Posts Tagged ‘knowledge workers’

10 reasons to tackle corporate email – reason 6

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on November 11th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

I worked in an organisation that had ‘the three phone call rule’. It went something like this: within three phone calls, you will find someone who can help you with your problem. No one ever carried out a study at that time to ascertain whether or not it held true or was simply apocryphal (in the dubious authenticity sense). But it was a well known part of a very strong culture of informal collaboration.

Working in a central senior role, I knew many people and had knowledge of most major initiatives. And so nearly every day I would receive an unsolicited phone call from someone that would begin ‘I know you won’t know the answer to this question, but you might know the person who will…’

Think about email. Your email network in an organisation is usually limited to people you know or engage with on a regular basis. Of course, if you are game you can send an email to @All_staff, but that usually meets with severe disapproval from the IT and Communications teams.

What you really need is to find people who know. You already know who you know.

I also recall, with a shudder, being expected to update a skills profile within a people management tool. Regularly. I’m not a big fan of that as a solution – it’s always an additional task, there is no context around the skills update to link it to a project or activity (and if I want to go that extra mile it means substantially more work), and quite frankly, if I am searching for assistance then context is important. For that I need dynamic information.

So will moving interaction into social networking tools broaden your contact list? Absolutely.

Social networking tools let you broadcast a request for information in a non-threatening and non-spamming way. You might not get much of a response the first time, but as the community grows the returns will improve.

Wiki knowledge repositories link content and author, so the first step of the three phone call rule could ideally be replaced by an intranet search.

There is a great deal of discussion in many forums about the value of social networking and engagement externally for organisations and government. But there are huge advantages internally, within teams, business divisions or across departments.

And in case you think it’s just a nice to have, consider this article today reporting the NSW Ombudsman, about the failure of the Joint Guarantee of Service for People with Mental Health Problems (JGOS). It stated ‘a NSW Ombudsman’s investigation has found the scheme has not worked because of poor communication between organisations.’

A key reason was confusion over when client information is able to be shared.  And not sharing information has put people at risk. Your risks or objectives might not have such dramatic results, but they are important to your business.

How to make sure people access information?

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on September 16th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

‘Even if you provide the right information, to the right place at the right time, how do we [knowledge workers] make sure people access information and have power to action information?’ Manson Yew, Project Manager, NASA Engineering Network, NASA. at KM Australia 2009

How do you make sure people access information?

Manson Yew’s comment at the KM Australia conference posed the question: what if, as a knowledge worker, you’ve done everything right. You have the systems and processes in place to analyse and decide what information is the ‘right’ information, you have worked out the process and workflow for where that information is needed, and you know the timing required to deliver it to people when it is needed.

As part of any knowledge management initiative we start with people’s roles – the ‘what do you come to work to achieve each day’ – and determine the information that is critical to them being able to get those jobs done. Only then do we work out what needs to be captured, found, saved, stored, shared and reused.

The ‘what’s in it for me’ factor is critical.  So if the information is not what they think is important, strike one.

But assuming you have hit the mark with the information, and you’ve solved the delivery issues around time and place, what if they ignore it?

What if your project managers aren’t interested in your templates? What if they’d rather work off the materials from the previous project they managed?

What if your bid managers start from scratch every time they put a proposal together? Even though you have put together a detailed database of best-practice clauses or templates?

One reason may be that you still haven’t convinced them. You haven’t given them the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor.

We have some basic measurable criteria that we use for information and knowledge management objectives. Saving time, cutting costs, reducing errors, and simplifying activities. One of those will usually hit the mark with people. One of those is usually an issue or objective that matters to the person. Not the team. Not the corporation. Not the department. The person.

So there might be a process of engagement and persuasion missing, at the right level. I’ll change my behaviour when you give me a reason to do so. And unless that reason is strong, established practices and other priorities, or simply the familiarity of how I always do it (which gets the job done you know) will prevail.

Just remember that there are two definitions of the ‘right information’ – the information that the organisation or management think is critical (to capture, to control, to replicate), and the information that people need to do their work.  They are two different things and they drive two different behaviours.

KM Australia 2009 conference summary

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on September 9th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

If you didn’t manage to get to the KM Australia conference, held in Sydney in August, Nicky Hayward-Wright has written a great review, complete with links, of the sessions. You’ll find it on the NSW KM Forum site.

10 reasons to tackle corporate email – reason 4

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on August 19th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

A manager who worked for me mentioned one week that he needed to come into work on the weekend. We worked for a company that did more than pay lip service to work/life balance, and so I quizzed the manager on the reasons for the extra hours.

