Originally published on February 26, 2018
This is the seventh article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management who are gone but not forgotten. Frank Leistner, former Chief Knowledge Officer for SAS Global Professional Services, had worked in the IT industry for more than 20 years at the time of his death in August 2013.
I met Frank at KMWorld 2012. We were seated next to each other at a session, and he asked me, “Would you like a copy of my book Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow?” It was such a generous gesture, and I gratefully accepted. Following his example, I gave out copies of my book, Proven Practices for Promoting a Knowledge Management Program, at KMWorld 2017.
1. From SAS:
Frank Leistner began as a systems programmer for Nixdorf Computer in his native Germany, and he worked from 1989 to 1993 for Siemens-Nixdorf in a liaison role out of Mountain View, California, focusing on the development of UNIX multiprocessor operating systems. In 1993, Leistner joined SAS and shifted his focus to application development and field consulting. Based on his experiences in the field, he founded the SAS knowledge management program in 1997. He led a whole range of knowledge management initiatives before leaving SAS in 2012.
Between 1999 and 2003, Leistner worked with the Institute for Knowledge Management led by IBM. In 2003, he was invited to the Harvard Graduate School of Education Learning Innovation Laboratory (LILA) roundtable. From 2005 to 2009, he worked with the Babson Working Knowledge Center, led by Thomas Davenport and Laurence Prusak, two of the key pioneers of knowledge management. He was a member of the board of the Swiss Knowledge Management Forum (SKMF). He presented at numerous conferences and delivered keynotes in Europe and the United States about knowledge management, talent management, and social media topics.
2. From Louise Smith on August 25, 2013:
It is with a very heavy heart that I share the sad news that Frank Leistner has died. My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Inge and two daughters whom he loved with all his heart. Frank gave so freely and asked nothing of us in return — only that we be Knowledge Sharing evangelists.
3. From Boris Jaeger
- 1 — Yes, he loved to give away his books. When i was community moderator of the XING-KM group he provided us with a book for review (review (German only!), as well as 3 books for a group quiz, where members had to provide their (preferred) definition of KM.
- 2 — Mr. Leistner loved juggling (he liked to call himself KMjuggler, the 5-ball juggling CKO), taking pictures and sunsets.
The notion of Knowledge Flow Management is catching on and resonates with many in the field, as pure (more technical oriented KM) has often failed to deliver on the promise.
Purely document-centric knowledge management, while still having an impact on information exchange, is being increasingly enhanced by methods and tools that are targeted at managing the flow of knowledge between humans. This is the direction where things are moving.
Having been involved in KM projects for almost 10 years myself, I think you hit it spot on. It is easy to pick a couple of cases to make any point, but the more successful projects are often more embedded into the organization, i.e. they might not be labeled KM anymore, in fact the real successful ones are not projects at all, they are just processes, “it’s how things are done around here.”
I actually think that if they fail, it is precisely because they are seen as projects (with a beginning and an end), and the ongoing change, marketing, embedding, and investment drops off after the launch and the frustration that not everybody just magically follows and goes with it forever. It is the ongoing drivership that enables longer-lasting success.
KM is not technical. Knowledge is connected to humans. Technology can support the process, but in the end the human decides to share knowledge. Those who see only the technical aspects of KM might not succeed in the way they hope to.
I realized that the term knowledge management is not accurate, in that it indicates that we can manage knowledge. We can’t. What we can manage, however, is the flow of the knowledge from one person to another.
The time has come for organizations to consistently manage the knowledge flow process beyond putting a database in front of people and asking them to “share” their knowledge.
I sent a help desk request to our internal IT operation. I also posted a question to The Hub (our ESN) asking if anyone had tips on how to get my connection working.
Three hours later, the help desk request was still in queue. (I had not marked it high priority.) But my post on The Hub was answered within 30 minutes, with detailed, easy-to-follow instructions. That by itself was a big value, but even better than the answer was the fact that two other colleagues replied that they had used the same solution with success.
This interaction demonstrates what social media is all about at its core. Through The Hub I received not only a fast solution, but also confirmation from the community on the value of the answer.
- Don’t start a social media effort with the goal to run it as a top management tool to inform your employees
- Look at it as a long-term initiative not as a short-term project. Technology will only be one part of the solution.
- Get your most experienced social media experts (i.e. your bloggers) on board and get them to help you build momentum.
- Choose an open and passionate community manager that is likely to stick with the initiative longer-term.
- Create and manage a pulse through regular and ongoing activities. It will give your initiative the lifeline it will need to survive longer-term and provide a much higher return of investment.
- Start any virtual community with a physical meeting. Gain buy-in and convey an emotional hook. Repeat as often as feasible.
- Welcome new members and immediately request for them to post and item from their experience or expertise. Once they did — thank them and invite others to comment.
