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.
  • We’ll be hosting 15 friends and family for Easter Dinner so I’m deep in the throes of menu planning. Since we always serve lamb, much of the recipe exploration has focused on side dishes. This search led me to a traditional companion to roast lamb: ratatouille. For those of you who have never sampled this dish, it’s a wonderful vegetable stew that tastes of summer.  A less lyrical description would be a mess of chopped of vegetables with Mediterranean seasonings.

    While some recipes call for dumping everything in the pot and letting it simmer, there are other cooks that believe that the order and manner in which you cook each component vegetable makes a huge difference in the taste.  I’m not here to give advice on  the best ratatouille recipe,  but I did want to point out an interesting recipe I found that could have useful applications for matter management and practice management. Cooking for Engineers provides a good basic ratatouille recipe, complete with pictures.  The best part for me, however, is at the bottom of the page, where they have presented a detailed time line of the steps you need to take to make this dish efficiently. Perhaps I’ve led a sheltered life, but I thought the chart was brilliant.  If you don’t need wordy descriptions of what you are making, this chart provides a quick and effective way of analyzing the ingredients, the method, the effort and the time required to make a decent ratatouille.

    Now imagine what would happen if you had to make a chart like this for every stock offering, asset acquisition or trademark registration your law firm undertook.  Would you be able to identify the ingredients, the method, the effort and the time required to provide great client service?  If you can’t make this kind of chart (or a functional equivalent), you haven’t thought hard enough about how you practice law and you aren’t anywhere near the starting gate for making intelligent decisions with respect to alternative fee arrangements.  Without this kind of analysis, your client services are little more than an undifferentiated mess of chopped vegetables with local seasoning.  In these days of billing pressures, that’s just not good enough.  Clients need to know that you know exactly what you do, and how to do it most efficiently and effectively.

    Having the right recipe matters a lot.  What’s yours?

    [Photo Credit:  Merlene]

    4 Comments
  • If there is one unlimited resource in this world, it’s the human capacity to find ways to avoid work. Everyone has had an hour or a day when it was very hard to focus on the thing that had to be done. So what have we done instead? Anything but that one required thing. This is a fact of a life, a fact of human nature — possibly since our cave dwelling days. Who wouldn’t rather draw pictures on a cave wall instead of monotonously rubbing sticks together to make fire? Now, fast forward to the 21st century.  Who hasn’t thought longingly about their Facebook wall when what they needed to do was complete an expense report?

    There’s no question that social media presents a powerful distraction for workers.  However, it’s not the first and it won’t be the last.  What do you do about employees who make personal calls or send personal emails on the job?  Or spend too long on bio breaks?  Or gossip in the halls? Or surf the net? Or play solitaire? Or indulge in tech-free daydreaming?

    So what’s the solution?  Turn every workplace into a police state?  That’s one approach.  But employer controls are only as good as the last big technology – or the last employee workaround the employer caught.  And, to do it correctly, you’d have to confiscate cellphones and personal computers at the door.  Do you really want to go there?

    Some companies have responded with detailed social media and internet usage policies.  However, when these policies are focused on employee productivity rather than the technology itself, they miss a key point.  Employee performance is fundamentally a human resources issue rather than a technology issue.  A highly motivated, engaged employee can do more good with little technology than a distracted, unfocused, disengaged employee can do with state of the art technology.  Equally, that highly motivated, engaged employee will be far less prone to distraction and time wasting — at either the physical or electronic water cooler.

    As companies have been confronting the opportunities and challenges of social media, some have made social media the whipping boy for deficiencies in the way they manage.  It might make more sense to focus energy on how to keep employees engaged and motivated, rather than using technology policies to curb poorly managed employees.

    [Photo Credit:  Khaosprinzessin]

    12 Comments
  • Drinking your own champagne” was how Jo Hoppe, CIO of Pegasystems, described the process that some with a less elegant turn of phrase have called “eating your own dog food.” It means using your own products and taking your own advice.  It also means moving out of the world of the theoretical into the painfully practical. Jo Hoppe calls this becoming “a living laboratory.” And nowhere is this needed more than in knowledge management and Enterprise 2.0 deployments.

    Knowledge managers (at least in the legal industry) are accomplished when it comes to identifying the “things lawyers won’t do.”  You don’t even have to buy a law firm knowledge manager a drink before they start complaining about how lawyers don’t attend training sessions, or won’t spend enough time in an application to see its full range of capabilities or won’t take a few minutes to properly profile or file a document.  This conversation can rapidly disintegrate into a pity party unless you have a real life corrective.  So, I suggest that we all drink our own champagne.   But, before we can open that bottle of bubbly, we need to have a few moments of honesty and ask ourselves some questions along the following lines:

    • Do we take measures to “walk a mile in the shoes” of the lawyers we seek to assist?
    • Do we follow processes within the KM group that promote transparency and mutual accountability?
    • Is our natural tendency within the KM group to behave competitively or collaboratively?
    • Are we using Enterprise 2.0 tools to facilitate the information flow within the KM group?
    • Do we have personal experience of the benefits of social media tools before trying to sell it to our colleagues?
    • Do we keep ourselves up to date on the training we need to be productive?

