Saturday, February 04, 2023

Change and Knowledge Management

Change is constant.  The speed of change is accelerating.  Is it really or is it an illusion?  How does the undeniable accelerating speed of technology innovation impact the speed of change in other areas, like social norms for example?

Change doesn't always happen in the direction we hope for.  In most cases, change is not linear or unidirectional.  There are setbacks.  Two steps forward, one step back. Realizing that we, as individuals, as communities, as countries, are constantly changing, is perhaps the first step to "managing" change.  

The term "change management" is similar to the term "knowledge management' in the sense that change and knowledge are not really "manageable" and they are both very broad terms.  Management implies a lot of control.  I have come to think of knowledge management as facilitating activities that enhance knowledge flows, which encompasses both the collecting and connecting aspects of Knowledge Management, thus removing the illusion of control. When you try to control the flow of a river, you can destroy it. It is possible to do the same with knowledge flows. 

Discussions of change management in the context of a Knowledge Management initiative typically revolve around the need to facilitate employees' transition from one way of doing things to another.  It could be the introduction of a new KM practice, such as Knowledge Cafes or After-action-Reviews (AARs) or it could be the introduction of a new KM platform, the introduction of a wiki tool, or simply new protocols for document management.  

As KM professionals, we often think in terms of the KM best practices that we would like employees to adopt.  We have an ideal best practice in mind and change management is going to help us change the way employees do something.  It's not always easy.  There is resistance to account for. Models like ADKAR are meant to help us approach change management efforts with a clear framework and reassure us that if we (KM) professionals follow all the steps of the model, success will surely come.  

On the other hand, we have seen that under pressure from sources that had nothing to do with well-planned change management interventions based on ADKAR or some other models, change can happen very rapidly in organizations.  The speed with which organizations switched to remote work and the almost exclusive use of virtual tools in the early days of the COVID pandemic was remarkable.  How did that happen?  Change happened very quickly because a) the prerequisite technology was available, waiting to be leveraged at full capacity; and b) employees did not have much of a choice.  Resistance was indeed futile.  In such cases, the ability to deploy rapid communications to support the inevitable change was critical and helped lessen the anxiety and uncertainty generated by the change (on top of anxiety generated by the pandemic itself0.

And, at times, we have to address change that is controversial.  The introduction of AI in the work environment did not start with ChatGPT.  Many of our existing tools have relied on some form of AI, whether we realize it or not.  ChatGPT sparked lively discussions in workplaces, surfacing a great deal of fear and confusion.  Some employees may want to push ahead and quickly adopt the technology to stay ahead of the competition while others worry that their jobs are going to disappear.  Both of these extremes in the discourse often fail to understand the full picture, and in this case, the full picture is very complex.

How can KM professionals provide advice, support, or even lead this full range of potential changes that are inevitably going to continue popping up in organizations, whether they are required, well-planned changes following an ADKAR model, rapid changes to adapt to a crisis, or controversial, or potentially transformational technology advances?

  • Listen
    • Listen inward:  Listen to what employees and leadership are saying:  What are their concerns? What are their aspirations?  What are they focusing on?  What are they not saying?  What questions are being asked?
    • Listen outward:  Read up and stay informed about external development. 
  • Engage
    • Engage {gently} to correct misunderstandings.
    • Encourage employees to share what they are reading, which ultimately encourages everyone to read/learn. Note that people will read what confirms their existing biases (if any), so promoting a variety of sources can help; Promote a diversity of voices.
    • Prompt leadership to engage (as needed).  
  • Support 
    • Based on listening and engaging, determine where KM fits in, how the KM team (often a team of one) can support;
    • Engage more deeply with key stakeholders who will lead the charge in terms of "managing" the change. 
    • Scope the role of the KM team to ensure that KM adds value but does not overextend itself.  Even when the change can be clearly articulated as something that belongs to KM, it is perhaps best to avoid having KM in the lead role because it is very difficult to get buy-in for KM-led activities.  Unless the KM function is fully embedded in business units, it is best for KM to guide and support but not lead the change.  Sometimes adding value comes from being the calmer voice in the room that can facilitate conversations (knowledge flows). 

This was not written by ChatGPT.   Writing is a means to clarify one's thoughts and can be quite therapeutic.  Don't let AI tools tell you what you think or try to tell you what you should think.  Use AI to help you find the information or data you need to enrich your thoughts. 

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. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

From "Yammer vs. Teams" to Yammer in Teams

I have managed an internal Enterprise Yammer network for the past three years.  It has been an interesting evolution, both in terms of the maturity of our network but also the constant "upgrades" brought on by Microsoft.  

