Why Knowledge Isn’t Sufficient

Almost ten years ago I came to talk with a dear colleague who I hadn’t seen for a while. I think it was in October or November. She asked me what kind of project I was working on and I told her: I’m bailing out of the project I’ve been working on for almost two years, before my CV goes stale. As a consultant in a fast-moving area of expertise, I have to ensure a constant flow of new experience and professional growth. What will you do next? She said. I have no idea what the new year will bring. It’s exciting! I replied. What about you? We’ve just lost the contract I’ve been working on for many years and I have no clue what to do after New Year. I’m devastated!

There we were, in very similar situations with opposite reactions. How could that be? It was too big a difference to be explained only by me being a stubborn optimist. We ended up talking for the better part of an hour.

After a while we started to realise that it was about Knowledge vs. Skills.

Her professional standing was (apparently) founded on Knowledge, at least in her own mind. On her expertise in a specific field – a technology used only in parts of the retail business and where she had always worked with one client, her ex-employer. She was afraid that her knowledge wouldn’t easily be applied to other customers or other types of business.

My professional standing was founded in Skills: Structured problem solving, planning and facilitating workshops, requirements elicitation and management, communication orally and in writing etc. All capacities that can easily be transferred from one context to another. From one client to another. In any business. The hallmarks of a Jack of all trades (let’s forget about the second part of the expression for now, will we?).

Recently, I discussed the episode with a couple of bright and eager students and I decided to put letters on screen (or whatever “pen to paper” should be nowadays).

It is obvious to most of us that skills and knowledge are different, but how often do we think of just how they are different? And of what the consequences are?

  • Skills are less dependent on context than knowledge is, and therefore easier to transfer – as shown in my story.
  • Knowledge can be learned, through reading and courses. Skills are different. You may be borne with them but they need practicing to reach perfection.  They are not found in any book, for sure.
  • The half-life, the “best before”, of knowledge is shorter than for skills. New circumstances, new technologies, new business practices can quickly make your knowledge obsolete, while skills more easily can be applied in new contexts

So what are the consequences of these differences?

  1. Most of us have realised that we need to be learning constantly to stay ahead in our times of frantic change, but if we only learn new knowledge, the need for learning is greater and more pressing
  2. As skills take practicing, they are usually slower to develop. They take time and patience. And allowing for imperfection along the way
  3. Skills training doesn’t transfer as easily to e-learning as knowledge learning does. It takes more interaction to perfect, maybe remotely, but hardly with a system dialogue
  4. If you’re really fed up with your job but have a hard time imagining what to do instead, you are probably focusing too much on where you can apply your knowledge. Stop for a while to identify your strong skills and try to imagine where they can serve you well instead.

What do you think? Do you agree? Any similar experience? What if we add abilities to the mix, how do they differentiate from knowledge and skills (remember that English is only my second language  ;-) )

Social Change Communications

Seriously, I should rebrand this blog a “splog”, a sporadic blog! It’s been two and a half months since my latest blog post. Shame on me! I have to change my habits.

change-aheadTalking about change, let’s continue where I left off late August; changing change management. I promised then to expand on how an Enterprise Social Network (ESN) can facilitate your change management efforts.

Obviously, the inner circle can leverage a wide range of tools to make their work more efficient. They can develop and manage their plans in a community, share, comment and co-edit files to minimise confusion and effort duplication, they can discuss in a forum or in status updates and so on. But those things are a given. Let’s look instead at how the ESN can help the work outside of the change team and decision makers.

Let’s have a look at what you need for reasonably smooth, lasting change:

  • Understand the terrain – Face it. You will never understand the situation as-is as well as the people “out there”. Nor will you ever understand what their pains are or their aspirations. You need to get input from the field.
    • An ideation blog lends itself as well to gathering input – requirements – as it does to collect and evaluate ideas. Let people post their input, encourage others to comment to develop and refine. Ask them to vote to help you in your prioritisation
  • Clarity is key – Times of change are usually times of worry (at least by the people expecting to get impacted by the change). The main remedy is early, clear and frequent communications.
    • A blog (maybe a video blog) – is a perfect way to spread the word without risk for it getting lost in translation. Use blogs, early and continuously, to communicate the rationale, milestones and progress of the change programme
    • Wikis are great to post plans, new policies and procedures. The entire team can edit and they can be changed over time. As questions start to flow in, it’s easy for the team to create and maintain an FAQ in a wiki
    • If you happen to miss out on something in your blog or wiki, anyone can be allowed to comment, giving you a chance to fill the gaps, clear misunderstandings and kill rumours. Nice, ey?
  • Manage questions, manage worry – As I stated above, many get worried as soon as they hear a rumour of change coming. And worries is fertile ground for rumours.
    • Open forums allow people to air their worry and allows you to respond before they grow into rumours in email chains, at lunch tables or by the water coolers. As I mentioned above, the most frequent or most important questions could easily be turned into an FAQ, to simplify your response management.

