Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Knowledge Management in the Remote or Hybrid Workplace - Why the confusion around which tool to use?

There is no denying that remote and hybrid work is changing the way we work.  For many organizations, the COVID pandemic forced a rapid evolution of technologies enabling communications and collaboration.  For the most part, the technologies existed already, but they were slowly gaining ground in organizations.  COVID forced a rapid adoption process. Rapid adoption of a myriad new tools also resulted in added confusion.

The majority of the new tools are user-friendly.  On their own, they do not require training per se.  Even the more advanced virtual collaboration tools like Miro, SpatialChat or metaverse environments can be used with minimal guidance. The only caveat is that unless these new tools are used regularly and embedded in daily routines, there is a small re-learning curve.

A few thoughts to keep in mind:

  • Face-to-face meetings remain important to allow for informal, natural conversations, watercooler conversations.
  • People are more likely to connect meaningfully online if they have met in person
  • Different types of "meetings", different types of conversations.  
  • Renewed emphasis on conversations and conversational leadership as essential to organizational well-being. 
  • Context switching and loss of productivity are related to the need to adjust our time management strategies to new tools.
  • Confusion about where something was shared, can't find it across tools/systems are often related to the lack of content management governance and guidance.
Too many tools for communication, collaboration, knowledge sharing.
For individuals, it may not just be the number of tools to use at work that creates a sense of confusion, but the combination of personal and employer-related tools.  

  • If you are self-employed and work with multiple, regularly changing clients, or you have a volunteer or side occupation, you can multiple the total number of tools.  
  • Add a couple of generations of family members with their own preferences for specific tools and you have chaos. 
  • At this point it does not matter that all the tools are accessible on your smart phone. 

Is it about managing tools or managing time?
Knowledge management requires time to think, time to reflect.  Having a good handle on time management could be a prerequisite for effective knowledge management.  

  • Collaboration overload:  too many meetings; revisit time management basics to include a greater understanding of  best practice for collaboration/communication tools. 
The re-emergence of communication skills
We all need to re-learn communication skills as the necessary foundation for making effective use of communications and collaboration tools.  Think about audience, channel, message, and the rest will follow, the choice of tool will be clear -- most of the time.

Audience: who needs to know; who could be interested?
    • Team or work group
    • Interest group or community of practice
      CoP are a focus of KM practice, but not all organizations have CoPs, not all organizations are large enough to have internal CoPs, and a lot of knowledge is transferred outside of a CoP framework.
    • Role-based membership: Potentially very important to share good practices.
    • Organizational unit
    • All company
    • A few colleagues
Purpose / message
  • Intent of the communication: Inform; Inquire; Request; Action required
  • Intent of the meeting/gathering; Inform/update, with or without opportunity to ask questions; Discuss to build common understanding and/or consensus; Brainstorm; Community building/social gathering; Assessment (interview)
Channel / Tools
  • Email (one-to-one, one-to-multiple, listserv) - Asynchronous
  • Chat (Teams chat, Slack, Skype) (close to synchronous)
  • Enterprise social network (Yammer) - asynchronous
  • Calls (phone, video calls w/ screen sharing and chat; Zoom, Teams meetings)
  • Specialized tools (Miro, SpatialChat)
Some habits are hard to break: For some people, the shift from email communications using listserv (one to many without interactivity) to enterprise social network (ESN) communications (one to many with opportunity to interact not just with the sender but with everyone) has been difficult. 

Letting go of control:  To address information overload, many of the newer tools have "opt-in" functionalities.  Whereas in the past, an employee may have automatically been added to a listserv based on perceived need for the information, the same information posted on an ESN may require the same employee to "opt in" to receive updates.  There is no doubt that for internal communications professionals, the communications ecosystem has become more complex.  If you want to make sure that the right people get your message via Yammer, an admin can post an announcement and force Yammer communications to email inbox.  Yes, but what happens if someone created an email inbox rule that automatically moves Yammer messages to a folder they never look at. Technically, that can happen with any email, so it's not a new problem. Employees will ignore emails as they see fit. 

