Industry Leaders Conversation: Change, Culture, and Learning #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description:

Former head of KM with the BBC, Semple believes in conversations and leads our panel on a far-ranging discussion of change, culture and learning as we all aspire to an outbreak of common sense on our journey for knowledge sharing and creating sustainable, high-functioning organizations and communities.

Speakers:

  • Euan Semple, Director, Euan Semple Ltd
  • Jean-Claude Monney, Former Chief Knowledge Officer, Microsoft, Columbia University and Digital Transformation Coach
  • Kim Glover, Global Manager of Knowledge Management, TechnipFMC
  • Nancy Dixon, Principal Researcher, Common Knowledge Associates

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • Why knowledge management?
    • at Microsoft Services, Jean-Claude Monney was given responsibility to get 100% of Microsoft knowledge to 100% of Microsoft’s customers, 100% of the time.
    • Best of the knowledge = relevant (in the context of the work) and trustworthy
    • For Nancy Dixon, knowledge management helps the organization learn better and faster.
  • What is the pedigree of knowledge?
    • if the knowledge comes from a person, is that person reliable/trustworthy?
    • if the knowledge comes from a document, is the source of the document reliable?
  • Knowledge management should focus on the issues that matter.
    • Nancy Dixon worries that KM focuses too much on the tactical (how to be more efficient) but misses the issues that can really bring down the organization, such as ethical issues.
    • General Motors once had a terrific KM group. However, they were unable to help the company prevent bankruptcy. What if there were a KM group at Volkswagon that could shed light on ethical issues? Would that have prevented the emissions control disaster? Would there have been a different outcome at Wells Fargo if there were a KM-organized forum for employees to express their concerns about business practices that did not align with the company’s mission statement?
  • Conversation is Consequential. 
    • Conversation is something you enter with the realization that you might be changed.
    • Conversation in an organization creates a culture — it is important to notice what is talked about AND what is not talked about.
    • An organization that wants the benefit of consequential conversation must first create an environment of psychological safety.
  • We Make Culture.
    • Culture is not just something that is something that is done to us. We make culture by everything we do (or do not do).
    • We learn culture in the first instance from our experiences with our direct managers.
  • How to Start a KM Program.
    • If you are lucky, the CEO comes in one day and says we need a KM program.
    • More likely, find business problems that KM can help solve.
    • When you are asked to “show them the money,” don’t assume the responsibility for the numbers. Instead, partner with the business first, find out what KPIs are important to them, and then figure out the value KM adds to achieve those KPIs.
    • Before you mention KM to anyone, collect stories of instances when one unit helped another unit (and how much money was solved). Then suggest to management that you create an organizational strategy out of this collaboration.
  • What’s Next for KM?
    • Monney:
      • We are experiencing a massive change due to digital augmented knowledge. The reality of AI and augmented reality is extraordinary. The key is to use AI to improve a human’s ability to make better decisions.
      • We need to figure out to digitally transform our business — or someone else will.
      • We need to develop empathy
      • We need to harness the source of knowledge — but what if the knowledge is the heads of contractors or people who do not want to be handcuffed to the organization.
    • Glover: As technology gets better and easier to use, KM professionals can go back to being “people people” rather than reluctant technologists.
    • Dixon: There is an erosion of cognitive authority. We have stopped trusting CEOs and other people in positions of authority. KM’s role is to make things more transparent so that we can operate without omniscient authority figures.
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John Seely Brown Keynote: Knowledge Sharing in our Exponential World #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: People & Tech — the Future of Knowledge Sharing

People are at the core of knowledge-sharing—the key to high functioning organizations. In John Seely Brown’s words, “We participate, therefore we are.” New and emerging technology can only enhance learning, sharing, and decision making to create successful organizations. Join our inspiring and knowledgeable speaker as he shares his view of the future of people and tech working together to share knowledge and create winning organizations.

