Reaping the seeds of change: how KM can open up conversations – the Except case, four months later


I was not really planning to write about this but after a chat with Eva Gladek from the company Except yesterday, it seemed a good idea to look at the seeds of change reaped three to four months after a workshop that brought us together.

In September 2011 I facilitated a workshop on the identity of Except and on various knowledge management initiatives that could support the development of this very modern, dynamic and slightly messy networked organisation (consciously or unconsciously following the complex approach of messy coherence).

Except integrated sustainability

Except integrated sustainability

The workshop consisted in a series of sessions aimed at collectively establishing the identity of Except and working on knowledge management: a speed dating exercise revealed some hidden talents of Except staff to one another; a Samoan Circle  session on the identity of Except; a mapping of Except’s clients, their impressions and their expectations vis-à-vis the organisation; crafting key messages for those clients, using the message box methodology from Spitfire’s Smart Chart tool; group work on four related activities to improve customer service; a short presentation on KM and working in groups on three tiers of KM activities:

  1. How to ensure a good induction and personal development of (new) staff
  2. How to update and sustainably manage the Except information database and
  3. How to hold quality conversations, online and offline.

So what happened, three months later?

A series of changes have tilted the organisation towards liberating knowledge flows and embracing (slightly) structured social learning:

  • Except is now a lot more aware of its need to communicate, internally – to identify and bridge the gaps of day-to-day work – as well as externally to articulate its identity and set of services in a more outspoken way. Among others, they have developed more strategic documents to explain what they are working on, for the Board of directors and strategic clients;
  • Staff members have also realised the importance of feedback – both to one another but also to and from customers. Gathering client feedback about the services rendered is now part and parcel of any new account;
  • There are regular after action reviews to assess how any account management process went and improve over time;
  • The management has set up an enterprise wiki to document many significant work processes. Although it initially took a while for people to embrace it, after some awareness-raising and training, most members are now using the wiki and saving a lot of time using project page templates, finding information about the questions they have etc.
  • Most staff members seem to work in much more transparent ways in sharing information and in documenting / recording their work. Except has also developed a file naming convention which helps find files much more easily;
  • Generally, staff members seem to be better able to find and apply the protocols that exist for a number of processes in house. Eva seemed to suggest that they are more conscious about their learning needs and activities.

All in all, the seeds of change are blatant and very rich. Not least, the organisation has unlocked conversations – people are talking to one another more and seem happy to transparently share their work, which is perhaps the greatest achievement as it relates to the slow and complex edge of culture and behaviour change…

Of course, it remains difficult to directly attribute any of these changes to the workshop itself but Eva seemed convinced that the latter did play a role in this series of change. That said, the workshop could have been even more effective if there had been a clearer and narrower problem statement at the onset of the workshop. But perhaps this was also a first broad brush stroke on Except’s knowledge work. It will need follow up.

Even for highly dynamic networked organisations like Except, which tend to anyway make intensive use of interrelated opportunities (the power of the network) and of knowledge flows across the branches and people in the organisation, a visioning workshop on identity and some work on knowledge management can reap critical seeds of change. Every subsequent iteration of this workshop – there is a plan to organise one such workshop every year – promises to sharpen the edge of knowledge of this extremely interesting and responsible organisation.

I wish for Except to keep reaping these seeds and turn them into the strong trees that echo its vision of sustainable organic and ecological development.

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