Category Archives: Change management

On tiny revolutions and change

One of the more interesting elements of working in the information industry is constant change. There are changes in information technology, in information seeking behaviours, in information channels, and in the intensity and spatial characteristics of information access, use, and re-use.  In addition, there are changes happening within organisations, groups of people, and individuals.  And sometimes we want to initiate change ourselves.

In many cases, however, initiating change is akin to the never-ending challenge of rolling the metaphorical boulder up a steep hill; something the modern-day Sisyphus would be all to well aware.  It isn’t enough to have a good idea.  One must “sell” the idea to key decision-makers, and then wait to see if anything transpires. To make “it” happen, we have to take the responsibility, lest we keep pushing boulders up hills all our working lives.

Naturally, there is some tension over the speed at which ideas get translated into action, depending on where one stands in the milieu of stakeholders.  But for those of us who like to see good ideas take root quickly, it is worthwhile to consider making tiny revolutions for change. After all, Rome wasn’t built-in a day and nor was US health reform!

David Gurteen alerted me to a blog post by Chris Brogan called Tiny Revolutions.  Tiny revolutions are the small steps necessary to get things done. Brogan isn’t specifically talking about turning ideas into action for organisational effectiveness, but I see what he has to say generically and I can apply the thinking to organisational contexts.

The first step is usually the easiest – you have an idea or want to take some action.  Brogan goes on to say: “What happens next is that you move from thinking into action-taking.  That step is huge, by the way. The difference between thinking about something, deciding something, and DOING something is like the difference between firing a gun and just throwing the bullet”.

Brogan asks us to think about some of the steps along the way. The first is what we already know from experience – in most cases, people and organisations don’t like change and they try to resist it. Brogan reminds us though that we need to take daily action that are made up by many smaller events (some of which you may even be completely unaware). In the course of these tiny revolutions leading you to “the moment”, you will need tools of some sort – “”You need new ways to see, new ways to think, new ways to evaluate, new methods of support. You need to try new skills, learn more about different ways of doing, you need to build new habits and forge new alignments.”

But the revolution won’t be totally devoid of pain. Brogan says that “Moving from one state to another involves pain. It might be emotional. It might be physical. But pain is part of revolution”. Indeed, sometimes the pain is shared and sometimes the pain is disproportionate to the originator of the idea.  In those situations, it is imperative to provide continuous communication, feedback, modifications if necessary, and understanding.

Brogan concludes that not everyone may want a revolution. Indeed, in my own workplace experiences over the past twenty-odd years I have seen plenty of obstacles to good ideas simply because it was easier and more comfortable to do nothing.  On the other hand, sometimes tiny revolutions emerge by themselves and gain traction along the way because they are good ideas.  Tiny revolutions are around us everywhere – how can we use them to improve ourselves and our organisations?

On open government

This evening I discovered the text of a speech by UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown on working smarter in government (i.e. the civil service).  Now working smarter, and leveraging what organisation’s already do more effectively,  are at the heart of good knowledge management.  The speech is much broader than simply having the civil service become more efficient – Brown outlines a vision for open government and engagement with the citizenry.  Interestingly, what Brown says about government and public engagement sounds very similar to the sentiments expressed in the Engage Report that I blogged about in my previous blog post.

In particular, Brown says: “We will ensure that people can get access to the information they need to engage in dialogue with public service professionals; and in doing so reduce bureaucratic burdens. This will drive improvements in public services, making them more personal and cost-effective, whilst at the same time strengthening democratic deliberation and giving frontline workers and voluntary organisations the freedom to innovate and respond to new demands in new ways. We are determined to be among the first governments in the world to open up public information in a way that is far more accessible to the general public … In this way people will no longer be passive recipients of services but, through dialogue and engagement, active participants – shaping, controlling and determining what is best for them.”

