Archive for the ‘ManagementJournal’ Category

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.

The SIKM Boston group convened last week for a lively workshopping session. There was lots of discussion and very little discussion on what to discuss. The focus? What to do when peering straight into the inscrutable eyes of Chess Piece Face. Yes. we’re talking about takeovers of the most alien kind across the hostility spectrum. I especially liked the idea that the discussion gravitated to source conjugation:

* First degree: what can I do unilaterally to keep my job?
* Second degree: what can I do to convince you?
* Third degree: how would the disinterested consultant organization counsel their acquirer-client?

The premise starts not with the pieces but the game board. The game we’re playing is capitalism and the rules are by, for, and to the owners of capital. Us custodians, gardeners, farmers, bodyguards, and gatekeepers must take in a deep breath and a full step back from our cubes and Outlook boxes at the dawn of a newly waking work day, knowing that the lights may already be turned off.

To be on board is to be prepared to jump ship once the manifesto has passed from one shipping magnet to the next. The crew, however, is not part of the negotiation or even the inventory. To miss that reality is to be held hostage to our own lethargy and inflated sense of importance. Unlike the good captain, we can’t go down with the ship. It’s not our board to begin with.

Part of the ship-jumping drill is conducted in the self-renewal of our daily vows (including refresher swimming lessons). From the first degree perspective Kate Pugh recommends declaring “a major” to resist being tagged as cargo (overhead). In the consolidations to come it helps to eclipse counterpart “majors” by playing the “best practices” hand in trying to stave off commodity status and marginalization. I concede that the part about personal branding and sucking up to the brigadier smacks of a Fast Company survival guide written by that same doomed captain after the life boats have left for good. Animal magnetism is what seals deals and wins business. There are limits, however, to personal charisma outside the school of self-preservation.

The options seem more leveragable in the second degree where self-declared majors can double as brokers for the teams they’ve assisted and the projects they’ve led. One of the more thoughtful second degree contributions to our meeting came from Dave Wallace who spoke in terms of what farmers provide hunters in acquisition terms that is also certain not to show up on a balance sheet:

“How do you reward firefighters for the fires that never happen? he asks. “How can you document that demonstrated ability to diffuse the crises?”

Here it helps to take a page out of Kate’s playbook for connecting personal outputs to winning outcomes by elevating those contributions to revenue-generating status. Dave was also quick to address the match-ups and shake-outs around the re-ordering of org charts: who is your equivalent in the new organization? Do they have a higher title, a lower salary band? What expectations do they answer to and what problems do they resolve?”

The third degree is about the ultimate out-of-body merger drama. The active disinterest that speaks to the dispassionate observance for how outsiders advise their conquering clients to carve out the crown jewels of the predatory spoils. Beyond the aggressive cost-cutting that finds a home in bull and bear markets alike there is the need to safeguard the knowledge flows that drive the sales cycles — not just the profit centers they flow to. I’ve always carried this implicit understanding with the type A bosses I’ve supported in their sales efforts. KMA’s Mike Gilronan was incredulous how under the radar this realization lands on the operational side: “Some non-revenue-bearing folks don’t get it — How do we justify ourselves?” This is not a rhetorical question to Mike: “Have you ever been held to a quota?”

That unwritten contract trades knowledge flows in the form of competitive intelligence, task-based search results, and accelerated proposal generation for job security. Pure and simple. The easiest way to demonstrate this systemically to an outsider.

That’s where the appeal of an enterprisewide tool like SharePoint can play to a farmer’s advantage. There’s nothing a hunter-gatherer likes better than the map to the treasure — especially if it spares them any unnecessary turf battles or homegrown improvised explosives designed to blow-up in their faces. That’s the beauty of what Chris Rivinus described in my KMWorld Reality Series as the Rorschach test-like properties of SharePoint.

It’s a system designed to unify and synchronize all the moving pieces — prized assets and headcounts alike. Flush the red dye of a bloodless acquisition coup through the SharePoint plumbing and you’ll see where the information travels through the anatomical heart of the enterprise. Conversely you’ll see the blockages too — where gangrene is setting into the outer corporate limbs because of information-hoarding, silo-keepers, and other forms of fear, loathing, and clog-hardening lethargy.