Speaker: John Seely Brown, Director, Palo Alto Research Center

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2017 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • We live in an Exponential World.  We are experiencing an exponential curve along which roughly every 18 months we have something new we have to think about. And that new thing forces us to change our view of our current best practices.
  • Whitewater Rafting. Whitewater rafting is a good metaphor for this age. In this period of rapid shifts (every 18 months), we are constantly creating tacit knowledge but do not have enough time to distill that knowledge and make it explicit. This means that we have to acquire new skills rapidly. However, the half-life of our skills is about five years. So we can never rest.
  • Scalable Learning. In this age of exponential change, we don’t merely need scalable learning. We need scalable UNLEARNING. This is the ability to forget our old tacit knowledge (and the associated beliefs) in order to replace it with newer, more correct knowledge and skills. The challenge is that we are caught in our own Competency Trap: sticking with what we know/do best — even in the face of obvious and unavoidable change.
  • Unlearning is hard. Unlearning depends on being able to find and expunge our own tacit knowledge and beliefs. The challenge is that sometimes we are completely unaware of those beliefs — we don’t realize we have them.
  • Start by Getting out of your Comfort Zone. Jack Hidary has a helpful protocol: every year, he takes a few days to learn something completely outside his area of expertise: (1) Attend a conference and sit and listen to every session. (2) On day 2, do not attend any conference session. Instead, sit by the coffee pots and listen to how subject matter experts talk about the subject. They will be “shamanistic,” using lots of jargon. Notice what they take for granted, notice what they miss. (As an outsider and novice, you will see things they do not see.) (3) On day 3, go outside and think about what you have heard and observed. Then determine what is actionable and worth pursuing. Using this approach, he attended an energy conference, did a quick deep dive into this area of expertise, realized we needed to switch to hybrids. He took action by convincing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg to convert some of its taxi fleet to hybrids. And he convinced President Obama to launch the Cash for Clunkers program.
  • Orchestrating Serendipity:
    • Choose serendipity environments
    • Develop Serendipity practices
    • Enhance Serendipity preparedness
  • Reverse Mentorship. Ths is a very practical and effective way to learn new skills
  • Institutional Innovations. How do we help our organizations think differently — not just use new tools?
    • Hackamonth — This is silo busting at Facebook. It’s a hackathon that lasts for 30 days to crack a problem. They do solve a lot of problems but, more importantly, they are building deeper communities of practice across the whole company.
    • Skadden Arps — they have implemented bi-directional learning opportunities by pairing young associates with senior partners. This work is facilitated: Peter Lesser (Skadden’s CEO) is the convener/moderator/translator.
  • New tools for empowering the edge.
    • cloud computing enables the edge to access all the power it needs without core approval
    • cloud enables nearly infinite scalability and reach, and enables new business models
    • social media amplifies engagement with external partners, customers and others in the core
    • bog data allows you to interpret weak signals
    • blockchain enables smart contracts with no overhead
  • Listening Tools. We also need tools that help us listen to each other better, interact with each other better.
  • Reality Mining. Sandy Pentland studies how to build great teams. He has learned that “patterns of communication are the most important predictor of a team’s success.” Just by listening to the intonation of the communications, the amount of information actually shared, the amount over-talk, Pentland’s group could separate the high-performing teams from the low-performing team.
  • Amplifying DevOps. DevOps creates a great deal of “digital dust.” Can we collect all these communications (across email, Slack, Jira, etc.) and mine them to improve our understanding? How would this then change the way we work?
  • What we Need for the Big Shift. The Big Shift calls for more than just scalable learning and unlearning. It calls for a new ontology  = a new way of being. This means blending in ourselves Homo Sapiens (man who thinks), Homo Faber (man who thinks) and Homo Ludens (man who plays). This playing isn’t just about recreation. It’s about “playing with” ideas and challenges in order to reach a breakthrough moment, an epiphany. Therefore, we need to learn how to do this type of play:
    • probing and pushing the boundaries
    • how to invent within a space of rules
    • deep tinkering
    • how we interrogate context is a form of “play” — like a detective who makes sense of the clues she reads in her environment.
  • Imagination is the Key. It is the way that we play, it is the way that we fuse or find an internal blend of knowing, making, and playing.
  • Our Symbiotic Relationship. When Big Blue defeated Gary Kasparov some thought it was the end of the ascendancy of humans. However, it also signaled an opportunity. Zack Stephens nd Steven Cramton were winners of the Freestyle Chess Tournament, which effectively is “a race with the machine” that is “a generative dance between us and the machine.” We need to look for opportunities for more generative dances.
  • What about IA? IA is Intelligent Augmentation. We can use intelligent augmentation to provide imagination (as the binding agent) with new properties.
    • Homo Faber + IA = digital assistants
    • Homo Ludens + IA = freestyle chess, Go masters
  • Networked Imagination: We need to create in each of us a product blend of human & machine. Then we need to figure out how to create distributed communities of practice that function as networked imagination.
  • CAUTION: “The real difficulty in changing any enterprise lies not in developing new ideas, but in escaping from the old ones. (John Maynard Keynes)
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Guiding the Goats in Your Firm

