Archive for the ‘KnowledgeManagement’ Category


(c) 2012 Michigan Employment Law Advisor

There are two kinds of people when it comes to change: (1) those that hate change, and (2) those who dislike it. This includes those who thrive on it (i.e. first responders or management book authors). I count myself in the latter camp although I leave it to the bravado of the rescue squad and the ambulance chasers to rise above their milder disdain for change.

This dislike stance told me to seek out the next change before it found me first. So I opened the door this fall on the “job market” — two words that always play better in speech and policy-making than in actual qualifiable positions. My forte is in making information useful and I have yet to see a single opening with that line of work involved. Perhaps that’s why job security and professional competence have had a casual relationship through-out my so-called career.

No suprise then I was both shocked and delighted to see a position for a reconciliator of enterprise architectures — someone who could make those disparate systems talk amongst themselves as well as the isolated teams who rely on them for designing products and supporting processes.

The delight kicked in with the realization that I could work from strength as an information architect on behalf of information technologists (the people with the positions to fill in actual job markets). The deal was cinched by the fact this is a product-driven company and thus a culture of politically tone deaf, socially challenged, and problem-smashing engineers.

A Numbers Game of Two Number Teams

I had served the better half of the past two years at the pleasure of CPAs in a Big Four accounting firm that had acquired the operational engineering talents of a mid-size management consulting firm where I did knowledge management via Microsoft SharePoint starting in 2005. Here the main value proposition remained constant: “what do you make?” However the corollaries could not be further apart:

Engineer: How do you make it?
Accountant: How much do you owe on what you make?

One was exact, unbending, and interpreted from an unassailable regime. The other was approximate and multidimensional, and crafted from a fluid and complex set of proprietary assets, market forces, and the immutables, i.e. electronic properties of materials, laws of physics, etc. Accountants and engineers are both introverted, consultative “numbers people.” But there’s an oil and water schism going on here that makes Arabs and Jews look like ancestral soul mates.

Unlikely Teammates

The guys from my old firm liked to tinker. They liked to take companies apart (batteries not included) and reassemble them so they ran better. They would turn the problem on its head just so they could figure out the right questions to be asking. The tax and audit people have multiple authorities to answer to — but they never change. It’s the same regulated economy from one nation state to the next. Accountants do not review problem sets in search of reductionist logic. They seek “the number.” It’s the tax code that confers their authority — not patterns in data, not arrays of silicon nanocrystals. Show an accountant a data cloud as the answer to GPS and he’ll be more interested in the cloud’s locality than his own whereabouts. It comes with the territory.

The accountant formulates what the engineer rationalizes, assuming the government’s a no-show. It might not be the melodic orchestration of a more perfect union. It’s an arms length hand-off but a collaboration nonetheless. What I’ve spent the better half of two years trying to rationalize is how a trade bent on document preparation refuses to practice knowledge management. How it’s a higher value function for those documents to be sequestered in a vault than leveraged as the missing piece in some future unsolved puzzle.

So about that new job…

Live and Let Engineer

I could approximate the moment in the interview process where I thought I couldn’t walk away from a return to engineering culture. It occurred when my future boss began recounting the tangle of acquisitions that had brought fresh thinking to augment the firm’s strategy. But much of that inspiration was trapped in an airtight silo that had never been provisioned to the larger knowledge base. The opportunity was presented as a difficult conversation that no one was especially keen on having, let alone a solution for integrating these silo-bound wikis, file shares, and discussion lists where feudal geeky orders form apart from the larger community. I told the guy that wasn’t going to be a problem because I was going to let these coders go on developing in whatever comfort zone met their climate control patterns.

This was not going to be a power grab in the form of:
“You can have any color content so long as it’s SharePoint…”

This was about indexing large chunks of undocumented outputs and then auto-classifying them for community review through a federated search. This is the ultimate success factor that us KMers keep a secret to our own detriment. It’s not about imposing a single platform. It’s about getting on the same page. It’s not about shutting down renegade skunk works. It’s about opening up the pathways of collective know-how by freeing our users from the tyranny of document location, i.e. knowing where stuff is.

