November 20, 2008

Pitchcraft: A KM Elevator Conversation

Well, when I started this post yesterday at lunch time I was heating up my Red Beans & Rice and sausage (I’ve been on a Creole kick for the last 2-4 months now, working at perfecting my Gumbo, Red Beans & Rice, and Jambalaya recipes) I thought it would be a great time to kick out another ‘Quick & Dirty’ blog post, but it required just a little more time than I expected.

A couple of weeks ago at the SPAWAR KM Offsite in New Orleans, we were discussing how to expand our (internal) customer base and one of my co-workers suggested the idea of developing an elevator pitch for KM, something that we could relate in a minute or so to interested parties.(I especially like the idea of KM-themed lanyards and badge holder stickers that said stuff like "WWKMD" or, closer to my personality "WTFIKM: Ask me?", lol.)

An elevator pitch, for the unenlightened, is a quick, high-level introduction to an idea, service or product that’s meant to be delivered in the length of time an elevator ride takes, usually thirty seconds or roughly 150 words – although that seems like an awfully short ride to me, but I guess it depends on how big the building is, how many evil button pushers are in your lift, and how funky-smelling the other passengers are (funky-smelling passengers = eternal elevator ride).

This method of selling/marketing ideas has become so mainstream these days (it’s the inspiration for Twitter…my favorite tool for brain farting across the net) that there are even classes offered on developing and delivering elevator pitches!

Anywho, I was showering yesterday morning and thinking about another potential blog post when it occurred to me how beneficial it would be for KM folks to have their own elevator pitch. Probably one of the coolest things about knowledge management is that the name itself is a natural conversation starter. When you say you’re a Knowledge Manager or that you work in knowledge management people seem to automatically respond by asking “what’s that?” Even if they’ve heard of KM, or worse still, if they have a negative perception of KM (usually linked to their dislike of the term “knowledge management” and the belief that knowledge can’t actually be managed) they are still interested in engaging in a discussion, at least until you prove that you’re a conversation killer or a jamoke!

From a sales/marketing perspective, you can’t ask for more than that! Why? Because it means you have an opportunity to present your expertise, your service – your value – in a way that could very well open doors. In our janky, depressed economy dominated by organizations that have yet to truly and fully appreciate how knowledge-dependent they are, non-revenue generating KM initiatives are often among the first to get thrown under the bus so the ability to sell the value of your KM initiative or your personal KM skill-set to your future ex-employer is critical for career success.

On this note, I will say that one of the things I notice a lot (and non-KM folks have also pointed this out to me) is how ill-prepared too many KM professionals are when asked to describe KM and its benefits. Even when an answer is attempted, the response often flies right over the heads of the listener(s) (mine too, and this is what I do for a living!!). Having spent roughly six years during school and several years more in the workforce refining my explanation of KM to professors, classmates, co-workers and even hiring managers (don’t get it twisted, even people responsible for managing KM initiatives may not fully understand all that KM involves) I figure I’m as qualified as anyone to take a stab at scripting an elevator pitch...well, an elevator conversation at the very least.

Keep in mind, however, that this is how I would conduct my elevator conversation based on the type of KM work that I do. Every KM professional will want to tweak this to their particular KM activity or area of expertise. Robert Pagliarini of lists 6 questions every elevator pitch must answer. And Eileen Pincus offers some salient points on crafting the perfect pitch in her 2007 BusinessWeek article on the subject. It’s doubtful that I cover all of this advice in my dialogue, but since the goal is to get a second, more in-depth meeting, this seems to work for me. Of course, it goes without saying that you should refrain from having any of this sound scripted or ‘canned’.

I’ll skip the part of the conversation that leads up to me disclosing what I do for a living – how you get there is an entirely new post and besides, I’m one of those people who just happens to ‘find’ himself in these kinds of conversations all the time without even trying! So, without further ado…Christian’s KM Elevator Speech!

Non-funky elevator person (‘cause we ain’t talking if they
smell funky)
: What kind of work do you do?

Me: I work in knowledge management (usually, I’d enquire about their work as well, but let’s not and say I did).

Non-funky elevator person: Knowledge management? What’s that? Do you use mind control on people? Hahahaha. (The joke is to cover their discomfort about not knowing what you’re talking about…this happens a lot when you’re dealing with people in positions of authority).

Me: I wish…that would make my job easier, hahahaha. (A counter-joke is my way of putting them at ease for their ignorance of KM) Actually, I help organizations create strategies to improve how they share information.

Non-funky elevator person: (Intrigued and at ease, because I have “a way” about me, lol, and because I sound like I might say something useful or valuable). So, what…do you work with computers managing databases or run some sort of data warehouse?