Continuing with my recent menagerie theme, today let’s think about goats. Goats? Yes, Moroccan domestic goats, to be specific. As you can see from the picture in this post, these goats are quite extraordinary; they have the ability to forage for food — in treetops. Why is this interesting? Because by nature goats know how to climb hilly terrain but they do not know how to climb trees. So what gives?

Here’s how Nicholas Bakalar, writing in the New York Times, tells their story:

These domestic goats live in southwestern Morocco, where the climate is dry and in some seasons the only available forage is in the trees. So the goats climb up to get it.

Goats are good climbers — some sure-footed species live happily on mountains, leaping from ledge to ledge. But these domestic goats are not born with an ability to climb trees. They learn the technique as kids.

Their keepers help them climb, and they trim the trees to make it easier for the kids. The goats eventually learn to do it themselves. In the autumn, when there is little food on the ground, they spend most of their time grazing the treetops.

Because the readers of this blog tend to be smarter than the average bear (sorry — I am obsessed with animals this summer!), you will probably have figured out exactly where I am headed. This story has some great lessons for knowledge management personnel:

  • The goats in your firm — and you can define who is a goat in your firm! — are not born with the natural ability to do most of the things you and your knowledge management colleagues know how to do.
  • To train goats properly, you must start by teaching them when they are kids — grab them when they are summer associates and help them learn how to work efficiently and effectively. Above all, teach them early to question “the way we’ve always done it around here.”
  • You will need to provide support for the kids until they master the necessary skills. This support is especially critical because some older billy goats will be dismissive of the value of the knowledge you have to impart. And, some of those billy goats will be worried that these new skills will reduce billable hours. So you will have to help the kids withstand the negative pressure from the goat gerontocracy.
  • You will need to trim the trees to make it easier for the goats.  This means creating sensible, frictionless systems and then removing any unforeseen roadblocks that might arise.
  • The goats must eventually learn to do things for themselves. You cannot hold their hooves forever.
  • This is a matter of survival — it will help them be productive in the lean seasons and the busy seasons.

So here are a couple of question for you: Can the goats in your firm graze in treetops yet? If not, when will you start guiding the goats in your firm so they can learn to do things they would otherwise never be able to do?

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

For more critical knowledge on goats and goatherds, see this extract from the greatest movie ever made 😉

[Photo Credit: Arnaud 25, Wikimedia]

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Training Your Backwards Bicycle Brain

Thanks to the generosity of a friend on social media, a video posted on YouTube over one year ago finally caught up with me. (Or, more properly, I finally caught up with it.) And that video got me thinking hard about how difficult it can be to change the way we work.

