Above and Beyond KM

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

Awards & Recognition

Subscribe to Above and Beyond KM

Subscribe in a reader

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

Facebook

Recent Posts

Disclaimer

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.
  • Knowledge management encourages transparency and information sharing. But data security concerns are driving more organizations to lock down their data so that is “safe.” In the process, security measures can make it harder to share information. In this data security obsessed world, how can knowledge management survive?

    [These are my notes from a private international meeting of large law firm knowledge management personnel. The sessions were off-the-record, so the comments below are without attribution.]

    Even though some data should legitimately be locked down (e.g., personnel information), organizations often tend to go overboard and sweep up even innocuous information in the lockdown. Is personal privacy dead? The optimists say no, but it has changed. The pessimists say it’s not dead — yet — but it’s on life support. What are the biggest threats? Private hackers (theft-focused), hacktivists and state-sponsored incursions into privacy.

    Key concerns impinging on KM content:

    • Data security concerns
      • inquisitive, disgruntled or departing firm personnel
      • insider trading issues
      • hackers
      • foreign and domestic government intelligence gathering
    • Data privacy concerns
      • data privacy protection regulations (eg., EU)
      • protected personal health information
    • Legal access/discoverability concerns
      • reach of (primarily US) courts and agencies
    • Proprietary data concerns
      • client-related content deemed to be proprietary
      • copyrighted and permission-restricted content
    • Data management concerns
      • traditional DMS and records management concerns
      • data storage and archival costs

    Law Firm Responses:

    • Data security audits
      • clients are trying to protect their data (primarily from competitors and from hackers)
      • growing numbers of clients in financial services (and, increasingly, other industries) are conducting audits
      • these audits contain detailed questions and require the law firms to “prove” that their security measures are appropriate and effective
      • Some firms are trying to use document automation tools to expedite how they respond to client audits
      • Some firms are losing clients when the fail to meet the requirements of the data security audits
    • Content hiving
      • This intended to protect from threats from employees
      • Increased use of restrictive client/matter security
      • Document access restricted by default instead of open by default
      • Increased/extended use of firewalls and firewall maintenance tools
      • As a result, you can see only the data to which you already have access.  This means, you can know only what you know.
      • It means that firms have to hire people or buy tools that can locate and sanitize information so that it can be shared
    • Physical balkanization of data
      • Removing sensitive content from US-based servers (including enterprise search)
      • Restricting access by US-based users and administrators to non-US content
    • Information security education
      • Clients are insisting on information security education programs
      • This is a great opportunity for KM personnel to participate and explain knowledge sharing even in a data lockdown
    • Data privacy managers
      • More firms and clients are hiring data privacy managers

    What’s the upside for KM?

    • The need to manage the matter team (in order to implement hiving). This requires a more thoughtful approach to creating and managing teams, heir workflow and their data handling.
    • There has always been a lot of “personal hiving” (where lawyers squirrel documents and information away on hard drives and thumb drives or in email). In this new data security obsessed world, KM can step in to try to curtail the personal hiving.
    No Comments
  • triplet towers of paper [This is the fifth in a series of posts featuring a conversation with Susan Hackett of Legal Executive Leadership focused on deepening client relationships in meaningful (and profitable) ways.]

    At a recent session on extranets at the ILTA 2012 conference, Lynn Simpson of DuPont started her portion of the presentation with the warning that she “was about to throw a bomb in the room.” She followed that warning with these words:

    • We don’t want you to send us poorly targeted, irrelevant marketing or legal updates. We consider that material to be the equivalent of spam.
    • It’s great that you have all these interesting extranets, but we don’t want to have to go to each firm’s special environment to find the materials we need to work. We want our external clients to come to our environment — the place where we, the client, are most comfortable working.

    That should make everyone sit up and take notice!

