May 22, 2008

Accounting for KM: I ♥ Patrick Lambe

My beating heart
If you can't tell from my blog, I'm pretty irreverent.

While there are a few things I like to keep traditional (NY-style cheesecake sans toppings, Sunday Brunch, Gin Martini's, Presbyterian Church services with classical hymns - none of those contemporary services for me, bub!), I'm otherwise a white-after-Labor-Day wearing, sex-politics-religion talking kinda guy. Back when I was a Pika Pika!student at Georgia State, absorbing anything and everything KM that I could get my hands on, it's my irreverence that I credit with helping me to separate the wheat from the chaff of KM lit as well as seek inspiration from other sources/fields - Psychology, Economics, Marketing, Education...Pokémon.

Yes, Pokémon.

I wrote a paper entitled "Pokémon As a Metaphor for Knowledge Management: Gotta Catch 'Em All!"...hardly worthy of KM World or InsideKnowledge, but I got an 'A'! (If you think that's interesting, I got my one and only tattoo just for an Organizational Devevlopment class project in which we had to present analyses and comparisons of three businesess in the same field. We chose tattoo parlors. And, again, got an 'A'. When I get my PhD I'm going to get something pierced, lol.)

Yes, I rock. I know. Totally OOC (out of control).

Patrick's PedestalAnyway, having read a lot of crap on the subject of KM, I'm not one to fawn over the rockstars of KM (even though I have the list). Usually, I'm so critical of the literature that it's rare for me to put anyone on a pedestal, but I'm putting Patrick Lambe on one today.

I don't know Patrick, personally, and I was only recently introduced to his work and thoughts last week when I was researching KM certification and came across his 2006 article, "KM Competencies: Is Certification the Way to Go?".

On Tuesday, I was Googling 'sunk cost' wiki-style (you know, when you start on one page reading something and then 2 hours later you've clicked your way onto some completely tangential topic?) when I found myself at Green Chameleon reading Patrick's 2002 article,"Accounting for Knowledge Management"

Hands down, it's the most brilliant piece on KM that I've read in 2008 and, maybe, for the last couple of years. And, it's useful. Not in some academic, theoretical, abstract sense, but practically useful. It's not a 'how to' manual though (so don't go gettin' all excited), but for those of you grappling with the development of metrics and tools/processes to measure the value of your KM efforts, Patrick has written an intelligent, insightful (and interesting to read) article that provides both history and perspective on accounting for knowledge-intensive businesses and activity.

It made me think of my first knowledge audit and how it took me just a hair over six months, several (almost) pointless AEA (American Evaluation Association) conference modules and sheer gumption to design and then implement what I hoped wouldn't be a capital-F failure. The end result, my 'State of Knowledge' report to the company, has become a regular deliverable in every KM engagement with which I'm involved. Just as Patrick touches on in this article, it may not provide the hard numbers and precise statistical figures associated with modern accounting methods, but it does provide an account - annually - that represents to management, the leadership, investors and the organization, in general, the value derived from investments made in human capital and KM efforts.

So, after reading this KM chef d'oeuvre I cyber-stalked Patrick via Google, nosed around Green Chameleon for a bit, and read several more amazing articles:There are many more, so you'll have to check out the website to view them, but I love these articles mostly because even the ones written 7 or 8 years ago still ring (prophetically) true today.

Thanks Patrick! It would have been nice to have had your insights when I was in school, but I'll happily share them now that I'm in the field.

May 19, 2008

Article Response: KM Is Both The Process and The End Result

I hadn't planned on posting a blog today, especially since I had one of those weird, job-in-jeopardy-dreams last night (because I didn't bring 15 sub sandwiches to an office event...even though, in my dream, I didn't know I was supposed to bring anything). Some people dream of being naked, I dream of not bringing subs to an office party...tomato, tomata. Anyway, I figured I'd just focus on work today, but as I was doing my daily news/blog reviews, I came across the article, Tapping Into Knowledge Management at CIO Insight by John Parkinson.

Mr. Parkinson's main point is that KM "isn't something you do. Rather, it's the result you get when you do a lot of other things right."