The video in question is The Backwards Brain Bicycle and it has a simple premise. People say that once you learn how to ride a bike, you never forget. In this video, we discover just how hard it is to unlearn how to ride a bike. By using a bike that was deliberately designed to operate in a strange way, the rider was forced to struggle between his newly acquired knowledge of the redesigned bike and his ingrained way of riding bikes. And the struggle was real.

But here’s the thing: No matter how difficult it is, we need to develop our ability to unlearn in order to develop our ability to learn. While we may not ever have to ride a backwards bicycle, there are lots of things we confront daily that require us to look at things differently or think about things differently. There were things that were standard when I first began my legal career (e.g., hard copy treatises, pocket parts, IBM Selectric typewriters, dictaphones, etc.) that are now extinct or irrelevant. As a result, I have had to unlearn my old ways so I could master new tools and techniques to get my job done.

Even if you were not practicing law in the dark ages when I first started working, I am certain you have had a similar experience of seeing old ways of doing things slip away, to be replaced by new ways that you have to learn quickly.

Margie Warrell calls this “learning agility” and says that it is now “the name of the game”:

To succeed today you must be in a constant state of adaptation – continually unlearning old ‘rules’ and relearning new ones. That requires continually questioning assumptions about how things work, challenging old paradigms, and ‘relearning’ what is now relevant in your job, your industry, your career and your life.

Learning agility is the name of the game. Where the rules are changing fast, your ability to be agile in letting go of old rules and learning new ones is increasingly important. Learning agility is the key to unlocking your change proficiency and succeeding in an uncertain, unpredictable and constantly evolving environment, both personally and professionally.

As you head out for a well-deserved long weekend, consider what you are being asked to learn and then think about what you will have to unlearn to make that learning possible. You cannot do one without the other.

If you don’t believe me, then believe Yoda:  “You must unlearn what you have learned.”

 

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Learn It! Do It! Share It! #KMWorld

KMWlogo_Stacked_Session Description: Knowledge management is in the business of helping organizations learn, use, and remember-the antidote to corporate amnesia. O’Dell shares APQC research aimed at helping organizations get smarter. She talks about the need for speed and ways of accelerating learning-not only for individuals and groups but for organizations themselves. Get KM best practices you can use to nudge people in your organization. Grab O’Dell’s nuggets of information for those who are at the beginning of their KM journey, those who are in the messy middle of their efforts, and those who are operating in mature KM marketplaces. Good tips for all!

