January 9, 2010

Guerrilla Knowledge Management

OR, "How To Be a KM Revolutionary"

Soooo, 2010...
Considering how crappy the latter part of '09 worked out for me (what with that heart failure and all) I'm sure that I should be excited just to be vertical and walking, but I'm gonna hold off on any major celebrating for the moment and just see where this new decade leads. I'd hoped to end the year with a few new posts but I've been trying to shed the 30 lbs I've gained in the last 4 months from not being able to do any type of physically demanding activity (thank God for tennis)...and catching up on all of the shows I stopped watching mid-season 2009 (Is Vanessa Williams not the best reason to watch Ugly Betty?!?!)

Hey, I gotta broken heart; sue me!

Anyway, I hear confession is good for the soul and in the spirit of kicking off the year with a fresh start, I'm about to confess something that is so utterly embarrassing I've debated whether or not it should ever be committed to cyberspace. But, one day, when I'm in preparation for my confirmation as US Secretary of Knowledge, I might have to sit before a Senate sub-committee and spill my guts about these sorts of things so I might as well offer up some transparency now.

I rented Twilight.

I know, I know, the shame of it all! There are tacky and sordid hook-ups I'd rather spill my guts about, but there it is. I haven't watched it yet, but in my defense it was only a buck via RedBox and I'm curious to see what all the hype is about in a way that I was never curious about either sex or pot (my folks had a sure fire way to kill those curiosities - open dialogue! Thanks a lot mom and dad!)

Anywho, ever since my 2008 post on Green KM I've been itching to write one on Guerrilla KM. I coined the term years ago (for myself, at least, I don't know if anybody else is using it, although I'm familiar with Stealth KM) when I was a wet-behind-the-ears Knowledge Analyst at Ariba looking for ways to reduce my stress levels (that didn't involve a shotgun or Xanax) over my seemingly ineffectual efforts to promote KM.

The goal: "To increase knowledge sharing activity by any means necessary."

Yeah, I know, I was feelin' all "Knowledge Analyst X" at the time.

My initial strategy, which focused on coalition building and establishing an "army" of KM Champions across the organization, reflected my Adult Education and Policy Analysis studies more than true Guerrilla tactics, but I happen to see a lot of Adult Ed undertones in guerrilla warfare and the more I read on the subject the more potential I see for leveraging these tactics in a KM context.

While its possible (and advisable) to overtly pursue a "green" approach to KM, I definitely lean towards a more discrete use of guerilla KM tactics. Which is not to imply that these tactics are necessarily underhanded and shady, but nobody likes to feel as if they are being manipulated (especially if they are). In fact, stealing a page (or two, or three) from Machiavelli's The Prince might be just what your KM strategy needs to succeed!

In guerrilla warfare, a small contingent attempts to undermine a larger military force, usually in pursuit of a political agenda. Contrast that with knowledge management, in which a small contingent (maybe even a party of one), attempts to "influence" the larger organization, usually in pursuit of a politically and culturally charged objective.

For anyone who questions the comparison between 'undermine' and 'influence' and/or doubts the political nature of organizational change...get back to me when the green begins to wear off. Organizational change is inherently political and the more KM (or any functional area) attempts to influence (read: create change in) organizational behaviors, strategies, and policies the more likely it is to arouse the ire of any number of persons across the organization; making the use of guerrilla tactics an intelligent and savvy way to proceed in our line work. After all,

"the underlying strategy in guerrilla warfare is to harass the enemy (organizational leadership) until sufficient military strength (cultural momentum) is built up to defeat him in battle (influence evolutionary change in the culture) or until enough political and military (cultural) pressure is applied to cause him to seek peace (change strategies and/or policies).(Encyclopedia Britannica)"
Perhaps my favorite quote on the subject comes from Mao Tse-tung in his treatise "On Guerrilla Warfare" from which a lot of my approach has been derived,
"A revolutionary war is never confined within the bounds of military action. Because its purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new state structure, any revolutionary war is a unity of which the constituent parts, in varying importance, are military, political, economic, social, and psychological".
The effective implementation of knowledge management requires the use of a similarly composed strategy, addressing organizational politics, economics, culture, and psychology.

In developing a guerrilla approach to knowledge management, my biggest hurdle has been identifying a methodology that doesn't employ the negative tactics commonly associated with guerrilla warfare. Just because (the very "green" tactic of) transparency isn't necessarily a critical success factor in guerrilla actions (although, it can be part of the plan if it suits the agenda) doesn't mean that anything goes. As activist, writer, and Change Diva, Audre Lorde, wrote in her seminal essay "The Master's Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master's House”:
“The may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change.”
So, for my part, I prefer to rely on working with positive, lasting tools as a means of facilitating positive, lasting change, which takes tactics like ambush, deception, sabotage, and espionage entirely out of play (yes, even if Sun Tzu says it okay). Of course, this is just me – feel free to be as janky as you please.