I applaud the sentiments expressed in this speech by Gordon Brown.  Similarly, the Engage Report in Australia says: “Engagement is the central theme of this report. It deals with the connection of people to information so that knowledge assets can be re-used to create new and often unexpected value. It deals as well with the growing opportunities for more effective collaboration with citizens in different dimensions of government – policy development, regulatory reform, program and service design”.

Yet I still have that nagging concern that public-government engagement is not what it appears.  Sure, I understand the desire to publish government content (in greater volume no doubt, but hopefully in a form that is of most value to the public).  I applaud the use of web 2.0 tools to facilitate some form of public feedback or dialogue.  I certainly understand the view that the public has a right to be informed and that government needs to become more accountable.  These are all good things and are very big steps for government to be actively pursuing.  Yet, how much of all of this is just an enormous content dump, and how much of it will be real engagement – engagement where citizens actively become involved with the workings and decsions of government departments and agencies?

Web 2.0 requires a different way of thinking.  There is more emphasis on distributed intelligence and networks rather than centralised control systems and fixed hierarchies.  Web 2.0 is not about control, but more interested in the dialogue and “the conversation”. Web 2.0 tools and applications are interactive and immediate.  And most importantly, web 2.0 thinking is the thinking of the new world environment of the 21st century so there is no excuse not to partake of the best that web 2.0 can offer.  It’s simply evolutionary organisational dynamics.

Brown in his speech goes on to say: “But if the purpose of our reforms is not only to be more efficient, but to meet future challenges and re-engineer our public services from good to great, Whitehall has to let go – and empower staff and the public to shape provision in meeting local needs and priorities” (my bold and italics).  This cultural change will not be easy.  The same issue was identified in Australia in the Engage Report – that there is a strong cultural and operational tendency within government to withhold information.  There are many reasons, some of which are spurious and others that have some legitimacy. Traditional control-based organisations in government will need to change if open government is to become a reality. But there are realistic concerns around privacy, political risk, and copyright – challenges all of which can be overcome I must say.

The challenge for open government and increasing citizen engagement with government is not the web 2.0 tools which are readily available.  The challenge is how to foster a culture of openness and collaboration in government agencies.  In addition, there may be significant resource issues around content management and web sites, records management systems, information management, and knowledge management.  The classic organisational problem, “we don’t know what we don’t know”, is no longer now just a knowledge management problem; it’s now a government-wide problem that must be overcome before open government can be effective.  However, the fundamental success factor for open government will be people-based – trust and organisational culture being pivotal.

The vision for open government espoused by UK PM Gordon Brown and in the Engage Report for Australia are commendable.  They are optimistic and challenging.  But they also offer opportunities for knowledge management to become a significant and active stakeholder in the way in which open government might unfold.  I certainly hope so.

On internal and external sources of knowledge

I just received my latest Gurteen Knowledge Newsletter from David Gurteen.  David alerts us to a new book by Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell  entitled No more consultants: we know more than we think.  I have already ordered the book for my personal library and look forward to reading the book when the order arrives.

I have often wondered what the appeal of hiring external consultants is when people already working within an organisation could do the same or even better job at solving a perceived problem.  There seems to be an attitude that only good knowledge exists outside the organisation; a situation that I feel undervalues the existing knowledge assets of an organistion, or at best, underutilises that existing knowledge capability. And perhaps this is where knowledge management needs to make more of an inroad – in bringing these knowledge assets out in the open so that they get the righful attention of decision-makers.

Of course there will be times when people are busy working on other things and so a consultancy allows for an issue to be looked at sooner rather than later. But in many situations, it’s almost like the organisation doesn’t think highly of it’s own staff being able to undertake the work, something a bit strange when the staff are best placed to consider the workplace context.

Now before readers get the wrong idea, I do think that consultants have an important role to play, especially in offering a new approach to problems and in looking at issues in a different light.  Good consultants really want to help their clients overcome obstacles, look for new opportunities, and solve problems that really matter to an organistion.

