10 characteristics of a great KM Sponsor

I've been thinking recently about the role of sponsorship in enabling knowledge management, and it took me back to some Change Management principles which I learned from ChangeFirst, when I was responsible for Change Management as well as Knowledge Management at Centrica.The ChangeFirst model was based on Darryl Connor's "Managing at the speed of change", but also had much in  common with the work of John Kotter.  Both excellent reads with similar roots.

Depending on your KM strategy, sponsorship is always important and often absolutely critical to the success of a knowledge change programme - and let's face it, most of our work as practitioners is all about creating change and making it stick.  So here's what I learned from my various Change Management gurus about the ten characteristics of effective sponsors.

dilbert-on-leadership
dilbert-on-leadership

Think about the leaders who sponsors your KM activities as you read then through - or use it as a checklist to help you select the ideal candidate, if you're still looking...

1. Dissatisfaction.  You want your Sponsor to be agitated about the current state of knowledge sharing in your organisation.  They need to be frustrated at the loss of value, the inefficiency, the corporate stupidity, the missed innovations and the embarrassment of re-invention or repetition.  A sponsor who thinks "everything is generally OK, and this KM stuff - well, it's just the icing on the cake!"  is going to struggle to defend or promote your work with any authenticity. If they're not already sufficiently fired up, then you might want to find some provocative horror stories to spark things along.

2. Making resources available.  It's an obvious one - but there's little point in firing up a sponsor who lacks the wherewithal to help you take action.    If they don't have the budget or resource available themselves, can they help you through their contacts and relationships?

3. Understand the impact on people.  Particularly true of Knowledge Management sponsors, because KM is fundamentally a people-based approach.  How would you rate your sponsor's emotional intelligence (or perhaps his PQ Passion Quotient or her CQ Curiosity Quotient)? You will need to be able to engage them in discussions about the culture of the organisation and the behaviours of leaders. If that's an uncomfortable area for them, then keep looking!

4. Public Support.  Bit of a no-brainer, but naturally you will want a sponsor who is willing and able to speak on behalf of your 'programme' at every opportunity.  You may well need to equip them with an 'elevator speech' and some compelling success stories - and remind them of their dissatisfaction.

5. Private Support.  Ah yes.  The authenticity test.  Will your sponsor speak with the same level of passion and heartfelt credibility in a private conversation with their peers - or is it just a mask they wear when they're wheeled out to make positive speeches.  You need a believer!

6. Good Networkers.   Perhaps this should be at the top.  Your sponsor need to be adept at spanning boundaries, spotting synergies and sneaking around the back door of silos.  Their network needs to become your network.

7. Tracking performance.  This is one of the acid tests of interest and commitment.  Is sponsorship of your activity something which is on their agenda, or are you just a medal that they wear to special occasions?  Agree what good looks like, agree the immediate steps and agree on the indicators and measures you need to focus on. Get that meeting in their diary at least quarterly.  If they're dashboard-oriented, then build one for them, but remember Einstein's classic quote:  "Not everything that can be counted  counts, and not everything that counts can be counted."

8. Reinforcement when needed.  Sometimes you might need to 'send for reinforcements', so select a sponsor who is willing to challenge, knock heads together, unblock the corporate drains and generally provide you with air cover when you want it. You need a fighter as well as a lover.

9. Focus on the future.  Ensure that your sponsor gets the big picture - and can communicate it compellingly.  What is their personal vision for the organisation five years from now?  Does it match yours? Does it line up with your KM strategy and plan.  If they have a tendency to get lost in the details of performance targets, then make sure that some of your measures are long term.  You don't really want them fussing over how many documents were uploaded into a SharePoint folder this week when there's a demographic knowledge-leaving-the-organisation bubble which threatens to burst 3 years from now.  Help them to lift their heads up - and ask them to lift yours too.

