Sunday, September 21, 2014

On a social collaboration platform, knowledge does not sit still...

On a social collaboration platform, Knowledge never sits still....

What do I mean?

If your company has a vibrant social collaboration platform which is embedded in the day-to-day business process, I expect your employees would be adoption the following new behaviour:

- instead of going to the intranet homepage to check out what is new, employees receive real time updates on their acitivity steams.
- instead of waiting for the newsletter curated by the communication or knowledge manager to summarise all the useful resources, employees are following people, content relevant to them, and getting the updates before they receive the newsletter
- instead of waiting for the next knowledge sharing meeting to connect with other community members, employees can connect with one another online before the event. 
- Instead of only getting to knowing colleagues via face-to-face meeting or working on same project/team, employees can get to know, exchange ideas and learn from colleagues belonging to a completely business different network
- instead of relying on knowledge managers to organize and categorise approved content which goes into a knowledge base, employees can organize what they need according to their own preference, employees can create their own set of dynamic feeds and alerts to useful resources. 
- When employees need something, they can do a search, or ask a question on the community, and go direct and interact with the experts (but not via the intermediaries).

In this environment, KNOWLEDGE DOES NOT SIT STILL. It constantly gets updated, viewed by employees who want to know, get challenged and changed by the conversation, comments, insights exchanged between the author and the employees. It gets created more rapidly. It becomes obsolete quickly too (if it no longer serves the purpose). Policies, pitch decks, product brochures are updated faster with continuous user feedback.

So what is the role of knowledge manager in this networked workplace? 

If knowledge does not sit still, knowledge capturing and organizing can be costly and time consuming but its value can be very short lived. We have to be selective to pick the strategic content that we must invest time/effort to manage, and let go of the rest.

I would argue we need to seriously focus on managing the "flow" of knowledge rather than managing information/knowledge as content objects. We need to pay attention in designing the time-space moment when "knowledging" happens, ie help employees discover what they need just-in-time, create an environment where they can make sense of the knowledge they encounter (including listening, reflecting and commenting with context), and enabling them to create new knowledge and disrupt outdated ones at a unprecedented speed. (Note: if you like to dig deeper into "knowledging" see this paper I co-author with my mentor Dr Brenda Dervin)

We need to continue to acquire new skills and embrace new mindset to operate and add value in the networked enterprise. 

Fellow knowledge managers, what are your latest innovation to facilitate knowledge flow? Please share....

Thursday, September 04, 2014

Knowledge management: a journey from 15 years ago....

I started introducing knowledge management to Arthur Andersen Business Consulting 15 years ago under the coaching of the then Global KM Director based in Atlanta, US, I remember we focussed on the following:
- we built best practice knowledge base to enable the consultants to re-use good practices
- we created top down communities of practice
- approved resources were posted up by knowledge managers
- members of the communities were brought together because of their industry focus
- members of an industry segment community were added to a email DL, they received newsletter with latest updates, wins, best practices every week
- KMers role were to cold call partners/consultants around the world to encourage them to share proposals, presentations, and then sanitised them (ie take out confidential info, client names, financial figures) for globale re-use
- KMers were there to understand consultants' information needs, and give them what they want 
- the consultants had limited channels to find information other than the centrally design KM platform (or use their own personal network). At that time, Internet was not as a rich resource as we are today. Consultants rely on good KMers to organize knowledge and make them accessible.

Just over 10 years ago, in 2001, I became the Knowledge Management Director of the British Council. I recalled the KM focus has evolved:

- knowledge management started to move away from building best practices knowledge base and centrally controlled intranet
- static intranet was still an important KM tool, but it was starting to show its limitation
- the intranet navigation was corporate controlled, stable, and required approval to make changes
- for a global company with cross-country initiates to be rolled out globally, the project team need to coordinate amongst themselves, learn from one another quickly, they need collaboration space connected with the intranet
- the role of knowledge managers change from being the approved webmaster, best practice publisher sitting in the centre, starting to help to create collaboration groups, focus on building communities of practice which allow the members to talk and learn from one another
- collaboration tools became common: email DLs, Sharepoint team sites (Sharepoint 2003)
- KMers became community facilitators not only managing content, but facilitate learning, conversation to help members to learn from one another
- knowledge sharing event / communities of practice / After action review became popular

That was the age of collaboration, more specifically, I call it the age of collaboration in silos because:
- it was difficult then to see the connections across communities
- good KMers put in so much effort to try to create vibrant communities, and engage with all the members, with tools such as meetings, phone calls, collaboration sites, intranet
- good KMers became facilitators / community managers, not just knowledge base, intranet or content managers.

