November 22, 2010

KM Admonition: In Case of KM Emergency

KM Attention Trap: Bad Knowledge Management

October 25, 2010

The Cult of Knowledge Management

Although it might not seem like it from all of the activity on this blog, I have been writing my ass off the last few months. Unfortunately, the down side of doing it offline is that I have to rev up my creative juices in order to write as freely as my wit and wrongness require. Thankfully, a little “dab” of Cher and Junior from my undergrad party days at Backstreet seems to help.

Ahhh, the club days. It seems like just yesterday that I was screaming for a DJ and sweating alcohol and second hand smoke into some ridiculous get-up. Wait, it was yesterday – house party, then MJQ and my favorite new cocktail: JD and sweet iced tea. Tell me again when I’m supposed to grow the hell up?!?!?! Well, as long as my Wii fit age is less than my real age I’m gonna keep whippin' my hair back and forth!

Anywho, a few months ago, I was researching social movements for inspiration on KM Branding when I came across a typology of social movements based on the work of the late anthropologist, David Aberle. As shown below, Aberle proposed four types of social movements (Alternative, Redemptive, Reformative, and Revolutionary) that revolved around two questions: (1) Who is the movement attempting to change, and (2) How much change is being advocated?

  • Alternative social movements seek to facilitate limited change within a limited population. Example: Planned Parenthood, because it’s directed toward people of childbearing age to teach about the consequences of sex.
  • Redemptive social movements also operate within a limited population, but seek to bring about a radical change. Example: Some religious sects fit here, especially ones that recruit members to be ‘reborn’.
  • Reformative social movements target the entire population while seeking to facilitate only a limited change. Example: Environmental movements, because they encourage everyone to aid in improving the environment.
  • Revolutionary social movements seek to (radically) change all of society. Example: The Communist party is one example of a movement seeking to radically alter social institutions.
Since two of my previous approaches – Green KM and Guerrilla KM (‘reformative’ and ‘revolutionary’, respectively) – were a surprising and unexpected fit, I challenged myself to round out the model with two additional approaches: The Cult of KM (Redemptive) and (my upcoming) 12 Step KM (Alternative).

Despite all of the negative information out there about cult leaders and cult formation, I’ve had a blast with the Cult of KM. I suppose it's understandable given that cult leaders aren’t really perceived as the most positive people in the world. Actually, because of their ability to exert influence and authority over others to the extent that folks will do anything for them (and a general lack of hesitation about doing so) cult leaders are an extremely dangerous lot. Still, as much as we condemn them there are plenty of folks out there who wouldn’t mind having their mojo! For knowledge managers, the ability to build a cult-like following can make a world of difference. Like, let’s say, the difference between a bright future and a career change.

Why a Cult of KM?
Let’s be honest, building and championing organizational initiatives can be straight up ridiculous! And, it sure as hell doesn’t get any easier when the initiative involves changing not only processes, but behaviors. The questions people ask regarding change initiatives are reminiscent of the terrible-two’s: Why? Why do I have to change? Why should I change? Does everybody have to change? Aren’t we changing every day? What if I don’t want to change? Can I change into whatever I want? Why do you get to tell me what to change? What’s change?

Just to refresh your memory, the objective of KM Branding is to provide education and promote awareness of KM; in effect, responding to (and attempting to mitigate) these questions as well as the bazillion others you’re sure to be confronted with as you go about doing “that KM voodoo that you do so well”. Contrary to the stereotype, in building a cult of KM you’re not trying to create a mindless mass of followers…unless you are. Hopefully, you’re not quite so sketchy and truly focused on building quality relationships and developing a level of KM understanding that enables its institutionalization.

Unlike (the equally radical) Guerrilla KM, which utilizes more of a grassroots, “power to the people” campaign/approach, a Cult of KM focuses on building social equity (or capital) among a limited, targeted group of organizational stakeholders who are in the best position to help promote and champion KM.

Creating a KM Cult(ure)
“It is important to recognize, however, that so long as only one person holds a religious idea, no true religion exists. We conceptualize successful cult innovation as a social process in which innovators both invent new religious ideas and transmit them to other persons in exchange for rewards.” (Bainbridge & Stark, 1979)
As practitioners, no matter how great we think KM is, it doesn’t mean diddly if we’re the only ones who recognize that greatness. Furthermore, you can be a fuckin’ “A” fantastic knowledge manager with charisma to spare, but if you’re not actively engaged in proselytizing KM (and asserting yourself as the organizational authority on the subject) success will be fleeting, if at all. I mean, c’mon, if you’re not actively engaging the audience you’re after, how the hell are they supposed to know you’re out there? KM may well be the set of strategies developed and pursued to improve how knowledge is shared and leveraged, but executing these strategies isn’t enough – you need to create a movement that elevates KM from good business to a religious experience. No surprise, however, that cultivating this type of experience is easier said than done.

As organizations adapt to rapidly changing markets with continuous efforts to improve operational efficiency, change fatigue has, increasingly, become a common problem across industries. The result: people don’t "fall" for every new fangled trend or technology comes along…especially when it’s marketed as a panacea. The beauty of KM, however, is that managing knowledge is something organizations are constantly and actively engaged in so you don’t have to sell them on KM as a new, profit-making/money-saving fad; you just have to sell them on your ability to improve how the company is managing its knowledge. To do this, you have to demonstrate amazing (prophet-like) awareness, insight and perceptivity into the issues facing the organization while discreetly solving some of these issues – and publicizing the hell out of the results (of course, focusing less on what you did and more on what you achieved to build a reputation).

At any rate, I’m hopeful that shedding some light on these four building blocks of a cult will be useful in securing the influence and social capital necessary to spread the “gospel of KM” in any organization. (Props to Tobias et al, Banbridge & Stark, and Rick DeLong's Socionics blog for providing some of my research material.)

Four Components of a Cult
  • Compensators
  • Proselytization
  • Asserting Authority
  • Maintaining Control
Roping the Mark: Dispensing Compensation
Every now and then I feel the need to drop an ugly truth about current KM practices that I hope will enlighten a lot more than it exasperates. With absolutely no disrespect to all of the successful, functioning KM initiatives out there, some of you don’t have so much of a KM culture as a Religion of the Yellow Stick in which people are dragged, kicking and screaming, into KM activity rather than brought over at their level of understanding and in their own good time. Granted, time is a crucial factor and conversion isn’t the most expedient route but the long-term success of KM is in its sustainability beyond any mandate. It’s not how many active participants/users (read: seats filled) you might have on any given day (when brandishing your stick), but an accepted belief in KM that leads to ingrained, normalized (read: ritual) KM behavior (practicing and preaching).

This is important to know because securing the buy-in of organizational stakeholders isn’t like converting some “rice Christian” with the promise of KM’s transformational qualities and the customary “quick win”. Nor is it likely that these stakeholders will be lined up outside your door waiting for you to save them (at least not to start with, muahahahaha). No, chances are you’ll be pulling a Carl Lewis running after folks and trying to nail down time to talk about KM, so, like any good salesperson/cult leader (same difference in this context), you have to make your time count.

Banbridge & Stark define compensators as “satisfying articles of faith, postulations that strongly desired rewards will be obtained in the distant future or in some other unverifiable context”. In KM-speak that means having a strong KM value proposition; and by strong I mean tricked out like a Transformer! KM professionals should, at a minimum, already be involved in conducting SWOT analyses, market research, and understanding the history of change initiatives (both failed and successful), the organizational culture, and the general attitude towards change. But, the key to developing the most beguiling and irresistible compensators is in thoroughly understanding the personal and professional needs of your stakeholders. What motivates them – money, power/influence, respect…genuine altruism? Only by understanding their motivations can you exploit them!

I know, I know, I sound like one shady bee-yotch right now, but step outside of my seemingly sinister scenario for a moment into the cold, harsh light of day (and your marks’ shoes) and ask yourself: Aside from a top-down mandate to do so (and people still find ways of ignoring those – you know exactly what I’m talking about) why should any of these people give a rat’s ass about you and your KM initiative? What do they really get out of drinking the kool-aid or swallowing “the little red pill”?

