Building networks, Selling KM, Meetings as KM behaviors, IBM in a KM shift, Super Crunchers

18-Jun-08 Archive of Weekly KM Blog by Stan Garfield

KM Question of the Week

Q: I would like to know your insights on building people-to-people networks for increasing knowledge sharing and participation: how to go about it, using discussion forums, and other ways to create a knowledge-sharing environment.

A: There are many ways to go about this. Here are some that you can use to create, build, and sustain communities.

The first thing to do is to decide what topic you wish to address in a community. Pick a compelling topic that will be of interest to many people in your organization. The potential members must be passionate about the subject for collaboration, and it must be relevant to their work.

You need a committed leader for the community. Volunteer to be the community leader, or identify someone else with the right attributes. The community leader should know the subject, have energy for stimulating collaboration, have sufficient time to devote to leadership, and then regularly spend time increasing membership, lining up speakers, hosting calls and meetings, asking and answering questions, and posting information which is useful to the members.

If communities already exist in your organization, then get the answers to these questions:

  1. Is your topic already covered as part of another community? If so, offer to help the leader of that community.
  2. Is there an existing community that is focused on a related topic? If so, approach its leader about expanding it to include your topic.
  3. Is there an old community that is inactive but could be resurrected or migrated to form the new community? If so, ask if you can take over the leadership, or harvest the membership list to start the new one.

The community will need a critical mass of members. You usually need at least 100 members, with 200 being a better target. Try to take advantage of existing networks:

  1. Is there an existing team that could be the core of a new community? For example, is there a team whose mission aligns with the topic for the new community? If so, these can be the initial members.
  2. Is there an existing distribution list of people interested in the topic? If so, use that list to invite people to join your community.
  3. You can use Social Network Analysis to identify people who are linked but who may not be part of a formal community. Then invite them to join your community.

Once your community is established, publicize its existence to help recruit new members:

  1. Write and submit articles to existing newsletters that reach your target audience.
  2. Use existing networks to inform possible members about your community.
  3. Send a one-time broadcast message to the entire population containing your target audience.
  4. Request that links to your community be added on all relevant web sites.
  5. Offer an incentive to join, e.g., a member will be chosen at random or the 100th member will receive an iPod or equivalent gift.

Create one or more tools for the community to use:

  1. Threaded discussion forum
  2. Collaborative team space
  3. Web site or portal
  4. Wiki
  5. Blog or newsletter

Keep the community active:

  1. Hold a regular conference call with a scheduled speaker.
  2. Hold periodic events such as face-to-face meetings and training sessions.
  3. Post at least once a week to your forum. Include a summary of a community event, a useful link, or a thought-provoking topic to stimulate discussion.
  4. Look for relevant discussions that are taking place in email exchanges, public distribution lists, or outside of your organization. Then redirect those discussions to your forum, copy or link to the key points, or summarize the highlights.
  5. Regularly suggest to those with questions or interest in your topic that they join your community and use its tools.

KM Thought Leader of the Week

I was asked by APQC, “If you were invited to give a keynote speech on knowledge management, what words of wisdom or lessons learned would you impart?”

I posed this same question to many KM thought leaders. This week begins a series called “Selling KM: Lessons from Experience” based on the answer from Richard Cross. This is Part 1, with additional parts to follow in subsequent weeks.

Part 1: Learn to sell and accept that you are in sales

My number one lesson from involvement in KM is that above all it is a selling activity, the hardest sale of them all. Like it or not, selling is competitive, David Dorsey’s superb book The Force outlined a year in the life of a Xerox salesman and conveyed the associated ultra-confident state of mind that can make a salesperson feel like an athlete playing in the zone.

Does this matter for those involved in selling KM? Absolutely — the reality is that we compete for the attention of our executives against the best of the best, from the well-groomed and trained McKinseys, through to squadrons of business-consultant trained systems integrators. At times it is not clear that we are playing the same game, let alone present in the same stadium as business leaders, line managers, and the ‘in crowd’ of consultants. My refined view now is that if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen. So if selling is not for you, then forget KM or become a guru. Big distinction — people buy from gurus!

