Posted by: gavinstokes | September 13, 2011

Learning to Fly (Collison & Parcell) book review Chp 10


Overall this is a great book if your looking to get to the practical elements of implementing a knowledge management/sharing program. It doesn’t cover theory and history or reference  any papers,  it is very much about actually getting in there and doing it. I will review the full book at a later date but for know I’m gong to focus on Chp 10  ”Finding the Right People” as I found this to be the most practical, but it does require the previous chapters to provide you with an understanding of KM.

Creating the environment to enable connections
How do you create and environment that puts people in touch with people, which is essentially what KM is about. It will usually require a bottom up approach and a good starting point is a knowledge directory. Basically a knowledge directory is like a more dynamic and informative phone index. Ideally its at its best in some electronic format such as online as part of an intranet or as a standalone tool, but it can just as easily be done on paper.

Ideally staff will be able to search the directory for relevant people with experience and knowledge. Each staff member should have a profile page which id rich not just in work related content but also in personal information. This personal content allows a speeding up of the familiarisation process which is part of developing personal connections.

Some key steps in developing a knowledge directory are as follows,

  1. Be clear as to what you are trying to achieve
  2. Don’t complete with existing HR systems,
  3. Ensure ownership of profiles resides with the individual.
The idea behind the  knowledge directory is to generate10 minute conversations that act as catalysts for knowledge exchange, but via the directory, this is done through populating the profile with personal information such as ” Whats your Job”, “Previous projects”, “Sports interests”, “Hobbies”, “Do you have kids” etc. One of the key elements being a photograph or photographs. By allowing people to get to know others through a less formal setting, without actually meeting them, it speeds up the familiarisation process and makes it easier for people to approach others.

One approach to encouraging less formal information in profiles is to use unusual prompts such as “What makes you happy”. Responses to this can vary from “BBQS and cold beer” to “working with people I trust”. Informal personal disclosure can make the difference and provide intrigue for members to look up their colleagues. How you structure it is up to you and what suits you organisation.

Structure Vs Freedom
This a biggy and I have come around to the idea that less structure is better. You are just not going to be able to provide a Taxonomy or method of categorisation that everyone is happy to work with and covers all possbile eventualities. Some people are happy ticking boxes others want the freedom to define it themsleves. So the best option is to provide some sort of overall high level structure that includes the freedom to add further tags and categorisation if needed.

Real world examples
Through the book the authors provide plenty of real world examples including examples which are not purely work based. I’m not going to list them here but suffice to say they are well laid out from start to finish and easy to understand. One of the key lessons learnt form examples in chapter 10 is that buy in  from management is key, it send a powerful signal to the organisation that they are taking this project seriously. The use of pilot phases which involve all of the key stakeholders in some form is also extremely important. Project champions are also of great importance, they should be chosen from the existing pool of staff and from any level, the only requirement being that they believe in the project. Along with all this there should be an internal marketing campaign which promotes the project through, competitions, email signatures, talks, positive success stories and even simple rewards.

Making it part of the day to day
Its important that whatever knowledge management/sharing project you undertake is part of the business process. This can be done as part of an induction process, leadership development courses and encouraging confrence attendees to check other attendees profiles. It can also be beneficial to add a link back to profiles from email signatures and any online content that staff members might be associated with. Integrity of the owner contact can be as valuable as the content itself, it allows users to obtain more up to date or relevant information by following the profile link.

So all in all in its a great chapter its probably the most practical of the lot but it does need to be read in the context of the previous chapters to prevent readers jumping in at the deep end.
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