Above and Beyond KM

A discussion of knowledge management that goes above and beyond technology.

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This publication contains my personal views and not necessarily those of my clients. Since I am a lawyer, I do need to tell you that this publication is not intended as legal advice or as an advertisement for legal services.
  • December is the month for nominations for the Canadian Law Blog Awards (or CLawBies). In typically understated Canadian fashion, bloggers are asked to nominate other blogs and bloggers of note, and to modestly refrain from plugging their own work. In the spirit of the season (and of these generous awards), here are my nominations:

    • What smart person would fail to read a blog entitled Wise Law Blog?  Not this one!  Great writing covering a range of legal and political topics is the highlight of this blog.  As an added bonus, Gerry Wise includes news from both sides of the 49th parallel.
    • To be honest, “style” is not a word I regularly associate with the law.  However, I’m prepared to believe that lawyers can be stylish when I read Precedent.  News, comments, gossip and amusement – that’s the bill of fare the writers at Precedent offer.  And, it’s fun to boot.
    • Connie Crosby is a self-professed “Info Diva” who covers a broad range of topics stretching from social media to classic librarian issues.  In the process, she leverages her deep knowledge of lawyers and law firms to keep her posts relevant for those of us in the legal industry.

    Finally, how can a blog post discussing Canadian legal blogs fail to recognize the category-busting blog that is astonishing in its range and depth.  I’m speaking, of course, of Slaw.ca.  It is an amazing resource for lawyers and other folks interested in all things legal.  To the marvelous team of bloggers at Slaw, all I can say is thanks for another terrific year of entertaining and educational posts.

    1 Comment
  • Given the economic realities of this year, many firms have found themselves unable to offer their employees material increases with respect to either salary or benefits. So how do you let colleagues know they are valued when you don’t have cash?  It’s simple — use Credit.

    When I say “use credit,” I don’t mean to suggest that you give your colleagues IOUs.  Rather, you should find many and varied means of letting them (and others) know how much you value them.  In fact, studies have shown that cash is sometimes the least effective way of motivating others to perform.  So look at this year as a wonderful opportunity to learn more effective methods to manage your team.  Here are some tips:

    • Be unstinting in your praise for work well done by members of your team.  I know they are getting a paycheck to do a good job, but that paycheck provides few of the psychic rewards most people crave.
    • When you are commended for work done by your team, be sure to let your superiors know who on your team shouldered the laboring oar.  (If you are the insecure type who hogs the credit in an effort to shore up your personal position within the organization, let me tell you a secret about this.  When you highlight the excellence of individuals on your team you actually remind others of your good judgment in hiring and managing great people.  The fact that you look generous as well doesn’t hurt one bit either.)
    • When anyone outside your team does a terrific job, thank them.  Better still send a note to their supervisors letting them know (and copy the employee so they know as well).
    • Be straightforward and sincere.  Most of us sense a con when we hear it.  Credit works in lieu of cash only when the emotion and intent behind the praise is genuine.
    • Saying “thx” rarely is sufficient.  If the work done is deserving of praise, then surely it merits more effort from you than is required to write “thx” in an offhand, reflexive manner.  (The only possible exception to this is when you are facing the 140 character limit in Twitter!)

    Above all, I’d recommend that you read Charles Green’s fantastic post, Pin the Credit on Someone Else, and adopt that as your modus operandi going forward.  This will be a challenge for the insecure manager, but it will make a world of difference in the way members of the team view their work and their manager.

    In this season of gratitude and generosity, try being grateful and generous at work.  It’s a gift that keeps on giving.

    [Photo Credit:  chrisjohnbeckett]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

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  • Tell me one riveting story about your knowledge management system or its content.

    Just one.

    <I’m waiting…>

    Nothing?

    Too bad.  You and your KM system have flunked an essential test.

    We’ve been raised from childhood to hear and tell stories.  We listen and we remember, sifting through the words until we find some meaning.  That’s been our process since childhood, and we don’t leave it behind when we go to the office.  It’s how we communicate, how we learn, and how we connect.   So then, why is it that we too often forget to seek out and tell compelling stories about our own work?

    Finding the stories is just a matter of paying attention.  They surface in the moment — provided that you are looking for them.  If you’ve been oblivious until now, I’d encourage you to take a look at the video below from Radiolab called “Moments.”  As you will see, each brief moment captured in the video provides an eloquent hint of the story behind the picture.  It doesn’t take much effort to imagine what has just happened or is about to happen.

    Now, look at your work and your life as if you are wielding the camera for Radiolab.  What moments are worth capturing?  What stories do they tell that help others learn about you and your work? What stories draw others to your work?

