“Switch” Your Thinking

Just recently, I attended a presentation by Dan Heath covering the tenets of his new book: Switch. Focused solely on how to make change happen, I was struck by the simplicity of the methods. Heath spoke about balancing appealing to the rational and emotional sides of the brain as well as ensuring one’s environment is clear of obstacles.

Simple but powerful. This got me to think about appealing to emotion in the workplace to inspire change. I agree with Heath that we make change decisions, generally, with our emotions not necessarily through logic.

If we were totally rational, then none of us would drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes because, logically, we know they are bad for us. My father is a borderline diabetic and when the doctor told him he was not allowed to eat doughnuts because of their lack of nutritional value, my father quickly countered with: “But, what about their emotional value.”

In the workplace, would appealing to emotion work on enterprise-wide changes, like technology implementations? How would we appeal to emotion to get people to submit stories to our knowledgebase?

I think for years I’ve been trying to rationally sell people on the benefits of sharing – reuse, saves time, better quality product, more collaborative, even increased sales but I wonder about selling on emotion. What would that look like?

Heath relayed a purchasing story where the company’s new head of procurement gathered all the 350 different kind of gloves their plants were independently buying and brought them to a leadership meeting. This was his argument for centralizing purchasing. When the leaders saw all the different gloves and the fact that they were paying different prices for the same glove, they make the switch.

COuld we do the same with storytelling and sharing content? Could we gather all the disparate selling techniques and products we produce to demonstrate how one could have benefited from the other? Would this convince people to start sharing? Hmmm….that might be something I try.

Tag and Ye Shall Find?

MagnifyingGlassI just read a good summary of taxonomies (formal, forced-choice method to categorize information) vs. folksonomies (organic tagging method to organize information) in KM World; this author felt they were not equal and definitely not interchangeable. I am really glad someone has formally stated that.

Tagging does not necessarily create a repeatable, easy-to-find organizational structure. Tagging is great if your objective is to raise the most popular items to the top, which might work for certain organic sharing like in forums, blogs or social network sites. I have played with both and have found that there still is a need to have a standard classification method to help people find information especially for formally published items, like documents.

Now, that standard taxonomy must be maintained, reviewed and updated to reflect new products, programs and vernacular within an organization. Too often, a taxonomy is set and forgotten about until five years later no one can find anything because a product is no longer called “value statement” but, rather, “value proposition”.

One way to compensate for those changes is to create a synonym in your search tool so that they equal each other. This is why I am such a big fan of search. However, in the workplace, I have observed that many people prefer to browse over search.  Yet, in their personal lives, they would never browse the Internet, they use Google. This is a really astounding phenomenon to me and one that deserves a good deal of change management attention.

Until internal search becomes perfected, a sound taxonomy is needed but so is tagging. I still balance both. I ask users to select a formal category but also allow them to free-form tag the document as well. Those tags provide valuable insight into how people might search for information and how we may need to evolve the taxonomy!

Measuring Trust

I attended a Social Media Roundtable yesterday morning and the question of trust came right to the forefront of the cultural debate of why companies should use (or don’t use) social media. A lawyer can poke holes into any argument for or against social media but leaders need to instill a culture of trust in order to see success with social tools and collaborative processes. They need to understand the risk attorneys point out but, ultimately, it is a business decision as to how and when these tools can be used.

A fascinating study was presented at this Roundtable: Edelman’s Barometer of Trust. I never thought trust could be measured but this study shows that people are tending to trust “People Like Me” more than their leaders. I find this shift of placed trust very interesting. Is this phenomenon a result of social media or have people always trusted their peers and social media enabled that to happen?

I would argue with the dawn of social media, people suddenly feel like they have a voice…maybe for the first time at least in consumer circles if not at work. This feeling of desired empowerment is trying to make its way into the business world and so a great struggle ensues in some companies. People want more say and responsibility and some leadership teams are hesitant to trust their employees with decision-making and expertise sharing.

Presenting this barometer of trust idea to leadership may help fuel the business case for why we should integrate social tools into our work processes and communication flows. The command-an-control, top-down method of operating is fading. In the years to come, “People Like Me” will be influencing our decisions and shaping the way we work and share. What an exciting time to be in the middle of knowledge management and collaboration!

Is Working Together Harmful to Your Organization?

sandbox1I was behind on my reading when I stumbled upon an article in April’s Harvard Business Review, titled: “When Internal Collaboration is Bad for Your Company.” My immediate reaction was to buy up every copy and hide it from my leadership team. As I read the article, I understood the point Morten T. Hansen was making…essentially that sometimes collaboration takes up too much time and in fact eats into your opportunity cost of doing a project.

One of his main arguments is that forcing people to work across silos will only lead to turf wars and the time to tear down those silos will kill a project. That could be true but if you never attempt to tear down walls, those walls will grow higher and higher and stronger and stronger until one day, they will never come down.  Is that really a good operational strategy? 

I am really anti-silo. I believe that roles and responsibilities and domains should be clearly established within an organization to prevent turf wars in the first place. Oftentimes, to make a project or initiative successful, multiple domains need to work together. This is why allowing kids to play in the sandbox together is so important. Adults have to do the same thing in real life, and we are not great at it.  (Maybe we only fought over whose bucket the blue one was in our sandboxes.)

Hansen states that asking how can we get people to collaborate more is the wrong question. That instead, we should ask: Will collaboration create or destroy value? Value is exactly right. I agree that more collaboration does not necessarily equate to more value but I have yet to see a time where one person in his cubicle had all the answers.

Maybe not everything needs a cross-functional team assigned to move it forward but, at a minimum, sharing ideas and allowing others to have input will help manage change! That is something Hansen does not talk about in his article. Sometimes, collaboration isn’t all about the bottom line, although you can certainly set up measures to try and determine that. Collaboration is getting people to play in the sandbox, building off of one person’s idea and thinking through all the possible implications to a decision.  To me, that is invaluable.

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!

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)

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.

Should Knowledge Management be Defined Consistently?

This is a tough question to answer and my response may be met with some criticism. To gain a firm foothold in business…the answer should be yes. We should pick a direction and vision and go with it. That is what we SHOULD do but that may not be the best strategy.

I have held two “defined” Knowledge Management (KM) positions in my career (after spending 10 years in Training & Development) and while they had similarities, there were definite differences. I think KM is whatever the organization needs it to be.

Now, this is frustrating for KM and business leaders because we all can’t give the same elevator speech about what we do. Some may argue, if we can’t define ourselves as an industry, aren’t we vulnerable to cuts in a downturn? Not necessarily…I think by not having a consistent definition, we allow ourselves flexibility. And, in times like these, I believe that’s an important attribute to have.

As a KM Practitioner, under the KM umbrella, I have managed, at various times, the following activities:

CONTENT

Company Intranet / Web site; Document Management Technology, Processes and Policies; Information Security Policies; Records Management; SharePoint Technology Implementation and Support

COLLABORATION

Social Media (Blogs, Microblogs, Wikis, RSS Feeds, Social Bookmarking, etc.); Innovation and Idea Sharing; Communities of Practice; Best-Practice Sharing

COMMUNICATION

Internal Employee Communication; PR and Marketing; IM, Email, Blogs and other Communication Technology Tools

FACILITATION

Process Improvement; Performance Management; Strategic Planning; Learning & Development

So, is KM the “Miscellaneous” in an organization’s org chart? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. And, we, as KM Practitioners, need to embrace the ambiguity. Isn’t our tolerance for the “gray” and love of diversity the reason we choose this amorphous field?