Making Knowledge Work

April 2, 2010

Better Targeted Consulting

Filed under: Uncategorized — virginiahenry @ 11:33 am

“Why do organisations bring in Consultants?” asked Chris Collison.   A room full of LIKE members (a number of Consultants among them) immediately suggested several reasons:

  • Lack of internal capability
  • Because the organisation doesn’t know what to do
  • Because the organisation doesn’t know what it knows
  • To blame them – or have an external bearer of bad tidings
  • To have an impartial champion
  • So that the sponsor has someone ‘on their side’ to make the case
  • As an extra pair of hands to support a process
  • For benchmarking purposes….

There were lots of reasons, some of them pretty reasonable.  But Chris reminded us of the kind of conversation that we’d either heard of or taken part in: Employee to Consultant – “I could’ve told them everything you’ve told them, but they won’t listen to me”.

Chris Collison and Geoff Parcell’s latest book,  ‘No More Consultants‘  is about the practical measure that can be taken to tap into your organisations’ internal capabilities before looking outside for expertise.  Chris argued that intellectually lazy organisations turn first to external Consultants – those that are good at managing their knowledge should be far more effective in choosing and using Consultants.  The KM techniques he advocates should help companies avoid a very big bill, an end-of-project set of PowerPoint slides and a number of disenfranchised employees who wish they’d been asked.

He itemised four cultural barriers (two on the supply side and two demand-side) to organisational knowledge exchange:

The Tall Poppy syndrome – if you stand too tall, you’re more likely to be cut down.  If you’re not, and your expertise is recognised, you might find it difficult to do your day job; as the flood of requests from individuals and departments for your assistance can be hard to deal with or resist.

The Shrinking Violet syndrome – you don’t know how good you are, so you don’t come forward.  No-one’s given you a frame of reference in which you can see that no-one does the job quite like you.  So you remain a buried treasure.

The Not Invented Here problem – you’re told that “it may have worked where you were before, but we’re different here”.  “We’re unique and only unique solutions will work”

The Real Men Don’t Ask Directions difficulty – Fear of parading one’s own incompetence, or demeaning oneself in the eyes of colleagues makes you muddle through alone.

While at BP Chris and Geoff had enabled Engineers across the world to identify their levels of capability in around 25 common practices, and then to narrow the gaps by sharing knowledge.  They helped the Engineers identify the components of each level – 1 being very basic and 5 being world-class.  Then, when everyone had agreed the model, they were asked to assess themselves.  Chris and Geoff collated the range of scores and then used KM techniques such as story-telling, communities of practice, knowledge cafes etc to bring level 5 practitioners together with those at level 1  to share best practice.  To overcome any barriers to sharing, they instituted an “offers and requests” system – each business unit was compelled to put forward three offers to share knowledge and three requests for knowledge input.

There are times when the expertise just isn’t there in the organisation, and you need to look outside – sometimes outside of your immediate discipline – for inspiration.  Chris told us about the moment of inspired pattern-recognition that led the cardiac surgeon Professor Martin Elliot to look for help from  Formula One pit stop teams.  If McLaren and Ferrari technicians could achieve complex,  accurate changeovers  within seven seconds, surely they’d be the people to go to for assistance in improving the safe post-operative transfer of vulnerable babies to intensive care?  They were and, because Prof Elliot isn’t a man afraid to ask directions, Great Ormond Street Hospital has benefited enormously from the Peer assist.

The scene was set, it was time for us to test-drive the self-assessment process Chris had outlined.  We were each given a table describing five levels of achievement within five elements of Knowledge Management capability.  Across the top were the titles:  KM  strategy, Leadership behaviours,  People and networks, Learning before, during and after and Capturing knowledge.  And down the side were Levels 1 to 5 – with descriptors such as “Some individuals take the time to capture their lessons in any number of cupboards and databases.  They are rarely refreshed, few contribute, even fewer search” (Level 1, Capturing knowledge) and “Leaders recognise the link between KM and performance.  The right attitudes exist at the top to share and use others’ know-how…”  (Level 5 Leadership behaviours).

It didn’t take long for Chris to plot our responses on a chart and show that, for most of us, our example organisations had a lot to do to rise above Levels 2 and 3 (where KM is talked about by many, but the responsibility of few.  Often a delegated duty – like the office safety rep!)  My LIKE co-founder, Jennifer Smith, scored very high.  But her company specialises in helping businesses organise their knowledge and information, and she and her fellow- Director practice what they preach.

Chris showed us the next step in the analysis process – a river diagram plotting the variants between an organisation’s target levels of attainment (in this case, specific measures of  a chemical manufacturer’s operational excellence) and the levels identified by the self-assessment exercise.  And he talked about the techniques that could be used to narrow the gaps and make the river flow more smoothly.

There wasn’t time for much after that – except dinner of course, and lots and lots of conversation.  So LIKE’s planning a full-day seminar later in the year for a deeper dive into the topic.

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