Where Does the Corporate University Fit in?

4handsWhen I started my career in the Corporate Communication field more than 15 years ago, the hot debate was how can Corporate Communication and Human Resources, namely Training & Development, work together. Each function has a communication element to it. Obviously, Corporate Communication’s sole purpose is to communicate with the media, investor community, customers and, of course, employees. It was that employee communication arena that led to some turf wars back in the day. As I migrated into the Training & Development field, the attention turned to this newly formed function called Knowledge Management.

Today, there is confusion over how Corporate Universities and Knowledge Management & Collaboration functions interact. Where is the line drawn? Does KM “own” social networking or does that it better into a university model? Are we on the brink of another turf war or already in it?

Maybe. I see companies struggling with defining roles in this area. Learning & Development professionals attend conferences from ASTD and ISPI and learn all about how they should leverage social collaboration tools to further learning efforts. Knowledge Management professionals attend KM World and Gartner conferences to learn how they should leverage social collaboration tools to further knowledge sharing efforts.

Who’s right? They both are. I would argue that corporate universities should not “own” the administration or governance behind collaboration tools. While they can be used for learning purposes, they are also used for sharing and finding knowledge and information and increasing efficiencies in work processes…something much more aligned to the Knowledge Management function.

Some companies combine the KM and L & D functions to ensure alignment; however, that may or may not be necessary. Regardless, the silo that can exist between these two areas must be torn down and real conversations about where certain information gets stored (team workspaces, university website or other content management system) plus who will administer social networking and collaboration must be defined together.

In my opinion, corporate universities need to be the internal customers of the Knowledge Management team and consumers of this technology for their purposes…perhaps even champions or early adopters. These two groups need to clearly define roles, responsibilities and accountabilities accordingly. Otherwise, you could have two teams working on the same initiative in a vacuum, which leads to more turf wars!

Repeat after Me: “I Cannot Capture Everything!”

When people hear the term knowledge management, I immediately get two questions asked of me.

1) What do you do exactly? The answer to this can be completely different based on your organization and I won’t go into that here (maybe in later entry…check back in a few weeks); and
2) Since you’re in knowledge management, we need to capture all the knowledge of our people retiring; can you do that?

Too often, leaders expect knowledge managers to do just that…manage all of the knowledge within a team, project or person’s head even. The debate over whether or not the “management” in “knowledge management” is the right term has lasted ever since its inception in the 90’s. The word “management” conjures immediate thinking, and therefore skepticism, that I will capture and manage all of the knowledge in people’s heads.

In theory, I guess that’s the general idea but I usually answer this question with a question. Don’t you love it when people do that? Internal consultants are famous for answering questions with questions. Instead of saying “yes” or “no”, which I am always tempted to say “no” and would be right in doing so, I ask the question: “What is it you really need to know?”

It is impossible to capture everything a person’s knows! Heck, most people don’t know what they know let alone are able to articulate it without specific questions and prompting. This is why organizations need knowledge managers, among other reasons which I blog about.

I’ll never forget the time when I was with a training professional conducting a “knowledge transfer” session with a soon-to-be retiree, and she began by asking: “If someone were to do your job, what would they need to know?” I highly recommend against this approach. You’re asking the person to do the knowledge management work for you. Tell me “everything” you know. If you believe Dave Snowden’s approach, and I do, people only need to know what they know when they need to know it. And, in a interview with a training professional is not when they need to know it but rather when they are on the job.

A better approach is something I saw in May’s Inside Knowledge Magazine….the Knowledge Prioritization Matrix (put forth by Tom Young of Knoco). A conversation with leadership to determine what knowledge is high risk of leaving and is irreplaceable should be what you focus on. Once that is determined, then you can target your questions to the expert in more detailed and concrete terms that will generate real answers usable by someone else. This coupled with actual job observation and on-the-spot questions will get you valuable knowledge capture, which is the real purpose behind knowledge management.

Want True Collaboration? Wikify!

The most common question I get about web 2.0 tools is when should we use a wiki? I find this question most interesting. Even though Twitter has been around a lot less time than wikis, it seems like companies have figured out Twitter’s place in their tool box but wikis are still a head-scratcher.