Finally, if the change at hand involves acquiring or creating new units or teams, try to compare the effort of just pushing a button to create a community for that team or unit with restructuring and changing the navigation of your old fashioned top-down intranet with or asking an administrator to build a team site in clumsier tools than my favourite one.

Changing change management

In times of change, change management needs to change too.

I think we can all agree that we have never experienced such frantic change as we currently experience, at least not at such a world-wide scale. There may have been periods of rapid change before, but not spread widely across the globe in the way we currently see. Revolutionary ideas, technologies and trends seem to crop up wherever. And, through internet and our physical mobility, they can spread like wildfire across the globe.dust-1158884_1920

In this environment, if you stand still, you will soon be left in the dust, perhaps even reduced to a memory from days gone by.

That goes for change management consulting and consultants too.

Historically, change management has been about moving client organisations from an obsolete steady state….. to a new state, improved but still steady. That approach won’t fly any longer.

In todays environment of rapid and constant change, change management has to be about moving a client organisation from an obsolete steady state to a state of agility, a state of constant change readiness and development.

This is a much more fundamental change. Designing and implementing process changes, reskilling and reshuffling people just won’t do. Agility has to get engrained in the DNA of the organisation. Running a change programme without improving the capability of the organisation to change by itself is to short change your client. Honest consultants don’t manoeuvre to make clients dependent on them. They help clients to solve their own issues and to continuously improve.

If you’re familiar with me and my blog, you know what will follow and can stop reading here  ;-)

As improved collaboration and peer-to-peer communications of employees is a key factor to improve agility, enterprise social networks (ESN) should be leveraged or a be introduced in any modern change management effort; building bridges between silos, improving transparency and understanding of the organisation and of colleagues, boosting the capacity of catching signals of change or threat and the speed of relaying them to the right people, even if you don’t happen to know who they are, and ensuring that the leader’s messages on strategy and “state of the organisation” can be communicated without distortion throughout the organisation.

But there’s more. Not only do ESN enable the organisation to be more agile and resilient in the long run, they can also be leveraged to facilitate the change management effort. But more about that in an upcoming blog post.

Do you agree with me about changing from state A to state B is yesterday’s news? Any experience or difference of opinion to share? Please do, in the name of transparency and knowledge sharing.

Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – Bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

engaged_saleI started this series of blog posts by stating that as the wheels turn faster, people more important than ever before. Then people had better be more engaged than the souvenir lady in this picture. A person who merely “goes through the motions”, mindlessly, without engagement and whose mind is anywhere else than in the present, is unlikely make any positively significant difference. And without engagement, there will hardly be much innovation either.

This is the last blog post of six on the theme of the advantages for companies and their employees of collaborating and working transparently. The previous are:

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness – Through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation

These blog posts have been published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Spend some thought on this video by Steven Johnson about where good ideas come from (I’m sure he will appreciate you buying his book, btw)

Isn’t it exactly environments like these we want to create and support in our organisations? Like the coffee houses of the age of enlightenment and the Parisian salons during the Modernism era. Environments where people and ideas meet, both on purpose and by chance and where you can find both likeminded to collaborate with and different-minded to get inspired by. Since long, farsighted architects have created office environments to generate random meetings, but how do we do when associates are spread across great distances? How do we do to involve both customers, partners and suppliers?

My answer is not surprising: Through a transparent work culture and tools for online collaboration

In online communities, discussions and through following updates by colleagues, maybe especially those a bit on the fringe, your understanding of what the company and your colleagues actually do, as does the understanding of how you can impact on results. The probability of random meetings with ideas, knowledge and interesting people is multiplied. The foundation for both engagement and innovation gets much more fertile.

If you have special interests or ideas you want to build on, but lack resources or have knowledge gaps, it becomes incredibly much easier to find likeminded to grow those interests with or to put together a team of volunteers with supplementing knowledge and skills to develop those ideas further. A paradise for intrapreneurs.

