July 30, 2008

KM: The First 90 Days

NOTE: Not 10 minutes after publishing this post I hopped over to Green Chameleon to get my weekly 'fix' and sure enough there was a post (from Monday) on Cory Bank's First 180 Days. Now that's synchronicity! Take a moment to check out Cory's 'Corz and Effect' blog. (8/31/08)

Yesterday, I was working on a blog post for another topic, thinking about the process of selling KM, when it came to me (through a series of incidental thoughts) how the thing that would have been most helpful to me with my earlier positions in KM would have been a plan for my first 90 days on the job.

Hindsight is 20/20, unless the alcohol blurs the details or you just don't want to remember, but I do recall, several times, starting out and wishing that I'd had more direction...more strategic objectives...to kick-off my KM efforts (and make me look like less of a bumbling idiot).

In one position, I remember receiving my 90-day evaluation and, despite having completed all of the documented goals that had been set, being taken to task for not acheiving a bunch of unspoken expectations (both of me and KM). Following this experience, I came to realize...okay, immediately following this experience I was looking crazy as hell, but several months down the road what I came to realize was the importance of truly owning a project - being thorough and ambitious in setting goals beyond, even, what might be formally agreed upon; reading between the lines and intuiting as much information as you can from what isn't said; and, most importantly, establishing yourself as the expert.

Nowadays, whenever I begin a KM project, I go in with two things (three, if you count my quirky personality): a KM roadmap, which I pass out like candy to everyone in the organization with even a passing interest, and my 90-Day Plan Checklist, which I keep taped (and hidden) inside the cover of my little notebook/planner. Regardless of what goals I may set with the person or people to which I report (these tend to be a bit on the conservative side), my checklist is on and poppin' and focused on the following goals:

Goals For The First 90 Days
  • Market KM - Create a 'buzz' around the organization and build some interest, excitement...or both!
  • Demonstrate your value to the organization - Reaffirm the organization's investment in and commitment to you!
  • Develop a strategy - One that spells out both short-term and long-term KM goals!
  • Produce a deliverable - At least one, but the more the better!
90-Day Checklist

1. Complete your Knowledge Audit
It's basic business sense that every good project begins with a good evaluation of the situation. A comprehensive knowledge audit provides all of the information needed for creating a KM strategy. Components of the audit include:
  • Auditing existing knowledge assets, learning systems, organizational practices and behaviors
  • Identifying and evaluating organizational needs and challenges
  • Mapping knowledge flows (how information is shared across the organization)
  • Understanding and setting expectations of KM
  • Defining and documenting the scope and vision of/for KM
  • Aligning KM strategy with business strategy; and,
  • Achieving buy-in of the KM vision/scope
2. Know the political landscape and confirm at least 3-5 allies
Understanding the environment and the culture in which you are working is critical! There are so many 'X-Factors' that can jack up your KM efforts and a lot of them have to do with political forces that existed long before you came on board. Add to that any lingering change fatigue and the geneal uneasiness of either a new or resurrected strategy that might be perceived as a distraction from getting work done or a stab at someone's power base and you've got a potential hot potato on your hands.

By confirming at least 3-5 allies - people who understand and believe in what you're doing - you're beginning the process of building your own power base. And trust me, eventually you're gonna need it!

3. Convert 1 Skeptic
It's extremely rare not to have any naysayers. These are people who either don't believe in the utility or credibility of KM or who simply don't think you're up to the task. When faced with these folks resist the urge to tune them out. There's no better marketing tactic than turning your haters into supporters (even if it's begruding support). Just remember not to be to ambitious on this point. The deeper the cynicism, the more time involved in conversion; save your biggest critic for the next 90 days!

