Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A note for my future self on “where is Knowledge Management going”

In the past 20 years, I have been helping large multinational companies to create (human + digital) ecosystems which promote the flow of ideas/information/knowledge across boundaries. It is both an art and science to make it happen. It is never straight forward. This requires me/my team to exercise a combination of skills relating to agile strategic planning, user-centric design thinking, change management, communication & facilitation, networking, learning design, information management, analytics, and increasingly digital skill sets and mindset to make it happen. 

Some organisations name what I do “knowledge management”, others call it “collaboration”, “business transformation” or “digital transformation”. To me, it does not matter as long as it is creating value to the company, the employees, the customers and stakeholders. 

Today, I reflected on my journey and asked myself, what are the top 5 questions/muddles/puzzles I have about the field I love, and I wonder where KM is going next. 

I noted down 5 questions and I like to share with my future self (and with my blog readers):

1. Has KM changed? Dead and then rejuvenated? Is it the same old same old as we were doing 20 years ago? Have we innovated enough to stay relevant?

2. The ISO KM standard is coming soon, what does that mean? Should we be happy or should we be worried? Is that an opportunity or a threat? 

3. There has been a lot of buzz about design thinking, agile methodology, putting users at the centre, creating personae and journey maps, participatory approach to engage with target audience and listening to users’ needs to design solutions. KM professionals have been putting users in the centre to design our services at least in the past 20 years, can we be more visible and share our expertise in this space? 

4. Technology changes so fast, companies are facing constant disruption. Blockchain, AI, machine learning, advanced analytics are coming into the picture. Have we given enough thoughts on which part of KM services can be automated versus which part require human curation, emphathy, insights and judgement to create value to our users? Have we used analytics to inform the next best steps to add value to our users?

5. With the craziness of the speed of change, what skills and competencies are required for KM professionals? Should we focus on upgrading (technical and soft) skills or upgrading our capability to adapt, change and learn? And even more, should we be upgrading our capability to help our organisation to upgrade its capability to adapt, change and learn? 

I wonder what my answers would be when I look back in a couple of years time. 

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Knowledge Management in disguise: What do I do?

My best friend came to London for a study tour and she stayed with me in my London home. 

On the first night of the reunion, she asked me “Bonnie, what do you do at work? Are you still working in Knowledge Management? I am not sure what I tell my study tour mates when they ask me what you are doing?”

Such a great question. A lot of things come to my mind, as I reflect on my career. 

What do I do? 

1. I find ways to promote knowledge flow across boundaries for multinational companies. 

Typically this means creating information and comms systems, defining processes, nurturing communities/networks, putting in roles to allow employees (or customers) to easily access experts/knowledge to get their work done. 

As knowledge resides in people’s heads, in the relationship between people/team, and in documents usually sitting in some systems, I am seen as “a learning facilitator, communication facilitator, story-teller and story-collector” to “a digital person who knows about social media, build intranets, knowledge base, enterprise social collaboration platforms”.

Some colleagues think my work relates to IT. 

Other colleagues think my work relates to communication. 

Some colleagues think my work relates to new style informal and social learning. 

2. I find ways to take people on a journey to embrace a culture of knowledge sharing. 

Every time I kick off a Knowledge Management programme (or whatever name the company use), one of the key mandate is “our company need to build a knowledge sharing culture, and break down the silos”. 

Do I have magic to mandate people to change? Of course no! I do have experience designing user-centric participatory workshop to engage with people of all levels, listen to their stories, play back their stories for them to self-reflect and see the point for themselves to take small steps to change. 

Some colleagues think my work relates to culture change. 

Other colleagues think my work relates to employee engagement. 

3. I study people’s needs, pains and dreams in order to design systems that are relevant. 

Influenced by Dr Brenda Dervin who has been my mentor since my doctorate research days (1996-2000), I have been applying Sense-Making Methodology to research people’s info/knowledge needs in real-life context. 

After gathering the user stories, I create personas, user journey map, analyse the gaps and strengths, and use the insights to co-create the “to be” KM systems with the users. I work out loud, I seek frequent input on unpolished design/ideas, I invite criticism, I make quick changes, and I rapidly fine-tune the solution.  And I am impatient, I would like to turn ideas into a working product quickly, and failed fast if needed. 

Some colleagues think my work relates to agile and design thinking. 

I am wary they are buzz words. To me, these concepts are not new. 

4. I practise strategic knowledge management. I work with senior executives to create knowledge-driven business strategy. 

Simply speaking, the senior executives and the Board have to recognise that improve knowledge flow can increase performance and is a key enabler to deliver the business strategy. 