About 8 years ago, Enterprise 2.0 or enterprise-wide social collaboration platform enter the picture. Since 2006, I happened to have the opportunity to work with a visionary CEO of the world's largest environmental consulting firm, and then a visionary CEO of a large global bank. I recalled these visionary leaders spotted a gap, they noted the external world has changed so much, but the internal environment has not caught up. There are opportunities to change how we connect, collaboration and communicate to improve how work gets done.

After spending four years connecting all the employees in the environmental consulting company, and transforming how work gets done across boundaries. I took it as a personal challenge to move to a global bank to continue to innovate and fine tune my approach and thinking, this time round, driving business transformation from within a business focussing on business-specific use cases.

This is also the time (roughly about 4 years ago) that a few other banks are starting to invest in enterprise social collaboration program to test the water. I noted these programs tend to be led by the communications team or IT team, and not business-led.

The technology is so disruptive that initially, managers and employees have no idea how they use the shiny new tools. I remember:
- intranet managers wanted to replicate traditional intranet on the new platform, wanting the same level of control, taxonomy structure
- communications managers asked for creating default setting when they can force email notification to all employees worldwide
- users and community managers had lengthy discussions as to where a document should sit, is it more appropriate to be in Community A versus Community B (not aware that a document is associated with an individual employee in this new world).

Soon we realised that this is a totally different world.  The control, the habits, the processes, the tools (especially email) we have grown used to at work have to evolve/disrupt if we want to put our employees at the center of this new ecosystem.

Knowledge managers started to realise the power of social collaboration platform, ie:
- individual employees are in the driving seat (the knowledge manager as an intermediary function to manage content fades away). We cannot manage all the content, organize and tag them all. Employees can share, can tag and decide what to follow and subscribe to. They can search themselves at the time they need information.
- Content, communciation, community, collaboration converge in context, they cannot be handled separately if we want to give a holistic experience to the end users. 

Fellow KMers, should we be worried: do employees still need KMers to anticipate their needs and bring the updates to them? should we be celebrating: do we finally have an opportunity to take the flow of knowledge to another level? If so, how?

It is time to rethink our role, why companies need us, and how can we create value? Are we designer of a knowledge ecology? Or are we gatekeeper of approved content? Where should we focus? Fellow knowledge mangers, what do you think?

Sunday, August 31, 2014

What is Knowledge Management becoming?

The world has changed, consumers are connecting, collaborating and sharing information in a new way. What about at work? Where is our knowledge?

Many (most) companies have not caught up yet. 

  • Information is locked in shared drive, emails, team sites 
  • Intranet content is static, and search you cannot find
  • Employees are geographically dispersed. They need to connect (whether it is by email, phone and F2F meeting, online chat, conversation or latest digital tools)
  • Employees and expertise are locked in functional silos, organisation hierarchies. Cross boundary collaboration is not easy and can be political.
My research and professional interest throughout my career has been trying to find ways to allow knowledge to flow within and across boundaries within geographically dispersed global enterprises and institutions. Most people think my role is "to break down silos".

I am enlightened by a CTO who reminded me that silos are created for a purpose. The functional and hierarchical reporting lines (which reinforce silos) are needed to run the business. So no matter how we restructure a company, we need to find ways to connect employees across boundaries based on emerging needs, not just based on organisation structure.

The question is HOW? How do we get knowledge flow across boundaries, and let the knowledge reach the right person at the right time? 

In the past 10 years, I have been knowledge director for 3 different global companies, the senior management all want to improve knowledge and collaboration to increase value for the company. Somehow I begin to roll out social collaboration platform within large enterprises, and as I get close to the business, I touch on all aspects of the business (from sales, to product innovation, HR, learning, etc.) I realise my KM scope has changed. 