10. Behavioural modelling.  Your sponsor needs to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. When you champion knowledge sharing, you lay yourself open to accusations of hypocrisy much more than if you were the sponsor of systems implementation programme.  It's behavioural.  It's relational.   And people notice. You might want to equip them with some simple questions to ask others which help them nail their colours to the mast.  Syngenta are good at this, and put a number of "leading questions" on a pocket card to help all of their senior champions to verbalise their commitment:

"Who could you share this with?"  "Who did you learn from?" "Who might have done this before?" "Who could you ask for help and advice?"

University College Hospital's After Action Review behavioural programme has taken training to the very top of the hospital tree to ensure that anyone is equipped (and expected) to facilitate an AAR. Would your Sponsor know how to lead a simple period of team reflection?  It would certainly increase their impact if you could help them to become the "knowledge conscience" in the boardroom...

So how does your sponsor measure up?  If you can nod gratefully to most of the above as you read it, then you've not only probably found yourself a Myers Briggs ENFJ, but you're also in for a more effective and enjoyable time than Dilbert ever had!

Knowledge and Collaboration - Mixing our Drinks

I have had the privilege of working with  over 100 client organisations over past 9 years. (Where did that time go?) In each case they have their own definition of Knowledge Management, often their own label, and usually a specific cocktail of disciplines, processes and tools which they choose to place under the KM "umbrella".

Sometimes the decisions above reflect the specific needs of the organisation, and other times that reflect the focus, background and place in the organisation of any centralised KM resources. Often it's a mixture of both, Rum and Coke? Gin and Tonic? Whiskey and Soda?

Some of the pairings  I've seen include "Knowledge and Innovation" (R&D oriented organisations) "Knowledge and Information" (that's a common one in the Public Sector), "Business Improvement & Knowledge" (manufacturing), "Knowledge and Insight" (professional services) and "Knowledge and Learning" (several sectors) and in one oil and gas company: "Knowledge and Collaboration".

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Each of these combinations gives an interesting twist to knowledge management, and I'm surprised that I don't see "Knowledge and Collaboration" in combination more often.  It's always seemed like an ideal blend to me, as it encourages us to think about the practicalities of changing working practices, motivating people to work together in different forms of partnership (see Collaborative Advantage by Elizabeth Lank), and in ensuring that the right conversations happen between the right people, using the most effective supportive technology whenever the need arises.

And if you need to be reminded of what that looks like when it's not done well, then this brilliant "Real Conference Call" parody by Trip & Tyler will hit the spot.

We've all been there!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DYu_bGbZiiQ

How The Beatles Share Knowledge!

How the Beatles Share Knowledge! I'm currently co-facilitating a series of consortium meetings with my friend and colleague Elizabeth Lank  for six leading organisations, all well known and well-respected for their KM capability.

One of the more light-hearted activities in preparation for the next meeting is for each of the participants to select a suitable "track to share knowledge by", which has generated some fascinating insights, as well as providing us with a background soundtrack for some of the activities we have planned.

One band which cropped up repeatedly was the Beatles, which got me thinking, and digging through my own collection of Beatles singles - and I thought I'd share the outcome here (there and everywhere...)

What did Confucius know about Knowledge Management?

Confucius is the next in my series of famous leaders on knowledge management, although he spoke much more about learning and wisdom than knowledge itself.

111019_confucius_shanghai
111019_confucius_shanghai

Confucius introduced three key virtues:  Rén, Li and Yi.

Rén relates to humanity, and the relationships between two people. It causes people to remember that they is never alone, and that everyone has these relationships to fall back on, being a member of a family, the state, and the world.

(Or a network, I’m sure we could add today)

Li consists of the norms of proper social behaviour as taught to others by fathers, village elders and government officials. The teachings of li promoted ideals such as brotherliness, righteousness, good faith and loyalty. The influence of li guided public expectations, such as the loyalty to superiors and respect for elders.  Li is sometimes describes as “the way things society expects things to be”.

Finally. Yi is an internal controller which gives the person the ability to make right judgments about the people and situations and to react accordingly. Confucius stated that truth can be hidden sometimes and most common reaction to the situation is not always the best one and the possession of Yi principle helps to define the true nature of things.

