Archive for the ‘Organisational learning’ Category

Follow the red brick road to empowerment AND organisational learning?

After from my throwaway comment at the end of Thursday’s blog,   it struck me that embedding courage, wisdom and heart into the fabric of the organisation is a good recipe for managing risk and essential ingredients for agility. But it will be a long journey, because the attributes have to move from the intuition of the individual, which is the mental spark that something needs to change right through to an institutionalised wisdom that is readily accepted by groups across the organisation.   Clearly learning has to happen at several levels, individual, group, across groups to finally become part of the organisational DNA.  There are both psychological and socio-political influences on this process, which become more and more difficult to negotiate the larger the organisation grows.  This article is very academic, but it does outline some of the issues. You may not want to read it in detail, but Figure 1 offers a useful diagram that captures what I mean and Table 1 shows a useful summary of the politics of organisational learning and the dynamics of power as they impact on organisational evolution. On a more practical note, the case study which Louse Montgomery and Julia Montgomery will share at the conference seems to address this challenge head on through the idea of making the learning pathways of Investment Bankers explicit.  Again I don’t want to steal their thunder, but I do think it is worth provoking interest in why recording progress en route to knowledge excellence could do more than just help the individual in their reflections and development. As Victoria Wardtold us, when she proposed this session for the conference, negotiating a pathway, creates a change in the contract between the individual, their line manager and their organisation, it provides a reference point that stays stable while everything around is changing, and makes an important and demonstrable connection between the individual’s commitment to learning and development and the organisation’s commitment to refreshing knowledge and skills. So it’s not just about isolated learning interventions, but about how they connect to the business performance, and strategy.   That does not do justice to the richness of the process and how it addresses the social and political forces identified in the article above, so I will have to come back to this topic after the conference.  For now, I just want to flag the idea of tailoring learning and development to strategic business conditions and then linking it to emerging individual needs as a great way of translating learning at the individual into organisational learning.  By recognising

 “the individual needs of people throughout their careers, with the aim of building capability from the moment they join a business to the point that they achieve peak performance.

such programmes, designed to achieve knowledge excellence in the beleaguered Investment Banking community,  are most encouraging

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Trying to live up to yesterday’s commitment to get back to blogging and explore the conference themes, today I am going to focus on emotions and how they affect responses to change. It’s not my intention to give away what the speakers are going to say, but more to start some thinking about why these themes are relevant to our KM practice.

Organisational learning helps change and makes it stick. In KM we can’t make it happen directly, we have to work through influence. It’s the leadership in all the different areas of expertise that have to implement it and keep people motivated to deliver and learn at the same time.

But learning and change create all sorts of emotional responses for those involved. Some people thrive on it, some people fear it. To some extent, it depends on whether people feel confident that they can turn change into an opportunity, or whether they are happier with working in well know territory with familiar routines and expertise. A leader’s mood is highly contagious. It can have an enormous influence on that balance, as well as how well the KM techniques and technologies we know and love get adopted in practice. So for me the quote below[1] captures what we need from leadership across the board, in projects, teams divisions and departments.

Be positive

“Effective leaders prime good feelings in those they lead. They create emotional resonance – a reservoir of positivity that frees the best in people” 

That would really improve knowledge flow. The best in people from a KM and a business perspective means people using their skills and expertise and capabilities to their full potential to deliver results.

From personal experience, I know that when I’ve worked with someone   who has innate emotional intelligence, it makes a difference to how valued I feel, affects whether I get a strong sense of belonging to something worthwhile, and changes my levels of engagement. In a high pressure business environment, acknowledging and dealing with the feelings that affect how well we exercise our capabilities is as important as dealing with the task, but it’s easy for the former to get overlooked, with detrimental effect on knowledge work. Perhaps because it’s easier to manage tasks than emotions, perhaps because we feel we achieve more by concentrating on the task, or perhaps because we are not sensitised to the emotional climate.

I’m not suggesting leadership is about being soft and cuddly all the time. In the March/April 2000 edition of Harvard Business Review[2] Goleman reviewed some research conducted by Hay McBer. They found that leaders who get results move seamlessly between six familiar leadership styles, some much harder than others. The interesting thing was that they use all six flexibly rather than relying on just a few of them. You’ll recognise the six styles in people you know, but think about how many leaders you know who feel comfortable using the full range.