Sidenote: For your sake, I hope that you won’t make the mistake of assuming that just because it’s someone’s job to do something that this argument alone will be sufficient to sway them. And, unless you’re dealing with a hardcore altruist, don’t bank on “the benefit to all” argument. Lastly, please, please, "Dear Lord baby Jesus, lyin' there in his ghost manger, just lookin' at his Baby Einstein developmental videos, learnin' 'bout shapes and colors" don’t try to persuade anyone with the idea that it will make them look good or impress higher ups (even if it will) unless you are absolutely, positively sure that this is their Achilles heel.

That said, if the only answer you can come up with (to my pre-sidenote-rant question) is some tired, re-hashed diatribe on the bennies of KM (blah, blah, blah) then not only should you expect to be blown off (hopefully in a Miss Manners approved fashion), you kinda deserve it. In business, as in life, people prioritize relationships and activities according to what matters most to them (not you). Compensators should be relevant to the mark! You have to find each of their Achilles heel – vanity, ambition, social conscience – and play it (with every ounce of class you possess) to the hilt. Roping the mark is not so much about selling KM as it is about selling yourself as a solutions provider, the answer to their unspoken prayers; you’re “roping” them into a relationship with you in which you are regarded with great respect, thoughtfulness, and consideration.

You want their confidence.

I’m sure that some people may not see the point in separating their KM and “solutions provider” pitches but keep in mind that you’re building a “following” by developing relationships, not by selling a service or product – even your compensators are simply a hook! Every half decent sales professional knows that the highest quality and most enduring buyer-seller relationships are built on trust that has been carefully cultivated – not just having the best price point at the moment. While some of your stakeholders might be characterized (or even self-describe) as having little time for “small talk” or sales pitches with requests that folks simply "cut to the chase", your success as a KM cult leader is dependent upon setting the pace.

The Royal Road: Socializing KM
“…I guess Professor Zueblin is right when he says that thinking is the hardest work many people ever have to do, and they don't like to do any more of it than they can help. They look for a royal road through some short cut in the form of a clever scheme or stunt, which they call the obvious thing to do; but calling it doesn't make it so.” (Excerpted from Obvious Adams, p50)
The classic idea of a cult is that it’s a con, there is no light at the end of the tunnel, pull back the curtain and the all-powerful Oz is a powerless fraud (read: no skills, experience, and/or abilities) who was swept away in a hot air balloon (read: momentum of a, potentially great, idea). So, one might reasonably ask, “If you’ve got the goods and can deliver on your promises, then why all the hoopla, why the need for the con-like approach?” Basically? Because people like to be schmoozed, they want to be seduced…they want to believe that there is a “there” out there! As the timeless tale of Obvious Adams illustrates, some folks have a difficult time acknowledging and accepting the perfect simplicity in a strategy or idea; a fact that leaves many susceptible to idiots and con-men (go you!!). So, it advances the cause (well, your cause, at any rate) to craft a mythology around KM, wrapping the KM vision and strategy within a grand illusion that sets stakeholders off on a great adventure down a royal road to the solution they’re seeking.

Before you “poo poo” the idea, consider that any idiot can offer a solution – what makes yours stand-out, what gives it substance and merit, makes it worth listening to? The ability to deliver solutions with an appropriate and convincing display of showmanship is an art that distinguishes “good” from "great". Mythologies, like fairy-tales, are an enduring, time tested medium for imparting knowledge, wisdom and values. And, unlike, many traditional business communiqués, they travel well across an organization (nothing travels better than gossip, conjecture, and enigmatic tales). In addition to the fun, excitement and entertainment value inherent in this approach (fun is not anathema to business no matter what you learned in B-school), a well-crafted mythology can be an effective tool for piquing interest in and sparking discussion about KM, socializing the KM vision and desired values of knowledge sharing, and promoting KM’s various services and benefits.
"It [the fairy tale] addresses itself to the child’s sense of courage and adventure. The tale advises the child: Take your courage in hand and go out to meet the world head on. According to Bruno Bettelheim, the fairy tale offers this promise: If you have courage and if you persist, you can overcome any obstacle, conquer any foe.

"By recognizing a child’s daily fears, appealing to his courage and confidence, and by offering hope, the fairy tale presents the child with a means by which he can understand the world and himself. And those who would deodorize the tales impose a fearsome lie upon the child. J.R.R. Tolkien cautioned, “It does not pay to leave a dragon out of your calculations if you live near him." (The Read-Aloud Handbook, Jim Trelease)
Perhaps one of the most pervasively frustrating issues hounding knowledge management professionals – regardless of experience or organizational type – revolves around making KM work. Often, the answer lies, simply, in making KM real – an actual organizational challenge requiring an actual strategic solution. I mean, hey, if you can’t sell KM, then how do you expect to sell a KM solution? And, continuing my trend of advising on what not to assume, don’t assume that just because a KM need has been identified (as evidenced by the job posting that lead to you getting hired) that there is universal agreement on what KM is or the best approach to managing KM-related issues. Even in the (shocking, amazing) event that such consensus exists, there will, likely, still be a need to socialize KM that will facilitate building the foundation for your emergence as the KM cult leader (a.k.a solutions provider). After all, unlike charlatans of old who relied upon deception and ambiguity, the solution you are offering truly exists! The mythology you create not only illuminates, placing a spotlight on organizational needs with a colorful, inventive lamp, it also demonstrates a profound awareness and understanding of these needs and spreads the message (the “good word”) that there is an enlightened and achievable way of meeting these needs.

See there, you’re not some ratchet con-man – you’re offering an explanation for phenomena beyond folks comprehension, a sense of security in the face of uncertainty, and most of all, you’re offering hope …hope that there is a reason, that there is a way, that there are answers to all of the unanswered questions and unmet needs. Really, your organization is so lucky to have you.

And it’s important you make sure they know it.

Parting the Sea: Asserting Your Guru-ness
“In life one has to face a huge assortment,
Of nauseating fads and good advice,
There's health and fitness, diet and deportment,
And other pointless forms of sacrifice,
Conversation? Wit? I am a doubter,
Manners? Charm? They're no way to impress,
So forget the inner me, observe the outer,
I am what I wear and how I dress"
(Excerpted from My Strongest Suit, Aida)
Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of proselytization, particularly when it comes to spiritual matters. I’ve always felt that God, who set the stars in the Heavens and created the Earth and the Sea and all life on this planet probably doesn’t need PR (especially when you consider some of the people speaking on His/Her behalf). Color me crazy, but I’m thinking the work speaks for itself, y’know? But hey…that’s my take.

Wannabe cult leaders on the other hand, could definitely benefit! Shameless self-promotion may be gauche but what’s the use of spreading “the good word” of KM if folks don’t know that there’s a bonafide KM guru in their midst? You’ve gained their trust, you’ve spread the gospel, now it’s time to reap the harvest.