Well, I didn’t sound so preachy during the interview and I’m not sure my new boss bought my argument. All I know is he suspected that I believed in what I was telling him. And that was enough to get us to the next round. That’s when I tapped my engineering network. Former bosses and colleagues testified that they too drank from the same punch bowl and gave the intrepid, nonplussed tip of operational approval that only an apolitical and resolute dilemma smasher could resolve. These are my people.

As a result I have a once in a lifetime opportunity. It took 50 years. But I finally found a way of firing myself from a job I needed because I found another job I actually wanted. That’s a stroke of luck I will value above and beyond any status of vocation or income stream. You don’t have to worship a dollar to go to work every day. And you don’t need to be (a) starving, or (b) an artist to cherish the intellectual freedom that comes with problem-solving as its own reward.

Sharing Hidden Know-How: How Managers Solve Thorny Problems With the Knowledge Jam

In Hidden Know-howHow Managers Solve Thorny Problems with the Knowledge Jam (Josseybass: 2011), author and corporate strategist Katerina Pugh unpacks the swollen, daunting, and sloppy world of organizational learning:

  • Swollen in the size of its ambitions and all the nonverbal and unscripted baggage it entails
  • Daunting in its disparity between high-minded concept and lame execution
  • Sloppy in a sincere but misplaced faith that a seat at the table ensures a productive exchange of agreed-upon outcomes

Pugh leaves as little to chance as a planned communication can contain within its unscripted boundaries. She zeros in on the transfer point in the knowledge transaction between knowledge originators and recipients. Pugh takes immediate aim at recipients who are too passive and one-sided exchanges where impervious originators are more interested in addressing their expertise — not their colleagues:

“People who use the knowledge should drive the conversation, as they are more likely to draw out context that would make applying knowledge easier.”

All too often a static presenter is appointed expert and does a brain dump. The recipients are then faced with two off-putting choices:

  1. Follow the presenter’s logic through and accept or question the conclusions based on the originator’s perspective (poking at the dumping pile), or
  2. Wondering off-script by asking the expert to apply these rationales to the recipient’s own circumstances

Either way, these situational roles impose their own limits: (1) being lectured at, or, (2) deviating from the presenter’s preparations and the group being presented to. Pugh’s methods for sparking meaningful exchanges center on the practical matter of liberating originators and recipients from the self-imposed limitations that impeded the transfer process. Here are a few ripe examples of such roadblocks and counter-steps or probes the facilitator can take to redirect the conversation:

1) Impatience: Participants are worn down by excessive detail.

Probe: Ask the group whether to continue the drill-down or table for further offline deliberation, a.k.a. “the parking lot.”

2) Silence: Participants hold back their knowledge through suppression and distraction.

Probe: Build on pre-established trust in drawing out tight-lipped originators — “Sally, you recently had something like that. Can you explain how you handled it?”

3) Passive-Aggressive: Some key players may weigh-in by sitting out the transfer or what Pugh terms “the discover/capture event” which ensues after the planning stage.

Probe: Connect the goal orientation of reticent participants  to the event results; mainly the knowledge gained and shared to support these goals. In effect, “make it worth their while” by making them accountable for these outcomes.

4) Argumentative: Some actors fancy their participation as the devil’s advocate or out-and-out contrarian, injecting skepticism or doubt into the mix or even into the knowledge jam itself. Pugh intimates that a hostile edge in a disbelieving stance stems from participants who perceive the limits of their own authority to affect change, or even the questioning of that authority by the group.

Probe: “Don’t let the argument be between the facilitator and doubter,” writes Pugh. “Instead, use the group to address the argument.”  

These four examples are but a sliver of a rich and deep roadmap for engaging participants, repairing breakdowns, and advancing difficult but ultimately productive knowledge transfers. By articulating the protocols for consensus-building Kate Pugh has assembled a beckoning refuge for harboring the tensions and frictions that need to be addressed in any open and honest team-building effort.

Throughout the book Ms. Pugh maintains her insistence about the need for openness — (in quoting Williams College President Adam Falk) “… to extend and refine our thinking in the presence of others who bring their own experiences and motivations.” That goal seems all the more achievable as the methods detailed in Hidden Know-how find their way into the toolkits of knowledge brokers and conversations across conference room tables in all walks of organizational learning.

