Monday, March 21, 2016

KM In the Jerkplace: Postmortem – Social Management in the Knowledge Media

Postmortem: Social Management in the Knowledge Media

Installment Summary:  We take stock of the flying elbows around the management table and find that much of the turf wars between KM and jerks are seeded by a series of pre-existing conditions. They include a fixation on security, gamification, and social media. 

Powering Down on Knowledge

Since no serious student of politics (geopolitical, office or otherwise) disputes the proposition that knowledge is power we will start our jerkplace postmortem with a less traveled corollary:

Power in its purest, undiluted form is an awesome aphrodisiac.

Agree with that logic and no wonder we're on the path to knowledge as our habitual gateway drug. Being compensated on the managing of knowledge, it's hard to deny ...

  1. The plummeting price of storage
  2. The proliferation of isolated sources
  3. The congealing spaghetti of passwords slamming the doors to those silo-prone disconnections
But maybe the biggest change in the knowledge calculation is the business value placed on the internal pack behavior that's swelling the newsfeeds across our intranets.

The Power Hungry Chow Down at the Newsfeed Trough

The dumb-downed thumbs-up is the only vestige of personal judgment passing for a browser-contained experience. Emoticons, hashtags, likes ... All of the preceding attributes are measurable in a world where information once cost something to obtain. However, that justification is no longer valid in the land of content too cheap to meter. And it's not just a matter of mounting repositories or the virtual barbed wire we place around them.

No serious advancing of knowledge management can occur without the sober realization that social media is not some temporary distraction from tackling the real KM work. It's a daunting impediment to the collaboration we were hired to promote and capture. That’s not because ...
  • The power hungry are busy accruing virtual badges (confirming a ravenous appetite for collegial know-how)
  • Social media lowers the barriers to collaboration and who needs KM anyhow?
  • You blocked me from reading your newsfeed
It’s that social media has lowered the knowledge bar to the point where challenging ideas are regarded as provocations. On social media terms that reckoning could be described as:
  1. An insatiable need for praise,
  2. The nagging doubt that compliments are insincere attempts to curry favor, or
  3.  That it’s the world of ideas that are the true distractions.
It’s our outsized personalities that must be privileged before we address any demands on our collective expertise for solving problems.


No Country for Honest Disagreements

I'm talking about a world where we placate our taciturn cousins with friended status while narrow-casting our way clear of a potential firestorm. The irony is that our sincerity buttons are being pushed by the same publishing features that shield us from the need to listen to, much less negotiate points of contention among conflicting opinions. I'm not suggesting that the foundational aims of KM are at risk the moment we deploy Yammer, Jive, or some other virtual water cooler for keeping our colleagues in the organizational loop:
  • Oversharing is not the same thing as over-collaborating.
  • TMI ("Too Much Information") is not the same thing as running a surplus of collective know-how. 
The rub is that keeping up our social appearances runs the risk not only of diluting findable content but pushes the need to produce, host, and maintain high quality content off the home page and into a sea of dead links and decommissioned servers. And before we're left debating whether humans are even capable of rationalizing through the back stacks of organizational sense-making, consider this. There is a jerk willing and able to...

1) Affix their jerk signature to a working definition of obsolescence  whatever got built before it faced the turnaround artistry of their wrecking balls.

2) Sandbag the wheels of change with so much process that even the option of deleting a non-functional site is an open invitation to paralysis creep.

The Knowledge Management Code of Practice: Takeaways 1-5

It’s been five years since the termination of System Wisdom. In that time I’ve worked at four knowledge-starved organizations. In each case they all held to the theoretical justification for hosting a knowledge function and failed to realize the benefits for doing so. The lessons I draw from these otherwise divergent enterprises is the real and lasting damage done by individual jerks. At each management level jerks sabotaged the focus, structure, and cooperation needed to operationalize the capture and transfer of know-how between communities and individual practitioners.

