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.

March 4, 2010

Quick & Dirty: Can KM Save The US Postal Service?

Yesterday I finally decided to ditch Internet Explorer. I don't know why IE8 was so friggin' buggy but after months of having it crash on me for any reason (it didn't like the site I was was Monday...I used gel instead of conditioner to style my hair that day...whatever) I finally decided enough was enough. The worst part of using buggy IE8: I couldn't do my taxes. At least, I couldn't download the tax forms from because, every time I tried, the system went down on me...and not in a good way. After reviewing my options I decided to go with Google Chrome (even though you have to modify it so that those pesky new tabs don't put all of your business out in the street with random folks sitting down to use your system).

Anywho, I've got to run out and find some wooden racquets to spray paint gold as prizes for my Golden Racquet tournament on Saturday. They were cute the first year I held this tournament, but last time I found these awesome racquet-shaped paper weights that, unfortunately, have been out of stock with vendors for the past 6 months. So, like a good strategist, I adjust my game plan.

But, before I hit the door, I was watching a news report on Tuesday about the trials and tribulations of the US Postal Service in the digital age and - after I stopped being pissy about USPS officials blaming Americans for using email more often, as opposed to paying to send a letter that may take days to arrive, if it arrives at all - it seemed like a great KM opportunity.

The Sitch: In a nutshell, folks just aren't mailing enough letters to keep the Postal Service in the black. (Which is funny 'cause I still get plenty of junk mail.) The USPS has tried raising rates and is now exploring reducing services by eliminating Saturday delivery.

The Opportunity: Come up with creative ways to help the USPS leverage its capabilities to either re-purpose itself or expand its offerings.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that the USPS has is that (and I'm simplifying the hell out of this) the Constitution pretty much grants the USPS a Congressional monopoly over mail delivery. Furthermore, according to Wikipedia, "Congress has delegated to the Postal Service the power to decide whether others may compete with it, and the Postal Service has carved out an exception to its monopoly for extremely urgent letters." (i.e., FedEx, Big Brown, DHL)

Has the time com for the USPS to get constitutionally-janky and decide it doesn't need the competition?

Quizás, quizás, quizás.

Pero, without getting too deep into this challenge (still gotta hunt down those racquets), I think that it's time the Postal Service looked into how it can expand or overhaul its service offerings. The fact is that we do live in a digital age and the way people communicate with one another has changed on an evolutionary scale (think "dinosaurs go bye-bye", "cavemen-stand-up-straight"). The major problem for the USPS is that they didn't go a very good job of staying up-to-date on how changing technologies would affect their core business. And blaming consumers for mailing fewer letters is a pretty lame excuse for not revamping and revising their primary service offering.

That said, I think they should look to their competitors (in the urgent mail biz) for some ideas. Has the Inspector General for the Postal Service done any evaluative comparisons of its service offerings to its commercial competitors? How frequently? And, what, if any were the lessons learned? Most importantly, assuming some type of competitive evaluation has taken place, how was learned knowledge applied? Surely these activities fall within the purview of the USPS' Office of the Inspector General.

One great starting place is the absorption of Kinko's by FedEx. Not that the USPS needs to copycat this approach, but I'm sure there are plenty of State and Federal paperwork/document processes that still require person-to-person contact that could be absorbed by the Postal Service. This wouldn't, necessarily, extend to all types of government paperwork but, just like USPS' Passport services, imagine being able to go to a place that provides access to and services around getting information and assistance with completing and submitting official documents and records.

What about expanding same-day delivery (courier) services? Or, competing for corporate contracts to provide urgent mail delivery services?

Whatever happened to resolution H.R. 3167, a bill that would have required the 2010 US Census to be conducted in partnership with the USPS (whose carriers are more familiar with cities across this country than some random hourly temp workers)? Seems to me like a great way to utilize the USPS, give the Postal Service a much needed infusion of cash, and conduct an important National study. Who the hell kept this bill tabled and why?

How about re-establishing a USPS savings systems? Especially now when so many folks (rightly, IMO) distrust commercial banking institutions and their practices.

What about a merger between Amtrak and the USPS? Since undergrad, it's been a dream of mine to be a part of re-organizing Amtrak and re-establishing the American rail service. Again, without getting too deep into this idea (that's definitely another blog post), a merger (for the USPS at least) could help to reduce a portion (if not all) of what the agency expends on contracting air and rail services.

Other quick suggestions include expanding the role of the USP Inspection Service and revisiting the decision to cancel sea mail (the service could be contracted solely to other Federal agencies, like the military).

To be fair, I think the Postal Service has done a great job of operating efficiently (which is a helluva lot more than you can say for a lot of government agencies and too many corporations), the introduction of e-postage is one example. And, if it was just a matter of time before this institution needed to shut its doors then this would be a completely different blog post, but despite changing technological trends, our Nation still has a pressing need for this service - the service just needs a makeover.

I think we've got a KM-911 here y'all.