    And then what? Here’s some advice:

    • With a broadcasted email blast, the client is left trying to sift through a host of law firm updates in order to figure out which (if any) of these emails actually are relevant to the client’s work.  Speaking on behalf of clients everywhere, Susan says: “That’s your marketing, not my business interest.”
    • The better approach is for the client relationship partner to personally select the materials that are relevant to the client and then forward them with a covering note that explains the context and how it matters (or should matter) to the client.
    • Ask your client how their department organizes legal information. Are there gaps you could help fill?
    • Does your client have easy access to information relating to the matter you are working on? If not, discuss how you might make these materials available to them in a manner that is convenient for your client.
    • Are there basic knowledge resources or tools you could provide your client to allow a certain measure self-service?
    • Would your client be interested in a subscription service by which you regularly provided information useful to your client’s business operations?

    While these are some preliminary suggestions, the bottom line is that each firm has to ask each of its clients for guidance on how best to share knowledge resources. It is now longer a matter of routine marketing. Instead, every action should remind your client of how well you understand your client’s business and how much you are willing to do to support your client’s work. Generic legal memoranda run the risk of sending a radically different message. Is that really what you want to do?

    The next in this Focus on Clients series: Creating a Law Firm from a Client’s Perspective

    [Photo Credit: artnoose]

    No Comments
  • Making Good Ideas Infectious is the subject of a brief video that reflects the learning about knowledge sharing gleaned from the Sustainable Learning Project and the Involved Project. While I encourage you to take a look at the video below, here are the seven principles presented in the video for better designing processes to have a more positive impact on society:

    1. Design knowledge exchange into your work.
    2. Make sure you systematically represent the needs and priorities of everyone who’s likely to use your work.
    3. Make sure knowledge exchange is a two-way process.
    4. Create a safe space in which people can share opinions and existing knowledge, and generate new knowledge together.
    5. Deliver tangible outcomes that people involved in your work want as soon as possible.
    6. Create a culture of trust where everyone’s knowledge is valued and people stay engaged.
    7. Reflect and evaluate so you can refine your practice.

    Now think about the impact these principles might have on your organization.  Think about the difference it would make if you could make knowledge exchange a reality at work.

    [Thanks to the Sustainable Learning Project for bringing this video to my attention.]

    No Comments
  • hidingA new Canadian study reveals that companies are suffering from a “knowledge hiding” epidemic.  Or, as Kimberly Weisul puts it, the $73 billion that companies spent on knowledge management software in 2008 (according to AMR research) might possibly be a complete waste.

    That’s a thought that should strike terror in the heart of every knowledge management professional.

    So what’s going on?  Apparently, companies have invested in marvelous (and expensive) knowledge management systems without first properly identifying and addressing the barriers to knowledge sharing that exist within their organizations.  As a result, their systems lack the key content that make them mission critical. Instead, the people with the goods are keeping them hidden.

    The study by Catherine Connelly, Jane Webster and David Zweig cites the following popular methods of knowledge hiding:

    • ignoring requests for assistance
    • claiming that the requested information is confidential and cannot be shared
    • pretending ignorance

    The study also provides some reasons why colleagues indulge in knowledge hiding:

    • they are distrustful of co-workers or management
    • they feel an injustice has been done to them
    • they are retaliating for someone else’s bad behavior
    • their organizational culture encourages secrecy rather than sharing
    • they believe that they can get away with it

    In a similar vein, Ian Thorpe has noted in his KM on a dollar a day blog the following reasons why people won’t share information:

    • the requested material is “rough and ready” — fine in the hands of the originator, but not safe in the hands of others
    • it is a preliminary draft and has not been perfected
    • the material was not intended for external consumption
    • it may not conform to the public position of management or the organization
    • it may be based on evidence or arguments that have not yet been properly vetted

    So what are the best antidotes for knowledge hiding? The key is to build an organizational culture of knowledge sharing.  However, that is easier said than done.  In light of that, what do the study’s authors recommend?