You could say that Li will get you to a proper answer, Yi will get you to a correct answer.

renliyi-pinyin
renliyi-pinyin

This distinction between the Li and Yi  in relation to the relational virtue of Rén reminds me of the impact of Organisational Network Analysis  when understanding how people make judgements (Yi) about where to find knowledge which might run counter to the official (Li) organisational hierarchy. 

I often describe it to clients as "taking an x-ray of the organisation to see what really happens, rather than what the organisation chart suggests".

The map below contains such a wealth of insight compared with the organisation chart.  The colours of the nodes represent functional expertise, the size of each node is the length of service, the colour "heat" of the lines represents the frequency of communication and the arrow heads show the direction of technical requests.  No wonder the team spent nearly an hour drawing out conclusions and actions!

Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 15.32.18
Screen Shot 2013-11-03 at 15.32.18

So getting back to Confucius - what did he say which we would relate to knowledge management?  Here are my top ten - a journey from ignorance to reflection, learning, adopting good practice, double-loop learning and transferring knowledge to others...

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”

“To know what you know and what you do not know, that is true knowledge.”

“Study the past if you would define the future.”

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

“I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand.”

“Learning without thought is labour lost; thought without learning is perilous.”

“You cannot open a book without learning something.”

“If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself.”

“Reviewing what you have learned and learning anew, you are fit to be a teacher.”

...and one for you Cynefin zealots out there:

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.”

What did Da Vinci know about Knowledge Management?

My post on “What did Einstein know about KM” last week seemed to go down well, so I have continued my search for KM musings from great figures. This week, we’ll hear from the Leonardo Da Vinci.  It wasn’t until I read Gelb’s ambitiously titled book How to think like Leonardo do Vinci that I appreciated just how multi-talented he was.  Painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, writer and no mean athlete  - you name it, he could do it.  Curious then that one of his quotations (one of the few which I disagree with) states “As every divided kingdom falls, so every mind divided between many studies confounds and saps itself.“.  I guess you can make yourself an exception  when you’re the archetypal Renaissance Man Polymath. I wonder what he would have made of the ubiquitous availability of information and possibilities which we enjoy today?

So my curated top-ten quotes from Da Vinci will take us on a journey through different facets of KM: from knowledge acquisition, the way our perceptions filter knowledge, the superiority of expertise over opinions, the power of learning, seeing and making connections, the challenge and value of expressing knowledge simply and the criticality of seeing knowledge applied.

Yes, I would have had him on my KM Team.

  • “The knowledge of all things is possible.”
  • “The acquisition of knowledge is always of use to the intellect, because it may thus drive out useless things and retain the good.”
  • “All our knowledge has its origins in our perceptions.”
  • “The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions.”
  • “Experience is the mother of all Knowledge. Wisdom is the daughter of experience.”
  • “Although nature commences with reason and ends in experience it is necessary for us to do the opposite, that is to commence with experience and from this to proceed to investigate the reason.”
  • “Learning is the only thing the mind never exhausts, never fears, and never regrets.”
  • “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses - especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.”
  • “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
  • “Knowing is not enough; we must apply.”
  •  

carillas-da-vinci

I couldn’t find a suitable infographic to illustrate these (I'm sure Leonardo would have produced a very good one if he'd not been so busy), but the book I mentioned earlier insightfully looks at the seven different deliberate practices he drew upon.  They’re an excellent set of frames through which to consider our approaches to life and work.

How does your Knowledge Management practice measure up against these?

  1. Curiosita:
  Approaching life with insatiable curiosity and an unrelenting quest for continuous learning.
  2. Dimostrazione:
  Committing to test knowledge through experience, persistence and a willingness to learn from mistakes.
  3. Sensazione:
  Continually refining the senses, especially sight, as the means to enliven experience.
  4. Sfumato:  Embracing ambiguity, paradox and uncertainty.
  5. Arte/Scienza
:  Balancing science and art, logic and imagination - ‘whole-brain thinking’.
  6. Corporalita:
  Cultivating grace, ambidexterity, fitness, and poise.
  7. Connessione:  Recognizing and appreciating the interconnectedness of all things – ‘systems thinking’.