Here’s a conversation that an acquisition leader and a SharePoint manager can have. It’s not “take me to your leader.” It’s more like the building inspector flushing the pipes to show the rust in the plumbing. That’s the kind of knowledge that transcends where the bones are buried and speaks to where the integration needs to happen — hint: it lies below the financial reporting radar.

Sadie Van Buren referenced the ultimate third degree solution based on a New York City-based copy editor who joined Google Adsense and gamed the vanity results. Every time the agency googled itself it got the gamer’s resume. He got his choice of offers.

“The market can stay irrational longer than you can stay solvent.”
- John Maynard Keynes

As a card-carrying taxpayer I thought I should check in on my blindsides and trundle into the sense-making machine. I would hear the analysis needed to talk the next pendulum swing into a softer landing than the dead stop of last fall’s meltdown. Something well-argued, reasonable. Unlike climbing out of a recession with unemployment cresting past 10 percent. On the day the Dow resurfaced above 10,000 I’m thinking — better revise my reasoning downward — and buy oil futures before tanking up for my next trip to Western Mass.

According to Paul Krugman his brethren (mild-mannered B-school professors) were launched into rocket science stardom by their serious math-making and sparkling financial models. Rare was the request for the macro-perspectives they were schooled in — an assessment to compare asset prices to real world fundamentals, e.g. reality-based earnings?

Instead they did what any investor or CEO or Rotisserie League Commissioner would do. They compared assets to other assets (and the more you pay, the more it’s worth so bubble-up, econ man…) How do you know it’s overpriced? Whenever the appraiser’s fees are set by the appraisal. Put another way — the market holds a monopoly on what to price things. This is not just a blinking black eye for a job poorly done. It’s an abdication of the job itself by a profession that prides itself in standing apart from fiscal gravity — not from being pulled in by it.

What’s that awesome and universal self-policing curb on prices? It’s fear that trumps greed and pushes demand off the price-setting tables. This is not advanced macroeconomics talking. This is primordial worst case behavior kicking in at no extra charge.

When their macroscopes were placed under the full light of day and here’s what Krugman saw:

* They concocted new recipes (fuzzy math, real dividends) to feed a hungry market. Their ratio-making rode atop the eyebrows of Greenspan as works of genius that perfected a recession proof set of market forces and pacified the social forces that might disrupt this state of perpetual growth.

* They rationalized away the insatiable appetite (the savage force of our material natures). So what if this equilibrium nudged the distribution of wealth off a precipitous ledger? The middle class still held down a job, even if it was two jobs. Now there is no easy credit. There is no steady work. And the world economy is learning how to run clear of the maxed-out American consumer, XXL edition.

* Trouble is, when your insights are underwritten by the too-big-to-fail team the too-precious-to-share scheme loses its luster. The bubble pops and the tent comes crashing down. Fear beats greed senseless in a race to zero sum as old as scarcity and as artificial as the house of cards built on the edifice of self-correcting markets.

Cool rationality was the temptation that seduced investors into back-to-back decades of buy orders on efficient, friction-free markets — the zipless f*ck of wealth creation. I would like to see even-handedness return to the notion that economies are not casinos, that winners don’t take all, and that the goal is not to create more rich people but a stable social order. Maybe if I swap out sustainable for stable I’ll sound like less of a socialist-fascist and more like the great silent desperation majority now forced to choose between pitchfork populism and disenfranchised resignation.

However, if you read the latest HBR on risk you find that aspiration to be romantic, impractical, and dissed by the enduring power of unfettered innovation. A roundtable of risk elites assure each other that the standard risk return is measured in corporate balance sheets and that the needle must nose up to systemic levels where “firms and markets intersect” and the institutional deer and environmental buffaloes play. Regulation anyone?

Harvard B-school professor Peter Tufano says that we have too many club-footed regulators overstepping on overlapping jurisdictions. “Quite a lot of risk falls in the gaps,” Tufano observes with the circular transparency of one who robs banks (because that’s where the money is) or frequents K Street fundraisers (where the arms of the law end and the loopholes take over).

Robert Kaplan of Balanced Scorecard fame hints that the law will always be a step behind the law-breakers. Are the expectations that low? Could a step-behind be a step-ahead of asleep-at-the-switch? It’s not even clear where the moral lies within the hazard when Kaplan assures us that “regulators will always be behind innovation — certainly in finance — and they’re always going to be regulating the previous innovation.” Ouch.

