Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Effective presentations

Today's a crazy day. It seems like everything that I've been working on is finally taking off, which is good. However, it seems like I'm in meetings all the time.

today's thought starts with a webinar I participated in on succession planning sponsored by an organization called Saba. Being incredibly busy, I was hoping to hear some very practical tips, with information I could use immediately. Unfortunately like most presentations I've seen recently, the presentation focused on why succession planning is needed, with little information on how to accomplish this.

Presenters need to ask themselves one question: What can participants use following the presentation?

This goes back to my definition of knowledge being "usable information." In terms of a presentation, can people take action based on what they hear? The background is nice, but the focus should be on usable information. In applying the 80:20 rule, 80% should focus on usable information.

Enough said for today.

Friday, January 21, 2005

Committing to KM

"What resources do you need to commit prior to embarking on a KM program? What do managers need to commit to, or as a KM professional what do I need to make them aware of." Not addressing this question up front has plagued many KM efforts. The solution in a box concept, buy the technology and you've got the solution, doesn't really work. You need resources to implement and maintain the solutions.

We've been fortunate to have management and a Board committee that recognizes this fact and has encouraged not only to add technology (like the CMS) but to included the support necessary to keep it going. We've been encouraged to develop long-term plans that describes the necessary resources.

A few examples of commitment here at AwwaRF

1) My position was created to make sure KM moves forward.
2) We have organizational strategic goals related to KM
3) Not only are we purchasing a CMS, we are hiring a full time system administer. Also, staff served on organizational teams to design the system.
4) I routinely meet with senior managers and report directly to our deputy director.
5) Our board is intimately aware of our activities.
6) We have an agreed upon strategy that is tied to our business plan.

Did we realize this commitment up front? The answer is easy, no! This has evolved over time following some small wins and lots of culture change. I knew we were in a good place when one of our board members said in regards to our KM strategy, "KM is just a cost of doing business."

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Have a problem? Discuss it ...

It never seems to amaze me, how many business conflicts can be handled by just talking to someone. Case in point, today an organization we partner with did not give our organization proper credit in an article. A series of e-mails flew and from what I could tell, a lot of feathers were ruffled and no satisfactory solution was not reached. In a brief conversation with my counterpart in that organization, she asked how could the problem be resolved. Within a minute we found a solution and everyone is happy.

In analyzing this, a couple of misperceptions became very clear -

1) They did it on purpose - What I found out was just the opposite, they were more than willing, all they needed was guidance on what we want.

2) It should be important to them - What's high priority and a large item to us, may not be the same priority to them. Individuals may be totally unaware of our perceived importance.

3) Sending an e-mail will resolve the problem - I'm amazed how problems escalate via e-mail. Words and tone via e-mail is subject to interpretation and in most cases the interpretation is negative. In talking with our management consultant I got the guidance that e-mails should be only for exchanging factual information. Exchange emotional charged information (i.e. potential conflict) in person or via the phone. It's OK to use e-mails to acknowledge someone.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Regrounding to the objectives

"You need to reground staff to the objectives of the KM effort" was one comment we received in a recent review of our KM program. Another comment was that we need to "differentiate between the CMS and the KM program, because there is a perception that CMS and KM are the same thing."

I was reminded of these comments today in a meeting. Four months ago we launched an effort to share research information between our technology transfer staff and different research units. We scheduled a series of meetings, with a different unit each month. Today was the last unit I shouldn't have been surprised that we spent the first half discussing the problems that led to the meetings in the first place.

This example reminds me of the importance of regrounding to the objectives at every chance. The objectives remain clear in my mind, because I live and breath this every day. For others in the room, this is just one small part of their job. The kick-off presentation (four months ago) was barely remembered. During the time it took to get the process moving forward the problems remained. Therefore individuals were constantly reminded of the problem, and forget about the solution we were working on. Also, in the interim, the "watercooler network" was active in discuss what is and what needs to be done, further graying the activity we were working on.

Now that the first round of meetings were successful, we need to show how this information was used and remind everyone of why we're doing this before starting round 2.

KM World presentation

Slides from my October 26, 2004 KM World presentation, "Fear Factor: Surviving KM Implementaion"are posted at:

Monday, January 03, 2005

Education and KM

Happy New Year - I just returned from 4 days in a mountain cabin with a group of educators. As you can imagine, there was a lot of lively discussion on how to improve the education system. I was struck with the similarities between the challenges educators face and KM for my organization. I'll give some of these below.

Teaching to core concepts - I remember being in school and trying to memorize the text book and the all the obscure facts that I'd never use or even remember after the test. However, what was important (and often overlooked) was the concept - how can this be used in every day life. The challenge to teachers and in KM is to separate the core concept from all the details. We want folks to learn how to do something, but we often focus on the minute details. It takes more work to teach the concept, first you must understand the concept yourself, then decide which details are not relevant, and finally to express the concept in some context that the student can understand. In science, our model is to produce at 150+ page report to describe our project. However, what's important could often be summarized in a paragraph or two and possibly a recipe or procedure that can be used. Also the controversy comes in interpreting the results. It's very safe describing facts and data, interpreting the results requires judgment, which is risky (and valuable).

Teaching to the individual (customization) - Each student is an individual and comes to the class with different strengths and weaknesses. My daughter is in first grade and is already reading on the 2nd grad level. How can the teacher, who has 25 other students, help my daughter advance while at the same time helping students who are below grade level? Students also arrive with different experiences, values, customs, etc. They view the information with the blinders of their past experience, i.e. the context of the information is different. The teacher must tailor the curriculum to the different individuals. This is equivalent to customization in KM, tailoring information to reach different individuals. With customization comes cost, it would be best if the teacher student ratio would be 1:1 and the teacher spent time in each students home to understand their learning context. In reality the ratio is 1:25 and the teacher meets the parents in quarterly conferences. This is related to resources (which includes qualified and motivated teachers). The odds can be improved somewhat through technology or training.

Experimental/ contextual learning - In college, I learned analytical chemistry by testing wines. We learned that different chemical components impart different flavors and through analysis were able to predict the tastes. Of course the high point of the class was tasting the wine to see if our predictions were on. In the business world, when we want to teach our staff something we write a procedure, manual or e-mail. Putting something on paper or e-mail doesn't mean that folks will learn it, what's missing is the learning process. The challenge is designing games or experiments that can be used in a business context. "Dumb games" (as they are described in our office) are effective means to organizational learning. These do push folk's comfort zone, which if you don't push them too far, makes them more open to learning, however, this uncomforted creates resistance. Using games does require a delicate balance and a lot of time in the planning and execution. There's a continuum in teaching/learning/level of effort/discomfort with written manuals or presentation on one end of the spectrum and experiments/games on the other end. The challenges is getting folks to have some emotional/contextual connection to the material.