‘Swamped with email’ was the response. So I asked the manager to carry out a quick task. I asked him to check how many of the emails in the ‘overload’ were in direct response to an email the manager had sent out.

Not surprisingly, the answer was up around 90%. And not surprisingly, a number of those emails were to members of our own team.

What we found was that email wasn’t helping us make decisions and solve problems on some issues. It was just extending the interaction, or delaying it. A bit like playing tennis. When the ball is on the other side of the court it is someone else’s turn!

So much interaction on email is kept between two people. It’s not visible, and it can sometimes be easy to add to the problem, not resolve it. Not much beats face to face interaction, or a phone conversation of course. But there are tools which, because of their openness, transparency and immediacy, make the process of discussing, agreeing and actioning more efficient.

10 reasons to tackle corporate email – reason 3

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on August 19th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

Email is linear. Point to point. So it’s direct. That’s good. In business, that’s useful.

Think about usual email interactions. One person to one person. Or, if the conversation is within a team or project, one to many.

But if the results of that conversation need to be communicated more widely, it can become many individual ‘ones’ back to many. And it can spool off into many more ‘one to ones’. And at that stage readers are often wondering whether they are still needed in the conversation.

At that point, the original point of the email might be so far back in the thread that you can’t recall it, or completely lost if you have come to the conversation late.

If it is a long running or complex issue, bringing a latecomer up to speed with the ebb and flow of the conversation can be almost impossible.

So email has a role within organisations. No argument, but its ubiquitous nature means it is often the default tool. And there are better tools available for a lot of the interaction organisations need.

In many organisations there will be real value in taking specific conversations or interactions, which currently run through or are fuelled by email, into Enterprise 2.0 tools. Yammer (an inhouse Twitter) or other instant messaging tools can connect all people on a project or in a team much more quickly and fluidly than email. Quick exchanges can complement the work people are doing without a massive personal overhead.

Blogs can be an alternative to newsletters and email updates. They are more transparent, open to all, and because they capture the thread of the conversation in one place are very inclusive for new members or stakeholders.

And if there is a problem to be solved, wikis encourage group contribution and visibility more effectively than email will. They capture the collaborative output and knowledge for subsequent use.

Organisations should consider leveraging any skill and capability that employees bring in using social tools – the willingness to connect and share, the transparency. While there will always be people wedded to email, there might be people you can actively encourage not to become wedded to email!

KM guiding principles

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on August 11th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

At the conference presentation last week, a slide that resonated with a number of people I spoke with was one on guiding principles for knowledge management.

I’m a big believer in guiding principles (you can define them many ways: rules, beliefs, philosophy, basis of reasoning or action). I like the way they force you to articulate, and agree on, what you are striving for. They are a great way to start an initiative, and as you always need input and sign off from a number of stakeholders, they get the project rolling. And I’ve found that if you are working with teams who have been around the block a few times, they are an essential tool to re-focus energies and direction.

Depending on your project, they might actually be a critical step that you bypass at your peril. I’ve used them in business and IT strategy development, corporate communication and investor relations, and IT development projects. On a major IT sourcing strategy project, we used them to turn lessons learned from the original outsourcing deal into guidelines for the next.

This Harvard Business Review article, Transforming  Corner-Office Strategy into Frontline Action, remains one of the most interesting things I’ve read on strategic principles and how they can guide and transform business.

So in developing guiding principles for knowledge management, I have my business hat firmly in place. If someone was trying to sell a new round of knowledge management initiatives to me, what would I want to hear?

Here are five guiding principles for KM that might provide some food for thought:

  1. Make knowledge tasks and activities part of the way people work.
  2. Embed knowledge management in your key business processes.
  3. Target business processes that deliver real benefits to teams: save time, cut costs, prevent errors, simplify activities.
  4. Market your achievements and benefits to existing and new customers as if it were a product you were selling on the open market.
  5. Don’t make people switch between too many toolsets. Leverage your intranet, and turn it into an internet scale knowledge system.

10 reasons to tackle corporate email – reason 2

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on July 30th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

So what does your organisation do with corporate email archives when a person leaves?

In the past two days we’ve had online conversations with two people, both of whom have mentioned efforts they’ve taken to set boundaries around the time spent on email.

We think these kinds of initiatives recognise how pervasive a tool email is. We actually use it to get work done. ask magazine So as we discussed in our last post, email boxes become quite a repository of information, knowledge and practical know-how.

You might argue that when a person leaves an organisation, much organisational learning goes with them. But there is probably a lot left behind in, you guessed it, emails.

