professionals who probably field a dozen calls from recruiters each month (many of whom are most likely obnoxious and sales-y), when someone calls you with nothing to offer but their phone number and email address in the event that you, or someone you know, might be interested in exploring a new opportunity, you don't hang up on them or turn them away; you politely take their information and tell them you'll call if you need their services. Of course, if they are an ass who calls you every week with the same sales pitch, feel free to give them a mouthful - a good recruiter should at least remember with whom s/he's spoken, but even then, you should feel good knowing that you have options and you're a valuable commodity in the job market - a lot of folks don't get to experience that.

Speaking for myself, I've pretty much ditched the script we've been given and simply use the networking approach - give out my name and company, explain that I'm a recruiter/headhunter and ask if they'd like to take down my phone number and email address in case they (or someone they know) might be interested in seeking out a new opportunity/situation. I say "hello" and "thank you" and ask them how they're doing (contrary to what the shady Brit who's instructing us has said). I don't ask them highly specific details about their current job (except their title) and experience, unless they engage me in a conversation and, even then, I keep my questions to a minimum out of respect for the fact that they are at work - and the fact that I've got at least sixty of these calls to make each day; if they're serious, they'll send a resume and give me a time to call them when we can get into all of that.

About half of the folks will at least take down my information or ask me to send them an email with my contact info, but the other half will tell me how happy they are and decline to take my information.

The recruiter in me is dumbfounded: exactly how many people does the average person have on their list of contacts and among their circle of friends that, if they decided to look for a new job/position for any reason, they could call up and have them be completely dedicated to finding said job/position (more than likely at an increased salary) at absolutely no cost to them???? I can tell you right now, I've got bupkiss - nada, no one. I've got folks who will "keep their ears open" but none who will do the job search and finesse the offer for me.

The knowledge manager in me is perplexed: if all of these folks are so friggin' loyal and happy why aren't most of 'em properly and adequately sharing their knowledge? Are these people the moth-eaten coats in your corporate knowledge closet that need to be cleaned out and dumped in the donation bin?

That's not completely fair, it is possible to be satisfied with where you're at and be a contributing member of that organizational community. I guess I'm just bitter because I don't have any recruiters blowing up my phone and all the ones I've worked with in the past were basically filling the position as a one-off for a client they'd previously worked with. They didn't understand enough about KM to effectively flesh out the job order or prep me for meeting with the company; same with HR. That's what I hope to change. Who better to help companies ascertain and retain the right candidate for their KM and organizational needs than a knowledge manager.

God, I love being an innovator! I just hate making cold calls! :-)

August 4, 2006

Applicable Knowledge: Improving Knowledge Base Search Functionality

Maintaining optimum performance of your knowledge base or content management systems search functionality is a critical factor (some might say the critical factor) in its effectiveness and utility. After all, users need to be able to find the content they are looking for quickly and easily, otherwise the system, regardless of how pretty it is or how much content it contains, is a bust and will most likely be abandoned in favor of other options.

Since working at B+P, I find a lot inspiration for branding KM from marketing literature. Strategies that revolve around promoting and/or improving awareness of products/services can often be applied to KM strategies as well.

In the July 10 edition of BtoB (which I picked up in my mail today - hey, I'm a busy boy), there is a nice article on Honing Your SEM Strategy. The article outlines 13 best practices for maximizing organic and paid search efforts.

I've used a couple of these practices (below) in my own efforts to improve the search functionality of knowledge management systems I've worked with and thought others - with a little tweaking towards KM - could be useful as well. Check out the full article to see what else might work for you!