While I’m humbled by my own track record of working with these challenging colleagues, these mixed successes only reinforce the fundamental takeaways from the seven years of KM plenty at System Wisdom that preceded the current diaspora.

Here then are ten ways to that KM professionals can work through, around, in-between, and ultimately past the drain on collective energies from dealing with jerks.

   1.       Be a credible ambassador 

Be the group lead from the department of understanding. Credibility needs the impartiality of detachment to be both truthful and non-threatening. Don’t be vested in the mercurial personality or the following of tomorrow’s temporary mantra. Credibility is enhanced by a single-minded focus on moving the community needle into positive territory. That territory needs to be clear of conventional performance indicators. It’s not about the counting of “stuff.” KM is not measured by the composite sum of its parts. It’s not drawn to or rewarded by the appeal for shinier screens. And KM credibility doesn’t play well with budgetary authority or blanket justifications for maintaining dormant assets and inventories.

   2.       Operationalize the good of the group

Keep a maniacal pulse on the transfer points – be it via email threads, project retrospectives, attendance at user forums, or colleagues queuing for assistance in a request list. There are a surprising lack of analytics associated with knowledge-on-demand. There are even fewer for connecting that demand to the pipeline that this transfer point signifies. Knowledge managers are not gatekeepers or coders or subject matter experts so much as brokers between knowledge demand and content supply. Formulating that equation not only heightens awareness about resources but helps unblock the back channels where informal networks prosper but where transparency can move the entire community forward.

   3.       Metricize the un-trackables

Like we said, you will undermine your credibility if your knowledge budget comes down to the non-value-bearing cost of carrying stuff: software licenses, market research, travel expenses. They’re all one-way tickets to the most leading of all the cost questions  you can’t afford the freight if you have to ask the price. The value worthy of capture lies in the quality of the cohesion in the teams we support. The better the chemistry, the more interchangeable the pieces. The more dynamic the knowledge transfer within the community, the more chances to capture those transfer points. That’s where KM’s fluid nature is no longer seen as a nice-to-have but a critical competence for channeling the organization’s resources to the right challenges and opportunities.

   4.       Give everyone a seat at the table (and rent a big table)

Nothing rings more soundly in theory and half-baked in practice than the notion of open access. While everyone gets and agrees that privileged information needs to be padlocked there’s not much consensus around what constitutes the information commons – that sweet spot where all organizational boats are lifted by a single point of access. An effective KM program sets up a governance process where you know where you stand from the get-default-go, i.e. everyone can see everything unless it’s a case of A, B, or C. Delaying the process is an invitation to a convoluted rules that are prone to change based on revolving sets of rule-makers. Do you have rule-makers with exclusive sights on rules only they can stamp their signatures on? All the more reason for open access.

   5.       Call the bluff of exclusionism

Many organizations are becoming less open – even to themselves. How else to explain the extenuating nature of security sprawl – that advancing premise that information is foremost to be protected, no matter how benign its nature.

Hence, open site access – once the default setting of an organization’s communities -- is now an open access question. These increasing boundaries to access have their bad actors. But these are not the likely boundary-inducing suspects. This is not about cavorting, or lording, or even hoarding information for personal betterment. Pure and simple it’s about trust in the system and delivering on a consistent user experience.

So what’s an inconsistent one?

How about being sent the link that leads nowhere. Being sent the link to sites you can’t access typically means the site owner’s moved on or that the administrator’s overmatched. Pretty benign barriers. The problem is that a KM-centric view of information-sharing requires a level of intentionality and upkeep that eclipses the awareness and resource levels of most intranet site teams, run by folks whose primary role has zilcho to do with managing knowledge.

One key takeaway for KMers is to couch the care and feeding of company intranets in terms of what’s worth recognizing by the wider organization – much of this HR-centric.

Next week: The lessons keep learning with takeaways 6-10.

The blog series KM in the Jerkplace is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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