Just think of something as simple but inspirational as feedback (potentially simple and inspirational, that is). Usually it something that employees get rarely, usually from their manager in a strictly orchestrated appraisal ceremony. Not very simple and definitely not inspirational. How inspirational isn’t it instead to suddenly get a Like from a distant colleague who you might be acquainted with, but not necessarily, on that presentation you just shared or on your blog post? Or when you see how many have downloaded that Excel-thingy of yours? Or receiving a suggestion on how to improve what you are currently working on – from someone “who’s done it” before? How much more inspiring and motivating won’t it get to develop and share your knowledge and experience?

Most companies who introduce online collaboration platforms do it aiming at efficiency, aa I wrote about in the blog post, Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience. I am certain that the long range boost in innovation and employee engagement is much more important, though.

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

What do you think of the value of employee engagement, innovation and what organisations can do to boost them?

Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels

8492516706_43789a9036_o
“Whisper” by ElizaC3

Do you remember when you played Chinese Whispers as a kid? One person whispers a message to a second person who whispers it on to a third who….until the last person tells everybody what he or she heard. The message used to be complete gobbledygook and you all had a great laugh. (What’s Chinese in that game, by the way?)

What was a fun game as a kid, is the default way of communicating in most organisations, at least in one direction. If it’s not the words of the leadership that get interpreted and distorted on their path to the employees, it’s the questions or attempts at communicating up the hierarchy.

This is the fifth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience
  • Effectiveness
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

bridge-285385_1920
Is this how employees see the future? Photo by Broin under Creative Commons CCo

In times of rapid change, you can’t afford doing Chinese Whispers for the leadership team to communicate to the employees where you’re heading, why and how to get there. You can’t afford, neither the time, nor because of the risk of the message getting filtered or distorted along the way. Adding to that, surveys done by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute show that “Leadership Future Vision” is the prime driver of employee engagement – for each and every year researched (2008-2012). You can’t afford to waste that potential either by not leveraging the possibilities available for clear and direct communications.

Current volatility and the frantic pace of change make communications in the other direction more important than ever. Partly to enable the leadership team to verify that their message has been received and understood,  partly for the employees to be able to ask for clarifications and supplementary information to make sure that they really have understood. But also to help the leadership to catch what’s happening “out there”, as I described in the third post in this series, about Agility. Having a whole lot of scouts out there is of little value if they cannot pass their observations on to the hub.

A good collaboration and networking platform provides all this, and more

By using blogs – text or video – leaders can broadcast their message to all employees directly and without any middlemen. Through commenting, employees can respond and ask questions if anything still was unclear to them. Since commenting is transparent, you can easily see if someone else has written what you had in mind and save time both for yourself and others by voting/liking on their comment, instead of repeating it. In this context, it is important that the leaders actually read and respond to comments. Anything else would be a waste of valuable feedback and jeopardise trust in that the leaders actually do care about their employees.

For simple grass root publishing, collaboratively, of more structured and lasting information, wikis are a splendid tool. Perfect for FAQ, policies, instructions and the like. Wiki pages can be commented on too. Upward communications has more facets but is made easier by the transparency achieved in a good collaboration and networking platform. For the leadership team to know what the employees think, which challenges they experience and need help with, which opportunities they spot and which trends they have spotted on the horizon… all they need to do is to listen. Maybe even by using social analytics software which are more common on external social networks. Listen to status updates, listen to forum discussions, listen to blogs, gather ideas and get them evaluated in ideation blogs. The possibilities are close to innumerable.

What do you think? Isn’t it upon time for employees not to have to fumble in the mists of insecurity and for leaders to get a chance to leverage all the information and experience that employees amass, instead of it getting stuck in mail chains or discussions around the water cooler? Do you have experience of your own to share?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organisation to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Efficiency – Easier to find and leverage experts and experience

If only I could build on top of what someone else has already done. Without having to start all over on square ONE!

Familiar feeling? When time has been short, the hour late or you’ve been struggling with something complex or boring that simply has to have been done before and be available somewhere.

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how greater transparency and online collaboration help us to dare to take on and resolve challenges and difficulties. In addition, it can help us save time. Time we can spend on something more useful.

This is the fourth blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

  • Overview – As the wheels turn faster, people are more important than ever before
  • Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction
  • Resilience – Bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges
  • Efficiency
  • Effectiveness – through more direct communication channels
  • Engagement, Inspiration and Innovation – bringing lasting value for both customers and employees

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

cartwheel
Is there better use of your time than reinventing the wheel? Again? Cartwheel, Ulster American Folk Park. Picture: Kenneth Allen, license CC BY-SA 2.0

Build on top instead of build again

An organization doesn’t have to be very big before you risk starting to reinvent the wheel, at least in small things. The larger the organization, the more frequently it happens and the greater the double work and confusion can get.