We haven’t heard of too many organisations that do much more than hang onto the archive for a while (depending on their information retention policy) and then finally offload it. But we suspect there is a lot of useful information that is lost when that happens.

So what’s the answer? Trawl through email boxes to sift out the useful information? No one has the time or the resources to do that. Implement a compliance program to manage and review what is contained in email? That can be tackled as part of a document management program but it’s a big job.

I watched with interest a couple of years back as Luis Suaraz over at (a knowledge management blog) undertook to reduce his daily use of email by using social networking tools. He summarised how he did that recently on

He may work in a different role to many of those in your organisation, but the principles apply no matter what your industry.

10 reasons to tackle corporate email – reason 1

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on July 28th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – 2 Comments

‘I’m drowning in email!’ you often hear, and ‘we know email is a real issue for us’. And yet email is such a ubiquitous tool that trying to encourage alternative ways of communicating is sometimes like holding back the ocean. In an organisation trying to manage information and knowledge, there are strong reasons to increase the information management activities happening outside corporate email.

The daily interaction of email between employees reveals a rich and varied use. Questions, answers, advice, process, procedure, updates, discussions. Much of that information is knowledge – about what is happening, about how to do an activity, about how to approach an issue. And on the less formal side it is often used just to connect people.

So while formal knowledge management activities often struggle with the behaviours needed to make it happen, informal knowledge sharing and communication is happening. And it’s being captured. It’s just hidden.

If employees are usually quite willing to impart knowledge, opinions and advice in email, why? The tool is easy to use, useful in many ways because of its simplicity, highly visible on the desktop, and it helps people carry out an activity. The ‘what’s in it for me’ factor is high.

But it stands to reason that most email archives slowly become a rich knowledge base of process, procedure and know-how. Rarely is that information available to more people than the author and those they connect with. Over time, even the owner of an email box packed with useful information will find it increasingly difficult to access the high-value information and reuse it.

There are a number of social tools that provide agile and practical alternatives to email. They hit the ‘what’s in it for me’ factor and score points for ease of use. Stay tuned for more details of what they are and how your organisation might use them.

The ‘informal’ web

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on June 26th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

So much of the strength of web 2.0 tools is the ability to connect and communicate that they provide to the individual. That’s right, the individual. Leiseberkhelpthi So is that a natural conflict right there, with many of the objectives and policies in most organisations?

LunchBytes1 Web 2.0 June09_059

When you look at how most intranets (and one could argue, organisations) are structured and managed, there’s a common theme.


Sure, there are risk and compliance elements to that formality, but much of it stems from the best of intentions to manage messages carefully and well. Organisations like to minimise chaos and that extends to information and communication.

But the fundamental element of a social network is the individual. Being an individual. Funnily enough, that’s really how we work as well, but it seems that once it’s captured, written down, shared, stored and so on, everyone gets nervous.

So in an organisation with a fairly conservative culture, there’s your first challenge in proposing any social networking tools.

There are ways to carve out space to raise the level of comfort about what the tools will really do, and demonstrate how to manage the risk. But it’s not really about the tools. Not to start with at least.

Collaboration, content management and Enterprise 2.0 in the public sector

Posted in Communicate / Collaborate on June 11th, 2009 by Leanne Fry – Be the first to comment

Interesting article from Steve Hodgkinson in MIS Australia this month, on what’s new in public sector IT.

He documents the ‘storms’ he sees coming in public sector IT.  There are eight in total, but it is interesting to see two in particular: Collaboration and content management, and Enterprise 2.0.

The first is about providing better, more integrated tools to ‘knowledge workers’ for creating, storing and sharing information.

This is one of the key issues that knowledge management has struggled with. When a great deal of effort is spent working out what should be captured, who should be connected and what should be shared, the result is often a detailed business case proposing a highly structured KM solution. This needs substantial time and effort to engage people in using it and drive the right behaviours.

We talk about breaking down organisational silos for our employees, and yet we give them tools such as KM repositories, shared drives and email that place all their information into, guess what, silos!

The second is the opportunity of Enterprise 2.0. Enterprise 2.0 tools are very strong for a number of reasons – they are democratic, have a low or non-existent barrier to entry, are quick for the user to engage with and contribute to, can be economical to deploy even within the firewall, are very agile (can grow and change quickly) and are easily embedded in the users’ desktop, ie one click away on the corporate web.

Properly deployed and supported, they democratise information, making more of it more widely available. So they can play a key role in connecting people up and down hierarchies and across organisational teams.

So for any organisation looking to cut costs, they provide great potential. But as we’ve cautioned before, deploying them is not primarily a technology project.