4 management styles and how they affect KM

We know that culture and management style affects KM; here is a way of characterising management style through 2 dimensions.

The Boston Square shown here explores four management territories, and their impact on Knowledge Management.

The two axes of the square are

  • management by power v management by empowerment; i.e. how much the leadership operates through command and control, rather than through inspiration and enablement, and 
  • the levels of internal cooperation v internal competition (often reinforced by reward and recognition schemes such as forced ranking, or competitive bonuses).

These two axes give us four territories.

  • Where there is strong internal cooperation, and management by empowerment, then Knowledge Management will thrive. 
  • Where there is strong internal competition, and management by empowerment, then Knowledge Management will find things more difficult. Leaders can, if they try, use KM as a sort of coopetition tool, where the groups will cooperate to a certain extent through knowledge sharing and re-use, but will compete regarding the application of that knowledge. This is a difficult line for leaders to tread, as the internal competition can be used as an excuse not to share with and learn from each other. Sometimes people will “go underground” and share knowledge without their managers knowing, but more often the sharing is stifled.
  • Where there is strong internal cooperation and management by power, then formal Knowledge Management will find things more difficult, but informal KM may arise in unexpected ways.  Here KM definitely will go underground, and can become a way for the workers to share knowledge and gain some sort of personal power without the managers knowing. I have seen this happen in organisations, where the communities of practice become “grumbling shops”. KM can turn from being a grassroots movement to a workers revolutionary force. You can see an extreme geopolitical version of this in the “Arab Dawn” where Government by Power met a collaborative and networked populace.
  • Where there is strong internal competition, and management by power, then Knowledge Management will never take off. Everyone will keep their knowledge to themselves. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

3 ways to look at the KM Paradigm Shift

Here is another couple of ways to characterise the KM paradigm shift.

Image from wikimedia commons

When I looked at this topic in 2009, I saw the KM paradigm shift as a shift from seeing knowledge as personal and individual property, to seeing it as collective. I presented the shift as follows:

The “individual to collective” culture shift


From To
I know We know
Knowledge is mine Knowledge is ours
Knowledge is owned Knowledge is shared
Knowledge is personal property Knowledge is collective/community property
Knowledge is personal advantage Knowledge is company advantage
Knowledge is personal Knowledge is inter-personal
I defend what I know I am open to better knowledge
Not invented here (i.e. by me) Invented in my community
New knowledge competes with my personal knowledge New knowledge improves my personal knowledge
other people’s knowledge is a threat to me Shared knowledge helps me
Admitting I don’t know is weakness Admitting I don’t know is the first step to learning

Here is another way to look at this shift, taken from a paper on The Learning Organisation, by organisational Psychologist Gitte Haslebo, translated by Maja Loua Haslebo.

Shift to a learning organisation

From To
Knowledge has permanent validity Knowledge has temporary validity
Knowledge = Adding of information from the outside Knowledge = Insight created from within
Learning activates the intellect Learning activates thoughts, values, emotions and action
The right answers must be found The central questions must be formulated
The expert finds the right solution New ways and new methods are co-created by the employees

This mirrors the transition from Knower to Learner, and Gitte suggests it is accompanied by a shift in the attitudes of managers and knowledge workers to transition from the attitudes we learned at school to the new attitudes we need at work.

Shift in learning attitudes

From To
Do not make mistakes Learn from your mistakes
Do not reveal that there is something you do not know It is a good thing to admit that there is something you do not know
Do not make a fool of yourself It is important to explain what you wonder about.
Know that the teacher is always right Know that your manager may be wrong.
What counts is the individual achievement What matters is teamwork
If you ask the person sitting next to you, you are cheating When there is something you do not know, ask your colleague

So there are 3 ways to look at the shift, with significant overlap between them. They give you some ideas of the culture you need to aim for in KM – the sort of attitudes and behaviours that a learning organisation, and the people within it, should exhibit.