Speaker: Dr. Carla O’Dell, CEO, APQC Author, The New Edge in Knowledge

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2015 Conference. I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, so they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • The Velocity Challenge.  Speed of execution has increased, but so has speed of learning.  There are three different speed challenges:
    • getting new employees up to speed quickly
    • helping “Nextperts” learn more rapidly
    • absorbing knowledge, which is growing faster and faster
  • What is driving the need for speed in your organization?
  • People and organizations learn differently.
    • Start by reading How We Learn by Benedict Carey.
    • We can said to have learned something if we can recall it at the appropriate time and put to use.
    • Focus attention and reading does not enhance learning.
    • Space and recall enhances learning. Walk away from the reading and ask yourself what you learned. Then go back and fill in the blanks.
  • People learn better when they realize that something is missing. They learn better when they are trying to solve a problem.  This is when they are most motivated to learn. It is a key teachable moment. That is why Googling at the moment of need is so important. It is a valuable mode of informal learning.
  • Forgetting is the Brain’s Spam Filter.
  • Primacy and Recency Effect. People remember the first thing you tell them and the last thing you tell them. That is why onboarding is so important.
  • People remember how you make them feel more than what you say. Therefore you need to create a rich tapestry of emotion.
  • KM is how organizations learn. Just because I know it doesn’t mean we know it. Therefore, KM is critical to help overcome organizational amnesia.
    • KM can alert people when something has changed in business rules and practices.
  • Avoid dead ends, empty shelves and desert islands. There must be a human being watching to make sure that people get the answers and resources they need. Otherwise, they will never come back.
    • Desert Islands = expertise location. People don’t want to be alone, they want an expert to help them.
  • What does it mean to say that the group has learned something?
    • The power of a group is the power of the collective. As long as there is trust in the group, members are assured that if one person knows it, everyone knows (or can know) it.
  • Communities are KM’s killer app. My allegiance to this voluntary group makes me willing to contribute and learn. According to MIT, the most productive and creative groups do two things:
    • the members of the group seek new ideas outside the group and bring them in
    • inside the group, they vet the new ideas and use them to improve their own ideas and work
  • What is the best way to learn?
    • The people approaches to learning make the system approaches work. In-person or virtual training, mentoring/apprenticeship are far more effective than remote efforts such as content management and document repositories.
    • The technology matters, but what matters more is the change management processes we use to help with technology adoption.
  • Making the Business Case for KM
    • see www.apqc.org for information on their maturity model
    • There is a correlation between KM maturity and financial performance. As KM maturity increase, the financial performance increases (in terms of sales and assets).
    • When making a KM business case, it is important to explain clearly what the payoff for the organization will be. You will be 3 times more likely to get a KM budget and 5 times more likely to expand it.
  • Why conduct financial analysis and documentation of benefit to show the value of KM investments? It secures and expands the budget, you get senior leadership support, it gives you traction to grown the KM program.
  • Cognitive computing and machine learning are on the horizon for KM.  What will this look like for us in the near future?
    • We are on the Gartner hype curve, so expect lots of expensive failures until we learn how to use these tools.
    • We will be able to give better and more customized search results.
    • With narrative tools, machines will be able to write up our lessons learned. (See NarrativeSciences.)
  • If we in KM do not get ahead of the cognitive computing curve, things could end badly for KMers. (Spoiler alert: the computer almost never loses.)
    • “Not since ‘2001 : A space odyssey’ have things ended badly for the computer.”
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Back to School

harvard law school logoTuition at Harvard Law School is not a trifling matter. At a price tag of $57,200 for the 2015-2016 academic year, it is worth asking from time to time if students are getting good value for their money.

In this spirit, three members of the HLS faculty recently surveyed 124 practicing lawyers at the law firms that hire the most HLS students*:

The survey had two main objectives: (1) to assist students in selecting courses by providing them with data about the relative importance of courses; and (2) to provide faculty with information about how to improve the curriculum and best advise students.

The first question they asked had to do with which law school “business-methods” courses would be most beneficial for current law students. The responses were quite consistent across transactional lawyers and litigators:

  • Accounting and Financial Reporting
  • Corporate Finance
  • Negotiation Workshop
  • Business Strategy for Lawyers
  • Analytical Methods for Lawyers
  • Leadership in Law Firms
  • Statistical Analysis/Quantitative Analysis

When asked which of the courses in the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance were most useful, transactional lawyers and litigators all agreed that Corporations and Securities Regulation were key. In addition, the transactional lawyers recommended Mergers & Acquisitions, while the litigators recommended Securities Litigation.

With respect to courses outside the area of Business Organization, Commercial Law, and Finance, the courses judged most useful fell along practice lines:

  • Litigation: Evidence, Federal Courts, Administrative Law
  • Transactions: Intellectual Property Law, Patent Law, Copyright Law

The next area surveyed was the skills and knowledge bases that law firms considered to be most important for students to acquire:

  • Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis
  • Teamwork
  • Financial Markets/Products Negotiations
  • Business Strategy/Industry Analysis
  • Statistical/Quantitative Analysis
  • Legal Services Industry

It is interesting to note that the lawyers surveyed viewed Teamwork to be almost exactly as important as Accounting/Financial Statement Analysis. In the words of the authors of the study: “Taken together, these results suggest that law firms value softer skills and institutional knowledge as well as rigorous analytical skills.”