4. Complete your strategy blueprint
I tend to take a consultative approach to the interview process, so if and when I get a job it's usually based on the high-level strategy overview that I present to prospective employers (the result of early interviews and some deft research into the organization, its industry, and competitors). Because of this, I always have the shell of a strategy just waiting for the results of the knowledge audit. However, even if you're starting from scratch, after 90-Days (depending on the size of the organization) you should be ready to present a detailed strategy blueprint for review. You KM strategy blueprint should:
  • Document and outline the KM/Change strategy
  • Set goals and establish pre-implementation ROI metrics (e.g., Potential for improved performance, Estimated implementation costs, Worth analysis - verifies the worth of implementing KM/Change initiatives by comparing costs against potential outcomes)
  • Define critical success factors and key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Identify, prioritize, and estimate functional requirements
  • Document and outline branding strategy (Comprehensive marketing and training plans to support deployment)
  • Design the KM team
  • Identify the tools and resources needed to implement strategy
  • Determine “build (internal) vs. buy (outsource)” with regards to KM applications/tools
  • Evaluate availability and efficacy of both internal and external resources/tools
5. Market KM
If you ask me what I think are the three keys to a successful KM strategy I'll tell you this: (1) a knowledgeable, assertive, dedicated KM professional, (2) a committed, supportive, and invested organizational leadership, and (3) a rock-solid marketing plan.

KM has to be managed like a product - one that know one really understands and which folks are prematurely led to believe they won't like. Think about a movie that you are dead-set against going to see (maybe the reviews were bad, maybe the previews weren't flattering or appealing), but then someone drags you to see it and, surprise, you love it! That's exactly what you're dealing with and, with a kick-ass marketing plan and a smokin' KM strategy, hopefully the end results will be the same. (Note: All of the marketing in the world can't fix a bad strategy. Your marketing efforst will be for naught if, as author, entrepreneur and consulting guru Rob Ryan says, "the dogs will not eat the dog food.")

How do you market KM?
  • Within your first week have HR or your boss email an announcement on your appointment with a brief description of your duties and background
  • Hold one KM brown bag each month
  • Claim some "real estate" on the corporate intranet site for KM messages and announcements
  • Host a company 'networking' mixer for employees
  • Establish and publish a weekly or bi-weekly e-newsletter highlighting current organizational activity (folks love to talk about themselves even if you have to spend time alternating between being Sherlock Holmes and Lois Lane)
  • Establish and publish regular KM 'Impact' Reports which, rather than focusing on organizational activity, provide a brief summary of the economic (impact on the bottom line) and social (influence on the culture) results of KM efforts.
6. Solve a couple of minor problems and pluck some low-hanging fruit!
Lately, I've been hooked on the Facebook application, Mob Wars, the goal of which is to rise up the criminal ranks from petty criminal to head of a mafia empire (none of that Sonny Corinthos bubble-gum mafia for me!) Surprisingly, I'm addicted. The quickest way to make money, build experience, and move up is to complete relatively minor 'jobs' (muggings, burglary, liquor store robberies...that kind of stuff). Tackling 'low-hanging fruit' in your first 90-days is pretty much the same deal. Problems are identified easily during routine "getting to know you" conversations with folks. Even if these problems aren't exactly KM-centric, your ability to satisfy their need is what will win them over and ingratiate you. This is what builds a power base.

And sure, you want to avoid being some kind of corporate 'cleaner' that everyone runs to for all of their miscellaneous needs, but that's a problem for the next 90 days (or the 90 after that), in the first 90 days your goal is simply to be recognized as a problem-solver who adds value to the organization.

Hope this helps someone to avoid some of the mistakes I made starting out.


July 25, 2008

Commentary: Is KM Dead?

"Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated." - Mark Twain

Though I'm not usually one for "blurb" blogging, I was planning on doing just that with this video gem (click the title of this post to access) of my current KM-crush, Patrick Lambe, discussing whether or not KM is dead (or dying) with KM gurus Larry Prusak and Dave Snowden.

While the video features a provocative discussion for the entire KM community, I was initially intrigued/humored by the comments on the management aspect of KM and Dave Snowden's mention of his dressing down by Peter Drucker with regards to Frederick Taylor because I just blogged about putting the 'M' back into KM and happened to vilify Taylor and Taylorism all in the same post. Coincidentally, Peter Drucker considers Taylor to be the Father of KM. Based solely on the principles of scientific management, as I understand them, I'm not sure how comfortable I am with that idea. I am willing to concede that these principles (with some tweaking, in certain types of organizations) miiiight make for good management (so noble of me, I know), but good knowledge management...ehhh. Anyway, I've downloaded copies of The Principles of Scientific Management and also Shop Management to read in their entirety to see if I can be persuaded otherwise.