When you compare the roles typically ascribed to a guru (teacher, leader, motivator, counselor) against the ones a Knowledge Manager must play (all of the above PLUS evangelist, confidant, problem solver, hand-holder, networker, make-shit-happen-er) the gap between guru and Knowledge Manager is virtually non-existent…that is, if you have the cojones to take the leap! For those of you that do, a few pointers..."
  1. Pursue stealth relationships.
    In their book Captive Hearts, Captive Minds authors Tobias, Lalich, and Langone describe cult leaders as having "an outstanding ability to charm and win over followers. They beguile and seduce. They enter a room and garner all the attention. They command the utmost respect and obedience." Acquiring the initial trust of your mark is only the first step in building long-term relationships that deepen your rapport, strengthen your influence, and enable you to discreetly identify and discover critical needs (and by that, I mean plural – go hard or go home!) so that you can manifest solutions seemingly out of thin air. The key is in identifying multiple needs that you address at your discretion (not theirs) which reinforces the notion that you are indeed the Wizard of KM and not a one hit wonder.
  2. Be a problem solver, not a problem explainer.
    Although I’m fond of being “Mr. Full Disclosure” and a firm believer in transparency, the culty-guru in me recognizes that my effectiveness isn’t tied to these goody-goody character traits. Both you and your audience (but mostly you) want to feel like you are a miracle worker, so cut to the chase. Problem solve with minimal to no explanation of how. For solutions with long-term benefits, avoid speaking too much about them up front so that you can mine them for future wins. Take metrics, for example, unless it’s a key part of the solution being provided, don’t disclose that you’re tracking them until you generate your first report. Besides, too much time spent on talking about a problem (or its solution) is just going to give folks a headache anyway.
  3. Keep it cool and zen-like.
    While there are moments when showing a chink in the armor (never more than two) can be beneficial to growing your legend, the ability to project awe-inspiring confidence and intrepidness along with an uncanny sense of control are important assets for a culty-guru. Fueling the flame of (belief in) your enlightenment requires anticipating and planning for future needs and challenges in order to remain two steps ahead of your stakeholders while giving the appearance of either being nonchalant or excited (whichever feels right) about these developments. Keep in mind that when your stakeholders are stressed out, it’s business as usual; when you’re stressed out, there’s a problem. Also, god-like confidence: sexy as hell!
  4. Think before you act and act before you speak!
    Deliver on the promise of something great and transformative by speaking more with your actions and less with your words. And, when you do speak (for example, in a meeting where solutions are being solicited), speak plainly, directly (matter of fact), and succinctly, declaring your solution as if it were the most natural and obvious thing in the world. Mind Control 101 author JK Ellis offers the following advice: “Be accessible as a person but present your knowledge and wisdom as being rare, expensive, mysterious, and only for those who are truly ready for it. This compromise allows you to build deep personal bonds with people yet have them want more of your presence."
  5. Manage your accessibility.
    Given your target audience, you should fully expect potential followers to be high on need and low on time (for anyone or anything they don’t consider a priority), ensuring that you – capable, ambitious, self-directed minx that you are – are always in demand. But do not, I repeat, do not, make yourself available to be anyone’s problem-solving bitch! Building a cult of KM isn’t just about branding KM you’re also branding yourself! Remember that not only are you an expert but you’re the expert providing critical solutions, so, at a minimum, be only as available as your adherents. Why is this important? Because if your target audience fails to fully appreciate your time and talent then the social equity you’ve been questing after (“my precious”) ain’t gonna happen. Social equity isn’t conferred just because you made shit happen, it’s given because your expertise is valued, respected, and greatly desired. Plus, being available at the drop of a dime gives the impression that you’re a genie in a bottle.
  6. Build (and maintain) the mystery.
    Downplay the amount of work involved in making KM happen. Create the illusion that executing KM is a magical process, regardless of the actual work involved. You want stakeholders to believe that you have a gift for making KM work beyond anything that they could do themselves. Hold fast to this knowledge – your job is to improve sharing of organizational information, not your trade secrets. And when you do share, don’t give it out like candy.
  7. Herd the sheep, reinforce the message.
    When creating a movement of this magnitude it’s easy to get lost in the sea of glory, power, and public exaltation that is sure to mark your ascension however, in addition to the many feats of awesomeness you will, no doubt, perform, it’s important to regularly set aside time to “light the way” for your flock. Being a leader (and physical manifestation of KM) means being a mentor…a shepherd. You must accept your responsibility for providing guidance and wisdom. By creating and seizing learning opportunities – the teachable moment – to improve their understanding and awareness of KM and good knowledge sharing principles not only are you actively involved in shaping their concept of KM, you are asserting yourself as the authority on all things KM.
The Wizard of KM: Maintaining Control
The Wizard of Oz is an excellent example of how effective good mythology and creative theatre can be used to advance an agenda. This dude, literally, blew into a cult leader’s dream – an entire town eagerly willing to offer up their hopes, submit to delusions, and confer power upon some jamoke in a hot air balloon. He didn’t even have to create his own mythology just perpetuate the one they built for him! Sadly, his masterful, though deceitful, use of theatre was less about consolidating power (‘cause he really didn’t have any) and more about not getting busted and, possibly, killed by a wicked witch. In the end, his duplicity was uncovered by a dog.

A dog. Damn.

Despite the potential sketchy-ness of the tactics I espouse in building a KM Cult, I still believe it can be achieved without sacrificing the values of sustainability, empowerment, and community development that epitomize my KM vision (“reaaally I do, reaaally”). Having a hustle doesn’t mean that you can’t be sincere and on the up-and-up (or mean that you’re the anti-Knowledge Manager). Neither does having good intentions mean that you have to be Mother Teresa. In fact, after all the work you’ve put into cultivating your little movement, you’re going to need a dab of “slick Rick” and a bit of theatre to ensure its continued success by keeping your flock on the straight and narrow and fending off dime store demagogues! The triple threat you’ll definitely want to stay on top of:
  • Time constraints that interfere with stakeholder participation/indoctrination
  • Stakeholder skepticism
  • Stakeholder belief that their regular input is unnecessary or irrelevant
While theatre is a useful tool for engaging and amusing stakeholders (e.g., creating a name and special language for the cult; using nicknames to promote camaraderie; assigning totems and gifting physical representations, etc.) the weapon of choice for maintaining control is, without a doubt, thought reform.

As defined by Dr. Margaret Thaler Singer, thought reform (a.k.a. "brainwashing"; I prefer “behavior modification” for our purposes) is the “systematic and incremental application of psychological and social influence techniques to produce specific attitudinal and behavioral changes.” These changes are meant to occur without being immediately noticeable to the mark but I have a hard time seeing some of the more traditional techniques making any sort of a splash in a corporate environment. Come on, ritual dieting and fasting: Food is what gets most people through the workday so unless you plan on slipping something into their Lean Cuisine you’re not likely to change their diet or cause them to quit eating full-stop. And, while you might get some attention for going on a food strike I guarantee it won’t be the kind you’re after. Then there’s group pressure and “love bombing”: You don’t have to force singing, hugging, touching, and flattery on anyone – this stuff happens easily enough under the influence of alcohol at Happy Hours and raucous holiday parties all the time! Unless your strategy is to blackmail anyone stupid enough to get caught on film, you might wanna take a pass. My favorite has to be isolation and separation: are you kidding me, most folks pray for the opportunity to be isolated and separated from colleagues and co-workers.

Luckily, I’ve outlined a list of more useful tactics for altering stakeholders’ perception of KM.
  • Meditation, Affirmations, and Admonitions…Oh My!
  • Objective: KM Consciousness-raising Rationale: These practices encourage stakeholders to continuously think about their issues from a KM perspective. As a culty-guru, you want to foster the habit of adherents soliciting your advice/feedback and asking themselves “How can KM help (HCKMH)?” each time a challenge arises. In the beginning you may have to wean them by selectively and proactively addressing needs (that you’ve identified) while impressing upon them the criticality of taking the first steps to contact KM ("KM helps those who contact KM"). Consider a framed desktop admonition: "Breathe in. Breathe out. Call KM." Also, consider routinely tweeting affirmations! Another weaning technique: as you become aware of challenges facing stakeholders send out brief, unsolicited emails offering sage (yet vague) advice with a reminder of your availability to help (hold on to full solutions until you score a face-to-face). Introducing yoga into your KM workshops is a creative way of encouraging stakeholders to take valuable “me time” while teaching them how to channel their energy into being more focused, deliberate, and productive in their roles. And “Kaaaaay Emmmmm” makes an amazing chant!
  • Sharing in Community
  • Objective: Symbolic self-surrender Rationale: Lead KM workshops in which stakeholders “confess” their thoughts and feelings about KM (i.e., concerns, level of understanding), sharing knowledge (i.e., impact on personal power, status), workplace issues, etc. This is a clever method of empowering stakeholders (in ways that support your agenda) by addressing and allaying fears, increasing rapport, and uncovering new opportunities. This is also a fantastic opportunity to redistribute power! As the facilitator, the person responsible for absolving stakeholders of their "sins" and guiding them towards enlightenment, your role as shepherd and guru becomes increasingly evident.
  • Stigmatize Wrong Behavior
  • Objective: Reinforce standards Rationale: As a rule, I don’t agree with the practice of rewarding employees for demonstrating good knowledge sharing…'cause it’s kinda your job and you shouldn’t be rewarded for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway. On the other hand, vilifying bad or poor knowledge sharing helps to set and reinforce standards. Obviously, you can’t go around tacking scarlet letters on people (though if you could I wonder what letter(s) would be used…suggestions?), but creating marketing campaigns in response to unacceptable behaviors – especially campaigns that target the perpetrators (without naming names) – carry a special stigma all their own.
  • Build Attention Traps
  • Objective: Make KM the center of the universe Rationale: Though the concept is decades old, attention economics has become my new mini-obsession, especially since we seem to be living at the height of the Attention Economy! In every aspect of our lives, we are barraged by an insane variety of social, political, economic, and technological forces vying for our attention. Moreover, we are actively exchanging our attention for currency. Attention traps are designed to create a "centripetal gaze" that, essentially, sucks people in. Once you’ve "cracked the stakeholder code" and succeeded in securing a measure of trust bombard them with provocative and alluring attention traps designed to place KM, squarely, at the center of their universe (“KM is all!”) and enhance their commitment to active knowledge stewardship.
  • The Tao of KM
  • Objective: Establish a "higher purpose" among stakeholders Rationale: A common cult teaching is that members of the group share a higher, divine purpose to which their communion and activities are ascribed. Given the radical change your KM cult is attempting to make within such a limited population, this concept is practically tailor made. Indeed, targeted your stakeholders because they’re special – they possess the social capital you need to acquire in order to do bigger, better things with KM across the larger organization. So, advising them that they have a higher purpose (let’s say, to transform the company) isn’t necessarily a lie or a bad thing because they do. Attributing problems experienced by those outside of the group (perhaps in another department, division, or company) as the consequence of being on the "wrong path" is wading into slightly murkier waters. However you choose to spin this “higher purpose” it should appeal to your stakeholders self-interest and entwine their needs/wants with the organizational mission to promote congruence between their personal agendas and beneficial to the organization’s bottom line.

