KM Communities, Influencing KM Adoption, Patience to Develop Communities, Discussion Forum Proven Practices, Management Gurus
KM Question of the Week
Q: What KM communities do you belong to?
A: I belong to, or have belonged to in the past, these communities and discussion lists:
- actKM Discussion List
- com-prac (Communities of Practice)
- Gurteen Knowledge Management Community
- IKMF (Knowledge Management in the Canadian federal government)
- KM Chicago
- KM Group (KMG) Philadelphia Chapter
- KM.gov (US Government)
- KM4Dev (community of international development practitioners)
- KM-Forum (India)
- KM-Forum (National Centre for Science Information (NCSI), Indian Institute of Science)
- Learning to Fly
- Midwest KM Community (I co-founded this community)
- Search CoP
- SlideShare KM Group
- SIKM Leaders (I lead this community)
- Taxonomy CoP
- Working Knowledge Research Center at Babson College
For a current list, see KM communities.
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 concludes a series called “Selling KM: Lessons from Experience” based on the answer from Richard Cross. This is the final part.
Part 4: How to make friends and influence organizations to adopt KM
Selling is like a journey — there is no finish line
Treat the following as rules of thumb. Ignore them at your consultancy peril. Recall that buy-in to KM is a permanent process. You are selling all the time!
Start Where the System is
This is classic change agent wisdom. Yet in practice the rule is often violated. It is easy for the enthusiastic KM practitioner to forget the hostility of jargon that prevents laymen from understanding their professional mysteries. Starting where the client is can be called the Empathy Rule. To communicate effectively, to be able to build our KM strategy, it’s important to understand the culture of the system, working with the powerful and not against them. Above all, Stay Alive.
I learned my lesson here from a professor at a French university. We were in the prestigious offices of a Munich customer with a motley group of radicals, former unionists, and change agents in a company. We were busy preparing our leaders’ PowerPoints and position papers for presentation to the president and his top team later that day. (Rather like performing on Pop Idols or the X factor, only the best would do.)
My client had brought in his personal coach to talk to our sponsors. And hear his presentation. Initially I was envious, though didn’t show it at the time. One of the Swedish team members commented with dismay how this coach had publicly contradicted my client and our team leader.
When the professor stepped in our room and told us one graphic story, it helped me understand so much more about the dynamics of organizational change.
Rafael entered the room and you could sense we were not comfortable with his presence. He then picked up a blue pen and drew a perfect map of the Seine as it flowed through Paris. He picked up a red pen and positioned the landmarks. We waited. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he proclaimed, “here is a map of Paris. There is the left bank and the right bank. You are on the left bank; you are the equivalent of the student radicals in 1967. You want to change the world.”
“True, you are right,” he continued, “about the organization you live and work in. It needs to change. It must change. You must also understand that on the right bank live those who hold the power. You will never change those people.” There was a dramatic pause as he picked up a black pen. With an artistic flourish he connected the two banks of the river. There was a theatrical pause. “You must build bridges” he exclaimed.
We loosely followed a couple of Saul Alinsky’s (whose work heavily influenced Hilary Clinton) “Rules for Radicals.” All the former Union representatives had gravitated to this change team and our After Action Review in a Bier Keller captured the following three lessons:
- The most effective means are whatever will achieve the desired ends
- Make the enemy live up to his/her own book of rules (one of our team was the presidential speechmaker and we found that what he said outside the organization had far wider currency than anything that went down the line.
- A good tactic is one that your people enjoy (wherever we went, the entertainment costs were top quartile)
Never trust someone who says “Show me the ROI” or “You can only manage what you measure”
Anthropologists maintain that in every culture there are apparently rational questions that mask hostile intent. “Show me the ROI” or “Yes, but how do you measure it?” generally fall into this category. When confronted with these types, start to get alarmed. The most important point I recall from my sales training is that a customer’s concern in a complex sale is risk. According to my sales training mentor, Roger Sugden, consequences (risks of going ahead with you) must be managed. Most lurk behind the surface.
Roger also emphasized that difficulty stating, quibbling over minor points (like the pantone color of a slide), asking for demonstrable ROI, and jargon bashing (we offered TQM training at that time) could also be early warnings on risk, customer insecurity, and lack of their (or your) credibility.
Price concerns and guaranteed ROI then become respectable and convenient ways to express concerns over consequences. It’s easier for people to tell you that they have decided not to buy because of these issues than to explain issues such as mistrust, scars from mistakes made before, politics, hassle, not interested, risk to career or company, or the simple fact that they don’t like you.
Consequences are psychological issues in a person’s mind. They are not in the real world — only the customer can resolve them. In selling KM and TQM, Roger would advise me to help the customer, not resolve the problem on his behalf. He would also say to get the real concerns out in the open, and look to develop trust rather than engage in futile intellectualizing about ROI.
In an AOK dialogue hosted by Jerry Ash, Hubert Saint-Onge concluded that “I fully subscribe to the need to measure all that can be measured but I don’t believe that you can only manage what you can measure. As a matter of fact, I find this one of the most mindless dictums to ever be uttered by people who appear to be otherwise reasonably coherent.”
