Debate Over Learning Lessons and Capturing “Best”

KM imageAt our MW KM Symposium on Friday, a few of us had a lively debate over two cornerstones of knowledge management: capturing lessons learned and vetting “best” practices. While I don’t think we came to consensus on either topic, it was nice to actually discuss and challenge one another.

The debate over capturing lessons learned was centered around that focusing on only what went wrong never leads to what is right. That we should only focus on the positive, identify that and replicate it. I agree and disagree. I think there is still value in discussing what went wrong and then brainstorm on how to prevent what went wrong. And, that’s the key. Only capturing the “wrong” doesn’t do anyone any good but taking it the next step and realizing how to prevent what went wrong is a key part of sharing knowledge and not committing the same mistake over and over again.

I found it interesting that most of our debates centered around semantics and that semantics seem to play an awfully big part in pitching and clarifying knowledge management activities. “Lessons Learned” meant only focusing on the negative for one speaker; while myself and others felt that implied in “lessons learned” is learning. So, in a sense, we agreed that only focusing on the negative is not productive but talking about prevention and sharing how to prevent is learning and vital to any organization.

I presented the premise that we should enable people to simply share stories and not worry about setting up committees to review and vet “best” practices. If something is “good enough” it will meet the need of the person seeking the information to help them not start from a blank slate. That no longer do we have the time or resources to vet best practices. And, while there may be industries where there is truly one best way to do something, I contend those are really standard operating procedures and should be integrated into training manuals and process documentation. For other organizations, however, there may be lots of good ways to accomplish something. We should capture, serve up and let people decide and customize these practices for themselves and re-share to keep the sharing cycle constantly flowing.

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!

Return to Empowerment

KeysIn today’s tough environment, it is easy for us to go on lock-down and have leaders dictate to everyone not only what to do but how to do it. I urge all people managers, no matter what level, to resist that urge.

People are disengaged and demotivated enough with their friends and colleagues being let go on a quarterly basis, entire fields drying up, and unemployment benefits running out, without a manager suddenly going “micro” on them.

People are looking for ways to find their motivation in these times so the best way to help your people do that is to treat them the way you always have – with respect, listening to all new ideas whether they can be implemented or not, allowing them to problem-solve on their own without the dark shadow of management looming over their left shoulder.

Try not to commit these mistakes in tough times:

Start requiring ROI on everything I realize we need quick payback periods and we should always try to prove a return on an investment but we need to be reasonable. If we want to make capital investments, then, yes, require that. But, if an employee wants to start a new community or lunch n’ learn group that requires time not hard dollars, what’s the harm in letting them run?

Start requiring weekly activity reports There’s nothing more taxing than weekly activity reports. Try quick weekly status update meetings where people can report but also ask questions. Or, use social software, like a wiki, for quick and easy posts. Don’t make someone complete a complicated Excel spreadsheet when simple and quick will do.

Stop learning opportunities In times like these travel dollars are slashed and conference attendances become non-existent. I do think conferences need to explore more virtual opportunities but they are also providing discounts and even travel vouchers to get people in the door.  Don’t eliminate this!  However, maximize the investment by asking attendees to summarize their findings and report to a larger group what they learned. Ask them to network at conferences to increase potential prospects for your business. And, definitely, sign up for free webinars whenever possible.