There are two reasons that economies exist: (1) to remunerate the owners of capital to the optimal degree; and (2) to maintain social stability, a.k.a. so the renters of capital keep the roofs on their backs and don’t storm the gates of McMansionville

The further the U.S. strays from reason #2 the more convinced I am that there is a price for greed. There is a cost for fear. What us humans will stumble over the brambles of adversity in the life auction to bid for at any price is stability. What’s the market doing today — name your price. It’s stability that’s priceless. There’s actually a third reason — electing more Republicans to public office by promising to cut the taxes of all Americans (dead or alive). But I digress. 

I showed you my economic cards to foreshadow a recent get-together with a former colleague once removed. It happened at a completely pass-up-able trade show in Boston few weeks back. I wasn’t speaking, I wasn’t listening. I wasn’t paying or expensing or conventioning any of it. But I went because it gave me the opportunity to run into folks I normally graze indirectly through a fleeting tweet or a bump on a blog. The fact that these are “chance” meetings with no formal agendas or hard stops is sometimes as appealing as the names that drop into these calendar openings.

However, there was one meeting of particular merit because it reminded me of a time in the past where terms like “career-building” and “ladder-climbing” were more than platitudes to gold watches and indentured supplicants. The gentleman I was meeting with had just accepted a job to work as a KM grunt with a prestigious and high-flying brain factory fired from piping, fresh HBS idea ovens

George (I’ll call him here) had a much better run than I as an independent KM consultant with longer feasts, shorter famines, and enough returning engagements to get him on the short list of folks who are called into bless, validate, and handicap most big ticket enterprise content decisions.

What search engine do we buy? Why is garbage-in, garbage-out the only process flow that works with any regularity in our document life-cycle? George was the guy who could address the daunting and predictable questions  looming on  the radars of cash-rich, strategically impoverished IT shops left minding the information management store.

Maybe it was another college tuition to meet? Perhaps it was a spouse furloughed by the uncertainty that the future includes a place for over educated Americans who expect promotions and raises? Maybe it was the shock of knowing that mom and dad are now not just confusing our names with our siblings but referring to us as their own siblings

Whatever landed over the top on the wrong side of the watershed  bed, George decided that being paid twice a month was preferable to the prospect of fatter, inconsistent pay days. He confided that it stung a little to see no press release parading the new home of his worthy track record and talents. The simple fact is that companies don’t crow about their costs and George’s new employer doesn’t sell KM consulting for a living. 

Do they want to deliberate about how the only thing standing between them and bigger deals is better knowledge-sharing? Nope. And especially nope if they can’t bill for it. Community-building? IP propagation? That’s what we hired you to do, George. Let us know when you’ve fixed it and we’ll have something.

I sympathize with George — to a point. But then I need to remind him — not of his senile parents or farcical former clients but that he is now firmly under the radar and cleared for take-off. This is a glide-path where he can pilot the hypotheticals. The slideware is gone.  Every new hire is not just a collegial grunt but a recruitment opportunity: what is it from me you expect? If the answer is a blank stare, I’ll mold the fillings. You’ll be pedaling your fulfillment right out of our showroom (or intranet for those of you viewing at work).

It’s worth noting that in my own family my wife had her own recent breakthrough on working stiff etiquette.  Rather than lamenting the fact that her basket case nonprofit closes its firewall to remote access, she saw her dysfunctional IT operation as the gift that it is — six uninterrupted hours on Acela to wifi her way to a job that leaves her alone long enough to live her life.  

In conclusion, George, believe your indoctrination into the land of working stiffs will offer its own rewards – not the least of which is far greater flexibility to unleash your pragmatic creative problem-solving in an environment that will benefit your new colleagues in ways they scarcely know.

It sounds like a Monty Python sketch.

The most telling search I can use to introduce a new hire to the collaborative dynamics of consulting communities of practice is to shine a bright search light? On display: the compromised zealotry of an overextended consultant who needs the kindred consensual wisdom of the domain experts (a.k.a. group list in MS Outlook) in order to move forward with a proposal.

Even among the most self-assured practitioners the apology always grabs the lead. Every message is prefaced by the “sorry for the SPAM’ proviso, meaning Please pardon this untimely interruption. I know I’ve just potentially added another item for you to check off from your appointed rounds today and it may have little or nothing to do with your own immediate priorities … until you too seek the endorsements and experience of the crowd sourcing elites and find yourself offering up the same humbled state of manic curiosity.