We are so document-centric that it is difficult to understand how wikis could or should fit into the content management – collaboration puzzle. With most wiki software, you can attach files to a page within a wiki but I would not recommend using a wiki as a primary document storage vehicle. Instead, wikis are the ultimate collaboration tool, in my opinion.

When we think of the word “collaboration”, we think of working together, co-creation, teams and even innovation. Wikis are the perfect tool to enable the process of collaboration but require TRUST. To change others’ content, the users of a wiki need to trust each other that if something he or she wrote is deleted or edited, that the person making the change knows better. We also need to have thick skin to accept those changes. Most of us have come a long way from getting deflated at the sight of intimidating red ink our school papers, but one needs to foster a culture that can handle true co-creation just in case!

There can be no ego when using a wiki. Titles are checked at the door when you log in and every person’s opinion counts. If your culture does not accept this then wikis will be difficult to implement but not impossible. Sometimes, it takes new tools like this to prove efficiency and creativity to actually change a culture from being overly hierarchical to more collaborative.

The process requires commitment; the satisfaction is realized in the end result of a great piece of work co-created by many qualified minds. Below are some great applications for wikis:

  • Company Policies: collaboration on a small team (usually Legal and/or HR)
  • Training Guide: collaboration among a specific discipline or management level
  • Lessons Learned Repository: collaboration among one or more project teams
  • Best-Practice Language: collaboration among a project team (document assembly on the cheap)
  • Knowledge Capture/Transfer: collaboration among retiring / exiting population and future population
  • Institutional Knowledge Base: collaboration across the enterprise (great for acronyms, definitions and resource sharing)

Is Records Management the Same as Knowledge Management?

Many organizations separate Records Management from Knowledge Management because they are seen as two distinct functions. There are many differences between the two – one is focused on retention and standards while the other is focused on collaboration and bubbling up good information for active use. However, there is certainly overlap in very important areas that businesses need to consider. Organizations that separate the two functions could be taking on risk they may not have planned for.

At a minimum, Records and Knowledge groups need to be talking to each other if not organized on the same branch of the org chart. They are two sides of the same legal coin; they both facilitate and manage content – content that should be findable by people in their organization and can be discoverable in a lawsuit. Search and e-Discovery are booming businesses today and both functions need to work together to establish policies and processes to provide for both.


Here are some key strategies to ensure findability and discovery needs are met:Establish lifecycles for each type of content. A sales proposal may be a good example of a current strategy and have a short lifespan in a Salesperson community but what if it leads to actual client work? Then, it should be formally versioned, archived and retained per the client agreement. Content lifecycles and uses are key elements to define together.

  • Define where each type of content should be stored. What should go in a community site vs. the Document Management system? Should client information be stored in the sales wiki or the CRM database? Where content should be stored has a lot to do with its lifecycle and purpose. For example, Facts and figures about a client should go into the CRM for people to find it; but where the client likes to play golf may not be essential but helpful information and could go in a wiki.
  • Set up governance and roles and responsibilities that naturally break along people, process and technology lines for the two groups. For example, Records should be the managers of standards, document naming conventions, lifecycles and policies; Knowledge should be responsible for community oversight and strategy, collaboration tools, sharing processes and capturing lessons learned. The two groups should collaborate on taxonomy development! Which leads me to my final point…
  • Mesh taxonomies to reduce confusion. Both groups should focus on taxonomy development and be aware of changes made. Knowledge people may feel folksonomies are more effective, organic and collaborative. Regardless, there will be a common vocabulary, common high-level categories, industry lists, client lists, however content should naturally be organized. These two groups must work together to ease the burden on the user. Having identical or very close taxonomies also helps if content from a document library on a collaborative space actually needs to move into a formal records repository.

Should We Be “Social” at Work?

Companies are aware of and understand they must embrace social media externally with their clients but also internally to engage their employees and inspire collaboration. However, some leaders are still wary of social media as a time-waster, and, despite the numerous companies we hear about everyday using social media, many companies have still not adopted it for legal and productivity reasons. They think their staff members will constantly be updating their Facebook status or tweeting and re-tweeting items all day long. But, what about using these tools or like tools behind the firewall for business purposes?