    What are your answers?  Are you in the “do what I say, not what I do” camp or do you actually drink your own champagne?  One director of knowledge management I know posts all of her team’s projects on her firm’s intranet, showing goals and achievements (as well as shortcomings) against plan.  In so doing, she embraces the transparency that is a key part of social media use within the firewall, shines a little light on the work of her team and makes herself accountable for the work of her team.  Others use wikis and blogs to manage KM projects, thereby giving their teams invaluable first-hand experience of the benefits and deficits of the software and processes they are using.  They are world-class quaffers of champagne.  What about you?

    [Photo Credit:  Waldo Jaquith]

    9 Comments
  • Some things cannot be rushed. I was reminded of this truth when reading the description of Joseph Priestly in Jack Vinson’s book review of The Invention of Air:

    The book is engagingly written, describing Priestly in both his positive and negative qualities and how his work fits into the greater context of what was happening in England and on the larger global stage.  One theme that was repeated throughout the story has to do with his deep interest in many areas: natural philosophy, religion, and politics being the primary areas.  He was deeply curious in all these areas with the best evidence being his prodigious talent for writing in all these areas.  The fact that he was interested in all these things was not enough to make him an important figure.  He had the opportunity to interact with many of the leading thinkers of his time from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson to Antoine Lavoisier to the members of the Royal Society.  Along with this wonderful social network, Priestly’s vast interests also gave him an intellectual and idea network that was perfect for the age of amazing discoveries and thinking in this age.  And on top of these fantastic networks of people and ideas, Priestly (and many others of this age) had another key quality: he had the leisure to explore these things.

    This snippet points to several important preconditions for innovation or paradigm shift:  (i) mastery of more than one subject, (ii) a social/professional network that allows the innovator to discuss and test ideas, and (iii) time.  Of these three, time is sometimes the most challenging.  In our world of hiring freezes where fewer are doing more, time is the rarest of commodities.  Yet, our minds need time to map one area of mastery on another and to elicit insights.  And, it takes time to find and engage the right people in your network to discuss  and test those ideas.  Finally, it takes time to bring an innovation to market and measure its impact.*

    But leisure implies more than just time.  It also implies having the freedom to choose how to spend one’s time.  It isn’t enough for an employer to say “take a  day and innovate.”  What’s really needed is protected time in which you are free to follow your interests.  In doing so, you engage not only your intellect but your passion, which is another critical ingredient for innovation.  Passion leads you to the insight that others who are less engaged in the subject miss.

    While necessity may be the mother of invention, time is the father of innovation.  And, in the case of innovation, perhaps lots of time is necessary.  So, how do you make the time for innovation?

    ******************

    *Updated:  Thomas Vander Wal pointed me to a post of his that discusses a failure by Boeing to give innovation an opportunity to take root and show results:  Acceptance of Innovation Takes Time.  It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same.

    [Photo Credit:  Micky]

    6 Comments
  • When the cat’s away, you know what those mice do. But, do you know why? According to a report by Rachel Zupek, it’s often about the kind of boss that cat is:

    It’s a direct reflection of the boss’s leadership. When a workplace isn’t compelling to people — where employees lack the desire and ability to be accountable for their own success — misbehaving or slacking in the boss’s absence is merely a mask for boredom.

    If a lack of employee engagement is a consequence of supervisor behavior, then that’s important feedback for the boss.  Accountability expert, Linda Galindo, believes that bosses in this situation need to”raise their game.”  This can mean adopting a radically different approach to management, as recounted by one supermarket manager:

    Not content with the absolute misery of the hourly employees I was responsible for, I tried to inspire and entertain them. It worked; those under me had the highest productivity rate, got the best raises, were promoted faster and would do just about anything in the world for me because they knew I would do anything in my power for them.

    For you cats in management, is there something about your leadership that stops your colleagues from investing in their jobs and the success of your group?  Are you focusing on the right things?  Is it about punching the clock on time  — or producing great results on time? Is it about providing a way for your staff to shine — or are you too busy promoting your own interests over those of your team?

    Perhaps mice are predisposed to play a little when the cat’s away.  Just be sure that you aren’t creating the conditions at work that drive your mice to act out more than normal.

    [Photo Credit: yukari]

    1 Comment
  • Rees Morrison reports that clients get unhappy when their lawyers have internal meetings. According to some of the general counsel he works with, these meetings are seen as unnecessary additions to the bill. Meanwhile, their outside counsel know that these meetings have been a traditional means of sharing important matter information and, thereby, promoting efficiency.  For the general counsel who are concerned about this issue, Rees goes on to provide some strategies they might employ to reduce the financial impact of internal meetings.

