Thursday, 28 January 2016

Want to know how? Ask a London cabbie

"The difference between what can be learned from a map and the knowledge gained by walking over the territory is profound".  So observed the Guardian in a recent editorial entitled 'Knowledge in the information age: take it to heart'. London cabbies imprint their memory by spending months driving the streets, learning every one of 20,000 landmarks and turning by sight. In the age of Google Maps,  smartphones and of course Uber, why bother?  The reason is that the act of driving the route aids learning and most importantly adds context. Want to know the best driving lane approaching the congested Hanger Lane Gyratory system on a Friday afternoon? Ask a cabbie; Google Maps won't help.
In education, there is ample research that shows that the act of writing (rather than typing) aids learning and imprints knowledge. Discussing a topic in class similarly improves understanding and recall.
Both examples of imprinting have applicability in organisational learning activities.  In my work in facilitating knowledge transfer for highly experienced individuals, it's thankless asking them to 'capture' what they know. Think of the golf pro. Ask them to write down their perfect shot and they can't. Ask them to describe it and they find it very difficult (an exception to this is the London cabbie, who must be able to verbally describe to an examiner any one of 320 routes through 25,000 London streets to pass 'The Knowledge'). Observe the golf pro in play and you can see their know-how.
Too often handovers resort to easily retrieved and codified information - files, org charts, contact lists . Not only do these age fast, but they don't have the context for the recipient that emerges from a dialogue or from observation. 
Ironically, there have recently been calls for the London taxi 'Knowledge' to be scrapped. As the Guardian concludes 'Whatever can be looked up instantly, can instantly be forgotten'. 
Photo credit: Bloomberg

Friday, 22 January 2016

Knowledge Management - Don't Forget The SME's!

The research paper by Cheng Sheng Lee and Kuan Yew Wong in the December of issue of  Business Information Review raises a number of interesting points that deserve wider discussion. Abstract as follows:
Knowledge management (KM) is recognized as an important means for attaining competitive advantage and improving organizational performance. The evaluation of KM performance has become increasingly vital, as it provides the direction for organizations to enhance their performance and competitiveness. A survey was carried out to test the applicability of 14 constructs based on knowledge resources, KM processes, and KM factors in measuring the KM performance for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in Malaysia. This article intends to further explore the effects of company size (micro, small, and medium) and KM maturity on knowledge management performance measurement (KMPM). Two-way analysis of variance results indicate that company size and KM maturity do affect some aspects of KMPM in SMEs.
The research focused on the effectiveness of knowledge management techniques in Small to Medium Enterprises (SME’s) in Malaysia. Though the scope of the research is limited to one geographic region, the findings could – and should – be tested against a wider and more international cohort.
According to the research paper, in Malaysia, SME’s account for up to 98.5 percent of the total number of businesses and contribute up to 33.1 percent of GDP. They employ 57.5 percent of the total workforce.
To offer some comparison, UK, SME’s account for over 99.8 percent of the total number of businesses, they contributed over half of UK output in 2013 (GVA) and employ 48 percent of the total private sector workforce.
It is clear from this data that SME’s make up a significant, and growing, contribution to the UK and European economies. It seems quite odd, therefore, that so little research has been undertaken into how knowledge management strategies and techniques have been utilized within and across this sector.
The Cheng Sheng Lee/Kuan Yew Wong research gives us some insights that could be tested against a wider geographic sample of SMEs. Some key points from the research as follows:
  • The literature research identified that the size of an organization affects its behaviour and structure (Edvardsson, 2006; Rutherford et al, 2001) and how it influences the adoption and implementation of KM (Zaied et al, 2012).
  • SME’s should not be perceived as homogenized groups. They themselves can be categorized according to relative size, e.g. micro, small and medium, which can influence the way that KM is implemented.
  • In terms of human capital, medium-sized businesses (SMEs) focus more on codification strategies (explicit knowledge) whereas micro-sized businesses (SMEs) are more dependent on socialization strategies.
  • An obvious point, but reinforced by the research – the need for better infrastructure, such as tools, office layout, rooms etc. increases as the organizations grows.
  • Knowledge Maturity is a key attribute that should be monitored measured. The value of an employee will increase in terms of their contribution to the success of the organization as they progress from beginner, intermediate and advanced staged of KM maturity. Clearly the impact of an employee leaving without an effective knowledge transfer process will be more keenly felt by a small organization. [NB. This is not an excuse for large organizations to treat this is a lower priority!]
  • Company size does make a difference to KM performance measurements. A number of factors are proposed, e.g. impact of high turnover, limited resource redundancy in smaller organizations, smaller organizations will likely prioritize implementation processes over performance measurements etc.
  • KM performance measurement (KMPM) is still new for SME’s, as the majority of analyst reports and case studies remain focused on large organizations, with a mindset that SMEs do not need or are not ready for KMPM.
Overall, this is an excellent piece of research, and highly recommended reading, which despite its limited sample size and geographic boundary, gives some very useful insight into how KM is being implemented across SME’s. Reassuringly it shows that a growing number of SME’s see KMPM as vital to the growth and success of their business.
The paper is also a wake-up call to academia, research, analyst and consultancy organizations in that we need far more definitive and comprehensive studies in this field, to embrace UK, Europe and other key industrial and economic zones.
To finish with a quote from the authors:
Enough with large organizations; SMEs should not be neglected as they play a major role in a country’s economic growth”.
On this evidence, who could disagree?

