One is the loneliest number when it comes to knowledge

When I’m working with companies on understanding and improving their approach to content management and knowledge sharing (formerly known as “knowledge management”), it always strikes me how some people want to get down to “just one” solution.  Just one repository, just one social platform, just one process, having Just One seems like a neat and tidy solution.

Here’s a problem that comes with the Just One direction (and not just that it comes with a boy band attached…..) – the governance and oversight required to sustain it is often extensive. So all you really do is move the complexity to the governance work, generally it fails to meet local needs, and eventually people will do their own thing anyway in order to survive.

It is, in my opinion, better to design a solid information architecture and infrastructure within which both general and specialized repositories and networks can co-exist. Solid guidelines give people the ability to create what works for them and the local culture of their teams / functions / work processes. At the same time, guidelines give everyone the boundaries within which they can be most successful.  If you have that in place, it actually doesn’t matter how many repositories or social spaces you have, because they are all following similar guidelines and a common architecture, but they are building what they need for their local needs and wants.

I equate it to driving down the highway – we all know the basic rules of the road – speed limits, how to use on and off ramps, staying in lanes, etc. As the saying goes, in the law, there is freedom. Generally people follow the same flow, but in very different ways – people use a car, a truck, or a motorcycle depending on their needs and resources, and the way they drive depends on the training they’ve received and their personalities, but for the most part it works pretty well considering all of the variables in play.

Failure makes visible our naked condition

Just read a great article from the New York Times on failure by Costica Bradatan – In Praise of Failure.  Check it out for his three reasons failure is important to human existence:

  1. Failure allows us to see our existence in its naked condition
  2. Our capacity to fail is essential to what we are
  3. We are designed to fail

Bradatan points out that “To experience failure is to start seeing the cracks in the fabric of being, and that’s precisely the moment when, properly digested, failure turns out to be a blessing in disguise. For it is this lurking, constant threat that should make us aware of the extraordinariness of our being: the miracle that we exist at all when there is no reason that we should. Knowing that gives us some dignity.”

Somehow we have become a population that shies away from failure – we talk about ‘failing forward’, or how we don’t have to ‘fail’, we can instead ‘learn’. We get aggressive about failure ‘tackling it head on’, ‘turning it around’, ‘refusing to fail’, or being ‘too big to fail’. We are afraid of what we are, as Bradatan reminds us, biologically designed to fail in the end.

Philosophically it is fascinating to consider – what happens when we seriously interrogate our popular aversion to failure? What to we give up, what do we gain?

Local Culture Eats Change Management for Dessert

After some great discussion with colleagues and friends about my last blog post on local versus corporate culture, I realized that if local culture eats corporate culture for lunch, it has change management for dessert. That’s because change management tends to focus on individual change, neglecting the power of the collective outside of a corporate construct. I think both individual and collective approaches are necessary, but here’s the challenge. You can measure and report out on how many people have been through training, received communications, and even those who are exhibiting behavioral changes. It is much trickier to figure out how to manage and report on organizational change that gets at local culture.

At the same time, change management delivered via external consultants has to rely on “deliverables” and “roadmaps” – that’s how the contracts are constructed. As a result, going into local cultures and figuring out change management approaches that will deal with highly local resistance points is impractical.

I think change management has a lot of value, and I’ve seen some tremendous work delivered by my colleagues in the field. But I think we have to be practical about the power of local culture, and work through how to leverage and incorporate it into change programs rather than going for a ‘one size fits all’, or worse, a ‘one size fits corporate’ approach. That’s the kind of challenge I love to wrap my head around, and to think about what happens when you are able to get everything firing on all cylinders locally and globally. It is exciting to think about, right?

Local culture eats corporate culture for lunch

I’ve had the rich opportunity to work with many global clients on challenges related to culture, especially with the introduction of social media tools in the workplace. The ability and desire to connect across offices creates fascinating questions about what a single global entity can understand and relate to as ‘its’ culture while dealing with the incredibly local reality of culture.  This become particularly evident when a single person located in a corporate headquarters is responsible for driving ‘engagement’ and ‘communities’ worldwide.  It also is especially visible when considered in the scope of global technology or process roll-outs, M&A activity, and implementation of shared services for global businesses.