Last year, August, I published this book titled social strategies in action: driving business transformation. In this book, I outlined 13 different use cases how the use of social collaboration platform has transformed how work is done, how people share ideas, communication, share knowledge. As I speak at KM conferences and speak with knowledge managers. I got this response "Bonnie, you talk and your book is very interesting, but you are not talking about knowledge management." I am bemused.

I have been a knowledge manager (and eventually promoted to knowledge director) since 1995, I come out of library and information school, started as a cataloguer cataloguing medical books in a hospital library in Hong Kong, and eventually completed my PhD research on information seeking and use behaviour, joined Arthur Andersen Business Consulting to lead the KM program in Singapore/Asia, then move around various industry leading KM initiatives.

In the pass 10 years, although the job title had not changed, the scope of knowledge work has been transformed significantly:

  • I see I am moving away from managing information, content, intranet, categories to managing communities, conversation and dialogue. 
  • I see internal communication and engagement (and even marketing) being put under my knowledge management remit
  • I see I am moving from managing specific knowledge repositories with a clearly define scope and boundaries, from managing a highly centralise intranet to managing an interconnected ecosystem that is organic and constantly changing
  • My work is started to be labelled differently such as creating a digital workplace, building responsive organisation, defining the future of work. 
I wonder what is going on? What is KM becoming? What is my role? What is the role of my fellow knowledge managers / knowledge directors / CKO?

Do you share similar experience? Do you feel the change as I have experienced? More in my next blog post as I further reflect on my knowledge management journey....

Thursday, May 29, 2014

My advice for someone new to Knowledge Management

Paul Corney, a great facilitator asked me recently: If you were talking to someone new to Knowledge Management what advice would you give them?’

Here is my response:

"My friend, if you stay focus on the business goals and understand what is high up on your management team's radar, you can make Knowledge Management whatever you want it to be. By the way, avoid using the term "knowledge management",  just talk about how best to connect, collaborate and share knowledge to get work done better and faster (and to develop talents). I have been in this field since 1996, I am regenerating myself every few years, I never have a dull moment. Go for it!"

Saturday, May 10, 2014

My unconference reflection

I am grateful to #ResponsiveOrg for inviting me to the first London event on 10 May. It was a Saturday and over 150 people self select to spend one full day to discuss and exchange ideas on changing the way we work and creating a movement to build responsive organizations. It was the first time I participated in a full day unconference with no predefined agenda and speakers. The closest I have had similar experience was my hosting of a World cafe in Berlin last year Oct (Social Business Collaboration 2013 )

Coming out and feeling a bit overwhelmed at the end of the day, I ask myself what have I learned? How would I evaluate my own experience of a full day unconference?

What I like:
1. The novelty effect of allowing agenda to emerge and no pre-defined agenda
2. Setting interaction protocol at the beginning so participants understand they can "vote with their feet" and can move from one discussion group to another. This also set the expectation to the speakers that don't be hurt if people leave the session you host half-way into the discussion.
3. Some great discussions and ideas came out from the participants (some are thought leaders / prolific blogger in the field which I did not recognize initially; others are enthusiastic and have interesting point of view even though they have much less experience). Everyone is treated equal.

What I struggle with:
1. The ideas emerging are very similar. Many of the ideas are not new, they are common sense. (Perhaps I have already been reading their work on the Internet. Perhaps we are all converts and influence by the same authors).  I was hoping to hear more radical ideas and join in debate. Overall, there is not a lot of disagreement or controversial discussion. Everyone seems to be nice and polite.
2. How each session is conducted depends solely on the style of the facilitator. In certain sessions, some people talked a lot, others were quiet. I wonder how could we make the best use of the 1 hour+ facetime to have deeper dialogue, to listen to one another and give time for reflection on how the ideas relate to myself and my work.
3. There is a lot of talk, and it is not clear (nor it is the expectation at the beginning) that one need to identify actions to take. I guess a lot of participants leave with "So what? Now what? What is next?"