    Look for the moments that embody a story, any story — whether about universal experiences or the singular experiences that set you and your work apart from others.  Capture and share those stories.  That’s how you explain what you do.  It may also be the best way to justify what you do.

    A compelling narrative in the hands of a masterful storyteller is a powerful tool that creates wonderful opportunities.  Don’t waste it.

    [h/t to Mary Jaksch at GoodLife Zen for pointing out this video.]

    [Photo Credit:  Jill Clardy]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

    4 Comments
  • KMWorld is running a survey about various tools and vendors. Among the areas under scrutiny is Social Media. Here’s what KM World wants to know:

    What is your CURRENT status regarding…Social Media and related tools?

    • Deployed enterprise wide in multiple departments
    • Deployed effectively in specific departments
    • Currently deploying; not effective yet
    • Under investigation
    • Don’t know

    How would you answer that question?  If you work in a law firm, it’s most likely one of the last three responses (i.e., currently deploying but not effective yet, under investigation, don’t know).

    It’s still early days for social media within law firms, but that’s no excuse for sticking your head in the sand. This is promising technology that has the potential to make our workflows and information flows easier and more intuitive. It’s also challenging technology that rarely can be implemented out of the box with stellar results. There are no shortcuts.  You have to do the hard work of tailoring it to the people, culture and processes of your organization. However, if you are up to the challenge, you stand to win significant rewards.

    If you are interested in improving your firm’s social media deployment behind the firewall, here are some resources to help you along the way:

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

    3 Comments
  • In a rousing presentation this summer at ILTA09, Jason Ryan Dorsey gave us a terrific overview of how the presence of as many as four generations in the workplace at once can lead to tensions or opportunities, depending on the quality of their management. The generational differences he described in his talk were quite striking. For example, he contrasted the boomer style (i.e., just leave me alone to get my job done) with the Gen Y need for constant attention and approval. In particular he spoke of the Gen Y tendency to engage their managers constantly, seeking feedback on their work.  When I heard this, I was initially dismissive of these folks who seemed to need to have their hands held at the office.  Upon further reflection, however, I find myself wondering if they are all that different from their older colleagues.

    The Gallup organization recently tested the impact on employee engagement of three different management styles: (1) my manager focuses on my strengths, (2) my manager focuses on my weaknesses, and (3) my manager ignores me.  The results of this study are thought-provoking:

    We were disturbed to discover that a significant percentage of the respondents fit into the “ignored” category (25%).  …many U.S. managers ignore their employees, or so the employees perceive. Even more importantly, we found that if your manager focuses on your strengths, your chances of being actively disengaged at work are only 1 in 100. If your manager ignores you, though, you are about twice as likely to be actively disengaged at work than if your manager focuses on your weaknesses. Being overlooked, it seems, is more harmful to employees’ engagement than having to discuss their weaknesses with their manager.

    So, it turns out that while we don’t all need hand holding, most of us do need to know we matter at work — regardless of age.  And, the best way for managers to communicate this is by talking to us.

    Those Gen Y folks may be on to something.

    [Photo Credit:  Lumaxart]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

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  • Perhaps it was irrational exuberance, but the frothy buzz surrounding social media was nearly irresistible.  According to the social media happy talk, all we had to do was start sharing at work and the world would be a better place.  We were told that social media was the next big thing and we’d better hurry and jump on before the train left the station.  So some of us jumped and were initially heartened by the success stories.  Remember the praise for the spies who discovered the joy of sharing via Intellipedia?  However, like all bubbles this one was bound to burst when it confronted reality.  And now we’re told that Intellipedia is facing its own midlife crisis.  It turns out that much of that initial success was the work of early adopters and enthusiasts.  Now that they’ve made their contribution, things are in a holding pattern waiting for the next big surge.

    So what will it take to trigger that surge?  They are going to have to find a way to embed social media in their essential business processes.  It’s hard to get real enterprise-wide traction as long as you treat social media as a geeky parlor trick or as part of a carnival sideshow.  When business critical reporting is done via a blog or wiki, you’ll have excellent adoption rates.  Similarly, if company benefit plans are administered via social media tools, you’ll find that everyone will want to learn how to use those tools.  It’s not complicated in theory.  The catch is that this requires more than a handful of tech savvy cowboys inciting under-the-radar grassroots efforts.  To get access to business critical processes, you will need some management involvement.  And obtaining the necessary management approval will require some convincing facts and figures.  Now you’re talking hard work.