The fact is people want to communicate this way, and it’s not just for the younger generations. Seniors are the fastest growing population on Facebook. Whether you allow access to “Facebook” or you implement a Facebook-like application behind your firewall, this is an efficient, easy-to-use and engaging way to get people to share what they are working on, report on their availability for other projects and connect and build relationships with people inside the company. We used to encourage connecting with people at a training class or through the company softball team. This is no different; it just involves a computer or Blackberry to do the connecting.

Here are five steps to ensure “social” isn’t viewed as non-productive “socializing”:

  1. Don’t call your internal People Profiles tool “Facebook”; call it “PeopleFinder”, “Connections”, “BluePages” (if you’re IBM). These may sounds similar but don’t conjure the “Facebook” image necessarily. Or, if you implement NewsGator Social Sites, call them “communities” instead. Brand it something that doesn’t imply these tools are a time-waster.
  2. Don’t necessarily call these tools “social media” when pitching them to senior leadership. Call them “collaboration tools”, “team builders”, or, better yet, “efficiency enablers”.
  3. Establish business purposes for why tools like this are needed. A common one I’ve heard is: “The younger generations expect it, and if we want to attract talent we need to have these tools.” While this might be true, I have found that this isn’t always compelling enough as leaders often ask: “What about the 75% of our population that isn’t 23 years old?” Good reasons include: Understanding a person’s area of expertise and experience leads to better staffing of projects; being able to tell when someone is or isn’t available instantly saves time in making decisions or getting answers; connecting people to people speeds up problem solving and helps new people establish relationships faster thus decreasing their ramp-up time.
  4. Try to get one leader on your side. Determine who would be the most willing to not only approve and champion the effort but be one of the first people with a profile.
  5. To help with legal and leadership hesitations, create a decent policy around using these tools and ensure there will be a dedicated activity monitor. A Good Policy Example: IBM’s Social Computing Guidelines

Top Ten Myths about Social Media (the last Five)

#6 People will never adopt these tools; they like email too much. People still love their email. As much as people complain about it; they can’t live without it. Adoption of social tools is not automatic, which is why you need a purpose, a plan and some marketing and communication behind them. But, the benefits of instantaneous, not having to remember or create emails groups is very appealing. Even employees without computers are getting in the game. Truckers now use their mobile devices to update their status and respond to questions from fellow truckers. You couldn’t take that away from them if your tried!

#7 People don’t need any training; everyone knows how this stuff works by now! Despite all the hype, some people really don’t know how to navigate the tools or are afraid to try. Holding a virtual lunch n’ learn is not a waste of time to remove any barriers and get people started.

#8 Social media adds too many channels to an already complicated communication picture. Yes…social media do add more tools to what might be a heavy toolbox. The question should be: what can social media tools enable you to do that others can’t? Can you replace some of your existing tools with social media? Are you using a custom-built executive blog that a different technology could remove some of the manual work and enable others to join the blogging experience. Could a wiki decrease confusion that a project folder on a shared drive causes today?

#9 Every company HAS to have social media no matter what their challenges; it is the wave of the future. While I sort of believe this viewpoint for many reasons, I do think defining your needs and deciding whether or not social media meets those needs is the proper methodology. If shared drives or SharePoint sites really meet your needs, then maybe you don’t have a good business reason for starting wikis, and that’s okay. It’s about solving business problems, not just implementing the latest craze. However, if a company’s need is around collaboration, social tools are a perfect solution.

#10 Social media is a time waster.Even though social media is pervasive, a lot of leaders still feel it can be a time-waster and, therefore, block access to consumer sites and discourage the use of blogs internally except for managed leadership ones. Your employees are engaging with these tools anyway, and forcing them to do it on their mobile devices on lunch doesn’t help. Why not empower people to jump in on conversations on behalf of your company? And, using these tools behind the firewall won’t waste time…just the opposite. With its easy interface and instantaneous delivery, these tools SAVE time.

Final Note: When economic times change, people will have more employment options, and I think access to these type of tools and resources will matter to those seeking opportunity.