Now you just have to make that shift, and ensure you don’t shift back again.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The ongoing state of learning

Companies that succeed are those that learn all the time, even when the going is good

This is an insight that came to me from 2 directions this week, one from an article in Forbes magazine, and one from a discussion on Toyota

The Forbes magazine article is called “finding the secret to success requires embracing an ingoing state of learning”, written by Daniela Pineda, who makes the following point;

The secret to success is to not be content with succeeding as an outcome. That is not enough. You have to continually cycle through learning, applying and adapting to ever-changing conditions in order to be an effective organisation.

Daniela describes a cycle of learning from experience and knowledge sharing which will be familiar to most Knowledge Managers but the point about “not being content with succeeding” also echoed comments in the Toyota discussion. As we can read in this HBR article,

over the past 40 years, (Toyota) has recorded steady sales and market-share growth. Despite this enviable stability, senior executives constantly hammer home messages such as “Never be satisfied” and “There’s got to be a better way.” A favourite saying of former chairperson Hiroshi Okuda is “Reform business when business is good,” and Watanabe is fond of pointing out that “No change is bad.”

This is a tough discipline and one that requires a strong will, but if an organisation can learn and improve all the time, even when things  are going well, then it will be ready for anything.

Success is not good enough. Continuous improvement is the goal.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

"Who owns a scientist’s mind?"

“Who owns a scientisist’s mind” is a really interesting article about the “ownership” of knowledge which raises some deep questions which are fundamental to KM.

Image from wikimedia commons

The article, written in “physics today” by Douglas O’Reagan, a historian of science and a postdoctoral fellow at MIT, takes a historical look at the ownership of Science knowledge in industry. Douglas is particularly interested in research knowledge, or knowledge of technology, but also looks in general at –

“intangible skills, the deep knowledge of the company’s processes, relationships with other technical workers, and the general know-how that makes an experienced employee more valuable than someone fresh out of college”

This is the type of knowledge that Knowledge Management addresses, and the question he raises is “who owns this?”

Who owns the products of intellectual labour such as research?  Douglas points out that patents (as an example of monetised knowledge) once went to the inventor by default. He contrasts that with the current situation, where companies “extract workers’ know-how so that the company can store and own it indefinitely” through knowledge management, and he believes that this trend has resulted in “scientists slowly losing control of their discoveries, both in private industry and in academia”. Where a scientist once had patent rights, now the organisations have taken those away, through contracts and through claiming trade secrets.

We had a similar discussion in 2012 over this issue, based around a LinkedIn poll with 3 potential answers to the question “Who owns the knowledge in your head”, the answers being

  • I own it and the organisation leases it from me
  • My employer owns it
  • We co-own it

Most of the respondents felt the knowledge was theirs, and was leased, not owned, by the organisation.  The people who responded were knowledge workers, not scientists, but the principle was the same. They felt they owned the knowledge in their head, much as scientists might feel that once they owned the knowledge in their heads, and that this is being “taken away”.

But is this fair?

We are not really in the world of “lone inventors” any more – of lone scientists who through their own personal intellectual endeavours make the breakthrough that can earn them millions in patent rights. Generally the scientist works for an organisation which has a research department, and (if the organisation practices knowledge management) which provides to the scientific researchers the sum total of the organisation’s previous endeavours on a topic.

The scientist is part of a team, part of a community and part of a longer history of scientists, who communally develop and have developed the knowledge. As far as ownership of knowledge is concerned, you cannot separate the individual and the organisation. An organisation is made up of individuals, after all, and knowledge is created, shared, refined, re-used and re-evaluated through interactions between individuals. It is the interactions within the organisation that put most of the knowledge in the scientist’s head in the first place.

So what happens when a knowledgeable scientist or other knowledge worker leaves an organisation? Can they take this knowledge with them? Could they set up a company in opposition to their previous employer? Could they come back as a consultant, and sell the knowledge back to their previous employer at a higher rate? Could they sell the knowledge to a competitor?

Here Douglas takes us through the intricacies of trade-secret laws and the Economic Espionage Act of 1996, where the theft of trade secrets is quite clear (albeit only a recent offence), and then rightly focuses in on the grey area of know-how, which is where we are most interested as Knowledge Managers. Douglas takes us through a whistle-stop tour of what he calls the “1990s business fad” of KM, and concludes that

“(KM’s) history shows how far businesses’ ambitions have expanded when it comes to controlling what’s in their employees’ heads. Business owners in early America disliked skilled technical workers moving on to new jobs with company secrets in tow, but they generally accepted it as a reality of doing business. Today, managers’ desire to control the knowledge scientists possess is usually thwarted not by the law but by the nature of knowledge: We often know more than we can say or write down”

Is he right?

Is KM a top-down ambition to control?

What Douglas doesn’t cover is the flip-side. If an organisation has managed to make knowledge “common property” within the firm, then the scientist joining the firm suddenly has access to far more knowledge, know-how and experience than they ever held previously.   What he sees as an attempt to control the loss of knowledge should be seen in the light of an attempt to revolutionise the access to knowledge, albeit within the boundaries of the organisation

My own view is that we should see knowledge as communal rather than individual, and that the individual knowledge worker generally gains more than they lose through KM. When they leave the organisation they are required to leave documents and trade-secrets behind, and may sometimes be compelled by non-compete clauses not to work for a competitor for a couple of years (by which time the memory of secrets will be dimmed to useless), and they should also be asked and supported to share the know-how they have been developing, for the use and benefit of their colleagues.

But knowledge is not like money – if you give knowledge away, you also still retain it. The departing scientist, however much they share their with the organisation, still get to retain the generic know-how and experience in their heads.

Both sides benefit. The knowledge you use at work is through an unstated cooperative agreement – the company will educate you and give you access (through KM) to a wealth of knowledge, and you will use that knowledge to support the company. It’s not yours, it’s not theirs, it belongs to both.

That’s my view. What do you think?

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The Asker/Helper culture – why these are the core behaviours of KM

A recent McKinsey article, if you read it carefully, suggests that the core KM behaviours for group effectiveness are Asking and Responding.

Ask (always)The McKinsey article entitled Givers take all: The hidden dimension of corporate culture is a really interesting article, describing a study by Harvard psychologists of the US intelligence system in order to determine what makes intelligence units effective. By surveying, interviewing, and observing hundreds of analysts across 64 different intelligence groups, the researchers ranked those units from best to worst, and looked at what made the best ones so good.

Conclusions of the study are as follows:

  • The single strongest predictor of group effectiveness was the amount of help that analysts gave to each other.
  • Across these diverse contexts, organizations benefit when employees freely contribute their knowledge and skills to others (what McKinsey refers to as a Giver culture, where knowledge is freely shared, in contrast to a Taker culture, where it isn’t)
  • Giver cultures depend on employees making requests; otherwise, it’s difficult to figure out who needs help and what to give. In fact, studies reviewed by psychologists Stella Anderson and Larry Williams show that direct requests for help between colleagues drive 75 to 90 percent of all the help exchanged within organizations.

So in fact the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness is the amount of “asking for help” that happens, and the Giving/Helping response. So it would be more accurate to talk about an Asker/Helper culture rather than a Giver culture.

It is possible to develop an Asker/Helper culture – the article talks about an exercise called a Reciprocity Ring, which is a face to face version of the Question-driven communities of practice we see operating so successfully as part of mature knowledge management programs. Peer Assist is the archetypal Asker process, which always generates a Giver response. Many of the standard Knowledge Management interventions act as culture change agents in their own right to promote the behaviours of asking and of giving.

So if you are interested in creating the KM culture which is “the single strongest predictor of group effectiveness” – remember that knowledge sharing is 75% to 90% of the time a response to Asking.

Aim for the Asker/Helper culture (as I suggest in this video).

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

When KM becomes group therapy

There can come a time when the therapeutic benefits of Knowledge Management can outweigh the commercial benefits.

