Archive for the ‘strategic priorities’ 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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Should we think differently about how we manage businesses? Gary Hamel and Julian Birkinshaw from London Business School would certainly answer with a resounding yes. A moment’s reflection and you can see why.

When we operate in a world that is so intimately interconnected and financially interdependent, local ’dis-ease’ (be that lack of confidence or disruption to ‘normal’ operating parameters) in any part of the value chain quickly becomes a pandemic that disrupts the planned pattern of business activities. Think of the ripple effects of Greek debt, the Japanese Tsunami, the Arab Spring, the European E-Coli scare, the Icelandic Ash cloud, and now the prospect of the American debt crisis. Each of these events has had some significant impact on business and the economy, whether in terms of increasing oil prices, damaging confidence in the financial markets, or disrupting supplies and business travel. They’ve all happened this year, and we’re only in August. Whilst in the past management has been about creating stability and security, now the search is on for the source of agility and resilience. There are so many angles that need to be though through, so in 2009, Gary Hamel assembled a self styled Renegade Brigade of big thinkers from industry and academia to start the exploration. They came up with a set of Management Moonshots and you can join the ongoing conversation and contribute your thoughts. Those of you who are members of the KM Forum will remember Julian Birkinshaw speaking about his ideas on Re-Inventing Management, and if you missed it, you can always download his slides from the members website ( sorry to those of you who are not members this is a private area, which only becomes accessible if you join the Henley KM Forum

Clearly knowledge and learning are going to play a big part in the process of re-inventing management, so in 2010, in our own small way, the Henley KM Forum conducted a similar experiment to Gary Hamel. We assembled a group of 14 well known thinkers in the knowledge and learning world and asked them what they thought would help business thrive in a volatile world. This produced some interesting complementary ideas. You can read more about who was involved and learn from over 200 years of collective intelligence that was in the room that afternoon. It is summarised in a short article here,  You can also think about how you can follow the same sort of process by downloading Issue 17 of our Knowledge in Action Series, called Swarm Creativity.

What happens when two black swans come along at once?

Then we might all be better prepared for the arrival of those Black Swans !



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Bridging the old and the new. Between the old and new town of Nicosia

Last week I went to Cyprus for a couple of days. I’d been invited to give an after-lunch talk about Knowledge Works. My hosts were the chair of the Henley Alumni Association, Neophytos Karamanos and Kyriakos Kokkinos, the Chairman of the Cyprus Association of Directors (CyAd). Kyriakos is also IBM’s General Manager for Cyprus.

Cyprus is an interesting country; so much history, but much is changing. As Evegenios Evegeniou, the new managing partner of PWC in Cyprus explained, the country is moving away from its economic roots in agriculture towards a knowledge-based economy – finance, health tourism, regular tourism etc. But many local businesses are not thinking hard about knowledge as something that can affect their performance. Of course, they are not alone, in these economically tough times KM is often neglected or downsized.

One member of the audience certainly showed significant reservations about my propositions. At the time I am not sure I answered his question well, but I’m pleased to say it set me thinking.

It all started with a question from the Chair. He asked if I thought knowledge should have a seat at Board level, in the form of a Chief Knowledge Officer. Naturally, I said yes. Knowledge is a strategic resource so there should be someone thinking about how the asset can benefit the business. Ian McRoy challenged that view, because I had already said that knowledge sharing should be everyone’s responsibility. Surely, if one person heads knowledge activity, there’s a risk that knowledge activity becomes a silo-ed responsibility, rather than everyone taking up the baton. Personally I think there are many reasons why that doesn’t happen. In my experience, senior KM people, tend to see the world as connected and interdependent rather than divided functionally, so they are good a boundary spanning. Generally there are only a few people in the KM team so they have to work through others to achieve anything. KM practitioners have often worked in different parts of the business, have good relationship/networking skills and are broad and complex thinkers. In addition, KM interventions are supporting processes designed to create the conditions that encourage others to collaborate and pool their knowledge. The task focus comes from the business problems and opportunities. Having a place at the top table allows the Chief Knowledge Officer to keep intangibles at the forefront of the Board’s mind, but overall it’s a top down bottom up combination that works best. Without the top down influence, knowledge becomes less of a priority. Without the knowledge activists from bottom up, momentum is hard to maintain.

What pushed me to think a bit more deeply was the challenge from someone at the back of the room. In essence he was saying, why bother to pay attention to knowledge. Isn’t it just change management in another guise? So why not create a strategy for change and plan a purposeful implementation and people will start sharing their knowledge to achieve that result? My rather pat answer was yes in many respects it is change management. It just has a knowledge lens. Strategically, knowledge management is the mechanism for converting intellectual capital into something that customers and society find valuable. If we don’t focus on knowledge, embedded in human, structural and relationship capital, and give it the same attention as we do inventory, buildings, machinery and money, we miss the opportunity to get the most from the imagination, intellect and insight of the talent engaged in the work of the organisation.
The gentleman came up to me later and apologised for being so forceful in his challenge. I’m glad he was. He explained that his view came from experience at BAT. He’d seen that company change, when tobacco became a sufficiently antisocial product to threaten the company’s future, without an emphasis on knowledge. I immediately responded yes, but that was a crisis, and people change more readily in a crisis. Thinking about that now, that’s a vital point. We know that concern, urgency, some sort of imperative unfreezes patterned behaviour, encourages people to revisit and question the norms that keep them doing things in the same old way. So if we want to people to adopt knowledge practices, it’s got to be better to pitch the ideas in the context of a real business imperative, rather than selling it as a helpful general intervention. Most people and organisations are keen to avoid the pain of crisis. KM is a way to prevent the avoidable crises created by unnecessary waste, poor quality or insufficient innovation, because it can be a proactive way to uncover what people know but don’t say is not working well, or sense but can’t articulate needs changing. But people are more likely to do something about it, if stimulated by a meaningful sense of urgency.

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