Although, I might make an exception for espionage. I'm not morally opposed to a little clandestine intelligence gathering particularly if you're working in an environment where knowledge hoarding is the norm. I know from experience that sometimes, the only way to get at critical knowledge and information is to be sneaky about it - just be cautious about how you gather your intel. I firmly believe that in business, as in life, what goes around comes around and the people you step-on on your way up the ladder are the very ones you'll be seeing on your way down.

In his 2007 article, Guerrilla Warfare, Change and Innovation Agency founder Ken Miller offers up the following tips for creating change when you're not in charge:
  • Find a supportive manager."Guerrilla warfare starts with two people — a brave change agent and an enlightened manager. No matter how backward your organization may be, there is at least one manager who "gets it," who wants to make her unit the best it can be. Find this person and indoctrinate her."
  • Implement the change initiative in one unit. "Don't make the mistake of piloting the concepts on low-hanging fruit. Think big. If nobody notices what you've done, you've missed the point of guerrilla warfare. And if everybody notices what you are doing before you're done, you have also missed the point."
  • Create a buzz. "If you have selected a high-impact, high-visibility system, you won't need to broadcast the results — people will notice."
Ken goes on to suggest some strategies for creating buzz, but to craft strategies unique to your organizational challenge(s) consider these 8 Principles of Guerilla KM. As usual, these are presented in no particular order.
  1. Intelligence

  2. Whether you're planning a long-term offensive or a strategic "hit", having the right intel is vital. In addition to having a thorough understanding of the organization's strategic goals (because, regardless of your approach, alignment with these goals is key to KM's credibility in your organization), it's also necessary to know where critical resources lie (human, technological, and economic), who potential allies (and enemies) are, and recognizing areas of opportunity (particularly ones that have been long ignored by the current régime). Being revolutionary isn't just about fighting with passion, it's also about acting with thoughtful deliberation.

  3. Strategy

  4. As a strategist, I'm inclined to think that this is the most important principle of all. After I've achieved some awareness and understanding (based on the 'intelligence' I've gathered) of the where the organization is at and where it's trying to go, developing a comprehensive strategy is a natural next step for me. It doesn't matter how well supported and/or funded your KM efforts are, there needs to be some sort of roadmap laid out that details what goals are meant to be achieved and provides a framework for making it all happen. Otherwise, it's like playing darts in the dark wearing a blindfold; you might hit something but it's a helluva lot easier to hit your mark when you can see your target.

  5. Relationship Building (Networking)

  6. When it comes to the Principe of Networking, there are two quotes that perfectly frame my opinon on the matter:
    "The 'base of the people' is thus the key lifeline of the guerrilla movement. An apathetic or hostile population makes life difficult for guerrilleros and strenuous attempts are usually made to gain their support." — "Strategy and tactics of guerrilla warfare." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia.
    We all get by with a little help from our friends and making common cause with various organizational constituents and stakeholders (especially those who feel least appreciated) is a classic element of guerilla warfare aimed at getting that help when it's most needed!
    "[T]he guerrilla fighter is a social reformer…he takes up arms responding to the angry protest of the people against their oppressors, and fights in order to change the social system that keeps all his unarmed brothers in ignominy and misery." — Che Guevara
    "Angry protests", "unarmed brothers", and "ignominy and misery" might be a little 'dramatical', but I love this quote because it reminds me that I don't do what I do purely for myself; the work of KM is meant to benefit the organization. For the leadership that might mean improved efficiency and increased revenue while for the rank-and-file it could mean improved working conditions/procesess and increased opportunities for career growth. In order to realize these goals I need to build and maintain relationships that matter.

  7. Mobility & Adaptability

  8. One of the constant complaints I hear from KM folks is about the lack of pretty damn near everything - funds, staffing, exective buy-in, organizational support. My response: wah wahhhhh (you need an audio clip to really appreciate me saying that). Yes, it's nice to have those things, but ask around and you'll find that most people (in roles across the organization) had to make do (and do well) without the very same things you're whining about when they got started. The lack of these resources not only provides incentive for creative, out-of-the-box thinking, but it also affords a measure of mobility, both of which are invaluable assets. Working with a small staff means fewer chances for miscommunication and dropping the ball (who hasn't done that icebreaker?); working with a smaller budget also gives you a little less visibility and makes your accomplishments that much more impressive; poor or non-existent executive buy-in (with the proper spin) can actually help to legitimize KM efforts with change-weary employees...you get the picture? Guerilla KM sees the value in flying below the radar and looks for ways to capitalize on this advantage whenever possible.