So the next innovator laces a derivatives bomb to the bottom of their shoes. Sounds like we’re in for some barefooted banking. No liquidity exceeding 3 ounces of gold per inflation hedge? If Kaplan is right and regulators lack imagination as much as enforcement tools then maybe the government needs to fire a spoiler salvo at the alter of next cycle innovations. Given that: (1) the Dow is up 53% for the year, and (2) that Goldman’s investment banking division is responsible for much of that a pre-emptive strike might be in order.

And so we continue to debate the purpose of managing systems and computer networks. Tired.

In the process we lose the higher purpose of managing knowledge and social networks. That’s right. You would think that the aim of computers is to help people to communicate, not just store the communication. You would think that with all that raw processing power we could spend less time on their speed, volume, and display, and more on the quality of the message.

But if it’s true that companies get what they measure: time-to-market, book-to-bill, cost-per-unit, then it’s doubly true that they don’t get the costs and benefits around competition’s kinder, wiser, stepcousin — cooperation.

Is there any mystery why? Control is lodged in what’s processed and calculated in dollars — not in what people say and think. Cooperation is prefaced on goodwill and better natures. Competition carves up the spoils.

Show me a company that benchmarks:

* How well it fuses its interdepencies
* How cohesively it weaves its systems into one seamless infrastructure
* How closely its supporting functions base that support on forging cross-unit consensus

… and I’ll show you an organization that takes its fight outside, closes ranks, and executes on a strategy long after the last re-org was supposed to take effect. I’ll show you an organization whose competitive advantages are as plain to the eye as they are invisible to the balance sheet.

Harvard Business Review’s current issue couches this approach in decision rights — a new flavor substitute for delegating responsibility in a way that favors open tables over closed doors.

For most companies execution is as solid and grounded on behalf of its revenues as it is calloused and tone deaf when it comes to petitioning on its own behalf. When the unsatisfied customer is the front office, the back office would rather turn on itself than satisfy a new requirement. Nothing new there.

What the Booz & Co. research team suggests in the HBR piece is that we don’t need to convene task forces, distract executives, fatten overheads, or eat away the clock. We need clear direction on decision rights and information flows:

The single most common attribute of such companies is that their employees are clear about which decisions and actions they are responsible for. As a result, decisions are rarely second-guessed, and accurate competitive information quickly finds its way up the hierarchy and across organizational boundaries.

This is not a choice between marching to academy fight songs or sitting around camp fires. The efficiencies gained and redundancies shed in a cooperative enterprise would hearten the most calculating bean-counter. The connections made would warm the coldest calls. And the resources marshalled could help solidify an otherwise shaky entry into new markets.

Competition intensifying? We’re no better equipped to control market forces than we are in containing greenhouse emmissions — not yet. But we can foster internal cooperation to cool down, and recharge, before we pitch back into the heat of battle. It’s not a call to arms. But it is a response to competing more effectively.

I still remember some hectic mid-recession workday during the Bush 41 economy when I read that headline in my cube at FIND/SVP. The author was Cindy Kotler and she was describing in the now defunct Journal of Commerce the unwavering attention that Japanese managers favor on market intelligence. They certainly had a stronger appetite for it than our American clients. But the corollary to fact-gathering was also true: Information devoid of its social, marketing and technical implications is meaningless. In theory few would disagree. In practice we’re still at the starting gates.

Today the info as verb mantra is especially applicable to Google’s mantra in support of its strategy to organize the world’s information. How?

* By buying out major publishers?
* By indexing enough of the web to control its currents and manage its pulses?

Nope. The method writes B. Iyer T. Davenport in the current HBR is…

Informational kudzu, always putting down new roots based on the thoroughly internalized principle that information shall be organized by analyzing users’ intentions.

It’s not a “what” — it’s a “how.” Information by itself … hangs itself. If it’s sticky it’s a piece of gum just waiting for a ride on someone’s feet. If not it races to the bottom of the search results.

Contrary to Google’s colossal search logs it is not a person, place, or thing, nor is it simply a description of static facts.

Stepping back again to the early nineties what would the past say about today’s acumen for putting information into action? I don’t mean Google’s strategy per se but our own ability to interpret information through the lens of intentionality?

Could it be that our ability to test scenarios, consider outcomes, and weigh consequences now rivals the sophistication of our search tools? Could it be that information gathering and dissemination are learned skills possessed by fewer and fewer as access to information increases?