As both the title of this post, and my response below indicates, I'm not in total agreeement with this statement. Please access the link above to read the article (it's brief) and read my comments below.

"What fascinates me most about a lot of the KM literature that I read - it sets KM way up in Mount Olympus and then gives the most dodgy, convoluted, wordy directions to getting there. Still, as a KM practitioner, I'm not completely on board with the idea that knowledge management isn't something you do", preferring to believe that it is both the process and the end result.

"As a student of Obvious Adams, I am in total agreement with your skepticism of a big, expensive, capital-letter KM engagement. Particularly, since it sounds to me like you really just need to introduce a forward-looking process that provides a forum for capturing the knowledge/information you're after and then either hiring or tasking a dedicated resource - someone familiar with your industry, work environment, products, and projects - to analyze and report on the information being shared.

"I say forward-looking, because it's important not to get caught up in trying to capture past behaviors/practices - if that knowledge is still relevant, it will come, if it isn't, then it's useless anyway.

"And, yes, there's always a learning curve and there are always folks who are either late to the party (late adopters) or who never arrive (non-users), but you can increase adoption through a combination of marketing (an internal 'viral campaign' and word-of-mouth via early adopters/advocates) and by making use of tools/resources that are already being used. In most production environments, people are already sharing information using some form of e-tool, be it email, IM, wikis, etc. or some combination and, it's likely, either the information that you're looking for, or the path to those with that knowledge, is there.

"As, to the busy-ness of people with the valued knowledge, unless your KM is Charles Xavier you're never going to get it all anyway!

"However, by having specific needs and focused questions (using the aforementioned process) and leaving the analysis of that information to someone well-suited to the task, you make the process minimally invasive, minimally irksome, and, most importantly, relevant.

"My personal experience is that it's not sharing that people have a problem with, it's having to info-dump, indiscriminately, AND, do it in tidy little chunks, easily digestible by the masses; make the process convenient and intelligent to the full range of your consumers and you just might get somewhere. After all, everyone has a use for useful knowledge.

"Good luck!!"
What's your take?

May 14, 2008

Knowledge Management: The Organizational War Chest

OR, "How To Survive Being 'Voted Off The Island' During A Recession"

Survive This!!What's this?!?! Two posts in a month!?!?!? Shocking, I know :-D

So, after a weekend of exceeding my insanely frugal budget, I finally got around to completing last Friday's checkbook reconciliation on Monday. Imagine my surprise when I discovered I'd received an additional tax refund. Of course, it took me a while to realize it wasn't a mistake and that I'd actually been given a Stimulus Refund (whew, 'cause it would have sucked to have used that money towards my airline ticket to London for Fiona's wedding and then have to give it back). I guess this is the downside of not watching the evening news and mostly reading the entertainment section of the newspaper. But, hey, with my crazy work and tennis schedules, if I've got to choose between Gossip Girl and CNN clearly, I'm "movin' on up to the upper East side".

Anyway, as I wiki'd the Stimulus Refund while on hold with Sprint to order a new Palm Centro to replace the one I've only had for five months, yet still managed to brutalize (because, apparently, I'm hell on cell phones) I started thinking about the general crappiness of the economy which is resulting in an increasingly crappier job market and wondered about the role of KM during this downturn.

Considering how much Economics confuses me (especially those friggin' graphs), it's hard for even me to believe that I have a BS in Urban Policy Studies and that I was just two or three courses shy of getting a minor in Economics, but I do seem to remember that one of the major effects of a recession is unemployment. Not that I'm saying we're in one, just that the signs we're headed in that direction have been hanging in the sky for a while now. Of course, if you're getting an economic outlook from me, then you clearly have deeper issues.

It's ironic that in the information age, people are both an organization's greatest asset and greatest liability. At any rate, the massive loss of talent, experience, knowledge, and information that companies suffer during a recession is just one of the many reasons organizations look to KM as a strategic solution.


I say 'unfortunately' because downsizing and layoffs have the effect of transforming KM from a suppportive, cultural change strategy to a gestapo tactic operating in a culture of fear.