    When you try to sidestep the hard work and rely on social media happy talk, you create situations like the one discussed in a recent BusinessWeek article about Social Media Snake Oil:

    … the buzz around social media has led many companies to buy these systems before they’re ready to put them to work. Jennifer Okimoto, associate partner at IBM Global Business Services, says many corporations took the plunge into social media and now are sitting on loads of uninstalled software. “I’m working with a company that has made huge investments” in social software, she says on a phone call from Switzerland. Yet only a small number of employees at the company use it. A Forrester Research (FORR) study shows that despite buzz around Enterprise 2.0, less than 15% of the knowledge workforce makes use of internal blogs, wikis, and other collaborative tools. “E-mail is still dominant,” says Ted Schadler, author of the report.

    Social media happy talk involved a fair amount of optimism. That optimism was not necessarily misplaced, but now it needs to be backed up with results.

    [Photo Credit:  chemisti]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

    4 Comments
  • After years of sitting quietly listening to the complaints, I’ve finally had enough. Critics of the legal profession and the billable hour speak of all lawyers as if they are identical, mindless billing machines. While many (but not all) of us do account for our time by the billable hour, that does not necessarily mean that all we do is live and breathe solely for the purpose of driving up our hours. Some of us actually have lives outside the office. A few of us even have things in addition to the law that interest us. And many of us still believe that we are members of an honorable profession that serves clients and the public good.

    My colleague, Rees Morrison, included in a recent blog post the following assertion by Raymond Bayley that he found curious.  For my part, it reminded me of the false conclusions you can reach when you don’t consider all the factors that motivate lawyer action:

    …several studies show that lawyers spend more than 20 percent of their time looking for things. If you can bill 400 or more hours annually looking for things, there is no incentive to build a better knowledge management system to eliminate this wasted expense, unless you provide services on a fixed fee basis, as we do at [Mr. Bayley's firm].

    No incentive? What about self-respect?!  Even if I could spend 400 hours looking for things (and get paid for the effort), I wouldn’t.  Why? Because it’s a colossal waste of my time and my client’s money.  Why would I want to spend hour after hour engaged in such soul-sapping activity?

    When I plan state of the art law firm knowledge management systems, I’m focused on improving the quality of the services we provide to our clients.  I’m also interested in training lawyers and adopting a responsible approach to risk management.  Finally, I actually take some satisfaction from the fact that these systems make the lives of the professionals in my firm easier and more productive.  The last thing I should be worried about is that efficiency gains will lead to a decrease in billings.  Why?  Because it is healthier for a firm to generate revenue through efficient, high quality service than by cheap tricks that artificially pump up billable hours at the expense of client satisfaction and lawyer self-respect.

    Regardless of whether we provide services on a billable hour, fixed fee or pro bono basis, I’ll still keep looking for ways to improve the quality and efficiency of those services.  Why?  Because it’s the right thing to do.

    As for those nameless lawyers who allegedly spend their lives as mindless billing machines, someone should remind them that it’s not actually about billing clients.  It’s really about not wasting your life.

    [Photo Credit:  Mike Licht]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

    9 Comments
  • Collaboration is like motherhood and apple pie.  Who will publicly say that it’s a bad thing?  Nevertheless, many knowledge workers have private work habits that inhibit collaboration.  Further many of their organizations don’t do enough to change these behaviors.  Why?  In many cases, because they have not yet realized the enormous benefits that can accrue to an organization that fosters collaboration.

    Not convinced?  Looking for some hard numbers?  Take a look at these results from Cisco’s implementation of Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies in fiscal year 2008:

    • US$691 million saved
    • 4.9 %  increased productivity
    • The technology investments, which cost US$81 million to deploy, provided a 900 % return on investment (ROI).

    Now your firm may not be as large as Cisco and you may not have the same access to state of the art technology or a workforce that is tech friendly.  Nonetheless, wouldn’t even a fraction of Cisco’s ROI be welcome at your firm?  Further, wouldn’t your firm benefit from improvements in the way information and expertise are shared among employees, customers and partners. What more do you need by way of incentives?

    If you’re interested in learning more about how Cisco used Web 2.0 and collaboration technologies to achieve these impressive results, read their guide,  Creating a Collaborative Enterprise (PDF), which explains their framework for achieving collaboration with significant ROI.

    [Thanks to John Tropea and Oscar Berg for letting me know about this resource.]

    [Photo Credit:  Bee-side]

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    The editors of the ABA Journal have recognized Above and Beyond KM as one of the top 100 law blogs of 2009.  They are requesting your votes to help them determine which of these blogs are the most popular.  To vote for this blog and your other favorites, please click on the picture below.  Thanks a million!

    5 Comments