Saturday, November 24, 2007

Thoughts regarding Knowledge Management

For those who don't know me, I work, live and breathe Knowledge Management, for the past nine years. Knowledge management is not the same as managing knowledge workers. It deals with preserving, sharing and creating the organizational knowledge, using well defined methodologies and focusing on organizational business needs.
A week ago I met a colleague that was in the KM industry for many years and left. He is busy nowadays in some totally different area- the entertainment e-business. The truth is that I was surprised. The person was one of the first people in Israel that dealt with knowledge Management, and he ran a successful company in this area. His PhD. was about knowledge maps. I was even more surprised from the speech I was to hear within a few minutes:
You are brave, so he said; Knowledge Management will fail as a discipline. On the one hand, he flattered me having the strength / the will / the innocence to continue on with Knowledge Management; he was very happy to hear that I am working nowadays on my PhD. in Knowledge Management. On the other hand, he recommended me to leave and find something else to earn my living on.
Why leave? I asked. The Knowledge Management discipline, he explained, is against human nature. People do not will to share; Organizations are afraid, especially from the power that comes with managing KM. Most organizations that started large projects of Knowledge Management, he added, stopped after two or three years and in many cases even fired the CKO's who led the process. I started running scenes from the past years in my head. Yes, there were several organizations that did not continue on; and yes, there were CKO's that have left their job, not always in best circumstances.
There was something in what he said. Too many times I remembered Knowledge Management projects ending because of problems and struggles between people. The more I thought, KM was in all cases the victim, not the trigger for these struggles. One time, there was this CEO who believed in KM (and some other great ideas) but did not believe that he had to communicate any of his ideas to the managers who were supposed to actually share. The day he left, and one of these managers took his place, all the good ideas, including KM, were cancelled. In a different case the CEO worked directly with the KM activities manager, although there was a manager in between (the boss of the latter). The intermediate manager was not part of the process. At the first chance he had, after the CEO was replaced, he cut the budget off. Sorry to say, but there are more examples, and at least in both organizations I spoke about, there were already success stories and benefits yielding from the Knowledge Management activities.
Isn't knowledge an important asset, critical for organizations' success? I asked this colleague. Very important, he answered. That is why there are so many struggles around the issue. So why stay?
I left the place worried and troubled. Am I just stubborn as it is hard to recognize truth, bring so deep involved?
I find myself thinking about the issue a lot since. I do believe in people; I want to believe in them. I believe in organizations, and I believe that if Knowledge is an important asset, even critical, organizations will manage it, and even positively. It must happen, as it is the right thing to happen. It is not enough to find ways to manage the knowledge workers. Knowledge itself must be managed. The two are interconnected, and of course there are even overlaps. But these are two defined disciplines: Management and Knowledge Management.
I learn a lesson here regarding management of knowledge workers. Many of the ideas these workers will come up with, will not be trivial. Precisely these innovative non trivial ideas will be the ones most difficult for the organization to accept. There will be people in favor, but probably more not. People and organizations are afraid from exchanging the existing with the new. People are terrified when a good idea comes from someone else and try to object, many times until the idea is proven, and even sometimes even later. Our job, as managers, is to enable. Not only to enable the idea itself and help its progress in the practical level, but also to enable it's acceptance by people. And that is not easy.
I hope I did not leave you with a melancholy impression. I promise to some happy and smiley posts in the future. I promise, for those that wondered that I am not leaving Knowledge Management. Not now. Too much yet has to be done.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Employment absorption

Recently, one of my employees has left. The hiring process was successful. He fit. He contributed the company and the company contributed him. He left as he received a better opportunity elsewhere, managing a staff.

I am sorry and a bit sad. He could have developed and achieve professional success in our company. Life continues on. We will continue developing with the others.
I could have let go and say that always there will be better opportunities, no matter what we give or do. That is correct. But one must not stop there. That is an easy way out. Every process of changing place of work includes two sub-parts: Part of leaving the existing and part of entering something new.

No doubt, that leaving us, in this situation, was a result of not good enough absorption. You may ask how long did this employee work in the company? Indeed, this is a fair question. He was with us nine months. So long? How much does it take to take someone new in and teach him or her the job?

That is the topic I wanted to discuss and share: Employee absorption.
Hiring a knowledge worker and teaching the job takes a year, at least.

Because nowadays, most jobs differ from organization to organization. Think about the knowledge workers in your organization, or even better, think about yourself. Try to remember what you did before, and before, and how different it is from your current position. This is the era of knowledge: Processes of work are roughly defined; the knowledge toolbox, with professional, organizational and market defined aspects, are those who make the job what it is. And these change rapidly.
That is why employment absorption takes time. That is why employment absorption is not a trivial process.

The best way to learn, as researches have discovered, is by experience. But this process is expensive, risky and not satisfactory by itself. Expensive- because if performed in a radical way, it does not take existing knowledge into consideration; risky- because of the performance results, in the apprenticeship period; and not satisfactory by itself, as different people learn differently. Every person needs a different mix of: learning from ideas and concepts, learning from case studies, learning from seeing others (reflection) and learning from doing (See Kolb- "Experience as the source of Learning and Development").

The way a new employee has to be taught includes training; both general unified training, with which we start, combined with personal training, catching a more significant role later on. The general training gives the essential foundations of knowledge, necessary for better understanding of the job. The personal training fills in the specific absences, but more important than that, it is tailored to the learning style of the person to be trained.

Some points to emphasis on:
  1. Expectations of the new employee have to be adjusted, so he or she understand that it takes at least a year until the job is understood thoroughly, and one can step forward.
  2. The manager's responsibility is to analyze what the worker does not know that he does not know (that is the tricky type of knowledge). This is not a one time analysis, rather a routine. Practically, it is recommended to set training meetings in which, through open conversation, professional topics are revealed and dealt with.
  3. Stepwise loading of tasks. The sooner we appoint diverse tasks, the more time it will take to adjust. Tasks? Yes; loading? All right; but diverse? Stepwise. Otherwise, the absorption process will turn out to be longer. This may sound trivial, but if we rethink the issue, and remember it as a 1 year process, it is less trivial.

And the last tip, maybe, the most important: There are no shortcuts. I knew about all the points above, and usually, that is the way I manage. Yet, I made a mistake. I forgot (or chose to forget) that there are no exceptions and no shortcuts.

I paid the price.