Even under optimal conditions, it's difficult to shift employee practice from knowledge hoarding to knowledge sharing but, during an economic downturn, when few are certain of their place in an organization (or the ability to find a new position should the need arise), it's down right impossible. At least not in a positive, reaffirming way. I mean, you might see an increase in accessing/downloading information from your knowledge base as employees "stock-up" in anticipation of a pink slip, but the uploads might be a little skimpy. After all, a good majority of folks derive a significant amount of their identity and self-esteem from their careers and when they feel threatened about the security of their job it's kinda hard to get them to participate in any process that diminishes their perceived value.

And, this isn't just about non-KM folks either. Having experienced the joy of being laid-off during rough economic times (and knowing other KM professionals in the same boat) you can bet your sweet patootie that unless KM is a money-making venture and/or you have friends in high places (i.e., social capital), your department and KM efforts may - in homage to Survivor - have it's torch extinguished.

This is one of the reasons that I don't like the "one big family" metaphor that too many orgs like to bandy about. Because, inevitably, when the hard times come, the ties that bind are hardly familial.

KM is Disco Baby!!So, the point of all of this rambling is that a well-conceived, well-implemented strategic KM solution is a war chest that organizations can lean on, particularly in times of economic uncertainty. KM professionals need to be prepared to help their organizations navigate such waters while also demonstrating/confirming the value of KM AND building social capital, 'cause you can never have enough clout, baby!

How, you ask?
  1. Be aggressive and proactive in addressing the challenges facing the organization and in offering strategic solutions
    To paraphrase President Kennedy, "Ask not what KM might could do for your organization, get off your butt and show them" (yes, the bad grammar is intentional). It's possible that your organizational leadership will seek out your input on an impending economic downturn, but there's no guarantee. A strong sense of self-preservation is necessary, so don't play wait-and-see. Take initiative! And, if for some reason, they are hard-headed and don't want to listen, that should be your first and last clue to get out of Dodge anyway!
  2. Be a part of the process of assessing the organization's vulnerability to a recession and contingency planning
    If it turns out that such an assessment has already taken place, identify ways in which KM can be utilized and sketch out action plans for presentation to the leadership.
  3. Establish or strengthen critical partnerships
    Particularly with Sales, Product Development and Finance...especially Finance...and, also with HR. By understanding and successfully helping these departments to meet their KM needs during a time of crisis, you're not only making them KM co-champions, you're generating social capital among those who hold the ear of the-powers-that-be and, hopefully, elevating yourself into that role as well.
  4. Look for ways to leverage organizational knowledge
    I had a manager once who chided me for suggesting that we should build and sell our custom KMS to our clients as a new product offering. I understood his reasons for being against the idea, namely that the primary function of KM in that company was as a support service, not a revenue generator, but I disagreed. I still disagree.

    For me, what differentiates a Knowledge Manager from a corporate librarian (information 'gatekeeper') is the ability to take all of the knowledge and information resources that are being captured and shared, analyze it and develop strategies for leveraging it to improve an organization's market share and position. This is the holy grail of KM. Color me crazy, but in a bottom-line business what better way to demonstrate value than to have a direct impact on the bottom-line? Even though I know for many it isn't, in my opinion, this practice should be a regular part of a KMer's job. If it hasn't been, a recession would be a good time to demonstrate KM's ultimate value. (If you're doing your job correctly) You've got access to vast organizational information resources - use it!!

    As Carl George, Chairman of AICPA's National CPA Financial Literacy Commission posits, "Somebody's always making money, even in a recession, so if you can find out where those pockets are and if you have services you can provide to them, maybe you want to expand those services."
  5. Stay the KM course
    This is more for the leadership than the KM professionals. If you want people to continue their participation in KM intiatives, even with a cloud of doom floating above their heads, then continue to support and promote your KM initiative. Clearly, putting your KM strategy and/or professionals on the chopping block suggests that either you weren't really serious about KM in the first place or that the KM strategy you were working with sucked...I mean, it wasn't working for you.
Lastly, I came across this little gem of wisdom from Mark Riffey's "Business is Personal" blog:
"If an economic recession does occur, choose NOT to participate. Everyone else will be cutting back, weakening their companies. They will let go of people who might be hungry enough to be your next superstar. The weakest of them may fail, or come close to it.