Leo, you're not just on the team; you can write the KM Strategy!

What did Einstein know about Knowledge Management?

Quite a lot, it appears! Here are my top ten favourite "Einstein on KM" quotes, which I have roughly curated into a journey from information to knowledge, through to learning and simplicity, experimentation, failure, curiosity and imagination...

  • Information is not knowledge.
  • The only source of knowledge is experience.
  • Make everything as simple as possible, but not simpler.
  • If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.
  • We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
  • The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.
  • Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.
  • Knowledge of what is does not open the door directly to what should be.
  • Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
  • The true sign of intelligence is not knowledge but imagination.

And for any of us who have ever been asked to create an accountant-proof business case for KM, there is always the classic:

  • Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted, counts.

Far better than my quick top ten list is this  infographic (click to enlarge) created by IQMatrix on visual.ly, which does a brilliant job of mind-mapping most of the above quotes, and a number of others.

Albert-Einstein-mindmap-2000px

But one unexpected Einstein quote escaped the infographic - which has nothing to do with knowledge management,  demonstrates his humanity and humour and makes me smile...

Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.

Genius.

What's wrong with Lessons Learned? Part 3.

In the last few posts we've been exploring what's wrong with the way we position "lessons learned".  In part one, we looked at the passive problem of people's tendency to focus on the lessons rather than the activity of learning.  In part two, we looked at the negative associations of the term 'lessons', and the impact that this can have. In part three, I want to look at the problem of ambiguity.

The label "lessons learned" trips off the tongue easily, but that doesn't mean that everybody hears it in the same way. Learning appears in more than one place on an learning loop, so there is plenty of room here for confusion. It can be an output, an input, or an agent of change. Here is one, very simple question you can ask to check whats going on in your lessons learned process.

Who is learning?

Here are potential three recipients of the learning - let's imagine we give a badge of recognition in each case:

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It could be person or team who had the experience, who completed the activity and then reflected upon it.

In this case, learning is an output.

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It could be a function or department who learn from a team's experience and make a change to a process, policy, standard or working practice -  thereby reducing the risk or improving the prospects for everyone who follows. In this case, learning is an agent of change to the structural capital of the organisation. It becomes an embedded inheritance for all who follow.

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It could be another team about to commence a new activity who are learning from the experience of a previous team. In this case, learning is an input. This input could proactively pushed to another team, or pulled by the new team, through a peer assist, for example.

It's important to recognise that all of of these are valid and desirable outcomes , or there's a danger that we allow learning from lessons to be a slightly self-indulgent team huddle.  Worse still, we focus on building the library of lessons rather than actioning the change that the learning should produce, see my earlier shaggy dog story about selling a BMW.

MAKE award winners ConocoPhillips and Syngenta both recognise the need to lubricate all parts of the learning and sharing cycle with appropriate senior recognition.

ConocoPhillips have their 4G awards:  Give (sharing knowledge), Grab (applying someone else's knowledge), Gather (consolidating knowledge), Guts (sharing learning from failure).

Agri-business Syngenta loved this, and created their own TREE awards along very similar lines:  Transfer, Re-use, Embed and [share a difficult] Experience.

In each case, senior leaders are involved in judging and celebrating the best examples of these essential behaviours, and the teams or individuals concerned receive a physical recognition award.  It's very clear who is learning, who is sharing, what is improving and where the value is - all of which is the best antidote for ambiguity.

Syngenta TREE award
Syngenta TREE award

What's wrong with Lessons Learned? Part 2.

What's the connection between Madonna, King Solomon and Louis Vuitton? Tricky one eh?

In "Live to tell", Madonna famously stated:

"A man can tell a thousand lies I've learned my lesson well..."

King Solomon waxed lyrical about lessons from laziness in the book of Proverbs (24:30-34)

"I went past the field of a sluggard, past the vineyard of someone who has no sense; thorns had come up everywhere, the ground was covered with weeds, and the stone wall was in ruins. I applied my heart to what I observed and learned a lesson from what I saw: A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man."