Saturday, 16 January 2016

'What gets measured, gets done'

Photo credit: Wikipedia
You may not be familiar with the face of this stern-looking gentleman. However, you are probably aware of his often quoted phrase 'what gets measured, gets done'. More correctly, Lord Kelvin's statement was actually 'what gets measured, gets managed', but the statement rings true none-the-less.

I've recently been working with a client on a process to measure the impact of their new Knowledge Management programme. Measuring what are sometimes intangible effects is always tricky, but as Lord Kelvin advocated, necessary and worthwhile. We've set-up a maturity modelling process to provide the metrics* associated with their knowledge-sharing activity, collaborative behaviour and effectiveness of communities of practice. We are applying quantitative measures to a qualitative effect:

  • To know how far you have come, you need a baseline to measure from 
  • To know where you want to go, you must have a target 
  • To move from baseline to target you must determine actions, timescales and resources 

Photo credit: HBS Archive
In the1920's Elton Mayo, an Australian born sociologist, did study at the Hawthorne, Chicago works of Western Electric, to see if varying the lighting affected workers' productivity. What he found was that the very act of observing the workers, had an effect on their productivity. This phenomenon was named the 'Hawthorne Effect'. It has been interesting working with my client's managers on defining their maturity model definitions, current levels and targets; their involvement from the start seems to be following the Hawthorne Effect, supporting 'what gets measured, gets managed'.

In May, I'm running a KIN Roundtable at HM Treasury in London on 'Measurement and Demonstrating Value'. I'm sure these topics will feature in the discussions.

* Do you know the difference between a measure and metric?

  • A measure is one quantitative number or amount. e.g. We made £100,000 profit in the last quarter.
  • A metric compares the measure to a baseline. e.g. We made £100,000 profit last quarter, £10,000 more than the same quarter last year.

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Expert enablers - or knowledge bottlenecks? HBR article on 'Collaborative Overload'

HBR has just published an article by Rob Cross on 'Collaborative Overload'. We are probably aware of anecdotal stories of individuals unwilling to be held-up as experts prepared to help others, for fear of being overloaded. The survey, on which the article is based states that 'In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees. As people become known for being both capable and willing to help, they are drawn into projects and roles of growing importance'.

An interesting observation is that rather than being reticent helpers, these individuals become knowledge 'bottlenecks' or 'suffer from burnout... due to escalating citizenship'. Cross makes distinctions between Informational, Social and Personal resources. He proposes that the first two are infinate; you share them, but don't lose anything in doing so (in fact you gain potential reciprocity). Personal resource (time and energy) is finite and becoming increasingly precious. Calling time-consuming meetings to share knowledge, under the guise of 'collaborating' is a wasteful and unnecessary depletion of personal resource. 'Each request to participate in or approve decisions for a project leaves less available for that person’s own work'.

Ironically, in the HBR survey, those seen as the best sources of information and in highest demand as collaborators in their companies—have the lowest engagement and career satisfaction scores. So, what's to be done? Here the report is less helpful. For example, under 'Encourage behavioural change', they recommend 'encourage individuals to make an introduction to someone else when the request doesn’t draw on their own unique contributions'. More helpfully, the article cites Dropbox's experiment in cancelling all recurring meetings for two week experiment. This highlighted those that were really necessary. As a result, according to a Stanford University report, 'although the company tripled the number of employees at its headquarters over the next two years, its meetings were shorter and more productive'. 

The most helpful suggestions are around structural changes. 'Many hospitals now assign each unit or floor a nurse preceptor, who has no patient care responsibilities and is therefore available to respond to requests as they emerge. The result, according to research conducted with David Hofmann and Zhike Lei, is fewer bottlenecks and quicker connections between nurses and the right experts'. Other types of organizations might also benefit from designating “utility players”—which could lessen demand for the busiest employees'. This is a good description of the 'enabling' role that many of us working as knowledge managers do; appropriately connecting the right people at the right time and ensuring their time is used effectively. There is a good precis of how technology developments (Slack, Chatter, Syndio and Volometrix) are creating smart tools to help connect experts and teams.

The article concludes that 'Leaders must learn to recognize, promote, and efficiently distribute the right kinds of collaborative work, or their teams and top talent will bear the costs of too much demand for too little supply'. However, I disagree with a final recommendation 'we believe that the time may have come for organizations to hire chief collaboration officers'. This is a non-job and would absolve line managers from helping their experts manage their time and energy in a sustainable and reciprocal way.

Image credit: