"You are obligated to ask" – Elon Musk’s email

Even in the most progressive organisations, sometimes the boss needs to drive a “culture of asking.” Here is how Elon Musk did it.

Image from wikimedia commons

Musk’s email is quoted here, and seems to have been sent in response to a dissatisfaction with default communication and knowledge sharing habits at Tesla.

There are 6 things I want to point out regarding this email, which I have highlighted in the text of the email


  1. Musk is setting the expectation for lateral communication and knowledge flow, rather than the vertical communication seen in many other organisations (which I describe as knowledge hedge-hopping).
  2. He makes his expectation very clear, and backs it up by spelling out the consequences (“Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company”).
  3. He places this expectation in the context of problem-solving and asking for help (“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company”). Musk is looking to drive a culture of “open asking”.
  4. He makes this expectation very eplicit. It is not a request, it is an obligation.
  5. He separates out this behaviour of problem-driven asking from “random chit-chat”, and sees it as key to competitiveness.
  6. He recognises that the default “hedge-hopper KM” behaviour is driven by a natural human tendencies which needs to be “fought” in support of the corporate good.
Here is the email quoted in the link above (the text in bold below was highlighted by me, not by Elon Musk)

Subject: Communication Within Tesla 

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company. 

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding. 

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility. 

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept. 

Thanks, Elon

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

What’s the reporting line for KM in the organisation?

When you are setting up a KM function, where should it report?  Here are some statistics about the most common reporting set-ups.

The statistics are drawn from all respondents to our 2014 and 2017 global KM surveys. Any any multiple responses from the same company have been removed from the dataset, leaving 503 responses.

The results can be seen above.

The main conclusion is that there is no single common reporting line for KM.
  • The most popular reporting line (20% of respondents) is for KM to report directy to senior management. 
  • The second most common response (16%) was “Other” – indicating that there are a vast number of reporting lines for KM
  • Third was Operations (12%)
  • Then IT (9%)
  • Then Strategy (7%)
Then there are a whole number of other options.

I tried cross-correlating these with the scores for “KM satisfaction” but there was no correlation – almost all the reporting lines were associated with a satisfaction rating of between 2.5 and 3 out of 5.

Respondents in the “Other” category include
  • Health and Wellbeing Division 
  • Knowledge which is different than L&D 
  • Different departments, depending on Business Unit 
  • Information Technology + Business transformation program 
  • Services coordination 
  • Finance 
  • Corporate Services 
  • Dual: COO and Firmwide 
  • Managing Partner – Legal 
  • Knowledge and Information Services 
  • Fire & Incident Management 
  •  Corporate 
  • Naac 
  • Executive Committee 
  • Dirección de Estudios 
  • Management and Coordination 
  • Corporate communications and Knowledge management 
  • Finance 
  • Audience in the CoP Meetings 
  • CEO 
  • Each Division has its own KM team and report to the director of division 
  • Customer Support 
  • Research Analytics and Knowledge 
  • enabling the delivery of products and services to customers through long term strategy, planning, and infrastructure delivery. 
  • Sport Science and Medicine Director 
  • Customer services entral Services – Information Management 
  • Innovation and academic development 
  • KM 
  • Business Systems 
  • Business Services 
  • Business Development & Wider Knowledge function 
  • Quality and Operation department 
  • Distributed model – embedded within organizations 
  • Technical Services 
  • Corporate University
  • each department has its own KM strategy 
  • Management Development Department 
  • Private offices group (ministerial) 
  • Client Experience (formerly learning and development) 
  • Combination of several departments 
  • Directly to the Portfolio Management, 
  • KM and strategic projects team 
  • Corporate Resources 
  • all part-time and from diverse departments. 
  • Planning and evaluation 
  •  Secretariat Office of the Deputy 
  • Multiple projects flowing up to the Program Manager 
  • No clear ownership – is integrated into our business, not even named up as KM 
  • My organisation is within IT. However, we have way more mature KM organization lead by an Ex. Dir. which is part of the manufacturing division. R&D is also starting something more formally. 
  • Education Research 
  • Business Excellence 
  • Safety 
  • HSE…. Portfolio Division 
  • Future Business Enablement 
  • Policy analysis & Research 
  • Professional Services and Technical Support 
  • The name of my function is Technical Excellence and it is a corporate function. 
  • It could be classed as Business Improvement,  Separate reporting line, Strategy. Performance 
  • Policy 
  • there is no KM role as such for the company as a whole – we report to the CLO 
  • Consumer 
  • Market Insights and Business Intelligence teams 
  • HR and Engineering dept/division 
  • Strategy, innovation and risk management 
  • Monitoring, Evaluation, Accountability and Learning 
  • Science Group 
  • Perfomance 
  • Planning and Evaluation 
  • Management 
  • Administration 
  • Technical planning and projects 
  • volunteers and strategy 
  • Corporate Resources 
  • Education and quality 
  • Institutional partnerships 
  • Corporate Services 
  • Capability and Service Managemnt 
  • I answer to the Service Line Leader 
  • Supply Chain 
  • Customer operations director 
  • Corporate Development

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Knowledge Management in the corporate Code of Conduct – Example

One powerful enabler for Knowledge Management is a clear statement from senior management. Here is an example.

Medco Energi is a publicly listed Indonesian oil and gas company, founded in 1980. Winners of a MAKE award in 2007, they have had a KM program in place for many years, led and supported by my Knoco Indonesia colleague, Sapta.

Medco Energi has done something quite unusual in terms of Knowledge Management Governance, which is to put Knowledge Management within their “Good Corporate Guidelines and Code of Conduct”  document, dated 2014. 

Within the Code of Conduct we can find the following:

Knowledge Management Knowledge management is a set of proactive activities with the aim of supporting the organization in developing, integrating, disseminating and implementing its knowledge. 

Knowledge management is a continuous process to understand the organization’s need for knowledge, the location of knowledge, as well as the process for improving knowledge. The goal of knowledge management is to increase the organization’s ability to perform its key processes effectively.  

Knowledge management requires commitment to advance the organization’s effectiveness, in addition to improve opportunities for its members. 

Thie current focus seems to be on sharing knowledge externally, as the code of conduct goes on to demonstrate, with the following guidelines on external knowledge sharing:

Participation in Lecturing, Training, Radio and Television Broadcast 
MedcoEnergi encourages its employee to give lectures or participate in training or radio and television broadcasts. However, prior to engaging in such activity, employee must obtain the approval of his/ her Line Director if he/she use document and information relating to MedcoEnergi. The employee is permitted to receive remuneration from such activity. If an employee acts as a representative of MedcoEnergi, he/she then must report any received remuneration to his/her direct supervisor for further deliberation.  

Publishing of Articles or Books 
Every employee is permitted to publish articles in journals, daily newspapers, magazines, or other print media and/or publish reports and/or books without affecting the working time. Any profit from and copyright of publications that is not related to MedcoEnergi shall remain the property of the employee. In the case of writing, where the employee uses documents relating to MedcoEnergi, he/she must obtain the approval of his/her Line Director prior to publishing the article and the copyright of the published article or book shall become the property of MedcoEnergi.

Even with this purely external focus, it is still good to see KM as a significant Code of Conduct item.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Expectation, metrics, rewards, support – the KM Governance quartet

Four elements make up Knowledge Management Governance. Expectations, metrics, rewards and support.

Governance is often the missing element in Knowledge Management, and although it is one of the four legs on the KM table, it is the one that gets least attention.  This is partly because governance is not easy, and partly because there is no clear published model for KM governance.

Governance represents the things that the organisation does, and the management of the organisation does, that drive the KM behaviours and adoption of the KM Framework. We see four elements to governance – expectations, metrics, rewards and support.

Knowledge Management Expectations.

The first thing management needs to do in terms of governance is to set the expectations for KM. This requires a set of clear corporate expectations for how knowledge will be managed in the organization, including accountabilities for the ownership of key knowledge areas, and the definition of corporate KM standards, KM principles and KM policies. These documents should tell everyone what is expected of them in Knowledge Management terms.

Different departments can then add to these expectations, and individuals with KM roles will have KM expectations written into their job description (see examples here).  Within a project, the expectations are set by the Knowledge Management Plan.  Expectations may also be set using the competency framework.

If there are no clear expectations, nobody will know what they should be doing in KM terms.

Knowledge Management Metrics.

If standards and expectations have been set, then the organisation needs to measure against these expectations. For example, if the corporate expectation is that every project will conduct a lesson learned session, and every knowledge topic has an owner, then you should measure whether this is happening.
There are other types of KM metric as well – see these blog posts for more discussion.

If there are no metrics, then nobody will know what people are actually doing in KM.

KM rewards and recognition.

If you are measuring people’s performance against the expectations, then this needs to be linked to rewards and recognition. If people do what they are expected to, this should be reflected in their rewards. If they don’t do what is expected, then there should be a sanction. See these blog posts for a wider discussion of incentives.

If there are no links between metrics and reward/recognition, then nobody will care about the metrics. Particularly important are the sanctions for not doing KM. If people can dodge their expectations and get away with it, then this sends a strong message that the expectations are actually options, and not expectations at all.

Knowledge Management support

It is unfair to set expectations, measure people against them, and then reward people based on these measures, unless you make the expectations achievable in the first place. Therefore you need to set up the systems, the training, the coaching, reference materials and so on, that make it possible for people to meet their expectations.

If there is no support, then you have set up an unfair system which people will resent.

Together, the quartet of Expectations, Metrics, Reward/recognition and Support form the basis of an effective Knowledge Management governance system.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

What the NASA CKO said about KM policies

Knowledge Management policies are still rare, and opinion on them is divided. Here is what the CKO of NASA said about the topic.

Image from Wikimedia commons

Knowledge Management policies are coming.

When the ISO KM standard is in place, next year or the year after, a KM policy becomes a requirement under the standard. This requirement is not unique to KM – all the ISO Management System standards reauire a policy. After all – can an organisation be said to have adopted a management system if there is no policy?

However many people are resistant to KM policies. “Added beauracracy” they say. “We have a strategy – we don’t need a policy” they say. “We are getting by OK without one” they say.

The NASA CKO, Ed Hoffman (now retired from NASA) used to be similarly sceptical, but is now a big convert. Here is what he says on the matter.

“A policy sends a number of messages.

First, it declares that we, as an organization, recognize what’s important.

Second, it identifies a community of people who are held accountable for taking action.

Third, a policy indicates that the organization and its leaders want to make sure things are done the right way. It sets a course without being overly prescriptive.

Fourth, excellent organizations make a practice of communicating what they really stand for”.

This is hard to argue with really. The policy is “a statement of what we really stand for”, and if you don’t have a policy for KM, do you really stand behind the topic?

The NASA KM policy is not a top-down mandate but establishes a federated approach for governance of knowledge.  As the CKO says

“Each center and mission directorate will develop its own strategy, with the understanding that knowledge will be shared across the agency to the greatest extent possible. The policy unifies these efforts.

I am optimistic that the knowledge policy represents a significant step toward helping NASA achieve its potential as a learning organization. We have built a community that shares a commitment to sustaining NASA’s knowledge resources, and we have charted a course toward greater integration across the agency.  

If you have been doing Knowledge Management for a few years – if you feel that KM is becoming embedded in the organisation, but needs greater integration and greater commitment – then your next step is probably to craft a Knowledge Management Policy

View Original Source Here.

Validation in Knowledge Management

Any knowledge management framework needs to address the issue of Knowledge Validation.

I have an old video of Professor John Henderson, where he says “every Knowledge Management system I have seen, addresses the issue of Validation”.

Validation means a process to say “this is good quality knowledge. It’s not opinion, or conjecture; it is justified and valid. It has the stamp of approval. We can trust it”.

If Validation is important, and I believe it is important, then who validates? Who “signs off” on Knowledge?

There are multiple approaches to this:

  1. Validation by an individual, where a single person has validation sign-off. You see this in organisatuions where people with technical authority sign off on standard procedures.
  2. Validation by a group of individuals. Think of the aviation industry, where new knowledge gained through indicent investigation is used to update pilot chekclists, but only after sign-off by the manufacturer anthe aviation authorities.
  3. Validation by a community of practice. Here a community of practice collaboratively agrees (perhaps through the use of online discussion and/or a wiki) on the validity of knowledge. 
  4. Validation through experience and use.  Again you might expect a wiki to be self-correcting, as the knowledge is validated through use. However you need to make sure that the knowledge is based on evicence, not opinion, preference, prejudice or hearsay. We hear a lot about “evidence based policy” in Governament, or “evidence based healthcare” in the medical world, and often an individual or group is accountable for reviewing the evidence, which moves us back to option 1 or 2 again.

The more we see Knowledge as being community property rather than the property of any one individual, the more tricky the issue of validation becomes. Here are some thoughts about which approach to choose under carying circumstances.

Firstly, there is the issue of the important of the knowledge itself. The more important it is, the more of a life-end-death issue it is, the more validation becomes the provenance of a single person or a small group of experts. This is partly for purposes of accountability. Single-point accountability, in business and government, is the cornerstone of good governance and ultimately, good performance. Without single point accountability for processes, organisations have no means of ensuring that what have been determined as the goals for the organisation are likely to be met. So let’s imagine knowledge of Nuclear Power Plant construction. If you want good performance in Nuclear Power Plant construction, then validation of the knowledge requires single point accountability. One person must sign off, generally using a Community of Practice or a smaller Community of Experts as an advisory board.

If the knowledge is of lesser importance, then the Community of Experts can take a collective accountability, and validate the knowledge themselves. If single-point accountability is not so important, then let the group decide.

Where experience and evicence is widespread and dispersed, then a Community of Practice may act as a better validatory mechanism. You could give the users of the knowledge some sort of “voting rights” on the knowledge, so they can vote on what is useful, and what is valid. You would end up with a CoP validation process. This is only possible when the Community Members are experienced enough to be able to validate. Take a community of amateur bakers, validating the best recipe for Victoria Sponge. A community voting process to define the best recipe would be very effective.  In other cases, the CoP members may be largely inexperienced, and lack the capability to make effective validation judgments. A poll of tabloid newspaper readers regarding the validity of newspaper horoscopes might not give an answer that was consistent with scientific study, for example.

So when you are addressing the validation issue, ask yourself who knows enough to validate, who can weigh up the evidence, and whether there needs to be single point accountability.

View Original Source Here.