  9. Tactical Initiative

  10. Typical guerilla campaigns involve the (quite annoying, from what I've read) use of brief, offensive strikes (hit and runs) that make the best use of a small, organized force with limited resources exploiting a high tactical initiative. In English - they study their enemy/situation earnestly, plan well (anticipating and mitigating potential problems), choose the time and place, and take advantage of the element of surprise. The ability to demonstrate high, moderate, or weak tactical initiative is a reflection of how much control you're able to maintain during a campaign; the better your plan (strategy), the greater your control and, thus, your success.

    Oh, and it doesn't hurt to be able to pump out a few metrics to demonstrate the effectiveness of your campaigns just in case you piss off the wrong person (gotta remember to cover your boo-tay, KM revolutionaries still like a steady paycheck and benefits!)

  11. Time

  12. In my 7-plus years of KM I've never once heard it said that the time involved in facilitating change is a good thing, but for guerrilleros time is a friend. Since guerilla tactics focus on the bigger picture, not merely short-term gains, a drawn out conflict that takes its toll on the opposition is beneficial. Not so for most (if, any) business functions. However, it's past time for knowledge managers to reframe our perspective on the time factor; it's only an obstacle if you continue to see it as one. As Mao Tse-tung writes in his treatise, On Guerrilla Warfare, "Guerrilla strategy must be based primarily on alertness, mobility, and attack. It must be adjusted to the enemy situation, the terrain, the existing lines of communication, the relative strengths, the weather and the situation of the people." Using a guerilla approach, we mitigate the time factor by remaining diligently alert and continuously adapting our strategy to make use of the intel we're gathering. Unlike the bottom-line goals you're setting out to achieves, the KM strategy shouldn't be some static document that gets reviewed and modified once a year; it should be a living document that evolves in tandem with the various (and almost certain) changes happening across an organization. By staying on the grind, keeping abreast of what's going on in your organization and making the necessary adjustments to your strategy you are able to stay one step ahead at all times.

  13. Leadership

  14. In his treatise, Chairman Mao also provides some characteristics of the type of leadership necessary for guerrilla warfare:
    "unyielding in their policies - resolute, loyal, sincere, and robust; well-educated in revolutionary technique, self confident, able to establish severe discipline, and able to cope with counter-propaganda."
    While I think that all of these qualities are perfect in military leaders, we're not exactly running a Communist régime so 'establishing severe disclipine' ("share or die") might be overkill. Where Mao and I agree is that leadership should be models for the people, leading by example. Coincidentally, that's one of the reasons why I also propose discretion in the use of guerilla KM tactics. It may seem hypocritical, but as Desperate Housewives character Tom Schiavo extoled to wife Lynette earlier this season: "There are sometimes in life when you have to break the rules to survive." (I told you I've been catching up on my shows). Besides, it's not as if we're concealing any illicit activity (I hope), we're just not broadcasting behavior that might give the impression that anarchy is okay (even if we dabble in it from time to time).

    Gosh, I'm starting to feel dirty now.

  15. Promotions/Branding

  16. One of the most well known - much maligned, though often utilized - aspects of guerilla warfare is propaganda (it isn't just for "commies" anymore). However, considering its unsavory connotations and applications, I prefer the terms "promotions" or "KM Branding". KM Branding is a particular passion of mine. I view the intersection of marketing and education as a critical component of any successful strategy. Unlike propaganda though, branding doesn't have to be fed on lies, half-truths or fuel dissent. On the contrary, KM branding can be employed using a very 'green' approach - openly, honestly and with much transparency - using marketing tactics and adult learning techniques to generating buzz around KM activity and build social capital. As retail entrepreneur Sy Syms sagely proclaimed, "an educated consumer is our best customer".

    I'm working on an article explaining the concept of KM Branding more fully, but in the meantime guerilla marketing guru Jay Levinson is a fantastic resource for great ideas. Levinson coined the term in his book Guerilla Marketing as an unconventional - and unexpected - system of potentially interactive, promotions that rely on time, energy and imagination to create unique, engaging, thought provoking campaigns.
The net effect of this approach is to position yourself to deliver what Chairman Mao called The Lightning Blow, "select the tactic of seeming to come from the east and attacking from the west; avoid the solid, attack the hollow; attack; withdraw; deliver a lightning blow, seek a lightning decision." And, when you get right down to it, isn't this why most organizations invest in KM in the first place, to be stronger, more efficient, more agile? Clearly, the benefits of KM aren't strictly limited to improving how knowledge and information is shared.

Happy New Year!


Nimmy said...

Three cheers to Guerrilla KM! Well-written and humorous as usual! :-)

Mike Klein said...

Bravo. Woot. And as they say in France, Douze Points.

As a long-time advocate and practitioner of guerrilla internal communication, you're piece (substituting "IC" for "KM") should be required reading for my colleagues as well.

Off to the Twitter feed!

Mike Klein
The Intersection-Brussels

Mike Klein

Unknown said...

Thank you, Christian! Your essay gives me the Monday morning impetus I need to FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT for KM.

JoAnn Hague, Air Force Knowledge Now