Just as a side note, my overall issue with scientific management is that I feel that it reduces people to cogs in a machine rather than lifting them up to their potential. Take McDonald's, for example: several years ago they started using cash registers with pictures of food items instead of the names of menu items or numbers(?; I'm still hoping they have numbers). That's classic Taylorism - you don't have to read or be able to do rudimentary math anymore, just look for the picture! Think about that and tell me how this style of management is supposed to make us more competitive and cutting-edge as a nation in the global knowledge economy.

Blame it on my adult education background, but I think that scientific management reinforces and perpetuates a poor work ethic, a negative (cultural) mentality about work, in general, and stifles creativity. Some may say that's not the goal or purpose of management, I say that neither is objectification. Understanding people and managing accordingly is smart business. (Yes, that's a simplification, but I'm not trying to get into a big discussion on this point right now).

Ironically, the structure of scientific management is exactly what a lot of organizations are seeking in a KM strategy largely because it's familiar and comfortable to them; it's easier to bend KM around what they know, than to explore new (untried, risky, possibly flawed) ways of thinking and doing business. Going back to Roger Martin's eye opening article on making design work, Tough Love - what I still believe is the new guide for understanding how to make make KM work - the reason "why most executives prefer the known to the unknown...it's a lot easier and safer to run a billion-dollar business than it is to invent one." Amen brother. Cogs don't innovate, people do.

I told ya, don't get me started on Taylorism.

Anyway, now that I'm worried Peter Drucker wouldn't come to my dinner party (if I could invite anyone who ever lived....everybody has a list like that, right?), I was, as I wrote earlier, initially intrigued and humored by the discussion, but then I started getting pissy.

First, there was Lambe's comment about the "lack of a coherent practice community". A couple of months ago I blogged about the need for KM certification, KM-specific continuing ed programs, and the establishment of an oversight board to develop generally accepted KM standards/practices. When I set out to get feedback on this idea from various practitioners, I received a dressing down of my own. I was utterly shocked by the vehemence of the responses (against the idea) and yet, I've been hard-pressed to find strong communities of practice that have been successful at organizing their own knowledge resources (that's called irony...you know, because some of us get paid to create CoP's for a living). Rather, I tend to find pockets of like-minded folks who work in the same industry (or for the same employer) who more or less bitch-and-moan/sympathize/commiserate with one another over their trials and tribulations (not unlike the ladies of Sex & The City, though probably less fashionably).

The "lack of a coherent practice community" comment led to a comment about the average lifespan of a knowledge manager being 1-2 years. If you've read my blog posts about my frustration with staying inspired within the field then you should know that I'm not surprised by this at all. If someone like me, who's entire academic career and subsquent professional career has revolved around knowledge management; and I mean, entering directly into the field of knowledge management, not tangentially, has experienced burn-out within just a few years of graduation, it's not hard to imagine what other practitioners are feeling.

Which of course, begs the questions: (1) If there were a such a community, might there be less turnover within the field, a weaker perception of the field-as-fad, and more interest in KM as an acceptable business practice? And, (2) Would anyone be asking if KM is dead? If the answer to the first question is somewhere in the neighborhood of 'maybe' ('maybe not' for the second) then why the hell am I getting flack for suggesting some structure to the field?!?!?!

The more I watched, the more I upset I became, not necessarily because of anything specific that was said, but because, as a practitioner, I'm in the field everyday; I deal with organizations that need the understanding that I bring to the table, but are hard-pressed to reframe their perceptions of how businesses should operate, even as the markets they operate in swifly change around them. And, when there is still so much potential for KM to realize, so much opportunity for growth within the field, two of the fields most recognizable names (and my KM-crush) are speaking of its death. And, not even because KM has outlived or outgrown it's usefulness, but because misconceptions and misapplications of KM have failed to bear fruit.

