Category Archives: Leadership

Just had James Dellow from Headshift speaking at AusAID this afternoon on Government 2.0.  Among the audience were several representatives from other government agencies giving the seminar a real whole-of-government feel.  Government 2.0 is often considered in the light of open government, something I have blogged about before.

James spoke about the Federal Government sponsored Government 2.0 Taskforce final report published at the end of 2009. Key insights included some of the thinking behind the Online Engagement Guidelines and Web 2.0 Toolkit.

Much of the discussion focused, naturally enough for a government-centric audience, on risk.  There remains a considerable concern among some senior executive service that web 2.0 and open government are too risky. The fear largely is about the risk of negative publicity or political sensitivities, but also includes concerns about the technology and giving public servants more authority and responsibility in dealing with the community. In sum, the issues relate to risk, privacy, responsibility, responsiveness, and consistency (quality).

Personally, I don’t see the risks as being too different from that facing the private sector – just replace the government Minister with a company CEO and you get the same sort of concerns.  The challenge is how to mitigate risk and yet get the benefits from using web 2.0 applications and thinking to provide a better public service; one more in tune with the community and what the community needs from government agencies.

In addition, the challenge is also in asking where does the leadership for Government 2.0 come from?  Is it from the politicians, the senior executive service, the communications unit, or IT?

I will get the Slideshare link of James soon and post for the presentation slides to be available.

All in all, a very good seminar and thank you, James!

 As part of the Taskforce’s consultation process, they commissioned the creation of Online Engagement Guidelines and a Web 2.0 Toolkit. This was designed to provide guidance to government agencies using web 2.0 tools and provided a recommendation for a toolkit of web 2.0 technologies that agencies can use based on principles of shared services and re-use.

On whether Knowledge Management matters

I’d like to start the New Year with a rhetorical question: does knowledge management (KM) really matter?

Well, it matters to me and to people within the KM world.  It matters to people who want to do their jobs more effectively and more efficiently. And it matters to conference organisers, book publishers, consultants, contractors, and people and institutions providing KM courses.

But does KM really matter to the people in organisations who have the power and authority to make the big decisions and then carry them out?  Based on my own observations and discussions with people, perhaps the only people who care about KM are the KM-ers in the industry itself.

There aren’t many examples of people like Bob Buckman from Buckman Laboratories (Book: Building a knowledge-driven organization) who really saw the benefit of pursuing a knowledge-driven strategy for his company.  I certainly read the Buckman Laboratories story with great interest, and might I say, with a great deal of hope that other organisations see the KM light as clearly and positively as Buckman himself.

It seems to me that the KM industry, and I am part of it too, spends a great deal of time talking about what KM can do; what KM could do; what KM might do; and what KM is all about, but actually struggling to get any key decision-maker within an organisation to actually support and promote an organisation-wide approach to KM.  Sure, we get by with the odd successful initiative or project and we can champion them (I certainly do!) but this is pretty small-fry in the big scheme of things.  We can lay claim to a nice intranet site, or a great social networking initiative, but rarely are these initiatives the well-spring of senior management.  More often than not, these KM initiatives emerge (struggle through by sheer individual persistence in many cases) and we celebrate them. In fact we actually make-believe that bottom-up approaches are the way forward rather than seeing these successes as symbols of bright KM cracks in a dull and disinterested organisational landscape.  Bright cracks of KM success are indeed positive, but they are not bright enough to penetrate the dim, dark recesses of conventional and political organisational management.

There was plenty to hear and read about “the KM success stories” when I did my Master of Knowledge Management course at University of Canberra, and all the readings and discussions on KM years prior to that.  In my Masters course, one subject on leadership highlighted the characteristics of great organisational leaders and how they made a big difference to their organisation – the US female newspaper publisher from yonks ago was the case study in fact (sorry, the details have skipped through my memory bank at this time).  And, of course, there are bestselling books and biographies of champion business leaders extolling more success stories.  I am not convinced that these tales are actually ever read by business leaders to stimulate thought about their own organisations, but perhaps they do.