  • Track search terms and access patterns
    Periodically, look at the terms users are searching on and update your search engine accordingly. Pay particular attention to commonly misspelled terms. Also, identify patterns that indicate trends around types of content being accessed. In conjunction with tools used to track content hits/accesses/views, this information can be helpful in proactively capturing and promoting highly desirable content.
  • Use multimedia replays
    Honestly, I've been scratching my head for the last 20 minutes trying to understand how replays can help promote search...period, but I know from experience that they are an extremely effective tool for sharing information. In fact, this same issue of BtoB offered very cool insight on the popularity of b-to-b podcasting, for example, delivering white papers or analyst reports as both documents and multimedia replays. The key: make it interesting! Users want dynamic and provocative, not droning and prosaic. Also, just as a sidenote from yours truly, even though podcasts are hot right now, replays should reflect a variety of formats (e.g., mp3, mpg, wmv, mov, avi, rm). It doesn't have to be ALL of them, just enough to provide maximum coverage.
  • Provide a linked list of the top keyword searches on your site
    Every time I open a browser, my MyYahoo! homepage provides a rotating banner at top of the top searches across a range of interests for the day. This way, I know Paris Hilton was the most searched celebrity and Kanye West was the most searched musical artist. And, in case I give a rat's behind about these people, I can click on the link provided and search them as well. It's gimmicky, but effective. Not only does it provide a quick link to popular information, but it informs users of what information is most popular.
  • Use editorial calendars to predict hot search terms
    Get a jump on keywords and buzz words by looking at major themes being presented in upcoming industry trades (publications). I love this idea because it rocks if your knowledge management system is internal only and it makes you look like a rock star (on the edge and in the know) if your system is also externally accessible.

August 2, 2006

Flip The Script: An Employee's Incentive To Share?

Writing this post has taken much more time than I thought it would. My thoughts have been all over the place with this topic and I'm sure it could easily be spread out over multiple posts (which I just might do), but since I have a tendency to go off on tangents, I wanted to be sure that I hit the most salient point first.

This post is written primarily for employees trying to understand how KM can benefit them, and less for practitioners looking for tips on achieving employee buy-in, but hopefully everyone can learn something valuable.

As any good professional must do, I was reading various KM-related articles and blogs last week when it occurred to me (not quite so suddenly; I've had this thought before, but now that I'm pounding the pavement I'm, perhaps, a little more sensitive to it) how very one-sided, arrogant, and quite possibly, unprincipled most, if not all, organizations are about their KM needs, and, subsequently, their KM strategies.

In so many of the articles/blogs/studies I've been reading, the focus (today, just as it was when I was studying KM 7 years ago as an undergrad) is on (1) how KM can benefit the organization and (2) implementing effective KM strategies that inevitably ask, "How do you get KM to work?" and "How do you get people to share knowledge/information?" All with very little, if any, consideration for the knowledge bearers in these organizations - the people they hope to get information from (and need to get information from in order for these efforts to be successful).

Anyone who works in this field should be acutely aware of the socio-economic and cultural landscape that has and continues to shape our attitudes about work and how we are valued at work (what I know = my value to the organization). The volatile and uncertain economy of recent years hasn't done much to change this attitude, on the contrary, it has reinforced it. While outsourcing, mergers, acquisitions and layoffs have driven organizations to seek out innovative and sustainable KM solutions, they have reduced employees' incentive to participate in them. And, quite honestly, why should they? What's in it for them?

I mean, if my company lays-off and/or outsources a section of its employees every couple of years then why should I care about their need to prevent valuable knowledge from walking out the very door they are holding open and possibly escorting me through? As long as I have the tools and resources to do my job, I'm good. And if I do find a pink e-slip in my Inbox, well then, at least I'll leave knowing those bastards don't have the benefit of my expertise and know-how - which I'll take to my next job.

And don't even think about asking me to train a replacement.

Harsh, I know, but this is the reality of today's workplace. Corporate loyalty died along with Customer Service. Unlike my parents' and grandparents' generations, people in my generation (That would be 'X') seldom stay in one place for the duration of their careers - both out of necessity (career and financial growth) and as a result of that volatile market I mentioned before. You're also competing - all of the time! Within your company you're competing for promotions and raises and exciting opportunities to demonstrate your value; outside of the company you're competing against people with either similar or more experience/education as well as folks with less experience/education than you who are willing to work for less! Reducing your personal competitive advantage isn't going to help you pay your bills or make it up the corporate ladder. Yet, in a roundabout way, that's exactly what most organizations are asking employees to do - give up some (or all) of your personal competitive advantage for the benefit of the organization.