How indeed is the community supposed to survive, when its leaders are sounding its funeral knell?

Clearly, I don't believe that KM is dead? Battered, beaten, tortured, viciously maligned and left on the side of the road to die maybe, but not dead.

And there are no walking dead, either.

What we have are organizations who have identified and acknowledged needs who continue to seek out solutions to their problems (and people to develop them), even after other such persons have been driven off (fairly or not) - Frankenstein-style - with pitchforks and torches. Even when KM (either as they've defined it or as it has been sold to them) is pronounced a sham, the need that originated their interest in KM still remains.

In my opinion, the issue that most organizations have with authentic KM (as a fundamental business process, not an off-the-shelf, replicable solution), is their general unwillingness to construct and invest in KM as a business practice that forces them outside of their comfort zones. The field of KM has become fragmented, as discussed in the video, as a direct result of organizations attemping to hijack (and circumvent) KM and break it down into smaller, structured, more palatable, and more controllable (scientifically managed) components that allow them to continue doing what they do (in a slightly different way) without having to completely invest in KM, which they don't understand. As a result, any change is minimal or purely cosmetic. In general, I don't see fragmentation alone as a bad thing - these can all be aspects of KM and a KM solution, adopted as the organization becomes comfortable with proposed changes. It's only when folks try establish these fragments, these singular aspects of KM as wholly knowledge management that I see a problem.

Furthermore, I think that this is a problem that practitioners allow to fester when we refuse to step up and organize ourselves in order to manage perceptions of what knowledge management is (and isn't) and what Knowledge Managers do. Now, I'm not saying that we need to have strictly defined roles and labels for KM professionals and KM activity, we know that the work we do involves wearing many hats, but we need to be able to explain, at a minimum, what knowledge management is, what a Knowledge Manager is, and what separates vastly different knowledge management professionals from one another (e.g., knowledge architect vs knowledge librarian vs knowledge analyst).

There is a tremendous lack of information about, oversight and direction for the field of KM. And, many of the KM strategies that are being developed and implemented are done so in the absence of this information and direction. In the absence of firm definitions and a defining concept of KM, organizations operate under misconceptions that are not well-founded/grounded and ultimately fall apart.

As to KM, in general, while the term knowledge management may be recent (relatively speaking), the central idea of knowledge management (managing the sum of your resources for better, more efficient use) has been around for a long time. In this regard, I am willing to acknowledge the influence and historical relevance of scientific management. However, 'managing' knowledge isn't like herding goats or building a better lemming, despite the fact that some businesses continue to operate as though we were in the middle of the industrial economy (and others, the agricultural economy). And, it's attempts at syncretizing KM with the principles of scientific management that have left us discussing whether to burn or bury.

I say, for now at least, pass the torch to the next generation and let's see what we can do with KM before writing the field's obituary.

July 21, 2008

Putting the 'M' (Back?) in KM

OR, "Everything I Ever Really Needed To Know About Management I Learned Captaining a Tennis Team"

Wow, I can't believe it's almost been two months since my last post. In June, I was working on a Gossip Girl inspired KM post to mark the end of the series' first season, but between the untimely passing of a good friend and drama surrounding the project I'm currently working on, I haven't had much desire to blog. This past weekend however, the dark clouds of my project have passed over and I'm gradually becoming a little less melancholy about my friend.

It also helps that the Summer USTA and ALTA season's have come to an end. I'm always excited at the start of each tennis season but, to be frank, I'm equally excited when it's over. Captaining one team is like holding down a part-time job, captaining two teams is stressful as all-get-out! Being team Captain though (and interacting with all of those other captains) has emphasized for me how supremely easy it is to be a crappy manager (regardless of results) and, also, how little recognition good managers can receive from their 'troops', superiors, and peers. Sometimes, I think that good managers don't truly get noticed and appreciated until the shit hits the fan and their skills and experience come to the rescue.

That's actual skill and experience I'm talking about...not luck; know the difference.

At the same time, I've been on the receiving end of some really bad management with my current project (micro-management, bureaucracy, poor planning, tunnel vision - the works). So, my work and play activities have coalesced into this commentary on the importance of management in knowledge management.