So why does any of this matter to your law firm knowledge management department? The respondents to the survey are your current colleagues. The student beneficiaries of the survey will be your colleagues shortly. This survey identifies the subjects they find most useful. This leads to some important questions for you:

  • Are these subjects and skills well-supported by your KM program and resources?
  • Are your KM personnel trained and able to assist practitioners in these areas?

If the answer to either of these questions is no, isn’t it time you took a leaf out of the HLS playbook and started to realign your program, resources and personnel?

* The law firms surveyed were “the 11 largest employers of HLS students over the last several years: Ropes and Gray, Davis Polk, Skadden Arps, Latham & Watkins, Kirkland & Ellis, Cravath, Cleary Gottlieb, WilmerHale, Covington Burling, Gibson Dunn, and Sidley Austin.”

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Integrating Learning and Development with KM #KMWorld

kmworld-socialSpeakers: Dr. Susan Camarena, Chief Knowledge and Learning Officer, Federal Transit Administration; Turo Dexter, Knowledge Resources Manager, US DOT / Federal Transit Administration

[These are my notes from the KMWorld 2014 Conference. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

Session Description: KM coordination may reside in any of several parts of an organization—for example, human resources, research, or IT. At the FTA, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation, KM is tightly integrated with the Learning and Development function in its own group within the Office of Administration, where FTA’s chief knowledge and learning officer is a peer with the director of HR and the director of IT. The powerful synergy of FTA’s integrated Learning, Development and KM strategy supports employees as learners—and also as teachers—from onboarding to exit, throughout every branch of the agency. This dynamic presentation illustrates FTA’s strategy development, describes the major program activities that support FTA as a learning organization, reviews the metrics used to evaluate program effectiveness, and offers a template and process to help participants identify key facets of knowledge related to each business function in their own organizations.

NOTES:

  • Not just KM, but LKM: They focus on Learning AND Knowledge Management to enhance individual, team and organizational effectiveness by connecting people with what and how they know, what they need to know and how they can find it.
  • Evolution of LKM at the FTA: Initially their KM effort had neither staff nor budget. They started with a knowledge audit, appointed local knowledge coordinators in each of their 20 offices, provided facilitation for meetings across the organization. Then they created an initial KM strategy. When their Training Officer retired, they merged their learning & development organization with their KM organization. This created the Learning, Development and Knowledge Management department. These functions together became a real force multiplier within the organization.
  • Learners and Teachers: Their overarching goal is to support all FTA employees as learners and teachers from onboarding to exit. It is those individuals who “manage the knowledge,” not the KM department. (The KM department make manage some information from time to time, but they support individual KM.)
  • Initial KM Strategy:
    • culture of knowledge and experience sharing
    • efficient and effective business processes
    • leverage knowledge and experience for decision making and strategic planning
  • Current Strategy: They are creating a strategy that integrates learning, development, communications and engagement. All of this needs to be responsive to the agency’s goals (i.e., to the business goals).
  • Metrics:
    • They do regular audits
    • Learning and knowledge assessments
    • Employee viewpoint survey
    • Training evaluations
    • Testimonials and success stories
    • Increasing course enrollment
    • Increasing requests for services.
  • Lessons Learned:
    • Facilitate and support — It is our job to provide facilitation and support throughout the organization
    • Just say yes! —  We may sometimes say “later,” but we will never say “no” to any request for help.
    • No ask, no get — This is particulary
    • Never stop learning! —  Ask after every engagement and every interaction, what did I just learn?
  • How to Prioritize Resources? Is KM in service to L&D or vice versa? Both are in service to the agency (the business). The department cross-trains its personnel so that they can perform both functions together.
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Where is Your Failure Report?