And again, I ask, "Why? What's in it for them?" Organizations are fond of talking about corporate citizenship and employee responsibilities and quick to point out how knowledge sharing benefits the company "as a whole" (read: the people who realize the most financial benefit from the organization's success and prosperity), but the inability to answer the questions I posed previously, ultimately becomes the monkey wrench in the KM machine. That's certainly the case with the organizations I've spoken to.

My solution: self-interest and self-preservation.

Flip The Script
First off, most KM strategies I've come across aren't meant to directly benefit the employee. Oh sure, organizations want employees to have ready access to information so that they can be more efficient and productive employees, but they'd just as soon have you check that information at the door when you leave and re-acquire it again when you return to work. Fortunately, it doesn't work that way.

Knowledge managment is only partially about organizing information, the remainder of any good strategy is about leveraging that information - taking what you know and making it useful, beneficial, valuable. To "flip the script" and make KM work for you involves having a plan around where you want to go professionally and what you'll need to get there. Once you've got that in place make sure that for every contribution you make to the Knowledge Base, you take something for your self that takes you closer to your personal goals; call it a "user fee".

And don't think of it as stealing, because it's not, it's sharing. (This ain't like that Coca-Cola scam last month.) You are acquiring the skills you need to be a better worker, there's just no guarantee you'll be "a better worker" for that particular employer forever and ever.

Sharing Is Sensible, Not Stupid
It's a pain in the ass to let go of old habits and notions, particularly when it comes to our perceived value in an organization. After all, companies do pay you for what you know. However, that value is established (monetarily) when you're hired - the only (reasonable) way to receive a new and improved valuation is to increase what you know. (Certainly, you'll want to make more in your next job.) And, if the price of the new information is stuff you already knew, then share it already! Denise Rowe, one of my earliest mentors during my time with Ernst & Young, taught me that unless you are doing something no one else can do (and very, very few fall into that category) you are replaceable. It may suck to see you go, but if they can find someone else to do your job better or cheaper or both, they will. People who don't share, don't learn as much or as quickly as folks who do, so don't fixate on where you're at, focus on where you want to go.

Make A Plan and Follow It
My philosophy of KM is that the strategy should reflect the actual needs of the organization, rather than any industry standards or imagined needs. I know this seems pretty simple, but you'd be amazed how many organizations adopt strategies that don't follow this logic. When it comes to making KM work for you as an individual, I stress the same approach. In fact, that's how I achieve employee buy-in with even the most ornery folks, by asking, "What do you want?" and "What do you need?" (Every person, no matter how skeptical, has wants and needs, discovering them and putting a plan together around meeting them is the key to making a critic an ally). The central element of your plan needs to be understanding your career/professional goals. From there, identify the skills, tools, knowledge, experience needed to help you achieve your goals and determine how you can utilize organizational resources to this end.

Opportunistic much?!?! Hell yeah; better to be ambitious and opportunistic than complacent and bitter - and bitter is what you will be either watching other people assertively pursue (and get) opportunities you believed (the urban myth of) corporate loyalty would reward you with or standing in the unemployment line looking dazed and confused.

Sharing Makes You Shine
Now, with a sub-heading like that, you might be inclined to think I'm about to stab you in the back and give some sell-out speech on the Joy of Knowledge Management, but trust me on this. Just like companies who inform their industry are perceived as industry leaders, people who share most frequently are considered experts and "go-to" people. You want a quck assessment of your value to the organization? Take a look at who is coming to you for information and how often. You don't get that by passing the buck or playing stupid - in fact, you could be a solid performer, but when people can't or don't come to you with questions or for solutions, it's easy for you to become one of those people whose actual role everyone questions, "What exactly does so-and-so do?" Now, of course, you don't want to be a Stan (that's my imaginary know-it-all who is incapable of getting his own job done because everybody comes to him with their neverending questions).

And you don't have to be.

Stan's biggest problem is not that people come to him for everything, it's that he doesn't know how to manage people to prevent them from interfering with him doing his job. Share what you know, but share wisely. Besides, isn't that what the company's new KM system is for?

The implementation of a new KM system/strategy doesn't have to be a blight on the workplace. It also doesn't have to be just about what the organization hopes to achieve towards its bottom line. Developing your personal competitive advantage is an excellent individual benefit of KM for the ambitious, motivated employee dedicated to furthering the goals of their own bottom line.