Adaptability is becoming an ongoing theme.  There is no point in complaining about constant change.  Constant change is part of the new normal. Change has always been "normal".  The new normal involves more rapid change.  Three years of rapid change feels like an eternity.

We re-started in 2019 with an underutilized Yammer network. While Yammer was technically available to staff since 2016, it had been launched in a meaningful way.  The new corporate strategic plan launched in 2019 created new opportunities to leverage Yammer and engage our global workforce more effectively.

And yes, we immediately encountered the confusion and at time frustration that employees felt with the multiplication of tools for collaboration and communications.  In particular, it wasn't always clear why people should use Yammer when Teams seemed to be the way to collaborate.  By the time COVID-19 sent everyone to work from home, Teams was where people worked with their immediate colleagues, and Yammer became the place where you could share much more broadly and keep up with corporate events even if you were not in the office.  That was what I was saying to anyone who would listen but it took a while to sink in.

As of the end of 2022, there are still a few who think Yammer is a waste of their time and prefer to use other tools (beyond Teams). However, a number of factors have helped us get in the right direction in terms of finding the right balance between Yammer and Teams.

1. Leadership Support: Yammer has had strong support from the very top of the organization to move from corporate emails that went to everyone to Yammer announcements in the All Company community.  This has led to a significant reduction in corporate communications via email listservs and created more opportunities for staff to engage with leadership in Yammer.  Leadership engagement in Yammer is critical and it should be several layers deep.  

2. Communications and guidance around what to use for different purposes. When should you post in Yammer vs. in Teams.  In addition to general communications via internal blog posts and in Yammer, it became critical to control both the proliferation of Teams sites and Yammer communities.  Additional governance was put in place first to control the creation of Teams site, and later, the creation of Yammer communities.  The added burden on IT was well worth it because it created opportunities to redirect people to the appropriate platform when IT received requests for either of the tools.  This was also facilitated by the fact that with the exception of a few early communities that remained closed, the relaunch of Yammer in 2019 was based on the assumption that all new communities would be fully open.  There was no rationale for closed communities in Yammer.

There are still legacy instances of Teams sites that should have been created as Yammer communities.  In most cases, these were created by people who specifically wanted a closed group approach. However, it goes counter to the corporate approach of having open, accessible conversations to harness collective knowledge.

3. Integration of Yammer in Teams. Yammer communities in Teams (when it was still called the "communities" app) were not as functional as the Yammer app itself, but they provided another way to access Yammer without leaving Teams.  Once the Communities app was replaced by Viva Engage, it became clear that for most staff who did not already visit Yammer regularly, the Viva Engage app in Teams would be an opportunity to engage more often.  Only, several challenges emerged around the same time:
  • Notifications changed.  Announcements no longer automatically went to all community members' email inbox.  The community admins must specifically select "send to all" every time if they want to make sure all community members see the announcement as an email. 
  • Notifications in the Teams feed only cover announcements.  People need to understand the full set of notifications (in Yammer) to get the specific highlights they want either as email notifications or in a more limited manner, in Teams. 
  • Announcements became overused as the primary mechanism for getting "views" on messages and the great majority of posts became announcements.  These generated reactions, but very limited engagement in the form of comments or replies. The Yammer network was turning into just another channel for corporate communications, displacing email announcements via listservs but not really creating engagement.
Status update as of mid-November 2022:
  • We are seeing increased active engagement (posts) in the All Company community.  This is very encouraging because these posts come in two varieties:  1) engagement with polls and questions that are tied to corporate campaigns and posted by corporate leaders; 2) posts by project leaders describing project activities, progress, success stories.  It is particularly encouraging to see the number of views and level of engagement with posts in the All Company that are NOT posted as announcements.  
  • Smaller, topic-specific communities are not experiencing this increased engagement.  This is partly due to lack of active community management.
  • New Features:  I am still somewhat hesitant to launch Storylines and Stories.  There is no added cost but launching these two new functionalities in Viva Engage would create added complexity in terms of communications.  We need to rationalize these additional tools based on existing and emerging corporate strategic plans (and say "no" or delay as needed).  In addition, without being able to test/pilot with a smaller group, we will inevitably be very reactive in our communications, addressing questions and concerns as they are experienced.  We can also wait for other organizations to launch and look out for their immediate lessons.

    Caveat:  There is a broader layer of project communications that happens completely outside of my purview. Therefore I am only seeing a narrow slither of our internal communications.