Why is this relevant for Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management as all about "collecting and connecting".  To simplify, document repositories are tools to "collect knowledge" and collaboration/communication tools help to connect people.  A collaboration platform will typically combine collecting and connecting.  The challenge comes in when employees find multiple tools available both for connecting and collecting, becoming unsure about where different aspects of their work needs to take place.  Knowledge Management is about how the work gets done, hopefully without unnecessary confusion. 

Some thoughts to consider: 
  • More efficient use of communications and collaboration tools potentially frees up time for deeper reflection, more intentional conversations and knowledge sharing;

  • A significant amount of knowledge transfer occurs via formal and informal communications and not just formal AAR or lessons learned meetings.

  • Employee collaboration burnout and confusion around collaboration tools is an obstacle to knowledge sharing in the flow of work.  It is also an obstacle to employee engagement.  Disengaged employees don't share knowledge. Optimal engagement is balanced engagement.

  • Building a learning organization, an organization with a knowledge sharing culture, requires a foundation of employee engagement/ goes hand-in-hand with balanced employee engagement.
Related Resources

Thursday, December 01, 2022

Skills Building and Knowledge Management. Is there a connection?

I was reading something in my LinkedIn feed about the premium put on skills (vs. academic pedigree) in the current job market.  There is nothing new about the fact that employers want employees who know how to do things rather than employees with a lot of book knowledge and limited experience in how to apply that knowledge.  There is also something inevitable about new generations of employees lacking experience in applying knowledge and needing to acquire "know how" since most of that valuable knowledge is acquired through... experience.  Employers want some specific technical skills, but they also want everyone to have the necessary soft skills to operate effectively in the organization.  

This may be a case of hammer looking for nails, but what if we were to consider Knowledge Management as a possible solution?  Even if KM is not a direct solution to the skills issue, let's consider the connections.

What are the top soft skills required by employers and how are they connected to Knowledge Management?

  • Cognitive skills (critical thinking, analytical thinking, sense making):  Critical thinking is the process of analyzing a problem, situation or issue based on evidence and relevant information.  It is also about sense making, interpreting information to make better decisions.  A Knowledge Management initiative typically makes assumptions about employees' cognitive skills.  It would not hurt to revisit those assumptions.  When employees don't have time to think, they cannot engage in knowledge management. When knowledge management is prioritized, employees make time for thinking, whether through individual or team reflection activities for example. 

  • Interpersonal skills, teamwork and collaboration:  Whether through communities of practice (CoP) or task-based teams, employees need to develop the skills needed to interact with each other to get the job done.  A knowledge management program with a strong component focused on connecting people can support social learning, strengthening individual skills and contributing to a collaborative organizational culture. Many job-specific skills can be practiced in the safe environment provided by a CoP. 

  • Oral and written communications skills:  Having access to an endless flow of information in our modern digital workplaces makes it critical to develop the ability to understand, analyze and synthesize information to share and present in different ways. Managing information flows is critical.  The educational system teaches how to create summaries or books and other materials.  Synthesizing for action in a workplace context requires some adjustment.  Knowledge Management initiatives can help employees learn by doing, engaging employees (not just KM staff) in synthesizing activities, whether through oral presentations or in writing.  New communication channels (including internal enterprise social networks) provide great opportunities for everyone to practice writing succinct, yet powerful messages that can potentially influence many across an organization, helping to build internal thought leadership.

  • Agility:  Learning and growth mindset, adaptability, coping with uncertainty.  When knowledge management is understood as facilitating dynamic knowledge flows, it is well aligned with an agile organizational culture where expertise is valued but new knowledge is constantly emerging and innovation is perhaps valued more than the strict application of lessons learned from the past which may or may not be applicable in the present and future.  This leads back to the continued importance of critical thinking as THE skill that will always be needed... especially in a context where advanced in AI/ML are often presented as miracle solutions.   

It seems I am arguing that Knowledge Management programs can help build critical soft skills within organizations.  That sounds obvious but I'm not sure it has been argued this way before.  I've read many more papers and blogs about the skills needed for knowledge management implementation.  This is looking at skills via a different lens, suggesting that Knowledge Management helps develop the skills. 

Related paper:  Linking Critical Thinking and Knowledge Management:  A Conceptual Analysis, Sustainability, 2021, 13(3). February 2021.