July 14, 2010

Quick & Dirty: Academically Smart, Practically Brilliant (Thoughts on a KM Consultancy)

Like Wimbledon, June has come and gone. And while I didn't miss a second of the tennis action (Venus and Fed's shocking upsets; ReRe and Rafa's unsurprising wins), I was decidedly less committed to my blog.

In my defense, immediately following the Memorial Day holiday I made the decision to focus on developing a new business strategy for my fledgling consultancy throughout the month of June and it's certainly required the committment.

I'm not fully prepared to write a manifesto on the process (yet, though I'd like to at some point), but I could sure use a few minutes to eject some mental debris (read: bitch, moan, gripe about) regarding my primary challenges strategizing an independent KM consultancy
  • Determining service offerings: One of the driving factors in my decision to launch a consultancy was the growing realization that a lot of smaller and mid-sized organizations have a KM need that isn't being met by larger consulting firms, particulary in the areas of KM Auditing and strategic planning, but even with that limited focus it’s amazing to me what the scope of work encompasses around these services. I'm finding that it's super critical to outline in detail exactly what you will (and can) do and what you won’t (and can’t) do. Not only will this help you manage the demands on your time (remember that you’re not just doing the work, you’re building a consultancy – managing your time is trés critical), it also helps you to identify potential opportunities (and markets) within the scope of your services. Furthermore, when you're having a conversation with clients and prospects about your services, I think it makes you sound polished - like you’ve got your shit together, instead of bumbling through the discussion with comments like, “hmm, I think I can do that, let me look into it and I’ll get back to you”. Or worse, agreeing to do a job without fully understanding the committment and constraints. After all, the ability to properly gauge your pricing methodology and ensure that your contracts/SOWs are very specific is key to ensuring that you aren’t giving away your time and killing yourself with work you’re not getting paid for and.
  • Establishing a pricing methodology: Speaking about pricing, lol. I remember back in the day when I was an assistant in E&Y’s HR Consulting Practice. Strange as it may seem, I used to love working with the various studies and reports; I just loved having ready access to data. How I wish there were similar reports on KM compensation or pricing on KM services. I’ve had some assistance from generic Google hits on pricing consulting services that provided insight to setting baseline hourly consulting fees (i.e., think beyond converting annual compensation to an hourly rate plus bennies, also consider overhead expenses and generating revenue in order to grow your business; understand what the market will bear, but also consider value pricing your services; yadda yadda yadda) and I've had a little (mostly unenlightening, though greatly appreciated) dialogue over at LinkedIn.

    It truly is an alchemical process.

    Once I've had some real-time feedback from actual clients and prospects and made the necessary adjustments, I will definitely post some helpful guidelines specific to KM on this subject.
  • Marketing KM services: If I didn't already know this (as a one-time Marketing major and earnest believer in the power Branding), then I sure as hell would now - you really have to know who you are, what service you can/will offer (as well as it's valu), and who your (potential) market before you should even put out a shingle. And you really should be thinking five steps ahead (of your clients, prospects, and competitors). Setting up a website, rifling through your contacts, and even pounding the pavement just won’t cut it. This is a niche field and you have to sell yourself not only as an expert, but as a real-life practitioner, someone who’s been in the trenches – Academically smart, practically brilliant.

    As much as I love to inform the field, I’m knee deep in setting up my own practice so I’m not hardly about to lay my marketing strategy out for public consumption, but I will say that you have to 1) brand yourself as well as you’d brand your KM strategies and 2) craft your marketing messages wisely.
I'm finding that, in many ways, setting up a (hopefully) successful KM consultancy, is a lot like developing a successful KM strategy: apply the KISS methodology liberally; keep an eye on the details (dot your "I's" and cross your "T's"); don't be afraid to seek out impartial (professional) opinions; practice pragmatism (expect the best, plan for the worst), and; always, ALWAYS be more adventurous than afraid.

June 4, 2010

Bloggerview: Denis Meingan

Blogger View - Denis Meingan

June 1, 2010

Out of The Box - Week Ending 05/28

Sooooooo, while nearly my entire posse spent Memorial Day weekend partying across the USA (well, Lil Magic not so much, but he's new to Austin so it kinda feels like he took a vacay) I enjoyed a relaxing weekend housesitting and taking care of Luke the cat, and Button's the dog (which means being their willing, human bitch - seriously, I'm not even a dog person and I love this animal), chillin' at the Jazz Festival on Saturday with Kelley and Nick, and watching the French Open religiously (whodathunk Robby Ginepri would be the last American man standing? Go May-retta!!). And, thanks to the power of cable, I watched a couple of movies I've passed at Block-head-buster many, many times. Adam and Steve proved that my instincts were spot on, but Zack and Miri Make a Porno just blasted to the top of the list of my favorite flicks!

Anywho, although I didn't do nearly as much writing this weekend as I thought I would, but I did manage to do some reading.
  • Trend of the Week: Is the so-called 'Statusphere' a hot branding trend which your KM efforts should be leveraging or a whole lotta BS?
  • Not one, not two, but three articles from Psychology Today on the power of sunshine. I suppose the lesson here is to pursue critical KM work on sunny days.
  • Epiphany of the Week: Timely and much needed wisdom from the ever inspriational Mark Pollard and sagacious Pamela Slim
  • How To of the Week: Six Ways To Spy On The Competition. If you have to resort to spying on the competition, I don't think it says much about the quality of your product or the ability of your sales folks but these tips are great for gaining insight into opportunities for KM in your organization.
  • Questions of the Week: Is Enterprise Architecture (EA) just another name for Knowledge Management and why does it seem that Booz Allen keeps trying to talk around KM
  • Economics ain't the only field that needs a new way of connecting employers with candidates!

May 26, 2010

Lil Jackie's KM Lifecycle: A Different Look

Thank God in Heaven above that this month is almost over.

Between the hard to schedule tennis matches, besties birthdays, and trying to avoid being in the middle of my parent's divorce (which my mother seems hell-bent to drag me into regardless of my protestations) May has been a tough month. Although there were some highlights, like quality time with Lil Magic who starts his dream job this week, spending much needed social time with my "South Cackalacky" girl, Nina, and playing a rawkin' game of Assassin for Brandy's birthday party. It was awesome! My crew took over a section of East Atlanta Village strapped with Nerf guns and lookin' good. Every "death" seemed like something out of a movie scene (even mine, sadly). We're definitely going to be doing that again.

So, I've been studying social movements over the last year and have drawn a lot of inspiration for my work and theories on KM. My Guerrilla KM post is just one example. During my research I came across this fantastic white paper on the Four Stages of Social Movements that got me thinking about the lifecycle of Knowledge Management. As you all know, KM Branding is one of my "things" and I'm always searching for novel approaches to educating folks about the field. The 'Four Stages' had me wondering about the lifecycle of a strategic approach to KM; exploring the way(s) in which KM impacts the organization and how it "lives" from inception of a strategy through to the ultimate goal of cultural adoption/integration (or rejection, if the strategy is unsuccessful).