    The paper suggested that companies can overcome knowledge hiding by having more direct contact and less email communication with employees, highlighting examples of trustworthiness, and avoiding “betrayal” incentives, such as rewards for salespeople who poach another’s clients. (Jordan Press, Ottawa Citizen, May 16, 2011) [emphasis added]

    In addition,

    • Build trust — emphasize positive relationships among employees
    • Demonstrate the mutual benefits that result when colleagues share information
    • Treat all workers fairly and respectfully, thereby reducing feelings of injustice and the need for retaliation

    At the end of the day, if you want to get value out of your expensive knowledge management systems, you have to spend the time and effort to ensure that all the people involved are willing to cooperate and share.  Don’t let a technology vendor tell you otherwise.

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

    For further reading, see: Jack Vinson, Knowledge hiding among co-workers.

    [Photo Credit: Susan NYC]

    9 Comments
  • TMI

    “It’s only a teaspoonful,” I overheard the six-year old girl say in all seriousness as she explained to a boy in her class the nature of the contribution the male of the species makes to procreation. The look of horror on the boy’s face was positively comical as he reacted viscerally with the expression “TMI! TMI!”

    For those of you who haven’t heard it before, TMI is the acronym for “too much information.” It’s often used when people disclose private details that one would really rather not know about in the ordinary course.  I found myself saying “TMI” when I first read a terrific set of posts by Jim McGee, John Tropea and Jack Vinson regarding the benefits of information transparency among knowledge workers and the importance of making knowledge work more visible. Granted, I was “catastrophizing” as I imagined a workplace where every thought was expressed in writing before it could be edited for appropriateness or sense. I imagined my daily e-mail deluge multiplied many times over once I moved from messages directed at me to a stream messages directed to the entire firm.  I imagined a tsunami of triviality swamping me daily as I struggled to be productive. I imagined having to hide myself in a technology free cave in order to get any work done.

    I will confess that I love Twitter and use it daily.  In learning to love it, I’ve come to understand that I cannot and should not try to read everything.   Rather, I dip my toe in and out of the stream when I can.  An important part of this behavior is learning to let go of the need to read it all, and trust instead that the important things will rise to the surface repeatedly and capture my attention in due course.  That’s easier to do in your leisure life than at the office, where I (at least) feel obliged to read everything that my colleagues send me.  What happens when I start receiving a general flow of information rather than the current more limited (albeit sometimes overwhelming) targeted flow of e-mail information?  How do I protect myself from missing the important stuff while suffocating under the irrelevant?

    What’s your experience with activity streams work at work?  If you’re using them at your workplace, what can you tell us about how they improve or clog the arteries along which your information flows?  How do you find the important amongst the trivial?

    [Photo Credit: Fredshome]

    17 Comments
  • Twice today I was reminded of the benefits of breaking out of my silo and broadening my circle. In both cases, the information sharing came about through ancient technology — a face to face meeting.

    In the first instance, I had the privilege of a long conversation with a terrific colleague who works in a completely different department. Under normal circumstances, we’d most likely never meet. However, because we happened to be working on a new  project together, we had the chance to have an extended conversation. In the course of today’s meeting, we discovered that we were working in parallel on two projects that were strikingly similar.  Thankfully, we immediately recognized the opportunities for efficiencies and have agreed to meet again to share knowledge and optimize our results. This is a great example of some of the benefits to be derived from cross-disciplinary conversations.

    Later in the day, KMers Johan Lammers, Rob Swanwick, Ian Thorpe and I had a tweetup.  In the course of that conversation, Ian remarked on the similarities in our experiences of knowledge management and social media within the enterprise despite the fact that he and I work in completely different types of organizations.  It was a good reminder that there are some essential truths in KM that apply regardless of context.  As long as we are dealing with human beings, we face these common challenges.  It was also comforting to learn that we are not alone in the face of these challenges.  Regardless of how small your knowledge management department may be, there are many other knowledge managers who are contending with similar issues.  As a result, there are many opportunites to commiserate with and learn from each other if we only step outside our silos.

    Given the amount of common ground uncovered today through these two meetings, I’m going to seek out more opportunities to have cross-disciplinary conversations.  It’s my personal attempt to do a little silo smashing with old technology.  If we’re fortunate, these interactions will lead to knowledge sharing and innovation. Can you think of better outcomes for a knowledge management initiative?

