9 December 2008

Good conversations on KM

Despite having worked for thirty years, I am still keen to develop my skills and knowledge and with limited opportunities within companies, where training is typically aimed at more junior roles, I tend to rely on events like the Gurteen Knowledge Cafes.

Not only are these events educational, they are also a lot of fun!

The most recent Knowledge Cafe was hosted by Deloitte in the city and three of their consultants led the discussion on the highly relevant topic of How do I know if my KM programme is effective? But that's jumping ahead a little and I should start at the beginning.

These events always start with half an hour of socialising which could also be mistaken for networking. Deloitte provided some very welcome soft drinks and nibbles which always helps people to mingle as they have to move around the room to get their refreshments. As usual I said a quick "hello" to some of the other regular cafe goers and a slower one to some new people.

After the informal socialising came the structured socialising with the usual session of "speed networking". Here you have to find somebody you do not know and have a two minute conversation with them. When the whistle blows you move on to find another new person.

It so happened that I had three conversations with Deloitte people who were there to support their own event in numbers. Which was very interesting for me as their knowledge management needs are very similar to Logica's.

The discussion was fed by three Deloitte consultants who described how each of them sought to measure the success of their KM work. In each case there were some sensible sounding suggestions made but these were then caveatted by a list of issues.

The seeds having been planted we split into groups of six (there were about sixty of us there) to discuss the subject in more detail for around fifteen minutes. Then we moved tables (randomly) to continue the conversations with different people. We changed tables twice to give us three sets of conversations.

The table changing may seem like bit of a gimmick but it works well as each table will head off in a specific direction depending on the interests and personalities of the people involved and when the shuffling happens it is always interesting to see how the previous conversations have developed and to try and build on them to start new ones.

The Cafe ends with a whole-group session. Again this sounds wrong but works. It gives people the opportunity to share a key learning point or insight that they have gained, whether or not that view had been the consensus of their table, the comments made at this stage have all emerged from earlier debate and are richer for this, and those people that do feel daunted by speaking to a large group have still had the opportunity to participate fully in the earlier conversations.

These are the main points that I made during this wrap-up session:
  • To measure the success of what you are doing you must first know where you are.
  • There are often many initiatives trying to address the same issue so it may be impossible to pin the credit on any one intervention.
  • The temptation can be to measure what can be measured, e.g. the number of hits on a web site, rather than the outcome that you are trying to achieve, e.g. winning more business.
  • Stories (case studies) may be the best way to sell a KM program but initially you do not have any of your own stories and so you need to adapt other people's, which may not always be a valid interpretation.
  • One approach is to review knowledge gaps at the end of a process (did we have, or could we find, the information we needed for this bid?) and then look to fill these gaps.
  • At some point somebody will force you to invent hard targets, e.g. to make a business case or to set personal objectives.
  • Some of the benefits will be indirect, e.g. lower staff turnover as staff are happier at work having the knowledge they need to hand.
The session ended with no firm conclusions reached but with everybody happy that they now understood the issue better and had enjoyed the conversations that got them there.

Conversations continue in the pub next door where new angles were explored on the topic and brand new topics were opened, relationships were widened and deepened, business cards were exchanged and promises made to meet at the next event in January. It's in my diary.

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