[25/365] On the couch (Explored)One of the spin-off benefits of Knowledge Management is the culture change it can bring with it. Facilitated dialogue-based processes such as after action review, peer assist, retrospect etc are all themselves agents of culture change.

However they can have other spin-off benefits as well, and at times the facilitated listening almost acts as therapy.

When I am facilitating a retrospect, particularly from a project that has had its troubles, or was a bit of a disaster, it almost feels like I am conducting a group therapy session. If a project really was a bad experience, then it really helps the team to be able to talk about it in an open and non judgemental way. And that’s what a retrospect is; it’s a session where you talk about what happened in a non judgemental way. It’s a no blame process. (As I often say, when teaching the skills of Retrospect, that we will ask What, How and Why – What happened, Why did it happen, and How do we ensure it doesnt happen again – but we never ask Who).

People at the session really appreciate the chance to talk through the problems and challenges,they appreciate being asked for their views and being listened to,  and even more they appreciate the commitment to identify and apply lessons which make sure that similar projects will not have to go through the same trouble as theirs did. It’s more than just the chance to talk, it’s the opportunity to make a difference.

This feeling of “Therapy through Learning” comes back strongly when I recall an exercise I did on an offshore gas rig a long time ago.

 This visit was in the aftermath of a merger where things had not always gone well, and where the staff on this particular rig had ended up with a real feeling of grievance and anger. I spent a couple of days on the rig conducting learning interviews, and people were very forthright about the feelings that they shared with me. I came away with a whole list of learnings for the future, and I was sitting in the departure room waiting for the helicopter, feeling emotionally quite exhausted, and one of the roughnecks I had spoken to walked past. Seeing me he stopped, came over and shook my hand and said “I just want to say thanks mate. It was really good of the company to send somebody out just to listen to us”.

That’s when I realized that, although the learning was the primary objective from this exercise, it had not been the only benefit, and even if all I had done was listened, I would have still added real value.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

There are only 4 types of barrier to Knowledge Management

Here’s a great Boston Square which looks at the four barriers to KM in a generic way.

It looks at the unwillingness and the inability that can affect both the knowledge supplier, and the knowledge user. Any combination of these is a block to Knowledge management.

The Supplier is Unwilling to share.

The unwilling supplier is afflicted by Knowledge Hoarding. He or she feels they will lose something (power, job security, reputation) if they give their knowledge away. Luckily we can demonstrate that this is not true, and managers can ease the shift from hoarding to sharing by careful use of incentives, eventually outlawing hoarding entirely.

The User is Unwilling to learn.

The unwilling user is afflicted by Not Invented Here (NIH). He or she feels more secure in their own (“invented here”) knowledge than in scary knowledge from somewhere else. This barrier can be addressed by redefining “here”, so that “invented in my community” equates to “invented here“, by using performance metrics to shock people out of complacency, and eventually by outlawing NIH completely.

The Supplier is Unable to share

The unable supplier suffers from the Stranger problem – “I don’t know who to share this with”. This can be tackled through developing a Pull-based approach, so that they share by answering  the questions of an individual or team (through community forums, or peer assist), or by using the concept of the “Unknown User” – the psychological construct that we can bring into retrospects and after action reviews.

The User is Unable to find knowledge

The unable user suffers from “needle in a haystack” – they don’t know where to look. Here we need the knowledge assets, that synthesised knowledge that creates the faucet rather than the firehose. We need the expertise locator. We need good search, and we need the places to ask – the community forums described above.

All four of these barriers are very real. All four can be overcome.  The Ability to share and learn is provided by the creation and roll-out of a Knowledge management framework, while the Willingness to share and learn is provided by culture change and communication activities, and cemented by KM governance. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Wishful thinking – the inevitable outcome of "not knowing"?

The almost inevitable outcome of “now knowing what you don’t know” is wishful thinking. Even the use of benchmarks may not help.