So here is some advice grounded in experience. Take the following observations not so much as sound advice rather as issues to consider when you are selling KM to your CEO, your peers and your colleagues. I lean heavily on my experience of SPIN, a research-led sales approach devised by Neil Rackham over 30 years ago. It’s basic and has a sophisticated simplicity. It also works.

The Nature of the Selling Game

Focus on the Customer

This is a comprehensive rule. It’s still surprising how many organizations claim to be customer focused yet still expect customers to dance to the tune of their year-end symphony. Having had international responsibility for TQM earlier in my career, my advice is grounded with a focus on the customer (either internal or external) and your relationship with them.

Too many KM strategies neglect the individual or collective customer. Walking, talking brochures, books, and purposeful presentations focus on products, technologies, and solutions such as narrative, storytelling, or communities. Unfortunately, such strategists create value for their own organizations or themselves, not for the organizations or customers they sell to. Remember customers have feelings too, and you can’t manage them.

Understand the Buying Cycle

It’s critical to align efforts to your customers’ buying cycle. The customer decision cycle can generally be broken down into distinct phases. Consider your own organization (or personal) lives. If you’re completely satisfied with a supplier or situation then there is generally no decision to be made. In a changing world a stability zone is comforting. The decision process begins when you ’ can’t get no satisfaction’ or something changes.

Phase One, based on recognition of needs and the gap between where you are and where you want to be, is developed either through perceived problems in your old world, or possibilities and promises of a better world. The time lag from irritation to action in recognizing the need for change and doing something about it can vary, depending on the perceived seriousness and scale of an issue in the light of emotional triggers, contractual obligations, and customer impact.

If you have decided to change, in Phase Two options are developed and evaluated. Once options are selected, there is Phase Three, described by sales professionals as resolution of concerns. During this anxiety-ridden phase, analysis paralysis and doubts may prevail as terms are negotiated, plans are debated, ROI cases explored and best intentions forgotten.

Once a decision is made, in Phase Four (implementation), the sale is not over yet. For a KM professional, internal influencing skills prevail as users have to be bought into the decision. In software sales, the possibility of ‘new toy’ syndrome also has to be minimized in order to ensure promised benefits are delivered.

Selling as a Change Process

Any buying cycle can also be seen as a change process. First there may be a state of equilibrium, when a customer is not aware of the need for change. Typically a customer balances their need in terms of their level of dissatisfaction with the status quo, the extent to which it is important to satisfy their need, as well as their perception of the benefits and ease of adopting the proposed solution.

They offset this against the perceived cost, in terms of the financials, the energy and disturbance in implementing the new solution, the risk of changing from the familiar to something new, (we can’t all be pioneers) and the level of overall satisfaction with the existing situation. Rather like a frog in boiling water, some buyers resist change and their conservatism or complacency has to be nudged, or in some cases is jolted by what is often termed the shock model of change.

Many customers approaching a decision are obsessively aware of the cost implications of the equation. The price of the solution is clear, but when the solution is unconventional, there is no clear precedent, or it is likely to have a significant impact, there be a risky shift, where the buyer is nervous about the upheaval which may result from its implementation. They start to have second thoughts and internal debate derails action.

With a major decision, buyers don’t always look on the bright side. Their level of seniority, security, and anxiety plays a role as they consider the business and career risks should anything go wrong. At times they will express resistance to change; at others they will be distracted by more pressing priorities. What was once an exciting case for change may become a forgotten priority.

All of these factors can tip the scales against making a change for an unconventional and unproven KM initiative. Any seller who lacks credibility and jumps to a solution without understanding the complexity and interaction of the above factors encounter hostility of the ‘show me the ROI’ nature or ‘it is all a bunch of concepts’ type. Without knowing how to respond to the customer’s concerns and prevent objections, those associated with selling KM run the risk of having their solution rejected.