Wearing my practitioner's hat, I like some of the concepts and some of the experience I have had today. I wonder how I can bring some of the unconference concepts back to work to create/nurture/energize a global champions network to promote a new way of working (including promoting the usage of an enterprise social networking platform). My colleagues are busy and hardly can spend time to attend a full day training. I think they are going to find unconference too unstructured, too fluffy, too abstract, and lack of specific outcomes.

I think I need to tweak the approach, perhaps by considering the following:
1. Allowing emergence happen before the face to face event. E.g. Could the participants propose the discussion topic online prior to the unconference event?
2. Could the participants who put a discussion idea forward post a 1 min video prior the event to promote their discussion topics?
3. Could the discussion be facilitated with a more structured communication protocol. Eg Ensure everyone have a voice, provide a note taking form to encourage participants to jot down what they agree, disagree and actions they can take back to their workplace, people they want to follow up with.
(Note: my view is informed by Dr Brenda Dervin's Sense Making Methodology, for those who would    like to dig deeper, here is an article:

Is that just me who have the above thoughts? I wonder what other participants think?

I certainly have had a great experience today, and glad to meet so many Tweeter avatars face-to-face. Thank you to the organizer for giving me this experience!

I wonder what other participants think?

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Positioning enterprise social collaboration at the heart of business transformation in 2014: Be mindful of 5 pitfalls

Since I published the book "Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation" (Ark Group) in Sept 2013, I had some in-depth discussions with business executives, technology leaders, social business consultants and in-house evangelists who have hands-on experience introducing and using social collaboration technologies to transform the way we work within companies.

Through these conversations, I am made aware of a gap in my book which on hindsight I should have paid more attention to. I have emphasised throughout the book that successful social business (defined as using "enterprise social collaboration platform" and introducing "collaborative way of working" to drive business transformation within companies) must align with the company's strategic business objectives. The question is how do we (as social business leaders) position enterprise social collaboration program as strategic and critical to deliver the company's business strategy, and how can we engage with the senior executives to establish the much needed strategic alignment?

This critical success factor is highlighted in a number of enterprise social media/social business conferences I have attended recently. Here is my observation:

1. In a typical panel discussion, increasingly, I noted the panel comprise of speakers talking about enterprise social collaboration platform being adopted in their global companies for over 5 years, as well as speakers who have just started the journey a few months back. 

2. These practitioners both share the passion in rolling out enterprise social collaboration in their organization, and interestingly, they ask similar questions. The company with more social business experience asks "Now what after 5 years? How we can ensure what we are doing still align with the business goals? How do we (re)engage with senior executives and demonstrate value?". The company with less social business experience asks "How do we start in a way that is business focussed, on strategy and enable the company to deliver his objectives? How do we engage the executives and show them the value of a different way of working?" 

To engage with the business executives on a strategic level, to get buy in from business, and to truly put social collaboration on executives' radar, here are the 5 pitfalls that enterprise social collaboration leaders (myself included) need to be very mindful of. I am keeping them in mind to guide my thinking and practice in 2014.

The 5 pitfalls are:

1. We are perceived as too passionate. As enterprise social collaboration leaders, we tend to see every opportunity that social collaboration can bring to an organization in a positive note. We see potential use cases to deliver business value and transform business anytime anywhere. We ask "how could employees work and communicate in outdated mode and waste so much time". I am full of passion to drive the change, but I have also learn that we should not forget the business executives, team leaders, functional heads have a business to run and a P/L to manage. For them, social collaboration is an enabler to deliver their business goals (and only if they see it can help them immediately). They don't need to be passionate about using the enterprise social collaboration platform like we do. We like them to be passionate about empowering their team and creating the right environment to deliver their goals. We need to be pragmatic, learn to re-set our expectations as to what we want the business executives to be passionate about. We can do so by seeing the world through the executive's eyes and thinking like an executive.