- Send them an immediate link to another member working in the same area with whom they should connect.
- Ask them to fill in profile information.
- Send them a link to a helpful cheat sheet on how to post and interact in the community.
- Ask new members to post struggles or issues they have. If they do highlight those to other members.
- If subcommunities exist, ask subcommunity leads to engage new members with work roles and experience in their sub category.
- Survey new members within two weeks of joining about initial impression, what they are missing and their level of engagement.
- Listen carefully to and proactively acknowledge everything that is said by everyone.
- Allow the dialogue to flow down side paths (a reasonable amount). You never know what will be discovered.
- Understand that an expression of concern is important, whether actual or perceived. If there isn’t a satisfactory answer for a concern, retain it as an unresolved question.
- When there is a gap between a leader and the group it is critical that the leader attempts to identify the real (not the expressed) problem and propose a solution.
- Solutions can surface immediately or weeks later — don’t force or rush it.
- Negative behavior like posturing, turf protection is not permitted.
- Keep the conversation moving by connecting the community members with new, interesting and relevant content and or expertise regularly (FL: I call this The Pulse).
- Select, train and develop facilitators (incl. yourself) carefully and deliberately, not everyone facilitates well.
- Have a consistent Community Manager or Active Coordinator (see previous point).
- Provide updates and summaries and share them in context.
- Learn when you talk and write
- Does your organization need an ESN?
- The KM Paradox
- Creating a Super Water Cooler
- Mystery Interaction
- Raising the MQ with Pins
- Thanks to all those Community Jugglers
I think the fact that there are not enough roles looking into KM more consistently over time is one of the reasons it fails so often as well. I can relate to the switch between field and KM to some degree, but on the other hand without some consistency how we are going to get the right push and embed it into an organization. We developed focussed roles for almost anything in an organization, just “the most important asset” is something that everybody is supposed to be an expert about. Without the proper investment, the proper education and the right long-term strategy it does not work.
So my hope is that organizations will wake up some day and actually invest more into those support structures vs. just spending it all on “magic technology”. I agree, with you Benedict, the fact that this is not where most organizations are, should not stop you, but it should not keep us from trying to get the necessary support infrastructures established.
And yes, the key is not that they have a KM title, the key is that they do KM core functions — and do it for a living.
1. Bill Ives
Products and solutions being offered by KM vendors can provide considerable value. But they are not managing knowledge. They are enablers to the knowledge flow. The information they process, store, and provide can be used to create new knowledge. Information stored in systems and repositories can be seen as representing pointers to the one who knows. If those using them do understand it in that way, they will be much more likely to actually go beyond the system and see the value of the knowledge that is behind that information, connected to the human who contributed the pointer.
I think it is very important to draw the line between knowledge and information. Knowledge is connected to all the prior experiences and exists only in the context of the mind. It cannot be managed. What can be managed are ways to enable the flow of that knowledge to others. What can be passed is information (data in context), not knowledge.
3. 10 tips for successful knowledge flow management — SAS Voices by Waynette Tubbs
- Concentrate on people. Don’t get carried away with the technology and forget that the knowledge is stored in the human element of the equation.
- Market for success. Your organization’s experts may need to be persuaded, guided and motivated to share their most valuable knowledge. It will be up to you and your team to understand their drivers and barriers.
- Start iteratively. Include a small number of participants in the early stages so that most major issues are resolved by the time the initiative is well underway. These early adopters will be your most vocal evangelizers.
- Be patient. It might take years rather than months to get an initiative fully embedded in the organization so that it is part of normal business processes.
- Maintain a consistent strategy. Fluctuation in your support team is OK — and can often infuse fresh ideas — but try to keep the core team consistent for a long-term focus.
- Focus on a manageable number of initiatives. With fewer, more deliberate choices, you can devote full attention for an extended time to shift from initiative to a standard business process.
- Define ownership. Within a large initiative, ownership is usually shared so widely that an individual can’t really see his or her effect. This may reduce the feeling of ownership and responsibility — a key ingredient in maintaining the passion to sustain the initiative.
- Respond quickly. It is essential to modify systems and processes quickly if there is a conflict. For example, in the early stages, participants may fear reducing their value to the organization if they share knowledge. A quick response creates a positive attitude and helps the participants feel that the initiative adapts to their needs.
- Don’t assume. One of the dangers is complacency. As you move from the small group to larger numbers, the tenets you learned may change. Remain flexible and responsive.
- Report early and often. Successes are the building blocks you’ll use to ensure continued executive buy-in and user participation.
1, KMWorld 2012
3. Leading With Knowledge: Knowledge Management Practices in Global Infotech Companies edited by Madanmohan Rao — Chapter 14: KM at SAS: The Power to Know
4. Author Pages
If you know of additional content by or about Frank, please comment and provide the link.