    [Photo Credit: Calium]

    4 Comments
  • If you are a traditionalist you’ll know that January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany in the Western Church, is the day for giving up and giving away. It is the day to give up your Christmas finery, packing it away until next December. It also is the Day of the Three Kings, when people give away gifts to commemorate the gifts offered by the kings. In Louisiana, today is the beginning of the Mardi Gras season — a time of fun and frivolity before the somberness of Lent.

    A favorite food during this period of celebration in Louisiana is the King Cake.  For those of you who haven’t sampled this delicacy before, Wikipedia provides the following description:

    In southern U.S.A., the tradition was brought to the area by colonists from France and Spain. King cake parties in New Orleans are documented back to the eighteenth century.It has become customary in the New Orleans culture that whoever finds the trinket must provide the next king cake.The king cake of the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition comes in a number of styles. The most simple, said to be the most traditional, is a ring of twisted bread similar to that used in brioche topped with icing or sugar, usually colored purple, green, and gold (the traditional Carnival colors) with food coloring. Some varieties have filling inside, the most common being cream cheese followed by praline. Popular bakeries such as Gambino’s, Haydel, and Randazzo, feature original recipes and types of king cakes.

    The King Cake is a wonderful metaphor for pragmatic knowledge management.  Just yesterday I thanked a colleague for his contribution to one of our knowledge management systems and in response he told me that his team had been able to complete their project in record time because another colleague had made an earlier helpful contribution to the same knowledge management system.  In other words, the first contribution was the trinket in the King Cake.  The lawyer who found it then stepped up to make a contribution of his own.  When things work this way, knowledge sharing increases exponentially and knowledge managers have to spend less time helping skeptical lawyers understand “what’s in it for me.”

    Best wishes for a great season of Epiphany.  I hope you and your colleagues enter into the generous spirit of the season.

    5 Comments
  • What are you hiding? And, more importantly, why are you hiding it? That’s the question to consider when you run across instances of knowledge hoarding within your organization. It’s very hard to create an open, collaborative, knowledge-sharing culture without first understanding what drives people to put up walls around their content.  Is it fear?  Ignorance?  An excess of competitive spirit?  Whatever it is, you’re going to have to identify it and then find ways to help the hoarders overcome their issues.  Otherwise it will be difficult to achieve a thriving knowledge management effort.

    If you’re searching for inspiration, take a close look at Air New Zealand, a company that has gone all out to foster a spirit of openness.  They like to say that they’ve “got nothing to hide.”  Chances are your law firm won’t be willing to go to the same lengths for the sake of knowledge management.  But imagine if it did?

    Here’s some additional information on the Air New Zealand transparency campaign:

    [Photo Credit:  roboppy]

    7 Comments
  • Are you ready to walk away from your major line of business?  If not, you may be turning away a new, more profitable line of business.  Or, you may find you’re soon out of business altogether.  Not convinced?  Well then, spend a little while with Xerox.  When you hear the word Xerox, you tend to think of office machinery. And, for a time, you would have been right. But that’s no longer the primary business of Xerox.  In fact, lately Xerox has started to tell its customers not to waste their money on unnecessary machinery purchases and is now selling consulting services to help those customers better manage the equipment they have in order to make their end-to-end printing processes as efficient and cost-effective as possible.  Scott Anthony‘s reaction to this change in strategy was overwhelmingly positive:

    That’s a strong sales proposition in today’s tough economy. While Xerox might miss short-term printer and copier sales, it is building long-term, potentially lucrative relationships — and a base to move into additional productivity-related services.