I often take on the “consultancy role” when I start a new job or where I want to begin a new project: I seek to determine the current position of the organistion; what are the problems, constraints or concerns about the project or activity; what are the priorities and capabilities within the organisation; how this all fits within the organistion or business unit’s overall strategy and desired outcomes; and then I look at solving problems and issues within the organisational context using whatever combination of people and resources is required for the task at hand. 

Management certainly need to consider the effective utilisation of knowledge assets that exist within the organisation as well as what external knowledge assets can bring to an organistion.

On social networking for business

I want to periodically keep up the thinking about the positive benefits of social networking and social media. My interest is both personal and professional. I view social networking, used in the most effective manner, to be of enormous benefit to business and government within the workplace environment. And, like most things, the value of the tool has to be considered within the workplace context and by the manner in which it is used.

I blogged a month ago about Euan Semple giving a series of short interviews on specific topics about social media. Euan gave some very good reasons as to how and why social media is good for the workplace. To complement the sentiments from those vignettes, I want to draw your attention to a simple but very valuable explanation as to why social networking is good for business.

This time, I want to illustrate the point using  Seth Godin’s explanation via Youtube on why social networking is good for business. I recommend you view the clip.  

Essentially, social networking is good for business because it facilitates the establishing of effective relationships based on trust and reciprocity. According to Godin, you can’t count the worth of social networking by the numbers – it’s the quality of the relationships that give the greatest meaning to social networks and that’s where the value sits. 

If we accept Dunbar’s number, we could say 150 people was the upper limit to effective realtionships. It is important to maintain authenticity and depth of interaction within these relationships. I certainly agree, albeit I am conscious that even weak ties within a network may be useful at times, especially in response to specific questions or where making use of the collective intelligence can be harnessed. The difference here is the emphasis on social (indicating interactions at a greater level of personal intensity) than a traditional online network, such as LinkedIn

As with most things, use and purpose are critical dimensions to the effectiveness of social networking.

On knowledge management and human resources

Some of you may already know that I am a great believer in the interplay between knowledge management (KM) and human resource management (HRM). I consider both KM and HRM as catalysts and facilitators for developing and enhancing an organisation’s intellectual and social capital. I believe KM is more than just managing databases and HRM is more than just payroll.

KM and HRM actually have a number of responsibilities in common: learning and development, enhancing staff performance, staff retention, team building and effectiveness, organisational development, and cultural change. The approaches may differ but I believe that the strategic and practical outcomes are the same – to equip individuals, groups, and the organisation to innovate, solve problems, establish effective workflow, and deliver quality services and outputs (both internally and externally).

I was therefore very pleased when I found out about a post-graduate course being run from Lancaster University Management School in England. The course is a Master (MA) in Human Resource & Knowledge Management. The course looks at “the conditions in which HRM and knowledge management have become the central links between people, work, and technology in contemporary organisations”. Excellent!

I wonder if there are any other examples of KM and HRM being featured within the same training or academic course.

On the power of telling a story

It is impossible, in this historic time, not to comment on the US Presidential election. In particular, the significance and style of President-elect Barack Obama’s “Change has come to America” speech in Chicago, Illinois. The full text of the speech is available here. Mark the date in your diary – an historic day – the 4th November 2008 (US time).

It wasn’t the normal political speech, although no doubt constructed with the same careful consideration. Obama’s speech was personal – it reached into the personal experiences of all who were listening but also connected us to the future – the future of our kids.

The obvious story in the speech concerned the theme of change and hope personified in the life of a 106 year old woman from Georgia (USA) – Ann Nixon Cooper. Obama could have gone through a series of historical events over the past one hundred years, as if reading from a history catalogue. The Nixon Cooper story personalised a number of significant historical events that led to change. History and hope were embodied in a real person, something each of us could imagine more personally than any history lesson. Just think that this one person had lived through so many historical milestones and so many changes; and now, another historical milestone with the election of an Afro-American President of the USA.