At a wider organizational level, the buying cycle is likely to be further politicized and complex with a multiplicity of customers, influencers and stakeholders. As my former Professor Andrew Pettigrew in his study of organization change noted, generally there is a tendency to stick to the old system that works. It takes courage and a crisis (real or constructed) to change.

Next Week: Issues in selling — research advice when selling KM

KM Blog of the Week

Adoption idea: meetings are KM 2.0 behaviors by John Tropea

What I found in my last conference call is that most of what we talked about in the call can also be done online, in our community page, when we are not present at the same time (asynchronously).

These are three types of things we did in the conference call, that cover blogs, forums, and wikis:

  1. News and status around the globe from each team member [BLOG]
  2. Discussion about issues people had since the last call [FORUM]
  3. Brainstormed an idea for better usability for one of our systems [WIKI]

I realized in one meeting that we covered the use of 3 of the most important social tools. Why do we need so many meetings, when we can be collaborating and conversing perpetually? The more we use social tools, the shorter our meetings can be.

Nothing beats synchronous group chats to discuss out issues, but we can sometimes do most of this discussion, updates, and collaboration online, and call a short meeting to finalize and action our findings. Next time I talk about social tools adoption, I can tell people you are doing it anyway, only this is doing the same thing when we are not all in the same room. We can still collaborate, discuss, update when we are not in the same room.

The fact is people are fine to physically participate in informing their status and what they’ve been up to, discuss issues, and collaborate…but when it comes to doing this online they feel weird being social (open and visibility). Instead they use email as it’s more closed and private, and they do all three things with email (status, discuss, collaborate) that they do in person at a meeting, it’s like email is their asynchronous voice. Part of the adoption process is to help people get over the awkwardness of being social online, we have to guide them by informing them social tools are not extra work — it’s what you are doing anyway.

KM Link of the Week

IBM gambles on a shift from the KM model — Into the big blue yonder

With a corporate population bigger than many small countries, IBM first assigned staff to dedicated KM systems in 1994, before it became an established discipline. A lot has transpired since then. Rob Lewis discovers that for the bluest blue-chip of them all, superior knowledge sharing is now key to survival.

IBM has a string of KM accolades to its name — so how come it’s moving away from the whole knowledge management model? Because the decentralizing impact of Web 2.0 calls for a new approach, or what the big blue calls ‘knowledge sharing’.

It’s a bold move considering the firm has been working under the management model for over a decade. Chris Cooper, knowledge sharing solutions leader at IBM Global Business Services (GBS), deems it a ‘philosophical repositioning’. “Management suggests control: control of process and control of environment. The sharing tag is quite important to us,” he explains.

KM Book of the Week

Super Crunchers: Why Thinking-by-Numbers Is the New Way to Be Smart by Ian Ayres

Gone are the days of solely relying on intuition to make decisions. Today, number crunching affects your life in ways you might never imagine. In this lively and groundbreaking new book, economist Ian Ayres shows how today’s best and brightest organizations are analyzing massive databases at lightning speed to provide greater insights into human behavior. They are the Super Crunchers. From Internet sites like Google and Amazon that know your tastes better than you do, to a physician’s diagnosis and your child’s education, to boardrooms and government agencies, this new breed of decision makers are calling the shots. And they are delivering staggeringly accurate results.

How can a football coach evaluate a player without ever seeing him play? Want to know whether the price of an airline ticket will go up or down before you buy? How can a formula outpredict wine experts in determining the best vintages? Super crunchers have the answers. In this brave new world of equation versus expertise, Ayres shows us the benefits and risks, who loses and who wins, and how super crunching can be used to help, not manipulate us.

Table of Contents

Introduction: The Rise of the Super Crunchers

  1. Who’s Doing Your Thinking for You?
  2. Creating Your Own Data with the Flip of a Coin
  3. Government by Chance
  4. How Should Physicians Treat Evidence-Based Medicine?
  5. Experts Versus Equations
  6. Why Now?
  7. Are We Having Fun Yet?
  8. The Future of Intuition (and Expertise)

Afterword: Continuing Notes on the Revolution

Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager

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