Almost anyone can run a company successfully during good times. During less prosperous times, the real management shows itself by preparing for the next boom and strengthening themselves."
Outwit. Outlast. Outplay. Survive.

May 8, 2008

KM Standards & Certification As A Professional Compass

OR, "Benny Medina, Will You Represent Me?"

Wow, it's been a dog's age since I've posted anything on here! I have to say, I'm always impressed by people who are able to blog regularly. Not just the act itself, but the variety of topics as well.

Anywho, I've been doing a lot of research lately on KM certification and (KM-specific) continuing ed programs as well as the establishment of an oversight board to develop generally accepted KM standards/practices (similar to the FAF/FASB/GASB) and I'd be interested in hearing folks' opinions on the subject.

Many of the blogs and articles I've read on certification in the last two weeks have been a few years old with the authors largely coming out against certifcation. In his article, "KM Competencies: Is Certification the Way to Go?" (2006) Patrick Lambe eschews certification in favor of professional societies as a means of KM practitioners acquiring the requisite KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities), and desired support(mentoring/coaching). In a 2006 blog posting, Dave Snowden provides a nice overview of previous efforts to "standardize" the field of KM and ends by asking the following questions:
  • Have standards just become a commercial venture?
  • If so (he believes the answer to be yes) then how can they be objective?
  • Can you create standards for a developing field before it stabilises?
  • How can you take a standards model devised for goods (fire safety equipment) and apply it to services (knowledge management?
  • And, finally, what is truth?
There's more stuff out there to Google on the subject, but I'm exploring this topic from the average practitioner's viewpoint and I honestly haven't come across any responses that discuss the matter from our perspective.

First off, let me say that I do not possess any certifications other than my university degrees and I'm not convinced that (CKM) certification, as it exists now, is either necessary or critical. It certainly ain't cheap!

However, we live in an age when businesses look to (best) practices that are quantifiable, predictable and replicable with verifiable outcomes and they love, love, love employing folks with various certifications - though not always paying for it - because, in their minds, it means you know something, even if you don't. Although, as I previously posted, KM utilizes a valid process (one that responds to an individual organization's needs) rather than a reliable process, that doesn't mean you can't (or shouldn't) have some form of structure or standards.

In his article, Patrick provides this brief list of reasons that folks would want certification:
  • Novices would like a quick and reliable grounding in general awareness and core concepts
  • Practitioners would like to have their own practice validated against professional standards and commonly agreed approaches
  • Practitioners see career opportunities from acquiring professional recognition embodied in a certification process
  • Consultants would like a qualification that gives them a competitive selling edge
I would definitely have to agree with these reasons and I don't see why this has to be a bad thing or makes those of us in this group misguided in seeking out certification and standards.

What I love about KM is the opportunity it presents (and sort of demands, in a way) for out of the box thinking, developing strategic solutions in much the same way that a marketing executive would develop a new campaign or a designer, a new or enhanced product.

What I hate is that I don't have a foundation upon which the strength of my peers and leaders in my field can back me up when I'm doing KM work and the skeptics I work with/for (who may or may not be signing my paycheck) are out to prove I'm a grifter selling snake oil.

After all, marketing campaign - either they like it or they don't; ultimately, the proof is in the pudding and your effectiveness will be determined by how well the target audience responds to your message - which doesn't require years of cultural change, a sample pool will do just fine. And designers - either the product does what you say it will or it doesn't, a simple trial run is all you need.

But KM? The long-term benefits of KM take time. We know this. And, depending upon the situation your organization is in, the quick wins may not come so quickly.

Now, do I believe that having certification and standards is a magic pill that will turn you into the Wizard of Oz, pre-curtain check? Hardly. The success of any educational program, no matter how illustrious the institution or instructor, still depends heavily on how well the student learns and applies the information (which, itself, is influenced by a combination of context and opportunity - what kind of work they're doing and what opportunities they have to utilize what they've learned). And of course, we all know that there are people with Ivy League degrees who are clearly not as bright as their pedigrees should indicate. But, that doesn't mean there isn't any value in certification or standards or that programs aimed at providing certification and continuing education can't be developed using an approach that reflects the actual needs of KM professionals.

As to the utility of professional societies, I'm in the process now of trying to set up a local Chapter of KMPro because I recognize the importance and value of networking with other professionals, but, even then, most of these societies are the same ones selling certification - expensively, I should add - with prices ranging from $575 to $3200. Some organizations I've looked at have membership fees in excess of $1,000 dollars. And don't get me started on the costs associated with participating in the various KM conferences, particularly if you don't live in an area where they are held and you don't have the benefit of a company budget to finance your attendance. Huge barriers to entry, I tell you. And sure, you can interact online with professionals from around the world, but how exactly do I express that interaction in my credentials or on my resume? Yes, you could also write articles and blogs, assuming one has the time, what with being busy trying to do (and keep) the job that pays your bills, puts a roof over your head, and funds all of the other things you do in your daily life.

I could go on and on here, but my point is that every option has its good points and its flaws. Rather than engage in an endless debate about what is best in one's own opinion, why not build and implement solutions, organically, that address the most common needs of KM professionals as we understand them; going outside the box, as necessary, and using the resources available. I mean, isn't that what knowledge managers do?

This is definitely not the end of this discussion for me, but I can't close this post out without attempting to answer Dave's questions:
  • Have standards just become a commercial venture?
    For some organizations/groups, absolutely! And, in fairness to those orgs/groups, since we do live in a capitalistic society, if those best equipped (with passion, intellect, ingenuity, commitment, vision, and a sense of social responsibility) to drive a sincere campaign for standards don't or won't step up to the plate, then why shouldn't someone motivated by the almighty dollar make a buck? Over the years, I've learned that people in this field, both the novices and the experienced professionals, are looking for some structure and stability they can lean on and use to drive both their KM efforts to success as well as improve their career opportunities. Having standards is meant to provide that structure and stability. Should these standards come at a cost? No, they shouldn't, but the lack of standards definitely costs us (the field) in terms of professional credibility.
  • If so, then how can they be objective?
    Clearly, I don't think that standards should be a commercial venture, but assuming that it currently is, I would stress two adages: "You get what you pay for" and "We set the standards for our own performance". If you've paid top dollar for a CKM certificate and you suck as a KM professional, it doesn't really say too much about your abilities or the organization who certified you, does it? Ultimately, in any situation, it's the responsibility of every organization's membership to police the organization to which they belong in order to maintain its integrity and objectivity, because if they don't then they suffer the consequence of their inaction and apathy. (Hello, Bush administration anyone?!?!)
  • Can you create standards for a developing field before it stabilises?
    I think that this field has been around long enough and received enough press and consideration now that, until we have some standards in place, it won't ever properly stabilize and grow roots. Particularly, since so many organizations these days are taking it upon themselves to define the field in terms of their specific needs and then promoting their strategy as KM whether it is or isn't. The result: a multitude of definitions of KM that makes the field seem panoptic and unfocused. Which is not to say that whatever standards and guiding principles are adopted should narrow or restrict the concept or application of KM, rather, they should guide the growth of the dental braces.
  • How can you take a standards model devised for goods (fire safety equipment) and apply it to services (knowledge management)?
    You can't and you shouldn't (at least not at this stage of the game). Whatever moronocito decided to attempt this approach was clearly a friend of Tina. Seriously though, a good set of standards and guiding principles should begin much the same way as the 10 Commandments or Seven Virtues - you don't have to be a Christian or religious at all to appreciate their simmplicity and wisdom. Likewise, KM standards should provide us with a professional compass, not step-by-step, etched in stone instructions. And, a governing body, to oversee those standards, to shape and authorize certification and continuing education within KM is as much a marketing tool as it is a professional and educational resource; it's like having Benny Medina as your talent agent...okay, nothing could be better than having Benny Medina as your talent agent. I mean, if he could take J Lo from video 'ho' to superstar and bring Mariah Carey's career back from the brink of a mental meltdown and expulsion from Sony...the man's a genius.
Okay, that outburst was pretty much my cue to be done.

So, what standards or guiding principles, if any, do you think should be universally adopted for the KM field?

Oops, I forgot the last question:
  • And finally, what is truth?
    Duh, Benny Medina. Ask a stupid question...