One hour of double work is forever lost. This can turn into an immense waste for companies and organizations where associates keep doing what others have already done, or parallel initiatives get started, simply due to lack of transparency.

Only three things are needed for this to start to work:

  1. That associates share their work products openly – and make them easy to find, eg. by proper categorization
  2. That they acquire the habit of first search for if someone else has “done it” before, instead of starting to produce from scratch
  3. That there is a system in place to support transparency and online collaboration

How you choose to spend the saved time is another story. If we’re talking about overtime work on evenings or weekends, I suggest you spend it with family or friends, or invest in your health and fitness. But when you save time within your work hours, you may manage to produce more, boost your competence (see Agility – More sensitive feelers and faster reaction in this series – about the easy of building competence in a transparent organization) or to let yourself be inspired to novel thinking and innovations, from all this knowledge and inspiration within easy reach!

In this video with Bosch AG, you can see how they increased efficiency through transparency, seeing some processes shortened from 40 days to 6!

Easier access to experts and to expertise both saves time and improves quality

The traditional view on experts leads to a few, officially recognized, experts in a few, formally defined, areas get overloaded, become bottlenecks and chokes availability of knowledge for the main body of colleagues who, instead, have to resort to spend time on searching among their closest colleagues without finding the really good answers. A grand recipe for both waste and sub-standard solutions.

In the transparent organization, focus tends to shift from experts – the persons, that is – to expertise -the knowledge, and the definitions of the areas of expertise are made from the perspective of the colleagues and the current needs of the business, not by leadership. From “Project Management Methodology” to “good methods to handle agendas and follow up of status meetings”, sort of. Expertise becomes more democratic, you could say. (Whoever can help me with pivot tables in MS Excel will be my expert and hero, but would hardly have been classified as such by leadership.)

Naturally, when expertise is defined “in the eye of the beholder”, when it resides with more people and becomes easier accessible – both from becoming easier to find in conversations and shared documents as well as through greater ease of finding and communicating with those in the know, the savings become substantial for both organizations and associates as well. In addition, it becomes much easier to deliver top quality and do the right things from the start.

Faster onboarding in new roles and projects

A frequent special example of advantages, is onboarding. Of new employees, of existing employees in new projects or in new roles. Since knowledge and history is easier to reach, people can become productive much faster, and more independently. Gone is “Can you please gather all mails and forward to Roger Rookie, please? Don’t forget the attachments, by the way!) Then Roger has to plow through old emails for a week or so. After someone else has sat for a week finding stuff to forward in their mail files and archives, looking for all the essential stuff in need of forwarding. (And how often do you find all of that, btw?)

Instead, it becomes:

“Roger, here’s the link to our team community with all information and history of this project. There’s an onboarding activity for you to work your way through, with links to defined processes, contracts and reports. In the forum, you can see how we’ve worked on the list of demands and understand why we’ve made the decisions made. And all minutes from the steering group are there too. Just let me know if somethings seems to be missing. By the way, you should join this open community for people in your new role.There, you can learn from colleagues around the world who work with similar things, but on similar projects around the world.

IBM uses social onboarding extensively, both for new hires in the groups Soon2BBlue and New2Blue, but also for integration of new employees from mergers & acquisitions.

How much faster do you think Roger may get – and feel – productive? Do you recognize the situation of having to reinvent the wheel? Or the relief of not having too? What defines and expert for you? When you need help, do you have to find the expert or is it enough to find the expertise left behind by him or her or o you have to find the person?

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organization to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.

Resilience – bouncing back from setbacks or daring to take on new challenges

Tougher together – How companies and their employees better can face setbacks and challenges through transparency and collaboration

Where should I stay and eat om my upcoming first visit to Madrid? How do I take a screen shot om my mobile phone? By which watering hole can I find animals to hunt? What did those poisonous berries look like, really? From the beginning of time, our best source of knowledge has been other people. We ask others for help or advice when our own knowledge, experience or skills fall short. Within the family, our village, our school, in Q&A columns of the papers, over the phone, on Facebook or on Twitter. But at work, who do we ask? And how?

This is the third blog post of six on the topic of benefits for companies and their employees to communicate transparently and collaborate online.