Louis Vuitton clearly have a position on this too:

Luis Vitton
Luis Vitton

It's not just that they all connect with the concept of "lessons learned".  It's that in each case the association is negative.  In fact, nearly all references to lessons learned outside of KM, Organisational Learning or Project Management have negative connotations.

When my wife will knowingly shakes her head at me and tuts "...lessons learned darling, lessons learned...", I know I'm well and truly busted.

What went wrong with the concept of lessons?  In school, lessons are positive, educational and beneficial.  The minute we step out of the school gates they become negative, undesirable and punitive.

  • The phrase "I've learned my lesson" usually follows sorrow and suffering.
  • The phrase "I'm going to teach you a lesson" is usually followed by sorrow and suffering.

So with these precious market insights in mind, what name shall we give to our Organisational Learning processes to make them relevant, constructive and appealing? Imagine the following phone call...

me: Hello is that the KM Sales & Marketing department? Any ideas on branding this learning cycle stuff?

them: We've had this brilliant idea. Let's call it "Lessons Learned"!

me: Well, I guess it's better than "Post Mortem" that the Project guys are already using.

Sigh.  Sometimes we don't exactly make it easy for ourselves.

Not to say that we want to discourage learning from negative experiences.  Of course we don't - it's a precious, precious investment.  But if that's all we do, then learning itself becomes a negative experience by association.

1.  Let’s ensure that we apply the same learning approaches when things go well, as when they go badly.  This can difficult to embed without some discipline and leadership commitment, because when a project goes well, the team assume that the success was all down to their own natural professionalism and struggle to articulate recommendations for others.  (When a project goes badly, then the team will be quick to blame external factors - See Argyris, Teaching Smart People how to Learn for details.)

2.  Let's be prepared to dispense with the "lessons" word altogether if it carries so much baggage.

My favourite alternative is "Learning from Experience". Experience is much more neutral than "lessons".  It can be positive experience, negative experience, our experience or someone else's experience (more on that in part 3.)

If you get the chance to position and brand your efforts, you might consider about losing lessons and exhorting experience.

As Albert Einstein provocatively put it.

Experience is learning. Everything else is just information.

Follow @chris_collison

What's wrong with Lessons Learned? Part 1.

I’m not sure how many parts this series of posts is going to have, but let’s make a start with this one...

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 1. Lessons learned is a noun.  Learning is a verb.

Somewhere along the way, the idea of learning from experience so that we improve our own performance, and the future performance of others  has lost its oomph, its focus and its impact.  Instead, we hear people talking in abstract terms about “doing their lessons learned”. What on earth does that mean?

When it becomes the object of a sentence rather than the active verb, then it becomes another item on a tick-list – a necessary chore– the organisational equivalent of flossing our teeth. We focus on the lesson (which is usually a couple of sentences in a document, or a bullet point on a flipchart), rather than what we can learn from the lesson, and what we will change as a result.

It’s an odd thing.  My children don’t learn lessons from school – they learn fromlessons, and they learn in lessons.  The lesson is the beneficial environment created by their teacher to help them to gain new insights and know how to apply them to problems.  There’s plenty of room for improvement in the way we design and portray our organisational lessons, just ask a teacher.

So rather than brandishing our flipcharts or reports and saying “here are our lessons learned!” – we should be saying.

“Here is a summary of some lessons. Now, what will we learn from them?”

This leads us away from “lessons learned” as a tick-list item, and leads us nicely to the million-dollar question:

“What will we do differently and what actions do we need to take - for ourselves or for the organisation?”

The next questions are:

"Could these lessons be relevant to anyone else, now or in the future?  How can we ensure that they make sense and provide context and contacts for the next project or team?

These questions move us into action, rather than focusing on writing down a lesson as the end-game.

Or to put it another way:

Bullet points kill knowledge.  Questions resurrect it.

Follow @chris_collison