However, in the ubiquitous world of organisations, all these success stories and learnings are the exception. We in KM seem not to be able to shift key management thinking and action towards an organisationally-driven knowledge management (or knowledge capable) enterprise, better able to recognise and solve internal problems, and more resilient and agile in the business environment.

So, does knowledge management really matter?

On why human resource management has been a major disappointment

One of my greatest annoyances is the failure of human resource management (HRM) to adequately utilise knowledge management practices and experience in developing and nurturing the human capital of organisations. HRM seems more interested in staying bounded by payroll, employment law, and offering some training courses than actively trying to heighten the capacity and capability of the workforce to work smarter, more collaboratively, and more effectively. Indeed, HR might find some insights into a number of current HRM issues around staff engagement, the ageing workforce, and retention of corporate knowledge by utilising the knowledge management literature and knowledge management experience.

Essentially, HRM is largely reactive, control-focused, and fails to take leadership responsibility for an organisation’s intellectual and social capital. HRM is a big disappointment.

I was complaining about this lacklustre performance of HRM to a former colleague of mine last week. He commented by saying that he wasn’t surprised since the Human Resources Department is, as he put, “an agent of management control”. He went on to argue that HRM is involved only in those areas of workforce management in which centralised control can be practiced. Payroll and training courses were classic examples. HRM overseeing employment law was also important in not only controlling the workforce, but in protecting the organisation (management) from legal action. Legal aspects of employment law also had a mandatory element for ensuring regulatory compliance.

I could see the logic in his argument. In fact, much of my professional experience in a range of organisations pretty much matched the examples he gave on what an HR department actually did. If HRM was really about management control, then utilising knowledge management that encouraged innovation and collaboration, the building of social capital and emergent relationship networks, were actually at odds with the HRM goal of personnel control.

My latest Accenture newsletter had this article on “how HR can elevate its business impact to enable high performance”. The article categorises various functions of HR. The first function matches the controlling function my colleague and I discussed earlier – personnel control. The second function accorded by the Accenture article was “people development” or talent management . People development generally means training and sending management to leadership courses where (in my experience) little change to existing bad management styles actually takes place! It might also involve elements of recruitment. The third rung in Accenture’s ladder is “talent multiplication” that “takes efficiency and quality gains and spreads them upward through the organisation”. Accentures goes on to say that “HR is able to drive business results by equipping the workforce with the right knowledge, resources and freedom to deliver breakthrough advances” – funnily enough, this statement is what knowledge management is all about!

Hello, HRM, is anyone out there paying attention?

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.

Knowledge management and the world financial crisis

Since my last blog post, the world financial market has really taken a battering as large finanical institutions in the US, Britain and in Europe collapse under the weight of poor lending practices and even poorer management and control structures. The financial impact alone is enormous.

What has this to do with knowledge management, I hear you ask?

Well, knowledge management is about enabling informed decision-making and taking action. Knowledge management facilitates the information and knowledge assets of a business to drive operational efficiencies, create opportunities for growth and innovation, and establish sound information management practices and systems for preparedness and risk mitigation.

Knowledge management is therefore about establishing the internal operational conditions for making effective and knowledgeable choices and decisions across the business domains of a firm – and those business domains are where profits and losses are created.

An organisation’s codified knowledge and information (explicit knowledge), capacity for research and analysis, and capabilitiy to locate and disseminate this information will inform a workplace and the people within it; for decision-makers and for taking action.

At the same time, knowledge management involves people – the information and knowledge exchanged, re-articulated and reformulated by humans within particular contexts. The knowledge and experiences of people are unique, co-evolving, and able to be shared to develop or create new knowledge. This is what is commonly referred to in the knowledge management literature as tacit knowledge.

Knowledge management facilitates this interplay between explicit and tacit knowledge out of which organisations make decsions and take action. Knowledge management is therefore ongoing, cumulative and regenerating.

Knowledge management also works to reduce costs through improving workflow, facilitating efficient and effective information capture, access, and dissemination, facilitates conversation and human networks, and enhances collaboration and connectivity between individuals for common purpose.