These blog posts are published in parallel in Swedish on the Smarter Planet blog of IBM Sweden

Old style

In old style companies we tend to ask our colleagues we already know for help, or maybe some manager. Usually live at the office or via email. How many times haven’t we sent an email to someone only to get an automatic reply that they are on holidays or in training and will be back in a week or two. Or that they pass your question on to someone else who send it to yet another person who in turn passes it on to a fourth person who replies, four weeks later The answer is available on the intranet. Just follow this link.

Does it feel familiar? It was for me, too. But no more.

Sharing and caring

Nowadays, I ask my question in a status update on our social intranet. Maybe I mention a couple of persons who I guess may have the answer or if I guess that someone in their network has it (as mentioning them makes my question appear also on their board, for their network) or in a suitable online community. Usually, I get an answer within an hour or two. I rarely have to wait longer than until the next day. I even share half finished sketches of presentations and documents, stating “I know that this isn’t quite correct and will appreciate any help to improve or any other views”. Such an amazing response I have received! From the foremost experts in the field among my 400.000+ colleagues. Compare that with “Johnny is on vacation and will be back in two weeks”. Every time, it feels as amazing and empowering to be able to get help, without even knowing who to ask. There always seems to be someone who knows, who has sufficient time or willingness to reach out to help. Admittedly, it does help to have a pool of many colleagues at hand, but the positive effects show also in smaller organizations. An open and helpful culture is more important to have than an ocean of colleagues. As is a culture where it is accepted that everybody cannot know everything. Asking is nothing to be ashamed of. Just imagine being able to close a deal or solve a problem with the help of a colleague who you might not know, but who knows what you’re facing and how to resolve it..

It may not even be necessary to get hold of the actual colleague. Often it is sufficient to find the knowledge and the experience they have shared earlier. Either intentionally through working transparently, sharing their documents, presentation and other whatsits. Or unintentionally through answering questions from others in the transparent way I’ve described above. The more transparently everybody works, the easier it becomes to find what you need to overcome the challenges. And you can always ask the author for explanations or supplementary information. We do not realize how much we do know and can share with intention. The rest surfaces when we help others.

With such support it doesn’t only become much easier to bounce back after a setback, but also challenging your limits becomes much easier too.

Boston_marathon_mile_25_helper_050418

By Pingswept (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.0] Helping a struggling runner at Boston Marathon

Enablers and obstacles

As mentioned earlier, a condition for this to work is that you have a culture of transparency, helpfulness and acceptance that everybody cannot know everything, of generously sharing your work products and of communicating transparently. And, as a fundamental enabler, that you have a collaboration and communication platform that makes all of this possible and that, through design, encourages and supports transparency rather than closing up.

The obstacles include, of course, a culture where you don’t dare to admit shortcomings, a culture of “withheld knowledge gives power” and without a sense of all working towards a common goal. But also technology can be an obstacle. Questions and answers via email benefits nobody except those involved in the correspondence (plus it takes much longer as I mentioned earlier, or results in an overload of many parallel conversations). The replies can’t be reused by others faced with the same challenge, but they have to search again for the people in the know who, in turn, have to answer the same questions all over again. Shared drives and closed team rooms do not create open collaboration either. They may be beneficial for those with access, but for no-one else. How many other team rooms with similar content do you think there may be in a large organizations, do you think?

Additional benefits for the company

The benefits for employees, described earlier, benefit their employers too, obviously. Employees being able to deal with challenges benefits the company too, of course.

But there’s even more in it for the companies:

  • As long as work is done in the old style, knowledge keeps being locked up with the individual employee. It’s locked up in their heads, on their hard drive or in their mail conversations. What happens if they disappear? The head disappears. The hard drive usually gets erased and the email on the server usually only resurfaces if it’s needed in a legal context. Remaining intellectual capital = 0. If employees work transparently, though, share their work and answer questions transparently, the knowledge stays within reach for all to use also after they have left. The dependency on the individual employee is reduced.
  • In addition, since the knowledge is easily available for re-use and you can Like what you have appreciated, since you can see the number of downloads and so on, you can easily see a de facto standard emerge, based on the benefits and appreciation of peers. Not bad, either, I’d say.

Do you have experience of your own of the difference of searching for help and knowledge in the old fashioned way and of doing it in a transparent organisation? Either inside your company or externally? Maybe in your personal life? I’d appreciate reading about it in a comment.

If you want to read more about how we at IBM look at online collaboration tools and transparency, I recommend you to read “The only constant is change”.  And if you want to read more about how to transform your organization to work more transparently, “Best practices for establishing a new way to work”.