This is not always the case or possible. Reflecting on my career, it is usually a visionary CEO/CXO who believes in it, and open the door to make it happen at the right time. 

Practising strategic KM means staying business-focus and speaking the business language. It starts with asking: “Knowledge is everywhere, with limited time/resources, for this company to achieve its business vision, what are the truly “critical knowledge” that has to flow, to be managed and protected? What should we do now?”

The answer is guaranteed to be different for different companies and sectors operating in different contexts. That is why strategic KM can never be boring. 

Because of this aspect of my work, some colleagues think my work is in strategic consulting and business transformation. 

So... what do I do? 

My work is multi-dimensional, multi-disciplinary and involve working with multiple business stakeholders. I don’t think KM sit in a box. 

Sunday, March 11, 2018

What assumptions do you make when designing human-centric practices or systems?

In this article published in KOSMOS Journal for Global Transformation (Winter 2017) titled “Luminal Leadership”. 
The author Nora Bateson wrote “the illusions of our system crumble, each grouping of ideologies is ossifying in their own particular frequency and becoming less able to hear the others. The sense-making apparatus of our culture is losing its grip. (...) But short of a fundamental reorganizing of embedded assumptions of life and being alive, humanity may not make it. So, are we ready?”
I believe it is going to be hard work and requires a lot of discipline. It is not impossible, and it will be a journey. 
As a start, I/we make a lot of assumptions when designing human-centric practices/systems (in organisation or in society). We have to be clear what assumptions do we draw on about human beings, about the gappiness of realities, about existing power structure, and how human beings make sense and mov-ING in between the cracks. There are many theories out there. One that has been developed in the past 40+ years by Dr Brenda Dervin called Sense-Making Methodology (SMM) is one that I found most useful. SMM makes explicit these assumptions, and Dervin’s research systematically apply a set of theoretically-informed methods to “listen to one another” whilst recognising that human beings tend to be habitually locked into their own world of nouns (eg ideology, role, function, gender, culture,...). 
For those who are interested, it is impossible to elaborate her 40+ years of work in a few paragraphs. Here is an older article which I co-write with Dervin:
With Dervin’s permission, I am happy to share some more articles to see if that helps to develop your thinking further. Feel free to get in touch. 

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Company-wide culture change (evolution): is it an art form, corporate bluff, or is there a coherent methodology to guide practices?

I was reading this Guardian article on New Year's Eve

The article looks back at the management history which gives me some inspiration on how to improve organisation life in 2018, and how best to evolve an organisation culture. (Note: I intentionally not use the word "change" the organisation culture, because this implies a non-communicative top-down push approach to change people, more on this point later in the blog). 

Quoting the article, "If we hope to improve organisational, then a good place to start is by reducing the amount of bullshit our organisations produce. Business bullshit allows us to blather on without saying anything (...) As we find our words become increasingly meaningless, we begin to feel a sense of powerlessness."

I agree with the author, this does not need to be the case. Company wide culture change cannot and should not be fluff that is filled with meaningless words. The issue I like to think through Is "how" to design culture program in a coherent, practical and repeatable way (that is not based on a cookie cutter recipe)? 

I try to experiment and practice in my corporate life the following:

- Instead of using "big words", I find ways to have genuine dialogue with my colleagues, to understand one another the purpose of our jobs, why we think/behaviour in certain ways at work, where we struggle, where we could help one another, and sharing our dreams. 

- And, I know I must be pragmatic, knowing that to achieve this "utopian" level of exchange, I  must overcome some thorny challenges. The deep sharing won't happen by chance, certainly not through spontaneous conversation, it has to be done by design. I am mindful that there are experts (people-in-power, thought leaders, bureaucrats, nice people) who will intentionally or unintentionally silence the voice of those who are not like them, and so not all the colleagues are willing to speak up, and many voices and passion will remain hidden. They become labelled as the " uninitiated group" who are not willing to embrace change. 

- Spontaneous communication seems easy, nice to do. Let's have a meeting or run a townhall to talk about culture change! Let's have an interactive training and knowledge exchange session!  Talking and sharing always make people feel involved. This is not what I am talking about here. Meetings and talking shops do not mean building deeper understanding, nor would the quality of exchange lead to better informed decisions to change things for the better. 

- I believe there is a need to have genuine conversation to share ideas and knowledge  - based on equal status that everyone has something to offer, there is give-and-take, based on a fundamental belief that coming out from the conversation, everyone involved experience some changes  - and I believe one has to put in extra effort to attend to power issues if we want to communicate in a communicative way. It is really hard, it requires deliberate practice and deliberate interventions, communication procedures. And ithey form the core foundation methodolody to design any company-wide culture evolution program. 