2. Social collaboration is not always "best practice". An experience senior executive reminded me that social collaboration is not a panacea to all business problems nor can it meet all business needs. Not all business activities require crowd-sourcing for input, not all business communication requires feedback and follow up discussion. Some companies have been effectively engaging with employees before social media technologies come into picture. We need to recognise and admit we are here to introduce appropriate communication tools for the right purpose. Listen carefully to the executives' needs and do not assume going social is "the only right way". I also learn one should not pitch social collaboration as if all existing communication practices are ineffective. Business executives can be pissed off. We need to learn to be humble, recognise existing strength and good practices, and present a more balanced view when introducing social as a better of working to address specific area of concern.

3. We tend to position ourselves as social business evangelists, it is time to position ourselves as executives and think like business executives. It is easy to suggest any enterprise wide social collaboration program need to align with the company business objectives. In practice, the alignment is often very difficult to achieve, especially in large companies where there are multiple products, sales and operations heads operating in multiple locations. Having direct access and buy-in from the CEO and the next level down is a great start. Having a mandate from the executive team that social collaboration is a key enabler to drive business performance is critical. To align with the business objectives, we need to focus on implementing early use cases that contribute directly to the success of the strategic initiatives that are on the executives' radar. Continuously demonstrate strategic alignment by reporting success alongside other established business reporting metrics. Very often, in the spirit of driving early adoption, we take a scattered gun approach to reach as many users as possible, which drives short term success, but unless this approach converge with the company's strategic business goals, the momentum will remain at a grassroots level and the benefits delivered become patchy or hidden to senior executives. The senior executives attention will soon fade away, and so will the social collaboration program.

4. Generic use cases are too bland to excite and drive behavioural change. As enterprise social collaboration becomes mainstream, consultants and social business leaders are sharing more use cases to illustrate the power of a different way of working. Unfortunately, many use cases I come across are too generic and out-of-context. For example, social collaboration can improve communication, employee engagement, document sharing, improve learning etc. They are too bland to create emotional attachment to get the executives excited and take further action. If this is about transforming the way we work, then the context to introduce social collaboration at work has to be artfully crafted to create a realistic image in your audience's heads. The business lingo we chosen to introduce these use cases are critical to get attention. I remember a colleague asked me, "So what does social collaboration really mean for a sales manager who are busy meeting clients and closing deals? Why should one be bothered?". Telling the sales manager to embrace social collaboration platform to improve document storage, sharing, commenting and findability is meaningless. In fact, he is probably doing all this by email. Explaining to him that he can address a telco client question faster by leveraging the global network, finding the winning sales presentation Tony (or insert any real name) has developed for a client based in Hong Kong and saving him 8 hours reinventing the wheel, and that he can keep his finger on the pulse on a key account (insert a real client name) and know the real-time insights the global sales team are gathering from client meetings will stimulate the sales manager and his whole team to want to come onboard. Social collaborations leaders need to be the "translator" to turn generic use cases into business-specific use cases. By doing so, we can show the executives vivid examples as to how benefits are delivered in real business context.

5. Driving change is extremely hard inside a company. Recognize this is a fact. There are many social business thought leaders and consultants who champion new ways of working and manage to get the CEOs buy-in to make an investment. However, once the enterprise-wide program is kicked off, the real change and resistance happen. I know of consultants/evangelists who are frustrated by the slow pace of change, and they complain about entrenched behaviours/culture. As a result, they move to other assignments only to find out they experience the same slow pace of change and get frustrated once more. We need to accept changing employees' day-to-day work habits is very very hard. We need to be determined to embrace the challenge, be persistent and even better learn to love the challenge. We should tell it like it is to the business executives who understand how hard it is to drive change. One executive suggests to me that it is helpful for the social collaboration leader to set expectation upfront that there are going to be numerous failures along the way amongst other emerging successful use cases. 

Thinking ahead as we enter 2014...

2014 is going to be an exciting year for us to reflect, consolidate and learn from the past 5 years as we strategically move forward and position social collaboration at the heart of business transformation agenda. 

Whether you are 5 years into your social business journey or just starting now, I hope by being mindful of the above pitfalls, you can build rapport with business executives and establish closer alignment with the business strategy.

Once you get the executives buy-in, there are other useful tips you can draw on to drive social business adoption within companies. You can read them in my book titled "Social Strategies in Action: Driving Business Transformation". You can download a free chapter here. I welcome your feedback.