This is real. This is sincere.

This can also be effective in a systemic and scalable way if the rules of the road are written to include the Must-Ask-Must-Tell (“MAMT”) give-back. Before that mating call heads offline and skirts under the radar the information seeker owes it to the betterment of the community to post the most useful responses to SharePoint.

That’s how interruptions become know-how pumping arteries into hearts of matters settled many times before. FAQs are not in and of themselves uninformed or brilliant. But frequently answered questions swallowed by poor documentation is a sure sign of a scatterbrained and underperforming community.

To sum it up: MAMT means that if you interrupt your colleagues for advice, the burden falls on the requester to share the counsel and attached IP they receive. if you’re going to spam your colleagues you have an obligation to share what you learn. 90% of all CoP messages have no follow-on thread. That’s not so much due to hoarding but to not wanting to cause further distractions to the community. The answer is to cc: the CoP discussion board (or the KM grunt).

Here’s the platitude it serves: Establish leadership communities that inspire and reinforce the sharing behaviors to develop a sharing culture.

I think the social norm – at least in terms of sharing – is maybe 1-2 degrees of separation over email. Any more extended than that and trust factors drift out of one’s immediate circle. The model is still in-network. But the collaboration is based more on a friendly rivalry than an extended peer group.

The compliance rate for documenting epic projects has doubled over the past two years. Is that because everyone wants to reinforce sharing behaviors or because no one wants to be seen as an IP freeloader?

The choice of text versus numbers is starting to ring false. The trade-off between relational tables and keywords is no longer a stretch or a compromise. The missing ingredient isn’t the optimal content database or the more responsive search tool but the outcomes that live in the cross-hairs between traditional BI and conventional keyword matches, and what began many formatting standards ago as decision support.

The purpose of SearchBoards is to classify content on a granular level. The goal is not panning for knowledge gold but to scratch the itch that prompts the question. Searchboarding doesn’t retrieve articles and files, Search Targeting informs what happens next. As Judith Jaffe, Knowledge Manager from the Risk Management Foundation put it in yesterday’s Boston KM Forum it’s to embed interventions into workflows. It’s us knowledge workers reconfiguring the juggernaut of documentable consequences. In English that means indexing spreadsheets so that the nuggets are discoverable, process-specific, action-based, and quantifiable as assets.

The counting goes beyond raw first and secondary wordcounts inherent in typical SEO analytics and goes to a tender info fantasy older than any taxonomic model. That’s flipping on a switch and having the proposal auto-generate or the diagnosis nestle in a warm bed of evidence. There’s a problem, a set of case tables, and a battery of check boxes. No one is left holding the word bag.

This is a good thing because it takes the conversation away from hit counts and page ranks and into the more tangible matters of solving problems and completing tasks. It’s not about capturing insights — yawn. It’s about the rich conversation between what we’re working with (data sources) and what we’re working on and against (projects and deadlines).

Another promising development is that when our data sources are bullets and talking points, we remove the ambiguities that are full-time occupants of Planet Google. And those doubtful citizens answer to a toppled leader called “intention.” And the lingua franca of intentionality are particles of speech. They disappear with SearchBoards. That’s because SearchBoards eliminates the source of the ambiguity — that troublesome middle man between all causes and effects called the predicate. It’s problematic because predicates are the nerve endings of human logic and they fall apart completely at the mercy of search technology.

And those search engines are as good as teaching how futile this is as they are abysmal at overcoming their own limitations. We’ve been trained well to keep our expectations low. Witness a Stanford University study cited by yesterday’s forum speaker Mark Sprague that suggests 2.4% of all search terms include verbs. No small wonder we have no idea what to do with our global information surplus.

Another tedious argument that goes away here is the Coke vs. Pepsi piss-off that parallels taxonomies and folksonomies. The liberation here is that common meeting grounds like “results” or “teams” or “industries” lend themselves to pattern-friendly sets of finite values (classification schemes). Other more fluid fields like “results” or “objectives” remain open-ended. But the rich variety of how those stories play out become the bucketed narratives on the SearchBoard results queue.

Finally the biggest payback is that we get to keep serendipitous top-of-mind association. Was there ever any doubt? And we can still bask in our most enduring content structures. What’s there not to like when the only thing we have to Google is Google itself?