My bottom line: the purpose is to improve, not prove.
Find a Partner in Crime you trust
The best detectives work in pairs. Don’t do anything alone that could be accomplished more easily or more certainly by a team.
One case springs to mind when I was brought into a customer by one of our account managers as our man on KM and member of the editorial board of Inside Knowledge. I remember the meeting as if it were yesterday (it’s easier to remember victories than defeats):
- It wasn’t a polite interrogation; rather, it was a challenging conversation.
- The challenge from me to the customer (and vice versa) was also crucial.
After fifty minutes of sparring and focused discussion, I summarized my perception of his situation: “It seems that with your sophisticated analysis and clear vision, you’re the only one in the organization who understands what really needs to be done and cares about the consequences of inertia. Your problem is how to enable others to achieve the same level of urgency and really want to do something about it. It’s about developing a shared perspective. It’s not something you can do by yourself as an internal change agent.
So how can we best address the issue? He requested our help.
There were two other factors that enabled the successful sale of my KM-like proposal (I used the K word three times in the proposal). First, the friend-of-a-friend meeting had been set up by a smart account manager who absented himself from the meeting on my instructions. Second, I was lucky — the client had (I learned later) been mauled for his academic and visionary ideas by his colleagues. In the end, we worked as partners. We both took risks. He adopted a stealth approach and had no KM budget — the training budget took quite a hammering that year. I worked without a PO.
Know When You’re Beaten
To balance the success story, in contrast to the challenging conversation I just described, there was another KM effort that didn’t work out. The sale was made and we got the work. For a number of reasons, I complied too early on to the customer’s whims and became a victim of their own insecurity. Relations were good with the CEO and the IT director, but as the project started, they disappeared from the scene. My project team became the enemy within and started to vet my work, edit the slides I produced (there was one PowerPoint character they banned!), and sabotage all efforts at progress.
Yes, I was consulting with a dysfunctional organization. Hoist by my own petard of competitive desire to knock out the competition, I’d not read their organization culture. I should have spotted that the smokescreen of clarification questions and objections from the junior level were symptomatic of their resistance to change. They’d created a bureaucratic process, and through a bureaucratic process they subverted all attempts at real change.
There are some organizations (and individuals) that are neither ready nor capable of changing. It turned out later their allegiance was with their previous consultancy supplier. Sometimes it’s best to cut one’s losses, sooner rather than later!
Over 10 years ago at one of the first KM conferences, Leif Edvinsson asked an audience that was ready to understand and espouse KM to list the questions they had about KM. Once he had heard the questions, Leif suggested to a shocked audience that implementing KM successfully was about asking the right questions. He was right. Remember, in selling there are no prizes for finishing second. Do your homework. Prepare your questions.
Selling and consulting on KM is tough. You are selling intangibles, selling and creating value, and selling yourself.
The advice covered these past four weeks stems from personal experience. Much of this was gained while working with and for a leading research psychologist, Roger Sugden, in the area of sales effectiveness. And while at Xerox, I had responsibility for sales training and selection in Africa, India, and Eastern Europe, and experience in selling KM. Thanks also to the Association of Knowledgework and Jerry Ash for their catalytic role in developing this paper.
KM Blog of the Week
Communications, expectations, and business seem to move faster than ever these days. With the constant buzz of the Blackberry, a continuous stream of Tweets, and in incessant interruption of IMs our attention spans have dwindled even more. Our collective attention and patience is a dwindling resource. Yet, community dynamics still require a long-term view.
Communities — and I don’t mean flash mobs, groups of 10 people, or event attendees because those are not communities — take time to develop and flourish. Measuring communities based on quarterly earnings calendars is a bad way to go but most businesses are focused on short term performance. We are under such intense pressure to show results that we often abort efforts that play out over longer periods.
Communities are one of the hardest types of organizations to launch, develop, and sustain. Two years is a reasonable ramp period and growth comes in fits and starts — metrics have to change over time too. I suggest the following:
- Phase 1 (0–12 months): New members, page views, ratings, comments
- Phase 2 (12–24 months): UGC, posts/user, visits/user/month, % of active members
- Phase 3 (24 months +): Activity of community leaders, initiatives/ideas generated, ROI/value measures
KM Link of the Week
Proven Practices for the Online Discussion Forum
Here is the User Guide that we wrote for people using our system (which is a mail list and a web-based discussion forum, like say Yahoo! Groups but without ads). We chose to orient this towards individuals trying to get their work done, and identified these three common tasks.
- Keeping Track of Conversations
- Following Conversations Closely
- Contributing to Conversations
KM Book of the Week
Management gurus have existed for as long as the leaders of large, complex organizations have had intractable problems to solve. This seminal text asks key questions such as: What is the secret of the success of management gurus and how can it be emulated? In this revised edition, Andrzej Huczynski brings his analysis of gurus into the twenty-first century. He identifies the essential ingredients of popular management ideas and contends that company managers, business school academics and management consultants all have the possibility of attaining guru status by following the guidelines contained in this book.
- Popular management ideas
- Recurring themes
- Historical context
- Requirements of managers
- Promotion of management ideas
- Public presentation of management gurus’ ideas
- Succession of management fads