Now, I'm familiar with traditional models of the  Knowledge Lifecycle that (like the example at left) illustrate some variation of the identify-capture-organize-disseminate framework, but these models seem geared more towards providing insight into knowledge rather than knowledge management (although McElroy's model, wordy though it is, offers up a bit more "meat"). And, at the risk of splitting hairs, these processes aren't, in my opinion, particularly cyclical. In fact, you can (and should) be engaged in a variety of these processes concurrently.

Anywho, using the "Four Stages" as a foundation, (Lil Jackie and) I came up with the following model outlining four proposed stages in the KM Lifecycle:

Note: There isn't any timeline applied to any of these stages, I perceive that organizations will move from one to the next as the time is right.

Stage I: Acknowledgement
  • Organizations either recognize the need for a strategic approach to their KM efforts or, following a previously unsuccessful strategy, initiate pursuit of a new approach.
  • Organizations may attempt to build a KM strategy themselves or, optimally, seek out the services of an “expert” to assist in some combination of organizational analysis (e.g., SWOT, GAP or KM Audit), strategic planning, and strategy execution.
Stage II: Mobilization
  • Organizations take an active (versus passive) approach to KM by executing a series of strategies to improve how knowledge is managed, including a Branding strategy focused on mobilizing awareness and support of the KM initiative.
  • During this stage, KM attempts to build social equity by demonstrating its value, benefit and utility to a broad range of stakeholders.
Stage III: Leverage
  • Following some success with mobilizing wider support of knowledge management (through aggressive Branding, documented "wins" and success stories, converting skeptics, etc.) the KM function has acquired some social equity and is perceived as less of a niche function or “pet project”.
  • The KM function (assertively) leverages the social equity it has acquired to influence a wider range of strategic planning efforts across the organization.
Stage IV: Normalization
  • At this stage, the practice, awareness, and understanding of KM is normalized across the organization. The degree and quality of this normalization (the extent to which KM and its activities are regarded as a "natural" part of the regular working environment) is indicative of the level of success or failure of the KM initiative.
  • A fully successful strategy is one in which KM has achieved cultural adoption and integration as identified by the following characteristics:
    • Organization-wide awareness and understanding of knowledge management - its purpose, benefit, and importance
    • An organizational culture possessed of a spirit of knowledge stewardship in which everyone is, at a minimum, aware of their individual responsibility to share and collaborate in community
    • Continuously evolving policies, practices, and technology tools that reflect, promote, and support a culture of knowledge sharing
    • Widespread, regular, active usage of KM tools and participation in community development efforts (such as CoPs).
  • A partially successful strategy might be one where KM fails to realize its potential (as previously described) owing to a number of factors (i.e., the culture is heavily change resistant; folks leading KM efforts were not aggressive, assertive or savvy enough to navigate the politics of the organization; or, the strategy simply wasn’t effective, etc.). Essentially, instead of KM positively influencing change in how the organization operates, the organization unduly influences how KM is implemented, limiting its role and impact. An example might be an organization that begins its KM initiative with a limited or narrow scope of the role that KM will play and resists widening this scope resulting in an implementation that provides exactly what was desired, but fails to deliver on the full potential of KM.
  • A completely failed strategy is one in which KM has been unsuccessful in achieving cultural adoption and integration resulting in the termination of the initiative. Termination is likely the result of a poor Branding strategy and failure to properly educate stakeholders - particularly leadership – on the importance and value of KM and consistently obtain buy-in at key strategy milestones.
  • A repressed or limited KM strategy doesn't have to remain so, indefinitely. Assuming that KM has experienced some success and "wins" and acquired some measure of equity, it is likely that KM will be perceived as having value - just not enough to immediately propel it to a higher/stronger role in the organization.
  • Likewise, strategy failure isn't necessarily a death sentence for KM. Assuming that the initial need for KM is still present (and acknowledged), it is probable that a new strategy will (inevitably) be pursued and/or new "experts" brought on board to implement it.
One final note: Unlike the "Four Stages" model, I don't see a point at which KM efforts will ever truly decline and by that, I mean, I don’t think that you should ever stop being actively involved in shaping your KM efforts. Instead I think that organizations will and should continue to pursue optimal normalization. Once that has been achieved, they will then employ a series of strategies to maintain that state. Interestingly, this whole process has had me questioning one of my core beliefs that Knowledge Managers should be working themselves out of a job. I do see this as a goal, perhaps, for smaller organizations (when an organization’s strategic planning includes KM as part of the overall process, not as a separate function). But, for larger organizations, I could see someone operating at a CKO role in the same manner an organization would employ a CFO or SVP of Marketing.

Truly, I guess you live, you learn (and then you buy Luvs!)

So there it is. As usual, all constructive feedback, criticisms and comments are welcome!

Peace out!

May 4, 2010

Lil Jackie's Elements of a KM Audit

Okay, April just totally flew by!  I'd feel bad about not blogging so much last month except that the weather picked up and, social butterfly that I am, I was more focused on playing tennis and getting my "swerve" on (that is, when I wasn't watching Glee, Project Runway, or catching up on General Hospital on YouTube).

Hey, I won't apologize for having a life (or succumbing to the boob tube).

Although, I do think that Dublin owes me a HUGE friggin' apology for coming in 7th at the Kentucky Derby. I could've used my winnings from the derby party I went to on Saturday to finance my drunken disorderly conduct during "Cinco de Drinko" tomorrow. Ah well, c'est la vie. At least I had KFC's Double Down to help fill the void loss brings - in my arteries! Actually, it tasted great, despite the fact that they really should consider swapping the Pepperjack (too spicy) for Monterey or Swiss and add lettuce and tomato to make it taste "fresher".

Anywho, I've been giving my KM Audit a bit of a spring cleaning to spruce it up for 2010. For those not in the know, a KM Audit is a type of action research aimed at understanding the ways in which an organization shares knowledge and information. Subsequently, the data collected from the KM Audit is used to develop and inform the KM strategy. While some folks use the auditing process solely to kick-off their KM efforts, I subscribe to the belief that a KM Audit should be an annual experience. Not only does it provide a regular status update/reality check of KM activity, it helps to illustrate the impact of a long-term, strategic KM initiative to organizational stakeholders. It also doubles as a great marketing tool for KM.

An effective KM Audit should be designed to identify and evaluate:
  • Formal (‘how things should be shared’) and informal (‘how things are actually being shared’) knowledge sharing practices and behaviors.
  • The variety of knowledge, information, and content management systems (and their usage) across the organization.
  • Perceptions and expectations of knowledge management
  • Organizational needs and challenges related to sharing knowledge and information
As illustrated in the graphic below, the KM Audit utilizes a mix of research methods to achieve these results.

The Policy Review can be conducted before, during, or after the survey, but I think that doing it before (particularly when it's the inaugural audit) might help to inform survey construction. Likewise with the 1-on-1 Interviews; Focus groups, however, should be put off until after the survey, since it's those results which will determine discussion topics. As far as the Survey, standard rules of survey design apply - keep it simple, keep it brief, make sure questions are clear and concise, and, resist the temptation to ask EVERYTHING. Your questions should help you to paint a picture, not the Sistine Chapel. Lastly,since you'll be wanting to make comparisons from year-to-year, be sure that your survey will stand the test of time.

Two important points to consider about the KM Auditing process:
  1. It's okay if you only pursue 1 or 2 elements instead of all 3.
  2. Having a documented, well thought out Implentation/Execution Plan of Action (PoA) is essential

Take your pick
I'm a talker so I'm fond of saying many things over and over again. One of my personal faves is the "Right Way vs the Best Way": We don't always have the opportunity to do things the "right" way; sometimes we simply do things the best way we can, but when we can do things the "right" way, we should make every effort to do so. As a KM practitioner, I know that this is a daily reality in our work. If you have the time and the buy-in to undertake a full KM Audit, then do it to it! But, if you're only able to pursue 1 or 2 elements, it's okay, just be mindful of the data that you're not capturing (and be sure that your data reporting reflects this).