The Nixon Cooper story also connected the theme of change from the past to the potential for positive change in the future. The Nixon Cooper story gave an historical context for Obama’s call for change, his confidence in change, and his hope that the rest of America could feel and want that change. After all, hadn’t Ann Nixon Cooper already seen tremendous change in one lifetime and seen change for the better? And if our children are still alive at the turn of the next century, Obama asks, what changes will they have seen in a hundred years in a lifetime just like that of Ann Nixon Cooper? Obama wants to initiate change and wants people to feel part of that change, participate in it, and not be afraid.

Leadership is about sharing a common purpose and direction with your people. Leadership is not just managing, as anyone who has tried to initiate change will know. We might not have the oratory skills or personality of Barack Obama in our desire to change and lead in our working lives, but the power of narrative and anecdotes to connect with people are no less important.

The speech from Barack Obama was a wonderful demonstration of the power of words and the power of storytelling to convey a powerful and meaningful message. The speech defines the leader, but the leader will still need to deliver. Obama has started his leadership journey saying all the right words.

On customer experience for information and knowledge projects

A few days ago I received the Good Experience newsletter with a feature story on customer experience. The article makes great reading about the importance of really understanding your customer and really listening to what they have to say. The article focuses on the retail customer experience but the same applies to a range of information, knowledge and content management projects, as well as general business activities.

Similarly, Roger Corbett, former CEO of Australian retail grocery giant Woolworths, was often out visiting stores and talking with staff and customers. He was even renowned for bringing back Woolworths shopping trolleys from the supermarket carpark on any of his regular store visits.

Being visible, interacting and listening to your customers (both external customers and internal customers like staff) should be the hallmark of any type of knowledge and information-based project. Unlike factory-process work popular among conveyor belt managers, knowledge workers have thoughts, opinions and motivations when they are at work.

Knowledge workers make decisions and they interact and communicate with other people. These workers will be more willing to approach new or adapted systems and processes when they are part of the process itself. And part of that “process” is in listening and understanding what they have to say, preferably based on a personal and trusting relationship. Maximising “what’s in it for me” is not just the maxim of the project manager, but your people as well.

And listening does transcend into action. The conversations do impact on the actual project and change management. The conversations do feed into the systematic project fundamentals of project design and implementation. PRINCE2 is no real prince if the kingdom is full of unwilling followers!

I was talking yesterday afternoon with a professional colleague lamenting the difficulties of information management implementations. He was asking (rhetorically) why it was so difficult to get implementations to work when the project plan and methodology had been so carefully worked out. And how come there was still confusion about workflow and work policies and procedures when the vendor-client relationship had been so professionally managed by the systems and implementation team (of one). He sighed deeply, shook his head, and said: “and now we have the system and we’re well into the implementation, but after that we need to start the change management process!”

Indeed.

I asked him if he’d thought about the change management issue even before he started the project. I asked him if he or anyone else had gone out to the staff to understand their workplace behaviour and motivations before the project had begun, or even during the Gantt chart timetable.

I asked if he was seen as someone trusted enough to have an honest and open conversation on the issues and opinions of staff before the proposed project took on its own momentum. He interrupted to remind me that stakeholder consultation was part of the project plan. I pointed out that consultation is really conversation – and not a one way dialogue or information dump devoid of personalisation and meaning.

He looked at me as if I was crazy!

“I don’t have time for all of that. I have a project to run, mileposts to get through, work to document, and a change management program to develop and roll-out!”.

I am sure everything he was thinking and everything he was doing made sense to him. I am sure he was truly earnest about implementing a system with the best of processes and the best of project fundamentals. My final question was whether it made sense to the customer (the staff) – his internal stakeholders who would actually be the ones using the new system and working with it in their jobs every day.

According to the Good Experience story (and translating the message to your internal customers and clients): “Even so, few companies actually do [listen]. Listening to customers is DIFFICULT. I think it’s just too plain and simple for many companies to really commit to. You can just imagine executives thinking: something so mundane as talking to another person who happens to be my customer – surely that couldn’t be the key to success, when there are so many newer, flashier solutions available?”

Quite.