- I constantly remind myself: if I want to play a part to evolve the company culture, I should start by changing myself, not changing others. The first step is to change the way I facilitate communication, listening to myself and one another, bring out people's needs, pains and dreams in a communicative way. 

Some experienced communicators, facilitators or coaches call this an art form. They bring out best ideas and make people listen to one another. The limitation is that only these experienced people can make it happen. 

I am interested in experimenting ways to scale company-wide culture evolution, by introducing interventions/practices that are informed by a set of coherent theorectically informed methodology. I am inspired and indebted to  Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodlogy and her 40+ years of research evidence to guide my thinking and my practices. 

If you are interested, this is a good reference article to go deep into the theory. (Mind you, I don't use the theoretical language in my workplace, I do not ask my executives team not my colleagues to read academic papers at work, I don't want to make it too abstract. These theories inform what I do, I stay very pragmatic and result oriented at work, designing practices to achieve business outcomes). Yet, I know my blog readers have diverse interest, so I share an article here. 

Dervin, B. (2015). Dervin's Sense-Making as theory, meta-theory, methodology, and method, pp.59-80. In Nasser, A. & Saif A. Understanding information  science: Twenty key theories. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. 

I welcome your thoughts and anyone who are willing to share any alternative approaches to design culture program. Get in touch! 

Saturday, September 09, 2017

Information Literacy in the Workplace: Who cares?

The ability to identify the need for information, to access, to effectively use and present information - from an individual or a group perspective - is critical for any knowledge worker to be effective in the workplace. Business executives strongly support the idea that knowledge workers need to continue to develop themselves, to further understand external customers' (or internal customers') needs, to draw on information and personal/collective experience to make decisions and present ideas. Information literacy enables employees to effectively undertake these activities and fulfil business goals.

However, if information literacy (IL) is so important, why do we commonly hear only of the need to upgrade employees' leadership, communication, time management, project management, team management, lean/six sigma or digital skills, but rarely hear of employees being encouraged to attend "information literacy" professional development course?  

Does that mean information literacy is unimportant? Or do business leaders assume that all employees are equipped with information literacy skills from the education system? Do business leaders expect their employees to acquire information literacy skills on the job? Outside the library and information science community, does IL mean anything? 

Having worked in numerous global companies and working with senior executives establishing information/knowledge management strategy to become knowledge-driven companies, I concluded that the phrase Information Literacy does not mean anything to knowledge workers / business executives; IL are disguised within different functional labels, and business processes which are specific to the business context.

In fact, the embeddedness of information in the business context makes it impossible to talk about "information" or "information literacy" out of context. This make the promotion of information literacy in the workplace extremely difficult (but not impossible)! 

Why has information literacy not gained much traction in the workplace context. If information professionals are aware of the challenges, we are in a better position to make a difference. Consider these 3 angles:

1. Think about knowledge workers working in these functions: R&D, innovation, sales, marketing, client services, IT support, product management, business analysis, they have to interact with information to carry out their work. Information literacy is obviously needed. IL is "hidden" in their respective function labels. 

2. Knowledge workers face different demands at work at different times - ranging from the need to "drive efficiency/reduce costs" vs "increase effectiveness" vs "innovate" vs "handle crisis situation" - and in different context, information is defined and handled in different ways. There is no one-size-fit-all information literacy process/tools that work under all business scenarios. 

3. The level of information literacy exhibited in a workplace is highly influenced by the company culture. Whilst organisations with open, networked culture value information literacy, those with hierarchical, command-and-control culture would not value information literacy as much.

I am going to be a keynote speaker for the European Conference on Information Literacy ECIL 2017  and I look forward to explore these topics in more depth with the conference delegates. My presentation is based on a book chapter titled "The hidden value of information literacy in the workplace context: how to unlock and create business value" in the "Information Literacy in the Workplace, edited by Marc Forster, published by Facet Publishing in Apr 2017. 

Friday, October 07, 2016

Digital Transformation inside Enterprise: Redefining the Future of Work

I recently presented in a Conference Board unConference event in Brussels. The theme of the event is the Futue of Digital Transformation and Innovation. I presented on the topic "How will the work change as we digitalise the workplace: new leadership, new work practices, new relationship?"