Action planning
A successful KM Audit isn't one that just gives you the results you were hoping for. A successful KM Audit is one that is rolled out on time and yields a great participation/response rate. And, if experience has taught me anything, it's that the key to a successful KM Audit is planning the hell out of things. Don't make assumptions, make a plan of action! Some of the highlights of my audit action plans include:
  • Prior to its launch, conduct a review of the survey (for content and language) by KM team members and key organizational stakeholders, particularly those involved in Operations, Communications, Marketing, and IT (if that department manages any KM tools/applications)
  • Following it's review, the survey should be set-up using the pre-determined administration vehicle (e.g., SurveyMonkey) and user tested for clarity, language, level of difficulty, and length of time to completion and modified accordingly.
  • Organize a full-fledged marketing campaign for the KM Audit. Depending on your budget, the audit can be supported using the following marketing channels: common area posters, table toppers, and digital displays; email alerts; intranet announcements; department leads; senior management; and knowledge management system (KMS) “power users”. It's also a good idea to set an official launch date for your KM Audit with an email from senior leadership describing the purpose and importance of the auditing process. Subsequent email reminders can be distributed by the KM team.
  • Detail the process for how data will be compiled, analyzed and reported (including to and by whom)
And I think that does it for this least, I hope I've covered all of my bases here. Between the overwhelming smell of Caribou's coffee and my Dan Fogelberg playlist I'm now sleepy, nauseous, and hungry which means it's time to hop in the car, crank up Spose and take a little ride over to KFC before my tennis match this afternoon.


April 20, 2010

Bloggerview: Nirmala Palaniappan

Bloggerview: Nirmala Palaniappan

Bloggerviews are here!

Well, I managed to survive Atlanta's crazy festival weekend.  Although I didn't make it over to the Robotics Convention, the Sweetwater 420 Festival or the return of Freaknik (as if I would even be bothered to participate in that hot ass mess...again, lol) the 2010 Dogwood Festival provided the perfect way to enjoy a low-pollen Saturday - despite the fact that our resident Bulgarian, Nick, couldn't seem to grasp the concept of "casually" walking through the park, exploring the various art vendors and just whiling away the day.  Thankfully, Nick "gets" beer, so no one was harmed as we made our way to Joes on Juniper for beer and lunch (sooooo much cheaper than it was being sold in the Park).

Anywho, after months of thinking about it, I'm finally getting around to creating my Bloggerview posts.  I was inspired to create these posts profiling KM professionals because...well, because I tend to suck at career-related networking.  I mean, I can meet and recruit tennis players like it's nobody's business and I'm a pretty solid wing-man (no matter what my friend Iker says), but clearly I needed a class in Networking for Career Success.

The goal of these Bloggerviews is to profile KM professionals and, as inspired by management author, guru and academian, Henry Mintzberg, hopefully offer some insight into the work that Knowledge Managers do as a practical resource for folks in the field, folks considering the field, and organizations exploring how they can improve their KM strategies.  With any luck, these posts will not only expand my KM-universe, but serve as a great resource for others.

For those interested, you can check out my profile by following this link.  Future profiles will be embedded in the blog.  If you'd like to submit your own profile, send me an email to:


April 12, 2010

Out of The Box - Week Ending 04/09

It's official, dim sum is dead in Atlanta! For the third time in two months I've attempted to satiate my appetite for the little bites of Chinese culinary goodness (at three different, formerly brilliant) restaurants and the for the third - at last time - I've been disappointed with food that is served cold (off of steaming carts, no less) and fails to please the palate. Thank God for Pho!

Anyway, the last week - when I haven't been obsessed with food - I've been thinking a lot about how the lack of understanding of KM among organizational leadership contributes to the failure of KM initiatives. This week's mix of articles provide some truly out of the box insight into KM branding and re-thinking the role and influence of KM.

  • Knowledge in action!The role of social influence in surging autism diagnoses makes me wonder how and what organization's transmit KM knowledge and awareness, externally, from their clients and competitors and, internally, from one another.
  • (Not so new) Trend of the Week: Crowdsourcing Popular, neologistic term, for outsourcing tasks to a large, diffuse group, usually without monetary compensation. While companies who attempt to abuse this concept will, inevitably, hit a wall, it's a fantastic way to engage your audience as part of your branding strategy.
  • The fascinating article, Learning in the wild, points out the relationship between learning and personal interest; basically, people learn and take the time to become informed when a subject is personal. Knowledge managers looking to Brand their strategies and improve strategy adoption should learn from this insight.
  • Shout out to for connecting me to Pamela Slim's Escape from Cubicle Nation blog
  • Question of the Week: Is it possible to create workspaces and workplaces that influence the creation, flow, and capture of knowledge?
  • Guerrilla marketing at its finest, now I just need to figure out how to leverage this from a KM perspective.
  • What role does your KM strategy play in providing input into the content and format of your companies annual report.
  • Reputation management in the digital space. Well written post from Mark Pollard on Cadbury's foray into social media

April 1, 2010

Tips for 2010 (A Fluffy, Feel Good "Forward")

I'm not in the habit of posting "forwarded emails" but this one put a smile on my face and knowing how taxing our work can be on us, I figured I'd share.
  1. Drink plenty of water.
  2. Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a beggar.
  3. Eat more foods that grow on trees and plants and eat less food that is manufactured in plants.
  4. Live with the 3 E's -- Energy, Enthusiasm and Empathy
  5. Make time to pray.
  6. Play more games.
  7. Read more books than you did in 2009.
  8. Sit in silence for at least 10 minutes each day.
  9. Sleep for 7 hours.
  10. Take a 10-30 minutes walk daily. And while you walk, smile.
  11. Don't compare your life to others. You have no idea what their journey is all about.
  12. Don't have negative thoughts over things you cannot control. Instead invest your energy in the positive present moment.
  13. Don't over do. Keep your limits.
  14. Don't take yourself so seriously. No one else does.
  15. Don't waste your precious energy on gossip.
  16. Dream more while you are awake.
  17. Envy is a waste of time. You already have all you need.
  18. Forget issues of the past. Don't remind your partner with His/her mistakes of the past. That will ruin your present happiness.
  19. Life is too short to waste time hating anyone. Don't hate others.
  20. Make peace with your past so it won't spoil the present.
  21. No one is in charge of your happiness except you.
  22. Realize that life is a school and you are here to learn. Problems are simply part of the curriculum that appear and fade away like algebra class but the lessons you learn will last a lifetime.
  23. Smile and laugh more.
  24. You don't have to win every argument. Agree to disagree...
  25. Call your family often.
  26. Each day give something good to others.
  27. Forgive everyone for everything.
  28. Spend time with people over the age of 70 and under the age of 6.
  29. Try to make at least three people smile each day.
  30. What other people think of you is none of your business.
  31. Your job won't take care of you when you are sick. Your friends will. Stay in touch.
  32. Do the right thing! 
  33. Get rid of anything that isn't useful, beautiful or joyful.
  34. GOD heals everything.
  35. However good or bad a situation is, it will change.
  36. No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.
  37. The best is yet to come.
  38. When you awake alive in the morning, thank GOD for it.
  39. Your innermost is always happy. So, be happy.

March 31, 2010

Quick & Dirty: When KM Takes Over HR

Today was a good day.

I slept in late, made a little headway in catching up on my backlog of General Hospital episodes, cooked up a tasty pot of frijoles negros (even though they were a little bootleg since I didn't feel like running to the Farmers Market to buy some recao and ajies dulces peppers), enjoyed a good long phone call with my brother Reed and even spent time with my mother's cat Silky (aka Evil The Cat) that didn't result in me getting clawed or hissed at. And then I took a nap.

Yes, today was a good day. So, of course, my blog post is a bitch fest. Wah-waaaaaah.

When I haven't been playing tennis, planning the development of my indie KM consultancy, or dating in the ATL (which is like old school Freddy Krueger flicks; funny and bloody), I've been hunting down the next great KM opportunity. Although I manage to learn a lot about the KM activities and needs of various companies and industries during job searches, pounding the pavement is never a pleasure, mostly because so many company's recruitment process are the equivalent of using a dull guillotine in death penalty cases - medieval and unnecessarily messy.