“Coercive leaders demand immediate compliance. Authoritative leaders mobilize people toward a vision. Affiliative leaders create emotional bonds and harmony. Democratic leaders build consensus through participation. Pacesetting leaders expect excellence and self-direction. And coaching leaders develop people for the future. “

Leading for results means knowing how to match style to context so that followers feel supported and are not floundering in situations where they feel they don’t belong. To do this leaders need to be able to connect with their own, and others fears, hopes anxieties, dreams and potential, whilst also setting clear boundaries and expectations that support a level of emotional resilience to change, personal commitment to the organization and continuous self management and well-being. That sort of emotional intelligence comes from four quite distinct personal sensitivities: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill.

With these, leaders gain the capacity to vary their style, and so get the best from those who follow them. Increasing emotional intelligence should amplify the impact of knowledge and learning activities. This is one reason why we have included it as one of the leadership practices in our 46th Henley KM Forum research project. We were exploring what it takes to develop knowledge driven leadership agility. Conference delegates will learn more about the full set of practices and the development challenge we have created to raise awareness of the sort of leadership capability that really supports knowledge work. If you aren’t coming, I will be referring to them in my blogs up until the conference. So watch this space.

In the next blog, I’m going to talk more about what happens when the collective emotional undercurrent becomes negative overall. That puts me in mind of Daan Andriessen’s presentation at the 2010 KM Forum conference. Those of you who belong to the Henley KM Forum can download his slides from the members’ website. Those of you who don’t belong, can learn what you are missing, by visiting Daan’s website. You’ll find the presentation in the Knowledge Management part of his presentations area Look for “The Unconscious at Work; How hidden patterns in organisations may hamper KM” Presentation given at the Henley KM Forum 2010.

[1] Goleman, D Boyatzis, RE and McKee, A (2009) Primal Leadership. Leadership Excellence  vol 26 (iss) 10: 9-10.

[2] Goleman, D (2000) Leadership that gets results. Harvard Business Review  vol 78 (iss) 2: 78-90.

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Leap for KM

Leap for KM

In good KM fashion, I’m going to steal with pride. I want to adapt an idea I heard on Radio 4’s PM programme on Monday.  Eddie Mair has launched a ‘Leap for PM’ initiative. Listeners were asked share and commit to doing something with the extra day that leap year offers. The Henley KM forum Conference starts on the 29th February this year, so fortuitously you can spend it advancing your insights about organisational learning, without losing any of your normal working year in the office!

So, since you have all that extra time, I thought it would be good to start a Leap for KM initiative. With that extra day in 2012, what knowledge and learning challenge could you commit to which would help you do more with less.

2012 is a fascinating year As well as the Queens Jubilee and the London Olympics, it’s also the 200th Anniversary of Charles Dickens birth. As Mr Mickawber said in David Copperfield

“Never do tomorrow what you can do today. Procrastination is the thief of time.”

Make a commitment to complete what you have been putting off, or plan to do to use the extra day to leap forward in your KM activities, by commenting on this blog, and we’ll see what a difference collective inspiration can make.

I’m going to make a commitment to blog about conference related themes between now and the 29th, rather than living with my blogger’s guilt, for not sharing enough of what I am learning.

By the way if you want to hear what PM listeners are planning, for the next few days only you can listen again to the episode on Monday 6th at 5pm. The item is 26.41 minutes into the programme.

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 In the early part of the 20th Century Arthur C Clarke said

  Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”  

 Business technologies seem to be advancing faster than we can grasp.  To the unsophisticated user like me, they are a bit like black magic, particularly when something goes wrong. The rate change and the system interdependencies are both very disruptive.  Still, they really do offer enormous potential to change the way we work in many positive ways.  It’s almost as good as waving a magic wand to transport you to where the action is, when you can  

  • Can access information from a cloud,
  • Are only 4 steps removed from anyone in the world now we have social computing, 
  • And can be as productive on the move as in the office

 Really getting the most from these technologies is going to mean some changes to the way we work, both as individuals and organisations.  Security is obviously a big consideration when we are so connected and we have digitised our identity.  Organisational structures will probably need changing to make best use of easy access and mobility. Decision making, learning, conversations, all key aspects of knowledge work, take on challenging new dimensions, when we rarely meet the people we work with and there is so much information available to work with.  It’s been said that drawing information from the internet is like trying to get a glass of water from Niagara Falls!  

So it’s worth thinking through how best to translate this overwhelming tide of opportunities into more productive knowledge work.   Yesterday morning,  at Unysis UK HQ,  I had the privilege of chairing a breakfast meeting designed to explore these issues (Twitter #HKMWorks). It was very thought provoking, because of three excellent speakers. 