In this event, I am privileged to meet up with many thought leaders who understand how digital transformation is impacting on society, business, industry and innovation, and we all recognise it is a long and difficult journey to get it right, yet we all believe and are passionate to co-create a way forward. It was a thought provoking meeting, and I am grateful to be invited. 

See this infographic created by Conference Board which sums up the keynote sessions:

To me, digital transformation is not about automation, i.e. applying the same process to get work done faster using new technologies. Digital transformation is about how we achieve business objectives with a different / better model, made possible by the new technologies available. 

When looking at digital transformation inside enterprise, it is going to redefine employees experience at work. No longer limited by time and space, digital changes the foundation and engrained assumptions in terms of how work gets done:

- Talents can work anytime and anywhere in a personalised way. Space is no longer a constraint. Clock-in-clock-out is no longer the only way to demonstrate productivity. What if physical and digital space can extend, compliment and blend together?

- Talents can choose to get work done on personal or work devices and set preferences tailored made to individual needs. One-size-fit-all device and business application based on conformity to the lowest common denominator is no longer the only option. What if each talent can define his/her user experience at work?

- Talents can build relationship, connect, communicate and share ideas and knowledge across boundaries quickly and easily. The hierarchical management, top-down communication, silos team working is no longer the only management model. What if work can be organised around a peer-to-peer networked model?

Despite the opportunities on offer, change is hard. Redefine the rule of the game means people who manage the status quo, and the associated policies, processes, tools, incentive schemes to support the status quo are feeling the ground is shifting, resulting in unease and resistance to change. The journey is not easy, and when getting it right, the outcome is impactful and transformational. 

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Digital transformation with business purpose: Leadership 2.0 required at all levels

Talking about digital transformation. Does digital come first or the business need to transform come first? 

Very often, digital evangelists (including intrapreneurs) embrace everything digital and excitedly introduce them to their colleagues, only to find out that their colleagues "really didn't get it". Typical responses are:
- We have always done it this way and it works, why should we do it differently?
- Does this replace what we are doing today? Does this make me/my team more efficient, so we can do more with less time/resource? How do we measure success? 
- These new digital tools are too overwhelming, does that mean I have even more to don more updates, communications to read? I am already overloaded.
- They are for my kids, they are for digital savvy people, they find it very easy, but I think otherwise. I am not good with digital, I feel inadequately equipped to go digital yet. 

The challenge does not stop here. The next challenge is what is this "digital thing" suppose to transform? Could it be: 
- adding digital to what we currently do ("Let's digitalise the training materials so they become elearning modules". "Let's digitalise the marketing message, so it is now published as a blog on the website").
- using digital to achieve efficiency savings ("Let's go digital and do what we do faster. Instead of sending email to target audience, let's blast them with more messages via multiple social media channels.)

Who ultimately make the decision on digital transformation? I would say the business with a digital mindset (and if in the transition period when a company is building up the digital capabilities, business with input from the digital transformation team).

Why do I mean?

There is nothing wrong for the business setting efficiency and cost saving goals. In the past decades, machines and computers have enabled automation which allow us to do  repetitive calculations or reduce labour. Most leaders can visualise what to expect. This is good, but perhaps not good enough.

What if business leaders start to ask "what if" digital can enble my business to doing something differently, rather than doing the same thing faster or a little bit better? What if business leaders start asking what are the possibilities and opportunities to use digital to fundamentally choange how we work and how we conduct business. What if business leaders start to ask what would the future or work / future of business / future of government look like? 

Digital transformation requires a deep understanding of the business, why the company exist, and the value it aims to create for the customers. It also requires a mindset shift, ie to face up to the digital challenge (when one will never be able to catch up with new digital products being rolled out every day) and learn to swim in it and try things out even though we do not grow up with them. It requires the leaders to learn to feel comfortable when one do not know it all and that one can trial and fail fast, and keep moving on. In a highly networked world and when digital content are exchanged at the speed of light, digital transformation requires business leaders to create the capability for employees and partners to collaborate and work with one another when new issues or opportunities emerge.

This new ways of thinking and working, with clear business purpose and delivering value for customers in mind, require senior managers, experts, designers to let go of our ego and start to listen, learn from our younger persons, people with less experience and with different perspectives, and all employees at all levels need to learn to better listen and learn from one another as we explore new uncharted territories. 

I call this leadership 2.0, and digital transformation (whether it is enterprise 2.0, Web 2.0 or customer service 2.0 etc) needs leadership 2.0 at all levels. Every employees, at all levels, need to change and embrace change, as change become the new constant. We all need to learn to have an open mind, able to learn and unlearn, have genuine dialogue across hierarchy to get there.