Wishful ThinkingWishful thinking is one of the curses of project management.  Any project team without a perfect knowledge of the challenges that they will face in a project, tend to underestimate them.  They assume things will work well, they assume the “best case scenario”, and they end up with an over-optimistic view of the project, an over-optimistic view of costs, and an over-optimistic view of schedule.

Daniel Kahneman gives a great example of this in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow”.
He describes a project, many years ago, where he convened a team to design a new high-school curriculum and to write a textbook for it (ironically, it was about judgement and decision making).  They had had several team meetings to construct an outline of the syllabus, had written a couple of chapters, and even run a few sample lessons.  They decided to do some planning, and to create an estimate of how long it would take to submit to finish draft of the textbook. Kahneman knew that one of the most effective ways of estimating is not to start with discussion, but to get everybody to individually submit their judgment, so has asked everybody to write down their estimates, and then collected these in.  Estimates ranged from 1 ½, years to 2 ½ years with a median of two years, to finish and submit the first draft.
Then he had another bright idea. He asked one of the curriculum experts on the team whether he could think of any examples of similar projects in the past, and how long they had taken.

“He fell silent” Kahneman writes. “When he finally spoke, it seemed to me that he was blushing; embarrassed by his own answer: ‘You know, I never realized this before, but in fact not all the teams at a stage comparable to ours ever did complete their task. A substantial fraction of the teams ended up failing to finish the job’”.  That fraction was 40%.

Kahneman then asked how long it took those who actually had finished the job.

“I cannot think of any group that finished in less than seven years” he replied, “nor any that took more than 10”. 

(Note that this guy himself had, shortly before, estimated it would take about two years!).  Then Kahneman asked how the current team ranked compared to the others (perhaps they were much better and could finish much faster!).  “We are below average” he replied “but not by much”.

So now the team had new knowledge, that comparable or better teams often fail at this job, and those that succeeded took four times longer than the groups estimate.
So what do you think the group did?
Kahneman tells us

“our state of mind when we heard Seymour is not well described by stating what we “knew”.  Surely all of us now “knew” that a minimum of seven years and a 40 per cent chance of failure was a more plausible forecast than the numbers we had written on a slips of paper.  But we did not acknowledge what we knew.  The new forecast still seemed unreal, because we could not imagine how it could take so long to finish a project that looks so manageable.  All we could see was a reasonable plan that should produce a book in about two years. ……….  The statistics that Seymour provided were treated as base rates normally are – noted and promptly set aside.  We should have quit that day.  None of us were willing to invest six more years of work in a project with a 40 per cent chance of failure …..  After a few minutes of a desultory debate,  we gathered ourselves together and carried on as if nothing had happened”.

The book was eventually finished eight years later.  The initial enthusiasm for the idea in the ministry of education had waned by the time the text was delivered, and it was never used.
This is a very interesting story.  Not only did the group not know what they didn’t know, they were unable or unwilling to accept the new knowledge when it was presented.  They ignored it, and continued with the wishful hope that they would be finished in two years.
Kahneman concludes from this that there are two different approaches to forecasting, the inside view and the outside view.  The inside view is based on “what you know that you know”, and what the team knew was that they had made some good progress already, albeit completing some of the easiest chapters at a time when enthusiasm was at its peak, and they extrapolated from this good progress.  But they didn’t know what they didn’t know, and they didn’t foresee the bureaucracy, the distractions, and the conflicts that would eventually arrive.  However because they were anchored to their inside view, they would not accept the outside view, even though the outside view was based on reliable baseline statistics.
The rest of Kahneman’s book, which I highly recommend, explores other aspects of the psychology of decision-making, and gives many examples of how people will make wrong decisions as a result of over confidence through limited data.
There are many are implications here for knowledge management; the need to access outside knowledge through activities such as peer assists, the need to collect baseline data on performance to act as a “reality check” for optimistic teams, and the need for continuous project learning to recognise when predictions are optimistic, and to renegotiate the prediction.