In the interest of full disclosure, I've never been particularly fond of how HR carries out its function (my undergraduate minor is in Human Resources) and I am a big advocate of absorbing HR into KM (not the other way around) for all of the reasons that Keith Hammonds wrote about in his 2005 Fast Company article, "Why We Hate HR". However, until that day comes, I'd love to share some KM wisdom with those shiny, happy, people persons.
  1. Quit overusing online application systems
  2. I get that these systems are meant to assist in streamlining the application process, but using them to do your job is just plain lazy. Plus, can someone direct me to the memo stating that identity fraud is no longer a global crisis, 'cause I'm pretty sure I missed it. All of these online systems (many of which are completely unsecure...check the top of your browser the next time you are asked to fill one out) requiring you to fill out a full profile containing all kinds of personal deets are not only irresponsible, but pointless. Irresponsible because exactly how many companies are maintaining and cleansing this data? I created a profile in Deloitte's system my 2nd year of grad school (2002) and up until a few months ago my exact same resume was just sitting out there. Even then, I couldn't delete the resume, I had to upload a new version using the same file name. And, I say pointless because I actually did a stint learning the tricks of the recruiting trade and a good majority of the primo spots are filled via recruiters and/or networking, not the system you just spent an hour and a half cutting-and-pasting your resume into ('cause it couldn't even be as simple as uploading your resume into a database). Overuse of these systems creates a potential identity theft nightmare for companies who now have to be responsible for securing personal information they really don’t need, I mean, when’s the last time you had a call for a job based on a resume you submitted three to six months prior? Okay, I actually did get my last job based on an interview from nearly two years before so that might be bad example, but I like to think that’s the exception, not the rule. I know that most companies state they keep information on file for six months, but how many are actually deleting that information?
  3. Stop getting all up in my business until you're ready to make an offer
  4. I remember when I was in high school filling out paper applications for fast food jobs and even then I didn't give out my Social until I had the job. Nowadays companies request/demand your Social, previous employer contact info, references and salary histories as part of the initial application process. Are you fucking kidding me? I’m supposed to send all of this information to either a generic email address or post it in your online HR-garbage dump in order for my resume to even be considered. Really? That’s like a blind date asking for a credit report, criminal background check, and medical history before the date. Do I even have to explain how ridiculous these requests are? I hope no one is ever desperate enough for a job to comply with these requests, but I'm sure in this economy people cave in daily. A well written resume is sufficient to garner interest and kick-off the formal interview process. Even if you don’t mind giving up the goodies, these things should wait until an offer is on the table. Believe it or not the credit check puts a “ding” on your credit report (something to consider if you’re filing several resumes that “require” this info), your salary history will be used to shape any offer they might make and handing over contact info like candy makes other people’s information just as susceptible to identity theft as your own (also, sidenote, some recruiters will even try to recruit your contacts in similar roles for the job you’ve applied for – another tactic I learned during recruiter training). Think of it this way – hiring folks should at least have to court you before they get all up in your business. Treat me like a lady, if you want me to be a slut.
  5. Enough with the pre-interview questionnaires already
  6. Usually, I don't mind the pre-interview questionnaires because they tend to make me think more critically about my background and motivations, but the last few I've been asked to complete took a day and a half to finish and seemed to cover most of the questions one would expect in a regular interview. Again, this is pure laziness. Part of the recruiting function of an HR department is that you establish a certain rapport with candidates in order to determine if they are a good fit for the position, the team with which they'll be working most closely, and the overall organization. You can't get a true sense of this from words on a paper, especially if candidates (like me) have a personality or sense of humor that doesn't come across well in writing (although I think I do just well in conveying my sense of humor). Just as with KM, IT is a facilitator, not the answer. Too much automation of the process doesn't mean you're nailing down the best candidates, just the candidates who are willing to endure the humiliation of jumping through your hoops and are also proficient at manipulating the system. And you can tell yourself that this is what happens when you have so much on your plate and tons of candidates to consider, but at the end of the day not identifying the best candidates simply reflects your incompetence and your failure to serve the larger needs of the organization.
  7. Please let me know when you're done with me
  8. I get that HR can often be overwhelmed with the number of resumes and submissions to job openings and it isn't always feasible to provide a status update to everyone, but I strongly urge you all to show some class and try. I don't know about other candidates in the market but I am "interviewing" the company/organization during the recruiting process as much as they are interviewing me and I'm extremely critical of how they court me. When I'm asked to put the details of my life out there, set aside time to speak with HR and hiring managers, and then it takes weeks or even months to get "next steps" information - if at all - it says a lot to me about the company, none of it good. It doesn't matter how many candidates you have to deal with, your job is to represent the integrity and character of the company with potential new hires and eventual employees. You wouldn't want a candidate who acted with such indifference in response to your interest, now would you?
All right, enough bitching. I could go on, but I'm all about the teachable moment. When the day does come that KM takes over the HR function, these are some of the the programs I plan to implement:
  • Right use of online application systems
  • Collecting all of that data at the start of the application process may be retarded, but once an offer has been extended it's a perfectly acceptable way to go (in lieu of asking someone with a perfectly good resume to fill out a paper application like they're at Burger King). For rejected applicants, keep the demographic data (age, race, gender, positions applied for, average length of experience, degrees, University's attended, etc.) and purge the resumes. Demographic information is valuable to create a picture of the types of applicants you're getting for general statistics and annual reports. New hire data should be migrated to an internal Employee Skills/Profile database. Every company I've worked for in the last five years has been eager to get one of these but building it from scratch is a pain in the ass. Using all of that HR data is a fantastic way to kick one off!
  • Owning the recruitment process
  • Even when dealing with HR has been a pleasure, I have been utterly turned off by hiring managers who have no skill at interviewing and put the onus on me to sell myself. It's kinda hard to sell yourself when you have no clue what they are looking for and if it's like that in an interview, imagine working for that person. Ay ay ay! Hiring managers should be trained on how to interview and HR should provide the training, help hiring managers flesh out job descriptions, and better understand the needs of each role that they are filling so that they can truly identify the best candidates. Of course, as part of the KM function, HR would also have insight (from lessons learned and best practice documents and KM assessments) into the knowledge needs of the organization and individual departments to make this job easier.
  • Integrating KM to improve knowledge stewardship
  • In most organizations HR is concerned with the acquisition and retention of employees, training and development, and all relevant policy and process management. KM is most effective when there is an ingrained sense of knowledge stewardship, something HR is perfectly poised to promote and institutionalize at all levels of the organization through policies, new hire orientation, annual reviews, and regular workshops.
  • Fashionable Fridays
  • Because being business-minded and professional shouldn't come at the expense of being cute and fashionable. Ever.

March 30, 2010

KM: Making The Business Case

It never fails that March comes around and I become a total "flogger" (flakey blogger).  In my defense, my family celebrates a birthday each week for the first three weeks of the month.  Plus, this year, my lesbian wife, Brandy, gave me the fantastic gift of a five-day trip to Chicago during which "the Braintrust" (her and Lil Magic) and I endeavored to make as many bad decisions as possible.  Although we lived up to the immortal words of Dr. Venkman ("We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!") I was both elated and disappointed to discover that I'm not as "wrong" (read: scandalous) as I think I am (and as my birth date, 3/15, suggests).  Sadly, age brings maturity and wisdom.

Somebody should do something about that.

Anywho, I've got 2 days left in the best month on the calendar (don't agree? Ask someone Irish...holla!!) and in-between matches (this weather is too perfect not to play as much tennis as possible) I figured I should make-up for my ir-writ-sponsibility.

Last month, I was stoked to have a revised version of my Guerrilla KM post published in InsideKnowledge magazine.  Seeing yourself in print for the first time is like your first kiss...too sweet!  I'm following this up with a contribution on Making the Business Case for KM but the downside of writing for a magazine is all of the editing that needs to be done. Don't get it twisted, I'm happy with the end result, but I kinda like the extraneous ramblings I include in my writing. Fortunately, I gots me a license to blog, hardy har har, so I can share with y'all the (mostly) unedited piece.

When I was a grad student in the University of Southern Maine’s most excellent College of Education and Human Development, I wrote a paper on critical technology issues of knowledge management in which I summarized an episode of the 1990's TV version of La Femme Nikita. In the episode, Section One, an ultra-covert, counter-terrorist agency, carried out a plan to “upload” to its computers the knowledge and memories of all its operatives in a gambit to create – at will – “perfect” agents with the collected knowledge of years of training and experience. I wrote, then, that despite its sci-fi appeal, this was exactly the method to managing knowledge many organizations seemed to be attempting (and most interested in aping). Nine years later, it seems to me that for far too many organizations, this is still the reigning concept of what KM is all about.

Since I’ve dedicated 2010 to evangelizing the importance of a KM value proposition, it seems only fitting that I should write about making the business case for KM.  Whether you’re engaging in an initial discussion or re-branding knowledge management efforts, the ability to define, rationalize and set expectations of KM is a critical cornerstone of a successful and sustainable KM initiative.