    I would respectfully suggest that there may be a better, less contentious approach. If we can agree that general counsel and their outside lawyers understand that there is great value in knowledge sharing and that we are all invested in promoting this sharing, then we should work to find a more efficient and cost-effective means of knowledge sharing rather than making the sharing financially difficult for the outside lawyers.  Instead of old-fashioned meetings, could we perhaps try … Enterprise 2.0?

    The promise of Enterprise 2.0 is that it offers low-cost, light-weight ways of creating information streams so that participants can share their knowledge as and when needed.  This has the added benefit of eliminating some unnecessary meetings and emails – especially those regarding status updates.  Of course, there is no substitute for face-to-face meetings and sometimes meeting in person is the best and most efficient thing to do.  But for those other times, we should consider taking advantage of current technology to maximize knowledge sharing while minimizing the financial impact on clients and firms alike.

    [Photo Credit: ryancr]

    8 Comments
  • The Knowledge Management Peer Group of the International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) is once again sponsoring a survey to determine the current state of law firm knowledge management. Given the upheavals in the legal industry of the last few years, it will be interesting to see what if any changes emerge from the survey data.

    Here’s the request from ILTA:

    The KM Peer Group is conducting its biennial knowledge management survey to probe the trends, hot topics and development of KM in the legal industry. Results of the survey will be published in the KM White Paper scheduled for publication in June.  Please take five to ten minutes to complete the survey or forward it to the appropriate KM person in your organization (we only want one response per organization). As an incentive to participate, we will draw three names from our pool of respondents –– two winners will receive $500, and a third will receive his/her choice of $500 or a waived registration fee for ILTA 2010, the annual conference (a $1,025 value).

    And, here’s the link to the survey, which will remain open until March 26www.zoomerang.com/Survey/WEB22ABG2QSZN4,

    ILTA requests that you submit only one response per firm.  Thank you for participating and Good Luck!

    No Comments
  • $35.5 million is a lot to spend on potential, but that’s the record-setting price a private jewelry retailer recently paid for a 507-carat rough diamond.  According to the Associated Press report,

    The stone — as big as a chicken egg and weighing just over 100 grams (3.53 ounces) — was estimated as among the world’s top 20 high-quality rough diamonds. It was discovered in September at South Africa’s Cullinan mine.

    What would someone pay for the potential embodied by your team?  If not a record-setting price, why not?  Thanks to the economic downturn, there is some terrific talent on the market looking for new opportunities. Perhaps it’s time to reassess and augment the strength of your bench.

    And let’s not forget that the key to a rough diamond is a masterful diamond cutter.  Your ability to prioritize and shape the efforts of your team will go a long way to realizing their brilliance.  Do you have the skill to reveal the myriad glittering facets hidden in the rough diamonds of your team?  If not, what are you doing about that?  It may be past time for you to polish your skills.

    [Photo Credit:  Times Live]

    No Comments
  • Do you think small? Or, do you have a compelling vision that gives your work purpose? What gets you out of bed in the morning other than the knowledge that someone expects you to punch the clock at the office?

    Some have reported that in their view the safest course through the economic downturn was to pursue tactical goals rather than grand visions.  They have taken comfort in the sense of forward motion generated by their incremental gains.  However, while achieving these goals can be satisfying (in the way that crossing something off a to do list can be satisfying), they too rarely provide the competitive advantage that our firms are looking for.

    What works better?  Pursuing a BHAG: a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.  Jim Collins and Jerry Porras coined this phrase to capture the kind of grand vision that a company articulates and then uses as an organizing principle and a spur to greater action.  Google doesn’t just want to be the go to search engine. Google’s BHAG is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”  Amazon doesn’t just want to be a great bookstore.  Rather, Amazon’s BHAG is a little grander than that:  “to be Earth’s most customer-centric company for three primary customer sets — consumer customers, seller customers and developer customers.”  That’s all?

    What audacious, outrageous goal are you trying to achieve with knowledge management?  Is it big enough to keep you and your team energized and focused?  As we emerge from the economic downturn, bold ideas are going to help the surviving firms thrive.  What’s your bold idea?

    ********************

    Here are some additional resources on BHAGs:

    [Photo Credit: jiruan]

    5 Comments
  • Back flips, somersaults, handstands. These acrobats did it all. Standard fare for an acrobat, you say? Perhaps. But these guys were doing it in a New York City subway train. Have you ever tried doing a rapid series of back flips in the narrow aisle of a moving train? Me neither. Perhaps it’s not such standard fare after all.

    Knowledge managers have their own skills and tricks. And some of us are extremely good at what we do in normal office settings. But have you considered what might happen if you changed venue or context? What skills would be portable? What new tricks would you have to learn?  What new audiences or clients could you reach?

    I’m not suggesting that you become an acrobat on a subway train. Rather, I’ve told the story to help you initiate a thought experiment. It’s in experiments like this that we discover new opportunities for innovation and growth — and, perhaps, a chance to brush-up some old tumbling skills.

    [Photo Credit:  Florriebassingbourn]

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