 Without effective knowledge management, and without effective knowledge-based decision making, project predictions will be, as Kanhneman’s project was, based largely on wishful thinking.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

After Action Review as an agent for culture change

When we talk about Culture Change and Knowledge Management, we need to realise that the Knowledge Management processes themselves are in themselves culture change agents.

change_thoughtsAfter Action reviews are a prime example. They promote openness; people will learn that ‘there is no comeback’ and questions will receive answers. They promote reflection, learning and a performance focus, through discussions on “What did we set out to achieve? What actually happened” “How can we do better next time”.

Below is some feedback from work we did several years ago at an industrial plant in the US, experimenting with introducing After Action Review. We found that not only did the AARs identify many many opportunities to save time and money, they also started to change the mindset, as these quotes from the workforce demonstrate.

“I thought I needed to be the expert and felt threatened at first. After a few AAR’s I felt comfortable that the guys appreciated using their ideas and we became a team” (Supervisor)

“Before the AAR, they didn’t feel like they were a team; After a few AAR’s they became one”. (Boilermaker)

“I have been doing this work for 20 years, and no one has ever asked me what I thought before; so it was a change”. (Boilermaker)

“We are now doing a Before action review in the mornings”. (Supervisor)

Here’s another quote, from a mine manager in Botswana, where we used AARs to radically improve some of his production processes, and deliver savings in the million-dollar range. However for him, there was something even more important than the money.

“The most important thing was the engagement of the people. The people who were involved in this, they actually feel that they are part of a team now. It’s not the project team vs the contractor vs the end users – everybody is part of a single team now. And people are actually coming up with suggestions for implementation, and what makes it quite exciting is that people come up with very good suggestions, we implement it, they see the implementation of that, and they see the benefit afterwards, and so success breeds success”.

That engagement, and that “success breeding success,” was worth more to this manager than a million dollars, because it is the start of a new engaged performance-driven knowledge-enabled and knowledge-seeking culture that will deliver value for years to come.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Knowledge Management and Friendship

Is friendship an enabler of Knowledge Management?

foosball at work
Foosball at work, by Al Abut, on Flickr

In the western world of work, “Friend” is a bit of an F-word.

We hardly ever use the word “F****d” about our work relationships. We call people colleagues, associates, co-workers, but never F****ds. It’s as if F****d is a dirty word and inappropriate in work circles.

And yet, when we think about the relationships and the trust needed for knowledge sharing, and the social relationships we can build in Communities of Practice, is that so very far from Friendship?

I once interviewed a client from an Asian organisation as part of a Knowledge Management Assessment and Knowledge Management Strategy exercise, and he said to me “I often visit another manager that I know, to share my knowledge and help him achieve his targets. He is my friend, so I would help him”.

And this quote, from an assessment of another company “If my friend‘s got a problem I can’t leave him to work on it on his own”.  Here’s another, from a third company. “It is a very small group of people in the division in (Country), and most of us are good friends since university. We share our knowledge very openly”.

None of these quotes are from North American or European organisations.

I searched through many of my documents for the use of the word “friend”, and in the North American and European organisations, the word was used as part of the phrase “user-friendly” and as part of the cliché “phone a friend” (a reference to the Millionaire TV show). With one notable exception (Canadian) I didn’t find any reference to friendship at work.

In the North American/European mindset, friendship at work can be seen as a risk. See for example

And yet, as the quotes above show, friendship is a huge enabler for effective knowledge sharing and knowledge re-use in otehr cultures. It removes the Not Invented Here barrier, and replaces it by “Invented by my friend”.  And an increasing number of studies suggest that work friends are good for your wellbeing and important for productivity.

So maybe we should stop looking at the risk and the downside of Friendship at work, and seek instead to help employees to build a wider social network of friends, as support for the behaviours and culture that Knowledge Management requires.

In fact, if we return to the person I first quoted, who said “He is my friend, so I would help him” – we asked this guy what would be the most useful thing the company could do, to encourage knowledge-sharing and re-use in the organisation. He replied;

“I would like to meet other managers like me on a regular basis, have dinner with them, share knowledge in an informal setting, and become friends”

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

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