What a great KM champion leader does


Reminiscence…

…as I recently re-visited my former (physical) home and office in Ethiopia for the first time since I moved back to the Netherlands. Among the things that flashed back in my memory is how my former boss (the person who inspired this post) played his role as KM champion and leader, and how that helped or not in the wider organisation.

Now I’m not here to illustrate the qualities and shortcomings of my former boss – though I’m certainly hoping to organise an interview with him some time to cover at least some of his legacy – but instead to reflect on the great characteristics of a great KM champion.

I already blogged earlier about what a truly unforgettable KM boss does. But without being truly unforgettable there is a number of characteristics that any KM boss should possess – and these are:

Understand what KM is

Outcome Mapping progress markers (Credits: Simon Hearn)

Outcome Mapping progress markers (Credits: Simon Hearn)

That is obviously the first step – an ‘expect to see’ Outcome Mapping progress marker if anything. Any KM boss, whether focusing on KM only or on KM combined with comms should have a broad and deep understanding of what KM is – at the very least a working definition that goes beyond information management.

Engage, inform and influence (management and others)

Based on a sound understanding of what KM is, a KM leader and champion should be able to:

  • Inform others about what KM is and how it supports the overall objectives (of the organisation, project, initiative etc.)
  • Engage with an organisation’s management/leadership generally to understand their needs and identify ways to leverage the potential of KM
  • Influence management, partners etc. to create opportunities for KM to leverage its potential benefits

Develop and share vision (and foresight)

A KM leader should be able to articulate the vision of how KM will be deployed and how it is responding to the latest upcoming trends, whether about software options, ways of collaboration and learning or otherwise. This is particularly important in the sense that KM is about using knowledge assets to become more and more adaptive and proactive so KM work should be at all times future-oriented, based on the latest knowledge (and information) available.

That vision is contributing to the next trait.

Inspire

A KM champion really should be walking their talk, of all people. They should be able to inspire others to become like them, or follow their lead. That inspiration is thus also based on the vision and foresight developed (as mentioned above).

Demonstrate

But the job is not done by just telling people what to do but by showing it others so they can see the benefits for themselves. And demonstrating is not even enough: they should get others to ‘do KM’ and do it well, so that in turn they become great KM champions too.

Empower

So the obvious next step is for a KM leader to empower others. And here it’s easier said then done, and it requires more than ‘just do what I say’. It’s about developing and nurturing a fragile ecosystem that requires a healthy dose of courage and initiative, and liberty to let others make mistakes and learn from them, and get stronger and stronger.

Coach

So the last function of a great KM champion and leader is to be the coach of everyone else on their own KM practice. And to be the reflector that KM is supposedly bringing in. Adjusting here and there, nudging now and then, protecting as and when, challenging when things have to be.

 

That’s what a great KM champion leader does. And that’s how you realise when you don’t have one what the implications are.

Cultivate your own leadership and that of others, and help the whole KM ecosystem grow. One seed of advice at a time, one drop of challenge after another. Just like any other knowledge gardener, only with a lot more responsibility… But that’s what it takes to save the world (lol).

The Knowledge champion (Credits: Neil Olonoff)

The Knowledge champion (Credits: Neil Olonoff)

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Penny-wise and pound-foolish (KM and otherwise)


“Games are won by players who focus on the playing field –- not by those whose eyes are glued to the scoreboard.”
Warren Buffett

There is a very real danger that the sponsors of an initiative (in knowledge management or otherwise) do not want to invest too much of their money into some venues, because they are afraid of losing precious resources. Sounds sensible…

Don't! (Credits: ICG team)

Don’t! (Credits: ICG team)

Except that that approach bears the big risk of chasing small economies while achieving nothing, and the investment spared then costs (a lot) more further down the line when it becomes obvious proper money should have been spent on it. Some examples?

  • A company has identified that their website does not reflect adequately its image and that it’s missing some opportunities to do more with the web. A grand new web design is put together, but no plan has been put (lack of money!) into revamping the content generation process… (Very) Costly mistake further down the line!
  • A new project team organises a meeting that will help them decide – with the participants’ inputs – what the strategic direction of their project should be. But no investment has been made into properly designing it. Waste of time (and money) and possibly – err probably – a painful experience for participants
  • A project team working on a theme is best placed to lead what could become a community of practice on that field. There is a real need for that domain but the team is haggling over how much it should invest in properly getting the community of practice facilitated and attended to… too bad: it might mean the end of that nascent network (minding that communities of practice do die too).

The point is not to go ‘all in’ with every initiative that you set up – sometimes having little resource makes you more resourceful anyhow. But once you have identified, in your KM strategy, where are the key leverage points, don’t hesitate and really go for it, and turn these leverage points into successful enablers for useful investments (and pound wise solutions).

Master Sun (Tzu) would say no less about approaching these key battles with full resolution…

“Let your plans be dark and impenetrable as night, and when you move, fall like a thunderbolt.” (Sun Tzu)

 

So, save your pennies for the futile, but don’t haggle about investing your pounds where it matters. And KM can be that extra mile that brings you back a many-fold return on investment.

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The danger of double-edged messiahs and the long shadow of the savior


Everyone aspires (or should aspire) to be a leader.

All pointers to the leader

All pointers to the leader

But if you’re not quite a leader yet, having a real leader at your side is super useful… Except when it isn’t.

Sometimes a leader is the person that really gives you the will to go ahead, fight, stand up, continue, relentlessly and gladly.