Most Knowledge Managers, at some point, have been (or will be) asked how exactly one manages knowledge. For my part, I'm able to recognize when this question is a genuine attempt to understand what KM is all about and when the inquirer is asking solely to be an argumentative ass. Still, I think that it's worth pointing out the need for Knowledge Managers to perceive of and conduct themselves as managers in every sense.

With KM, it's easy to get caught up in strategy design, systems design, processes, taxonomies and a range of tasks - big and small - associated with capturing and organizing information and knowledge-based activity and resources. So much so that the term 'manager' in KM is used more often as a verb than a noun. But, regardless if you are the sole KM resource in your organization or you have an actual staff working with you, shouldn't it be both?

Putting the 'M' (back?) in KM, emphasizing the management aspect of knowledge management, is critical to promoting a sense of empowerment among KM professionals. As Dr. Gerard Blair writes in his article, What Makes A Great Manager:

"When you become a manager, you gain control over your own work; not all of it, but some of it. You can change things. You can do things differently. You actually have the authority to make a huge impact upon the way in which your staff work. You can shape your own work environment."

A manager has influence and authority. A capital 'KM' Knowledge Manager is a change agent; a lower case 'km' knowledge manager is a functionary. It may seem like semantics, but how we are perceived (by others and ourselves) can have a tremendous impact on how we perform, what we feel capable of achieving, and what we actually accomplish.

Despite our designation, Knowledge Managers are not exclusively managing knowledge or information (even though that's clearly a responsibility of the job). We are also in the business of managing relationships that influence how information is shared; how shared information becomes (and generates) knowledge; and how the combination of relationships, knowledge, and information can be leveraged for a variety of purposes (and if you're not, then you should be!)

How each of us achieves our KM goals will vary greatly - that goes without saying - but principles of good management are universal and an important factor in the success of KM...if not the strategy itself, then at least the person/people guiding the strategy.

In his critical reflection, "Confessions of a Reformed Manager: Seven Principles for Becoming a Good Manager", Leadership Trainer & Coach, Randy Siegel offers the following seven principles for becoming a good manager:

  • Good managers know themselves.
  • Good managers share themselves, as well as their knowledge.
  • Good management is servant leadership.
  • Good managers manage the whole person.
  • Good managers thrive on feedback.
  • Good managers constantly check in with their intentions.
  • When good managers make mistakes, they correct them fast.
By inserting 'knowledge' before manager in each of these statements, we begin to see how relevant these principles are to the work we do as well as the way in which we do it.

For my part, I'm not sure if I would describe myself as a great manager (that's like describing yourself as looking "hot" or being a "great catch"....conceited much?!?!) and I'll refrain from climbing up on my usual soapbox and 'enligtening' the masses with Management According to Christian. There are, after all, thousands of books and articles on the subject just waiting to be read. However, in closing, I will share what I've learned about being a manager from my role as team Captain.

Everything I Ever Really Needed To Know About Management I Learned From Captaining A Tennis Team

You can post messages on the team management site (that everyone knows about because you badgered them to log-on and setup their profile), send out the most carefully constructed, colorful, catchy, concise and detailed emails known to mankind (twice), and a supporting text message, for good measure, and it's still a sure bet that the night before your match more than one person will be clueless as to whether or not they're playing, when, where, and what food contribution their meant to bring.

In your personal life, over-communication may be relationship suicide, but in tennis and business matters it's better to over do it than get caught ass-out. The trick is to understand the variety of ways you have access to your people and treat each critical communiqué as all out war.

Or you could pull a 'Miranda Priestly' and just have everyone be deathly afraid of you and hang on your every word.

Yeah, that works too.

As Salt 'n Pepa so eloquently rhymed in their 1995 Grammy Award-winning song, 'None of Your Business', "Opinions are like assholes and everybody's got one".

So harsh, yet so true.

Ironically, while few want the responsibility of leadership (even less so once they realize what the work involves), almost everyone wants to tell you how to do your job. Often, it seems like you spend more time managing criticism than anything else.