Knowledge management is therefore about providing the infrastructure and capability for organisations to make informed decisions. As knowledge managers, we like to think that the outcome of knowledge management is Innovation and competitive advantage – and sometimes it is. But just as importantly is the strategic importance of using knowledge and information assets wisely to improve operational effectiveness, decision-making and governance issues – profit making and risk mitigation.

On the cost side, knowledge management drives down the cost of doing business through more efficient and productive operations (saving time is one of the obvious manifestations). Being able to find the right information at the right time is critical, as is preparedness through awareness. Being aware and having quick access to information and the right people allows for organisational agility and responsiveness that impacts on how opportunities are found and change is managed.

A strategic knowledge management approach to organisational perfomance is an excellent way for companies to make improved decisions for profit generation and risk mitigation while also saving costs and speeding up interaction within people networks for collective thinking and collaborative advantage.

Knowledge management offers a foundation, many paths and a network. Yet it’s true that senior management and executives choose which way to jump – and the frying pan at 700 or 870 degrees is one route. Wall Street, if it’s not to late, take heed!

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.

On change or staying the same

Firstly, an apology. I had promised to give some detail and comments about the papers from the RMAA Convention yesterday. However, I took my notes to work this morning and left them there with the records management plan I am working on! I promise to blog about the conference papers and add my comments tomorrow.

But for now, I want to touch on a topic that has always interested me and was triggered in part yesterday from the convention theme on adopting and adapting – change. And I want to begin with an evocative scene from a particular television show I watched when I was a child. The television series was Planet of the Apes. One scene from one of the episodes remains a clear and distinct memory that often comes to mind when I am thinking about things staying the same or changing.

Planet of the Apes is set on Earth in the year 3085. Entering this future world from 1980 is a NASA spacecraft that crashes, with two surviving astronauts. The humans take the astronauts to safety and look after them. The scene that remains with me is where the Planet of the Apes’ humans have cattle in a corral. The corral consists of tall, thick wooden posts that have been pushed into the ground and lined vertically in a circle. The upright posts have gaps between each, the gaps of course being too narrow for cattle to walk through. However, after a while the cattle lazily push against the vertical posts and the posts are pushed over and the cattle walk through. The humans round the cattle up, dig the vertical posts into the ground again in a narrow-gapped circle, and the cycle continues.

One of the astronauts asks why the posts in the corral have been set up only as vertical posts and the cattle allowed to eventually escape. The farmers respond by saying that they have always built the corral that way and it’s expected that after a while the cattle will escape! Our 1980 human suggests that building the corral with both vertical and horizontal posts for rigidity and permanence will prevent the cattle from escaping. The rest of the scene has our two astronaut humans and the farmers building a new corral that can’t be knocked down by the cattle.

I always see this scene from Planet of the Apes as a metaphor about organisations and how responsive they may or may not be to new ideas. If we accept the current way of doing things because it has always been done that way, then we may keep repeating poor practices over and over. Believe me, I have seen plenty of examples of this type of thinking. Even past successful practices need review and analysis.

And sometimes organisations need someone from “outside” to recognise and suggest that there might be a better way to do things that bring about improved results. At the same time, new ideas need to be couched in terms of the organisational context. Likewise, new ideas need to have some chance of being listened to and acted upon. Timing often becomes a critical factor in whether new ideas are ready for adoption or adaption. New ideas don’t convert to benefits automatically – there is usually a lot of hard work (like building a proper corral).

There must be a reason to initiate change. The reason for change needs to be positive and acceptable for the people who are being asked to change. As a knowledge management professional, my role has often involved getting people to change the way they do things or suggest improvements via a new tool or an adaption to a work process. I often say that knowledge management is about getting other people to do stuff, and as such, we deal with change and change management all the time.

Like the scene from Planet of the Apes, we must be able to identify needs and initiate change. And, most importantly, we must be active participants in the change process ourselves. Change is just part of our personal and organisational evolution.