And sometimes that leader is so inspiring that his/her shadow is too long and too large, and it dwarfs anyone else’s intention to step up to leadership. That’s when there is a problem.

Leadership is a precious flower that needs to be nurtured inside each and everyone of us. Of all people, the special care and attention that is given to that flower has to come from the top, from the leaders, and all the more so from the charismatic leaders we cherish.

It is great to have such a charismatic leader that gets (nearly) everything right and is full of energy and good ideas, and is so capable and is so productive and is so protective, but this kind of messiahs is double-edged if they don’t emulate the same kind of energy among the people they are leading to fly from their own wings.

I’m not suggesting here that it’s the leader’s fault per se. Just that everyone should remember there is that little flower inside us that needs to be cared for. And give water to that thought to let the flower flourish.

Look up to the leader, emulate the leader, look below and spread the light, not the shadow.

Our age needs every aspiring leader around. So go plant your leadership flowers about!

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Enabling change: a manager’s choice (and a leader’s decision)


People don’t resist change. They resist being changed! – Peter Senge

I’ve covered individual change on this blog though various writings (on the willingness or difficulty to change, recognising that the process of changing is slow, wanting others to change), but hardly done justice to the management side of change. And management has a lot to do, and even more to say about change. Particularly about the kind of change that has negative consequences for people (reorganisations, redundancies)…

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

Are you going to do anything about that change? (Credits: Patrick Mayfield)

So what are the choices of managers to enable or disable change?
Before we start let’s distinguish two different situations – that often need to be balanced:

  • Change that is internally driven – i.e. decided by that management, or any other group internal to an organisation or an initiative.
  • Change that is externally induced – as a result of signals that were not created by the group themselves.

Recognising this context is essential because it has repercussions on the way other people feel about the change and who they perceive as major beneficiaries or victims of change. Dealing with this well means management can show true leadership. And we know for a fact that complex development work requires many factors to deal with change well.

Internally driven change

What can ‘management’ do here to enable change:

Bring their team on board about the change, as early as possible, to let them see the change as a whole, appreciate positive aspects of that change and how negative ones are really going to affect them – and crucially to let them voice their questions, concerns, feelings, ideas, suggestions.

If even possible, co-create that change and get their ideas on board to shape that change into something very positive that brings everyone’s ideas in the mix to understand the bigger picture – sometimes (often) it is only through this approach that a change can be gauged in its wholesomeness.

Understand that we all have to take consequences of the change and that ‘I WANT YOU TO CHANGE!‘ is not a viable way forward.

Brainstorm (and at the very least, if there is no manoeuvre possible, communicate) about what can be done next, and particularly for that team or group. And also communicate what is not known – but commit to finding out more.

Draw lessons about what happens with that change for the next time around, to be better prepared and to develop the collective capacity to adapt and recombine;

Later assess how the change influenced everyone and what new lessons or measures can be drawn from the whole experience several months after the deed.

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

The tao of change management (Credits: V. Kotelnikov)

Externally induced change

This type of change is a result of an external shock or circumstance, and can have either positive or negative consequences (or both – think tradeoffs). All of the above applies here too, but in addition management should:

Analyse with the help of all those who think they understand some of that big picture, what made this change happen, to better understand that whole change and determine with more accuracy how the change will affect everyone. Lead with patterns – and follow some ideas of this Cynefin framework adapted for management.

Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Change Management / Leadership in the Cynefin framework (Credits: Cognitive Edge)

Help (and encourage) sharpening the foresight capability of the team to ensure everyone contributes to forecasting the next external changes.

In contrast, what can managers do to muddle everything up?

  • Not change anything (about themselves) – and ignore the famous quote “change leader, change thyself“. On the other hand, change brings wonderful opportunities for innovation (and innovative) leadership.
  • Not anticipate change or keep an old lens (used for previous changes) to forecasting. But even change changes and takes different shapes. “Yesterday’s thinking will not solve tomorrow’s problems”…
  • Not cultivate collective foresight. Not investing in foresight capabilities is signing an organisation’s death certificate. Not doing so with a wide group – ideally based on the entire collective’s capacity (strengthened by PKM and personal learning networks) is only postponing the delivery of that certificate…
  • Not communicate: nothing about the change, nothing about how it affects people, nothing about the measures taken admit this
  • Not learn: no drawing lessons about drivers, initiatives taken or results recorded, just being affected without any sense of agency… Are you learning as fast as the world is changing?

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

    The process of transition and the feelings this inspires in us (Credits: JM Fisher)

  • Not involve: no taking into account the opinions, experiences, feelings (and there are many – see the picture below) and capacities of all those affected by the change – even in times when change is not happening. And down with your problems with empowerment, please, you don’t have a real choice.
  • Involve and consult but ignore anything coming out of that. In some ways this is even worse as it tokenises participation and instils longer term defiance viz. future attempts at engaging with the same people.

Taking these principles into account should become the ABC of today’s managers, and change management is the one specialised field they should focus on (and here are some quotes that will help them). Did I hear anyone say ‘process literacy’?

In summary there is much that managers can do to deal collectively with change, and it all has to do with the leadership rules for healthy human systems: involve, communicate, listen, encourage, mobilise, reflect, expand, multiply, respect…

Of course, at our individual level, we also have much to do in order to see change in its whole form. We may still not welcome this process but we can nevertheless always decide to seize the opportunities it brings to do something different, and better. But that is another story.

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