Saturday, January 26, 2008

Learning by teaching

The coming week, I am starting another series of our Knowledge Management course. Theoretically, I could have be feeling mixed emotions: Feeling happy that another fully booked course is starting; feeling delighted that another group is learning the subject, where we find so many amateurs; but feeling disappointed, as I have to repeat a task, in which I teach content so many times, over and over again. That is not the situation; the opposite: Dave Snowden, in his blog "The cognitive edge" shares us in his post "Musings between flights" how surprised he is, that he never gets bored, when he teaches some material, over and over again, Every time, he shares with us the readers, the audience changes his experience, and the ideas refine. I could not agree more. I gave the opening lecture of the course "Introduction to Knowledge Management", maybe one hundred times already, but it still is getting better almost every time. Moreover, not only the lecture; also my understanding of new insights to deal with people and organizations and how knowledge is to be managed.
We learn when we teach. The same, as we learn when we write an article or a summary on some topic. When writing or speaking up in front of audience, we have to organize our thoughts, and by doing so, we build another layer of knowledge on it (see Nonaka and Takeuchi "The Knowledge Creating Company", on internalization). When we give the lecture, and the audience asks questions or comment, they make us think; they sharpen our understanding. Teaching is an important instrument for learning.

Learning, even one must say, continual learning, is a significant part of the job of our employees. The changing reality, the developing technologies, and mass of information, puts us in a situation where our employees should learn and develop repeatedly, and suit the way they perform the job to as result of what they learn. Those who do not proceed, withdraw.
However, life is not that simple. How and when can we enable our employees teach as part of their learning process?

I will start from the bottom line. There is no one answer. This dilemma requires gentle balance: On the one hand, it is obvious that tutoring or giving lectures will definitely improve the workers' learning. On the other hand, when we stand before an audience, we want to give the best we can, and put upfront the experts, not the learners. Reality is even more complicated: Many of my employees know how to lecture, and even do it well. They know the materials thoroughly, and have day-to-day examples, which they have learned from their own experience. Nevertheless, the audience expects what they think is the best: The senior among all seniors.

How should we act? There is no only route.
External lectures and tutoring, I give myself, or with the help of employees who already are known as experts, regarding to topic spoken about.
I think that inside the organization, there is an opportunity to enable learning by teaching: in apprenticeship processes. When enabling employees, not only the managers and experts, share their knowledge with new employees, we profit twice:
Once, as already has been written, by enabling the teacher to learn by teach.
In addition, it is easier for the learner to learn. In their book, Deep Smarts, Leonard and Swap, explain that it is easier to learn from someone that the gap of knowledge between them and yourself is smaller. We are regular to think that it is best to learn from the experts, those that already have deep smarts. Vice versa; when we learn from someone close to us, he understands us better, and for us, it is easier to ask questions.
Such a process requires our control, as managers. We have to ensure that the learning process is indeed appropriate, and try not to stand in their way to much, trying to fix it to much.

So who said that our job as managers is boring?


Sunday, January 13, 2008

Decision Making

In the bible, there is a known story, about how the Jewish people leave Egypt. Time after time, they ask Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, to set them free, and he insists on holding them on as slaves. The lord, sends his hand, and punishes Pharaoh and Egypt. Ten times, we see this cycle, of requesting to leave, Pharaoh remaining stubborn and God punishing. After eight times, Pharaoh's servants understand the theme and recommend Pharaoh to change his mind, based on the information they have. Pharaoh insists on taking the incorrect decision: "And Pharaoh's servants said unto him: For how long shall this man (Moses) be a snare unto us? Let the men go and serve God their God! Knowest thou not yet that Egypt is lost?" (Exodus, 10, 7). The servants already know. Pharaoh does not.

Decisions were always taken. We made decisions in the past and we make decisions today. However, within the years, and our employees becoming Knowledge Workers, decision-making gets complicated: More decisions cannot be taken without relying on the information and knowledge of our employees; some decision-making we distribute to our workers. It is much more difficult to manage and control decisions made by our employees.
These are the issues I wish to share within my post.

Three main points, independent, but interconnected, characterize decision-making, whether taken by me or by my employees:
First, people take many decisions. Job descriptions are widely defined, and employees are expected to decide for themselves on many daily issues.
The second point has to deal with the information and knowledge assisting the decision making process. We are over-flowed with data, information and knowledge. The worker, while taking a decision, or even when bringing us the information, for our decision, filters the proposed information focusing only on the most relevant parts, as he or she understands.
Last, but not least, in most cases there are no right or wrong answers. The world is complicated and answers are not black white colored. Most alternatives include pros, cons, and many gray variants in between, all influencing the right decision.
In result, we the managers, have a difficult time trying to control quality of decisions taken by our employees. This stands true, before the decision is made, as in most cases, we have less information and knowledge than our employees have (and what we have is subjective, as they, when handed to us, filtered it). It stands true, also after the decision is made, as in many cases, we do not have the tools to examine how good was the chosen alternative as compared to other alternatives. To make a long story short, our life as managers trying to manage decision making of our employees is not that simple.

Several tips I can share from my experience:
Do not try to control each decision made. Let the employees act independently and let us focus on controlling only main decisions.
When trying to control and taking part in a decision made, ask not only about the decisions recommended, but also about the rational that caused this recommendation. A technique, for complicated decisions, may be, requesting the employee to describe others alternatives, their pros and why after all they were not recommended.
High level observe, along time, the mechanisms of decision making of the employees, to be sure our employees know how to make decisions. Maybe even bring someone in and tutor them. We should remember that decision-making is a central part of our employees' job.

Easy? Not at all. Possible? Of course. However, I can say for sure that we are not permitted to try taking the decisions instead of our employees. It is tempting, but forbidden. Making decisions by our employees is right professionally, and is part of their personal development. Sometimes, our employees will take decisions other than what we think is correct. In most cases, however, this is not an excuse for changing the decision and overriding them. This is not an easy process (I can speak for myself- not easy at all to stop myself from telling them what to do!) but it is part of being a manager of a Knowledge Worker.

Who said life is boring?