While being a great manager involves eliciting and considering feedback, it's important to remember that, ultimately, the buck stops with you and your level of accountability is the highest of your team. So, set boundaries and heed your own counsel (unless you have a poor track record of making good decisions, then don't).

And, when able, always make leadership decisions that minimize your personal levels of stress and aggravation. Don't go putting yourself out unnecessarily; masochism is so '80s.

A good Vision is contagious.

I have a vision that one day my team will not only be recognized for the outstanding food and hospitality we offer our opponents, but will take the State championship as well. I'm still waiting for that day to arrive (hopefully before Hell's wildly anticpated freezing over), but for now I'm content with the reputation that my team has created for being fun-loving, amiable, and fantastic hosts! Teams in other divisions talk about us and even players who leave my team to join others or create their own take that vision with them and try to emulate it. In business, that kind of buy-in is priceless.

The key: keep it simple, make it achieveable, and, most importantly, believe in it yourself!

Hard to believe, but playing League tennis has done wonders for my planning skills. Not surprisingly since, quite literally, you have to begin planning for the next season as soon as the current one begins (at least with ALTA).

As a result, you come to understand that planning is an on-going process. Short-term, you're planning each week's matches, lineups, and practice sessions (which are driven by the previous week's performance); simultaneously, for the long-term, you're planning the next season - securing courts, recruiting new players, maybe trying out new coaches; and all of this planning activity is interconnected and under the umbrella of your overall vision for the team.

While your team members are focused on the very next match they are going to play, you have to be able to see both the details and the bigger picture. In the beginning, it's daunting, to be sure, but blessedly, it can all be learned. Which is a good thing too, because the workplace is significantly less forgiving environment to learn some lessons.

Ah, now we come to the area that most challenges my leadership skills. All I can say is Thank God IRB approval isn't necessary to be Team Captain 'cause I'm sure I'd be sitting before a tribunal by now facing some sort of ethics charges. Okay, maybe it's not that bad and I'm certainly no B.F. Skinner or (IMO, the anti-Christ of knowledge management) 'Dick' Taylor (don't ever get me started on my utter dislike of scientific management/Taylorism, but trying to understand what motivates the variety of players on any team - work or play - and then implement motivational techniques/strategies is enough to drive anyone bonkers. I've tried various incentives, disincentives and positive and negative reinforcement tactics; next season I'm even pushing the team up to a higher level of play to encourage a stronger sense of competition.

I suppose, if I've learned anything about motivation it's that you have to start by recruiting team members who have a good attitude to begin with. And, you have to be willing to get rid of people with a bad attitude. Again, it sounds harsh, but in the long run you aren't doing yourself any favors by indulging the whims of divas and "Bad Andy's". Beyond that, focus on developing people's potential; the more success they lay claim to, the more they want and that can be priceless motivation.

For example, I have players on my team that started out with little or no tennis experience and no one wanted to play with them (as a doubles team). Less than a year later they are, undoubtedly, they were (and still are) the most popular players on the team (as well as some of the best). Contrast that with the players who came on board as self-styled 'rock stars' who are definitely good players, but their egos take up so much room on the court that few people want to play with them. Each season I've had to uninvite at least one of these folks from the team. It's hard to 'fire' folks that don't fit the team you're managing, but at all times you've got to do what's best for the team.


"What's the use of running if you are not on the right
- German proverb

For the purpose of full disclosure, I must admit, modestly, of course, that I'm fortunate enough to be something of a strategist, naturally. While my duties as Captain have benefitted from this skill, it's my on-court time that has helped to sharpen them.

During a match, too many players (even some of mine) enter into play with Plan A and when that falls apart so does their game. You see this happen with business strategies all the time. If you're a smart cookie, you learn the art of continuously developing strategies - from Plan A to Plan AAA - re-evaluating your options and taking a new approach to your game, as needed and on-the-fly, for the duration of your match.

Of course, sometimes you just get out-played, it happens. But, in either sport or business, having a quick mind and being able to keep your wits about you in stressful situations is what keeps you one step ahead in the game.