Me: (Cool as a cucumber) Well, sometimes that’s part of what I do – it really depends on the organization. The scope of knowledge management covers a range of activities from auditing how an organization shares information to managing content in a knowledge base.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impassive) But you’re not really managing knowledge, that’s more information management.

Me: Not quite. KM is a pretty multi-disciplinary field that combines aspects of information management and content management with organizational development and human resource development and a lot of other fields to create something very different.

Non-funky elevator person: (Engaged, but looking to challenge/debunk my explanation of KM) But how do you manage someone’s “knowledge”? It doesn’t seem possible. I’m sure you can manage processes and the kind of information people have access to, but managing what they know?

Me: (Keeping my cool and taking on a more authoritarian tone – it’s important to be the expert in these situations) You know, a lot of people tend to get stuck on the phrase “knowledge management” as sounding a bit tricksy (yes, I said tricksy), but I think it’s important not to lose sight of what KM, ultimately, brings to the table; or, at least what it should bring if you’re working with the right strategy.

Non-funky elevator person: (Listening…but ready to pounce on whatever sounds flawed or sketchy) And what’s that?

Me: (Still the expert) The big three? First, KM brings awareness and insight into what an organization “knows”. Too many organizations struggle with the simple fact that they just don’t “know” what they “know”. Even with a variety of tools and applications on-hand for sharing and storing information, organizing and centralizing content is a constant challenge. “Knowing” is the first step in the process of managing all of your knowledge and information for easy access and dissemination;

Second, KM brings a process for sharing and retaining critical knowledge and information. More importantly, if implemented well, that process can evolve into a cultural norm of knowledge sharing and retention. Perhaps one of the most common KM problems is the loss of critical knowledge that walks out the front door when employees are lost through downsizing, retirement, terminations, or employees leaving for new job opportunities. Even when a position is re-staffed or responsibilities re-tasked, how do you recover the lost knowledge? The answer to that question is KM. And, when properly supported and integrated into the organizational culture, KM makes any loss of knowledge negligible.

Third, KM acts as a “war chest” to help organizations weather economic ncertainty and ride out market changes. Perhaps the single-most powerful financial benefit of KM is its ability to provide a convenient, organized, well-maintained, up-to-date proprietary source of knowledge and information just waiting to be exploited and leveraged across an organization. Ideas on new revenue streams, new business relationships, ways to increase or solidify existing relationships – all just a few keystrokes away.

Non-funky elevator person: (Impressed, but cautious) Well, that certainly sounds impressive, but why knowledge mnagement? It seems to me there are several departments already in place that could be tasked to address these challenges, why create another?

Me: (Confidently) You know, one of the things that I love to share with people is that every organization – documented or not, and usually, it’s not – has a KM strategy. When an organization makes the decision that they need KM or something like it, what they’re really saying is, “what we’re currently doing isn’t working for us”. So, first off, I’d ask you to think about the things I said before about what KM brings to the table and ask yourself how your organization is doing in those areas. And, if you do feel that there’s room for improvement, why wouldn’t you bring someone on-board specifically skilled in KM to assist in that effort? (Smugly) Would you see a podiatrist to talk about a rash or a dermatologist? I mean, they’re both Doctors.

Non-funky elevator person: (Humored) True, but I’m also thinking about the cost involved and the potential disruption to the workplace. I can’t imagine folks are going to just stop working and participate in KM.

Me: (Still confident because we’re still talking and I’m getting ready to unload some knowledge – watch out!) I like to think that the cost of KM is inherent in all of an organization’s on-going activity, identifying specific activities as KM is merely exposing a hidden cost. Additionally, you have to weigh the opportunity cost of doing nothing to the cost of bleeding knowledge along with all of the costs associated with “re-building the wheel” so to speak, which is what you’re doing each time you have to re-staff a position and bring that person up-to-speed. As far as getting people actively participating in KM activities you'd be surprised how many of them are in need of knowledge management and may have already repeatedly asked for a solution without specifcally calling it KM.

Non-funky elevator person: (Surprisingly impressed) That’s an interesting way of looking at things. So do you get started with KM?

Me: (Pulling out a business card) I’d start
with giving me a call, hahahahaha. We can set up a time to discuss setting up a KM audit for your organization and go from there.
Okay, so I know my dialogue is a bit hokey – I tried to make it less so, but each conversation is so different that you really just need to be able to hit the major points and hope for the best. This, of course, is how things would flow ideally, but it’s best to be prepared not only for different reactions, but for different levels of familiarity with KM, and, obviously, different questions about KM. Personally, I try to keep the dialogue open and make myself available to answer questions, but I’m also trying to convert this conversation into a opportunity; I want this conversation to develop into a business relationship, not just an FAQ session.

Anyone else have insight they’d like to share?


marnix said...

I use the metaphore of my CD collection

knowledge management metaphore