 First up was Rob Chapman, Managing Director of Unysis UK.  In his years in the industry he’s seen lost of major shifts in technology.  The advent of the PC, Client-Server architectures, Open Source were certainly all major trends, which changed the way we worked.  But each had their own time – there was breathing space before the next one.  Today it is very different. Multiple trends are happening at the same time – trends that are influencing the way IT systems are designed and delivered.  Unisys has published its view on the convergence of 6 major trends that are reshaping the delivery of IT services to organizations.  You can read more about their predictions by downloading the briefing sheet from here .  Cyber security is the really scary issue.  Individuals are obviously concerned about identity theft, but organisations are facing attacks from sophisticated organised crime cartels, that target new financial opportunities the instant they are released.  The CIO has to become the Chief Information Security Officer too.

 It certainly made me reflect on how the risks and rewards of something that is simply an enabler, depend heavily on human intent and behaviour.  

 Next we heard from Dr Christine van Winkelen, from the Henley KM Forum.  She talked about how knowledge can be put to work more effectively by improving decision making process and joining up learning initiatives. Amongst other things improvement is very dependent on personal reflection (see an earlier entry on this blog).   One of the key messages was the importance of individuals knowing where they fit in terms of what they can do to put their knowledge to work.   They can only do this when they understand the business purpose. Then they see how they can contribute positively. Then they can align intent with behaviour.   To get that purposeful message across really requires “more communication than you can ever imagine”.  This is obviously where technology in the form of social media, can play a helpful role internally. It was good to hear that Rob finds his weekly blog is a great way to keep people in touch with senior team thinking and engage them in meaningful conversations about what matters to the business.   Christine’s slides are available here, and many of the detailed maturity models and coaching frameworks are also available on the same page.    

 The third speaker was Jim Downie. He has the delightful title of Knowledge Networker in Unisys Chief Technology Office.  Jim brought us back to the practicalities of life in organisations now.  His focus was the value of integrating the range of emerging technologies into the firm’s business processes in ways that helps individual’s do their jobs more easily. This really accelerates and enhances collaborative activity, and allows people to keep in touch wherever and whenever they need to.   Unysis are using social media as a one of a whole suite of tools for getting knowledge moving more effectively.   Starting with serendipitous conversations through instant messenger, request for help, status reviews and twitter to using Sharepoint for communities’ conversations and giving access to the latest learning about good practice from the experience of working with clients.   One thing that came across loud and clear from Jim’s session was that purposeful business activity was where Unysis started; people not technology were considered to be the key to success; simple and social were essential for engagement with the opportunities that so many disruptive technologies offer.  Jim’s slides are also available here

We had an interesting discussion with the audience around the keys to adoption of social media inside organisations. Was it age related or driven by the momentum of a trend that was too powerful to ignore?  The conclusion was that it there has to be


a powerful “what’s in it for me” factor for everyone, because that overrides the risks and disadvantages of not having face to face contact. That could be better career, improved reputation, greater recognition or simply fun and informal social involvement.  Probably it is not a monetary incentive, because that often drives the opposite behaviour.


 a “what’s in it for the business” factor.  If you are thinking of increasing the opportunities for conversation (which uses time and energy) it’s important that people have a sense of which conversations are worth having. They get that if they can relate their interactions to something that makes it easier for the organisation to achieve some beneficial purpose.  Then people work within a relevant set of boundaries.

When you can both sides get what they need, and you align the interests,  you get a win-win equation which keeps compounding.  It starts a virtuous circle of learning and change.  People get interest in being involved in sharing through social media, the experience and involvement lead to positive results, which further encourage interest and involvement.    

There are lots more questions we could have discussed

  • How technology is changing the relationship between the enterprise and the individual.
  • How mobile technologies are changing the way we work.
  • How we need to think differently about security as a consequence of technology developments.
  • How new approaches are needed to integrate information, knowledge and connections between people.
  • How learning is the basis for the organic evolution of organisations in dynamic environments.
  • How mindsets need to change to make individual and collective reflection part of how we work in knowledge-based environments.   


And there aren’t any easy answers to any of them.  Rob seemed to be suggesting that answers will emerge as people work with the technology trends.  The other message of the morning was that to realise technology’s productive potential takes a lot of deep and careful thinking about how to handle the darker side of the magic, alongside an ability to focus its magical properties on a worthwhile business purpose. This comes through thinking how to align individual human interests with mutual rewards from participating in a meaningful enterprise.        

 Time was against, and having consumed some excellent coffee and pastries everyone disappeared off to deliver some productive work in the office, or on the move.  I left thinking that it is an exciting time and we have many changes to look forward to, so the ability to adapt and learn is an even more important skill than it has ever been.

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