As usual, before climbing onto my soapbox, I looked to the literature to see what’s already been written on the subject and, frankly, I wasn’t impressed. Dale Neef’s 1997 article, “Making the Case for Knowledge Management: The Bigger Picture” seems less concerned with making the case for KM as it is with providing a list of considerations for developing a KM strategy. David Skyrme’s 2001 article, “Making the Business Case for Knowledge Management: As Simple as ABC?” offers three “planks” on which to justify knowledge management (asset value, benefits potential, and cost effectiveness) that leaves me with a bad taste in my mouth. Perhaps, because I subscribe to the belief that KM (as a discipline) requires explanation rather than justification. Save the pleading for your strategy. Lastly, Yelden & Albers 2004 article, “The Business Case for Knowledge Management” advocates delivering a comprehensive KM strategy that identifies “all the options available with the associated risks involved with each choice” since “[c]learly delineating the expected hard and soft benefits of each aspect of the initiative aid in effectively justifying its need.” Not only is this impractical, the amount of up front information this approach calls for is completely overboard. It also fails to consider the implications of proposing a strategic solution to stakeholders whose understanding of KM – which might run the gamut from none to “coo coo for Cocoa Puffs” – can completely derail a KM initiative before it’s even begun. Diligence must be tempered with appropriateness.

Clearly, my sage advice is needed on this subject.

Ultimately, the objective of a business case for KM is to provide organizational stakeholders with an awareness and understanding of knowledge management that will set the stage for a deeper exploration of how it can be approached strategically. First, build (and sell) the case for KM; Second, secure enough buy-in to undertake a proper knowledge audit; and, Third, develop (and pitch) a strategic solution.

Elements of a Business Case for KM
  • General and organization-specific definitions of knowledge management
  • Awareness of the role that KM plays in the organization
  • Awareness of how KM impacts an organization
  • Cost and benefit(s) of a strategic approach to KM
General and organization-specific definitions of knowledge management
I’m fond of defining KM as the set of strategies that improve how information is shared and leveraged in an organization, but if that doesn’t work for you, then look no further than the Wikipedia entry for knowledge management for something more comprehensive. Just remember to observe the wisdom of the KISS principle and keep it simple, stupid! Avoid tossing around know-it-all terms like tacit and explicit knowledge and generic statistics about employee retention, knowledge half-life and even competitors KM behaviors. You don’t create a connection by talking over the heads of your audience. You have to speak in their language about their organization. Will some respond to and even demand this type of information? Sure, but your task is to keep them focused on their organization. What works next door and across the street isn’t, necessarily, applicable at home and even if it might be, benchmarking the best practices of others is highly premature for organizations still defining their need for and approach to KM.

And you should say so.

Awareness of how KM impacts an organization
Fundamental KM belief #1: There is no such thing as an organization that does not practice KM, whether or not it's been formally documented or recognized as such.  When an organization says it "wants” KM what it's really saying is that whatever it's currently doing isn't working (for whatever reason and to whatever degree).

If you need to, take a minute and let that marinate.

This is the reason I espouse explaining versus justifying KM. KM is not some external activity that an organization can opt-in or out of at their leisure, it is a reality of doing business that it is embodied in all of the processes and activities that inform and influence how human and technology resources are utilized, developed, and leveraged across the organization.

Awareness of the role that KM plays in the organization
Fundamental KM belief #2: Good KM professionals should, ideally, be working themselves out of a job. While there may be an on-going need for someone to manage KM systems and routine activities (knowledge audits, data analysis and reporting, etc.) at some point, once the task of facilitating the cultural adoption of KM is complete, these activities should be able to be absorbed by other functional areas (preferably, at the executive level).

Of course, for most organizations, I don’t see this happening any time soon. Why? Because KM confuses the heck out of people!
With all of the different activities that support and enable KM – many of which are valid disciplines in their own right – it’s easy to see why. So, when making the case for KM, it’s necessary to focus on the added value that KM as a whole (not just its various enablers and activities) brings to the organization.

As a field, knowledge management is rooted in the following core values:
  • KM is strategic (mission and goals-oriented, tactical, agile)
  • KM is about sharing (collaboration, partnership, active participation)
  • KM is about community (mutuality, trust, respect)
  • KM is about innovation (growth, adaptation, change)
And, in addition to being warm and fuzzy, KM also provides a holistic lens through which policies, practices, and strategic goals and objectives are analyzed to determine how fully people, process, and technology are being engaged.  This is a critical aspect of KM that is often ignored.  Typically the KM function is engaged to assist in determining how KM systems might be used to facilitate a particular goal or objective, but rarely is KM engaged to evaluate the actual goals and objectives.  “How can KM support this initiative?” should give way to “How feasible is this initiative from a KM perspective?”

Cost and benefit(s) of a strategic approach to KM
Fundamental KM belief #3: KM is taking place – like it or not – and if you're not addressing it directly then you're missing out on a golden opportunity to shape and direct how it takes place and benefits the organization’s bottom-line.

Regardless of how you choose to make a case for KM you’re going to be asked to justify (there’s that word) its cost and demonstrate its benefit(s). If you’ve successfully established KM as an existing and on-going organizational practice then consider yourself halfway home, if not, you’ve got an uphill battle ahead of you. But, a smidgen of wisdom, a pinch of logic, and a dash of courage might be enough to pull you through.
  1. The actual cost of KM
  2. Whenever the subject of the cost of KM rears its head, it’s decidedly in reference to the purchase of some behemoth enterprise system promising a revolution in the management of information resources. In actuality, aside from the cost of the human resources required to implement a KM strategy (and, if applicable, to manage whatever technology resources are already in play) the most common cost of KM is a factor of the time involved in strategy, process, and educational development and delivery activities. (Any other costs to be considered should be outlined and presented in a comprehensive KM strategy based on the results of a formal knowledge audit. At which point cost can be considered a determining factor in the prioritization of KM activities.)
  3. The cost of doing nothing
  4. I have yet to come across an organization that doesn’t want to improve something about itself or see some inefficiency in how it operates. Find these “open flaws” and exploit them. It isn’t necessary to bombard stakeholders with a litany of corporate transgressions and misdeeds that KM will (attempt to) “fix” (that’s me being sarcastic). Instead, focus on the top three to five regularly voiced concerns and suggest how a strategic approach to KM can mitigate them then posit the cost of continued inefficiency in the face of a valid solution.
  5. Satisfaction with/usage of enterprise systems
  6. You don’t need a full-scale knowledge audit to do a word of mouth survey or 100% participation for the feedback to be valid. The goal here is to present a snapshot of how people get at and share critical information and how they regard the systems available. Focus on the people who influence the flow of money – sales, product development and support, and client-facing professionals. What are the sundry information needs of these key players and how do they describe their experiences filling these needs in the current environment?
  7. Rate of failure of new initiatives
  8. Simply put, compare the number of new initiatives that were introduced to the company in the current year (or recent years) to the number that are still standing as an indicator of change fatigue or cultural resistance to change. (Try to emphasize the initiatives that were reasonably intelligent or worthwhile; failure of the stupid ones tend to speak for themselves). And, if they’re still around, enhance your findings with qualitative “lessons learned” feedback from initiative sponsors/champions.
  9. Rate of new hire acclimation
  10. Work with HR to seek out both new hires (at varying lengths of employment) and hiring managers to obtain feedback on how quickly new hires have been able to get up and running in their roles, get at critical information, and accomplish (relatively basic) work-related and HR tasks.
  11. Resource/succession planning policies
  12. Is there a set of policies to plan for the loss of critical organizational knowledge and leadership? Have these critical organizational roles been identified? If yes, is the plan active and effective? If no, bad ju-ju.
  13. Quantity and quality of documented best practices
  14. Successful companies share and institutionalize the knowledge that makes them successful. One of the best indicators of how well an organization is (or isn’t) managing its knowledge is the quantity, quality, and ease of access to internal (and industry) case studies, best practices, and lessons learned type documents.
In his 2005 Projectified blog post, “KM and PM: The Redheaded Step Children of all Organizations?,” Brian Kennemer insightfully writes, “PM [project management] and KM ‘systems’ are about people being comfortable with changing the way they do things.” The best approach to making a case for KM lies in making people aware of and comfortable with KM; helping them to understand the way(s) in which they are currently engaging in KM activity and illustrating the types of adjustments that can be made to shape their behaviors for a targeted result.

Sound like a tall order? In my experience, not so much.