Companies are starting to see the value of a ‘branded’ culture – a culture that everyone understands, embodies, and protects. The challenge, especially for older or larger companies, is shifting to a common understanding of an organizational culture, when powerful micro-cultures have existed and thrived for decades self-reinforcing over time.  These are particularly ‘wicked’ challenges, and require broad thinking coupled with the ability to understand narrow needs – ambidextrous thinking at its best.

In my work, I’ve learned three things about how to approach these challenges:

1) Never underestimate the power of the local culture. Headquarters tends to apply a command and control approach to “culture change” that honestly never works. They might think it does, but spend a few days out in the field and you will find a very different view.

2) Use the tools that are available to create conversations specifically about culture. People need to talk about it to create a new mental model – they can’t just get it off of a piece of paper, no matter how artfully rendered. Conversation is critical.

3) Accept that local cultures will always exist, and that they can serve a positive purpose. Focus on the big things that need to be consistent – mission/vision/values if you use those tools, or common purpose, or whatever it is that is the anchor for your culture. There is value in local color and connection, so long as it exists hospitably within the larger cultural paradigm.


Don’t Crowdsource Your Opinions?

I saw a Cigna billboard yesterday that said “Don’t Crowdsource Your Opinions”.  I think the point is that we should think for ourselves. But, aren’t our opinions always “crowdsourced”?  It seems like our opinions are formed by all of the inputs we take in from around us – where we get our news, the ways in which we experience the world, the people with whom we interact all play into how we form our opinions.

Maybe it is even more dangerous to NOT crowdsource our opinions. When we form our opinions in isolation, or without a variety of inputs, we run the risk of being narrow minded (a problem I wrote about last month). So there’s some kind of magic that happens between listening to the crowd and forming our own thoughts that makes us interesting people with independent but informed thoughts. It is tough to work with intention at balancing listening to the crowd and thinking for ourselves, but when we do great things happen.

4 Great Expressions of Consultantize

Consultants love to speak in a particular language that results in some pretty fun combinations.  Here are some of my favorite (and somewhat non-sensical) expressions- I utter them myself on a regular basis….  They have meaning and purpose in our language, but it is worth taking a  moment every now and then to examine what they are doing for us.

1. Strategic Planning – was there ever a greater mismatch of words? Strategy is something that moves, something that grows, it ebbs and flows, it adjust every day to the world dynamics.  Plans are static, they are put in place with the intention of working against them.  Don’t get me wrong, I believe in strategy and I believe in planning – as I’ve written about before, I’m a fan of Eisenhower’s quote on planning and the importance of the process.  I just think the terms should be “strategic discussion” and “action planning”.  Combining them doesn’t accomplish much in my mind.

2. Change Management – in a similar vein, to me, change is something that happens in a messy, non-linear way, and managing it is a tall order that implies structure and predictability. I’m PROSCI certified, I’ve planned, executed, and rescued many a change effort, but none of them have ever gone according to the management plan. CM is being slowly shifted to “Change Leadership” – it will be interesting to see how that takes hold. The concept seems to be about leading others through change, but what I often see is that leaders are unwilling to change themselves – they just focus on “leading others” because it is easier than doing the hard work of changing their own commitments.

3. Enterprise Transformation – in my mind, enterprises don’t transform, people do. I’ve written a lot about my issue with the term “transformation“, but really, unless you buy into the anthropomorphism of companies, enterprises don’t transform. Individuals and groups within the enterprise have to make a decision to believe different things, to act differently, and to make different decisions day to day about how they orient towards work.

4. Knowledge Worker (closely followed by Knowledge Management) – as an organizational scholar, I see knowledge as socially constructed through interactions with others. So to me, the idea of an individual “knowledge worker” makes no sense – all workers apply a unique set of experiences, skills, and know-how to their jobs. It has become a hallowed term in consulting and in industry in the many years since Peter Drucker first coined it, and it was a revolutionary thought at the time, but here in 2013, it seems like it might be appropriate to rexamine our assumptions about what knowledge is, and how the idea of “knowledge workers” is useful.

If you read this blog, you know I have a problem with “best practice” as well, but it just isn’t quite an oxymoron.  It is more just that it isn’t useful to me.

So that’s my quick list. What happens if we really look at our language and what we really mean when we use these expressions.