Engineers Without Borders logoIf your organization is populated by perfect people with a perfect track record, feel free to ignore this post. For the rest of you, I’d urge you to spend a little time with Engineers Without Borders Canada. This nonprofit was founded in 2000 by two young engineers who had “a dream of an organization that would enable engineers to contribute something other than another bridge or another electrical grid.” Since then, the organization has built its fair share of wells in Africa, but it has also moved beyond those projects to tackle some really big ideas:

Some are social enterprises that bring affordable financing the rural entrepreneurs. Some improve African government service-delivery and decision-making. And some mobilize Canadians and engineers to create change in areas like ethical consumption. All challenge the status quo and provide radical alternatives to unjust systems.

One key to the organization’s growth and success has been failure. Or, more precisely, it’s gutsy approach to failure. These engineers understood early on that they couldn’t move forward if they did not learn from both their own experience and the experiences of others. A critical part of this was learning from failure. But how can one do this when few people own up to their failures? To address this, Engineers Without Borders Canada set out to create a new learning and innovation culture in which disclosing, discussing and even celebrating failure would not only be possible but, in fact, be expected. While a conversation behind closed doors might be tempting from a risk and reputation management perspective, Engineers Without Borders Canada puts its money where its mouth is: this organization discloses its failures publicly. Since 2008, the organization has published an annual Failure Report that contains “strong reflections on misaligned expectations, misplaced intentions, and incorrect assumptions.”  That’s right — they put it out there for the entire world to see.  They put it out there for their donors to see. Talk about transparency and accountability.

So why should any of this matter to someone working in a professional services firm or other for-profit business? If your organization is serious about innovation and improved performance, it has to confront the results of experiments gone wrong. And, it has to do so in a culture that supports learning rather than lynching. Engineers Without Borders Canada seeks to help all organizations build a supportive culture through storytelling. Their aim is to encourage as many organizations as possible to come clean about what’s really going on. Why?

The more stories that are shared, the easier it becomes to share your own. Slowly but surely, failure becomes less of the “F Word,” and a more commonplace, even celebrated vehicle for humility, learning, and innovation.

Striving for Humility is the title of the 2013 Annual Report of Engineers Without Borders Canada. While I don’t expect anyone in a law firm to draft a report with that title, consider what you might write if you told the truth about what’s happening on your watch. What would change if you successfully identified repeatable lessons that could be shared with your colleagues. What if those lessons were incorporated in your organization’s operating procedures? To be clear, this is not about paying lip service to transparency with an occasional after action review or, worse still, a database of lessons learned that no one ever consults. Rather, this is about encouraging attitudes and behaviors that enable us to share knowledge, learn and innovate. It’s about creating an organizational culture that is more honest and, perhaps, a tad more humble.

So in that spirit, I’ll ask again: Where is your failure report?

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Social Learning: The Newest Evolution of Learning [#e2conf]

Keith Myerson (Director, Learning & Development, Neiman Marcus Group Services) discussed how social learning (i.e., “sLearning”) will change the way L&D professionals see themselves, promote learning in their organizations and prevent brain drain from the “impending war for talent.” He may be contacted at Keith_Myerson@neimanmarcus.com or on Twitter @KeithMyerson.

[These are my notes from the Enterprise 2.0 Conference 2012 in Boston. Since I’m publishing them as soon as possible after the end of a session, they may contain the occasional typographical or grammatical error. Please excuse those. To the extent I’ve made any editorial comments, I’ve shown those in brackets.]

NOTES:

  • What’s Social Learning? sLearning isn’t just another form of electronic learning (eLearning) or mobile learning (mLearning). It harnesses the power of social technology to help employees find the information and training they need at the moment of need by connecting with their colleagues. At Neiman Marcus they have deployed a social platform that allows employees to share learning, particularly through focused discussion threads.
  • Social Tools Don’t Meet Every Training Need. L&D professionals need to think creatively and dispassionately about appropriate uses of social technology. While a Q&A might be well suited to a social platform, training on improved customer service that involves observing tone and body language is better suited to face to face sessions.
  • Tie sLearning Initiative to Business Metrics. It can be a challenge to establish ROI on social technology projects, so plan early to collect meaningful data. In the case of Neiman Marcus, they were able to establish that their sLearning initiative led to demonstrable (and quantifiable) improvements in customer satisfaction. Given that each one percent increase in customer satisfaction results in a specific dollar amount in improved revenues, they could connect sLearning efforts to better financial results. This is a great outcome for an Enterprise 2.0 project. It is also very different from the traditional approach of providing a training session and then pretending to measure impact through “smile sheets” (i.e., questionnaires that request trainee views on the session) that don’t typically connect to business performance.
  • The Impending Talent War. For years, people had been predicting an enormous brain drain when the Baby Boomers retire from the work force. In Keith Myerson’s view, most organizations have dodged a bullet since the economic downturn has forced many Boomers to remain employed. Similarly, some younger high-performing individuals have elected to stay put with their current employers until the economy improves. This means that once economic good times return, organizations should expect a mass exodus of Boomers and younger high-performers. This will result in a brain drain and the “impending war for talent.” Until that happens, however, organizations have an opportunity to foster knowledge transfer and hone their succession planning. Social technology and sLearning can help with this.
  • What Does sLearning Mean for Knowledge Management? The Neiman Marcus sLearning initiative has created a dynamic collection of current know-how that is quite different from the static intranet or portal collections. In fact, users are driving change by asking that their content be moved from the intranet/portal to the sLearning platform. [The implications of this for traditional knowledge management should not be ignored. Clearly L&D and KM professionals should be cooperating to ensure that an organization’s knowledge base is as current and complete as possible. Creating yet another disconnected silo of information is not helpful for the individual employee or for the organization as a whole.]
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We All Need Training

Hand washing poster from Yale Do you know how to wash your hands? Now, before you complain about bloggers who ask dumb questions, let me rephrase that question slightly: Do you know how to wash your hands properly? Chances are you don’t.

This issue arose when I found myself getting frustrated by restaurants that piously posted signs in restrooms instructing employees to wash their hands carefully, yet those same restaurants refused to provide hot water for hand washing.  How on earth could that be hygienic? This set me down the path of learning more about hand washing. Although I’m a scrupulous hand washer, I soon discovered that I had a lot to learn about the mechanics of hand washing. Among the things I learned are the following:

  • While hot water is nice, it’s not necessary. If you were serious about using water temperature to blitz the bacteria on your hands, the water would have to be scalding hot.
  • The key to effective hand washing is friction — it’s the rubbing of one soapy hand against the other that dislodges the oil that holds the dirt and bacteria on your skin.
  • According to the Center for Disease Control, you must scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds to clean them properly. How long is 20 seconds? The time it takes to sing “Happy Birthday to You” twice.

So clearly, even after a lifetime of diligent hand washing, I need to go back to hand washing school. What about you?

Now even if you do better than I do on the hand washing test, how are your hand drying skills?  (I can hear you asking yourself, is she crazy?  How hard can it be to dry your own hands???!) Bear with me a moment.  Even if you know the basics of how to make wet hands dry, do you know the best method for every context?  For example, what’s the best way to dry your hands if you’re trying to keep your hands germ free? What’s better: a cloth towel, a paper towel or one of those jet air dryers?  (Hint: it may not be the jet air dryer.)

What if you only have paper towels to dry with? Doesn’t that damage the environment? Is there a way to dry your hands and protect the environment? It took an entertaining TED talk by Joe Smith to show me how to dry my hands without ever needing more than a single paper towel.

This foray through hand washing and drying is intended to illustrate a larger point. If we still have much to learn about tasks we’ve performed nearly every day of our lives, why do we believe we don’t need ongoing training for the tasks we perform at work? Technology changes, contexts vary, best practices improve.  Are you confident that you have learned and incorporated the latest training into your work?  If not, why not?

The next time you wash and dry your hands, consider what other areas of your life could benefit from a refresher course.  We all need training.

[Photo Credit: Patrick J. Lynch]

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