    Xerox had the courage to stop clinging to its traditional line of business and, by branching out, has opened up huge new opportunities for itself.  How do law firm knowledge management departments achieve that nifty trick? According to Scott Anthony, you need to do three things:

    1. Start with a deep understanding of how the customer frames the problems they are facing. It’s easy for companies to fall into the trap of thinking that customers care primarily about the products they purchase. Often they don’t. Those products are means to an end. In Xerox’s case, it doesn’t sell copiers. It sells workplace productivity. Understanding how the customer frames the problem helps to highlight different ways to address that problem.
    2. Build a solution that solves the customer’s — not your company’s — problem. Xerox could easily have designed a service offering that really was a veiled way for it to sell and support Xerox equipment. But that’s not what the customer wants. More than half of the 1.5 million devices under Xerox management are made by other companies. Ask how a startup company with no base business to defend would approach the challenge.
    3. Give the new business ample freedom. Corporate antibodies can often squash new offerings that look like competitive threats. Sufficient organizational autonomy can be critical for long-term success.

    Now, what would happen if we were to apply these principles to the way we deliver KM services to lawyers within our firms?

    1. Understand how lawyers frame the problems they are facing. KM 1.0 has told us for years that lawyers want comprehensive,  carefully-organized collections of practice resources.  This has led us to track down content, attempt to convert the tacit into the explicit, and then build and maintain large databases.  In reality, lawyers don’t care about those collections and KM can never do enough to make them truly effective.  Lawyers just want easy access to information at the point of need.  It doesn’t really matter how you deliver those practice resources (e.g., through enterprise search,  Enterprise 2.0 technology, etc.) as long as it works when they need it.  As Scott Anthony says:  “Understanding how the customer frames the problem helps to highlight different ways to address that problem.”
    2. Build a solution that solves the lawyer’s — not your KM department’s — problem. Don’t think administratively about your staff and their job descriptions.  Focus instead on the nature of the support the lawyers actually need to do their jobs well.  Rather than deploying another database coder, would it be better to set up a Wiki or discussion board to facilitate lawyer-to-lawyer knowledge sharing?  In other words, how would you configure your services if you had no department (or, in the case of Xerox, no base business of machinery sales) to defend?
    3. Give the new way of working ample freedom. As you turn from KM 1.0 to KM 2.0 ways of doing things, you’ll need to resist the temptation to control the new means and methods of collaboration and knowledge sharing.   It doesn’t matter whether you’re motivated by honest concerns about risk or the short-term welfare of your department.  When you place unnecessary restrictions on collaboration and knowledge sharing, you impede the free flow of information. Then you are part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Giving lawyers the freedom to shape the way they share information is critical for long-term success.

    As you think harder about this, you’ll realize that you need to move away from the KM 1.0 way of doing things.  That’s the old way of doing business.  The future lies in returning to first principles (or rather, the key 7 Principles of KM) and embracing KM 2.0.  Are you as brave as Xerox?

    [Photo Credit:  treevis, Creative Commons license]

    5 Comments
  • Knowledge managers around the world can learn a great deal from the example of the Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge of the State of New York, whose tenure ends on December 31st. Besides being the first woman to hold the state’s highest judiciary office and author of some landmark decisions, she will be remembered for her reform of the judicial system in New York. Chief among these reforms was expansion of the jury pool by eliminating the automatic exemptions that excused far too many from serving on a jury. Prior to the repeal of these exemptions, you could be excused from jury service if you were, for example, a doctor, a lawyer, an embalmer, a maker of prosthetic limbs, a wearer of prosthetic limbs, etc.

    Chief Judge Kaye tells an amusing story about why expanding the jury pool was necessary: her daughter discovered that it was “a great place to meet guys.” As any loving mother knows, you increase your daughter’s chances of making a good match by increasing the number of potential mates in the pool (regardless of the real purpose of the pool).

    What works in matchmaking works in knowledge sharing as well. The bigger the pool, the greater the available knowledge on which you can draw. Users of social media are discovering that by interacting more regularly and transparently with their social networks they are able to learn and share more than ever before. In the process, the pool grows and the participants themselves grow. Despite this reality, finding a way to bring the power of the bigger pool inside enterprises via social media tools continues to be a challenge for knowledge management.

    In 2009, look for more ways to take an expansive view — not only in how you work, but in the tools you provide that help make the pool bigger for everyone. If social computing has taught us anything, it is that this generosity is returned time and time again.

    No Comments