Friday, April 25, 2008

Anecdote on Collaboration

Anecdote has just released a new white paper titled Creating a Collaborative Workplace that explores the nature and value of collaboration from a practical perspective.

I find it a very nice piece of writing. It's jargon free enough to use as a tool to align goals and actions across the spectrum of KM partners (HR, IT, IM, strategic planning, facilities etc.).
I like the definition and contexts they've laid out for collaboration, the "cause" for collaboration, and the focus on culture - implying that how things are done are as important as what things are done.

It might be interesting to supplement the ideas in the paper by moving into an exploration of what collaboration is not - or if you're inclusionary, the full spectrum of collaborative processes and practices. Why I'm saying this is that for many people collaboration is synonymous with coordination, cooperation, co/joint creation, debate, co-evolution, and a variety of other interaction processes. I do hate to get overly definitional, but I do believe that for people to work together they need to share some common language, and an understanding and agreement about the process to get things done. This type of agreement can provide a framework to evaluate individual and group performance, and mitigate situations where "buddy" trumpets his collaborativeness, while all he does is criticize others' ideas and contributes none of his own.

I'm reading Albrecht's book The Power of Minds at Work, and he maps out 10 learnable macro-skills related to what he calls 'practical intelligence':- mental flexibility, or "tolerance for ambiguity"- openness to new information- capacity for systematic thought- capacity for abstract through- skill at generating ideas- positive thinking- sense of humour- intellectual courage- resistance to enculturation- emotional resilience or "emotional intelligence"

This reads to me like a list of collaborative skills, which could be a good idea supplement as well.

Monday, April 21, 2008

The Role of Colleagues in Careers

A perceptive quote from a colleague today: "In my career, there have been people along the way whose greatest value was to remind me of what not to become."

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Influencing Others With Transparent Dignity

I was again struck in a recent meeting how people seem to think about "change management" as communications - if people are told something over and over again, maybe in a few different ways, they'll do something different. We certainly can't deny the power of mass communications, as evidenced by its impact on our society over the last number of generations. But we also can't overlook all those instances where, despite the evidence that a clearly communicated message has been understood, people do not change what they do - some examples include "smoking is hazardous," "speed kills," "reduce, reuse, recycle," "a heart attack is looming if you don't change your diet and get some exercise."

True, effective communication of relevant information is vital for everyone to make good decisions, but change takes much more.

I've just finished a brilliant book, Influencer: The Power to Change Anything that provides a very useful, proven framework for change that can be applied to virtually type of personal or organizational change initiative - the scope of the case studies included in the book are powerful proof.

What I've taken away from the book is that enabling change requires:

  • a clear understanding of current behaviours and what is supporting /encouraging them
  • a clear identification of target vital behaviours - just the few that matter
  • personal motivation and personal capability to change
  • peer / social support, and the knowledge and capability of the peer group to provide the support
  • appropriate rewards and recognition (called structural motivation in the book)
  • removal of organizational barriers to the new vital behaviours (called structural ability in the book)
Enabling and encouraging changes is certainly not a "quick fix" as case studies and many of your own personal examples no doubt demonstrate. The authors point to the need to combine a number of strategies to encourage change when the status quo is very deeply rooted in a complex situation.

I found the book very consumable, easy to read, with surprisingly clear connections between theory and practice. Most importantly to me is the tone of the book - it does not imply or present change as something you do to others, but instead something that we can all engage in and benefit from. I highly recommend it.

For more information, visit a web site created by the authors, which contains a chapter preview, and good supporting resources.

Joseph Grenny, co author, is also featured in a Business Week Interview.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Launch of a new KM community - APQC's KMEdge

Yesterday I had the privilege of participating in conference call and pre-launch look at APQC's new web site, which will be officially launched at the upcoming APQC KM conference. More than just brochure-ware or an exercise in self promotion, APQC is attempting to bring together a community of people interested in knowledge management from a full range of client and practitioner perspectives. Yesterday's conference call, which was also an opportunity for interested parties to suggest and influence features and functionality, was certainly a good step - people support what they help create.

I also like what I perceive to be APQC's "let's try it and see what happens, and learn from it" approach. This initiative has the potential to be very interesting to participate in and watch unfold. APQC has built many solid relationships with client organizations and thought leaders who could contribute actively to the community. And, with their wealth of documented information and expertise about KM, they are in a great position to seed the community with thought and conversation provoking ideas.

I find a certain admirable degree of courage in an organization who, after researching, analyzing, informing and promoting communities and their expertise in this area, are taking the initiative to launch and "garden" such a highly visible one. No pressure there!

Bravo and I wish the APQC team much success.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Want Employee Engagement - Re-humanize the Workplace

There are a couple of topics I've been muddling about the last few weeks, and I've come to realize that there may be a connection.

First, "employee engagement" has been emerging as a hot topic in recent years, most notably as extension of the typical human resource professionals' mantra of "attract and retain." What concerns me somewhat is the tone of conversations that seem to take place about engagement - that it is something that can be managed, controlled or commanded, and that it is some target state that employees need to get to 100% of the time.

In his book Getting Engaged: The New Workplace Loyalty, Tim Rutledge defines engagement as the state of being attracted, committed, and fascinated, which is obviously different than simply being involved, and which Tim also differentiates from satisfied (feeling good, fine, comfortable.) By this definition, engagement includes some strong, positive emotion, and also seems to imply a high degree of focus.

I don't think it's possible for employees to be "engaged" all the time.

Organizational contexts and situations changes constantly, including but not limited to colleagues and managers, project and initiatives, organizational structure, policies, practices, work processes, company direction. Some of these changes attract, and others repel.

As well, I've met very few people who are so good at compartmentalizing as to completely exclude external / personal distractions during work hours - whether ailing family members, looking forward to an upcoming vacation, or obsessing over the state of global economy, ecology, poverty, or conflict.

And engagement as Rutledge defines it is very tiring! I don't imagine that too many people can maintain peak mental/emotional energy on an-ongoing basis without some down-time.

I'm not saying that employee engagement shouldn't be a target. I think employees and companies benefit from staff and managers "attracted, committed, and fascinated," and applying the full extent of their knowledge, and expertise to issues and opportunities in the workplace. I also think that in some cases, other states like involvement or satisfaction are perfectly acceptable and all that can/should be accepted.

So, for the second topic I've been thinking about - how can employee engagement be encouraged (if you agree that it can't be mandated/controlled/managed?)

I suggest managers spend some time thinking about "re-humanizing" the workplace by doing things like:

  • balancing accountabilties for achieving outcomes with how employees treat each other
  • banishing toxic behaviour in the work place (see McKinsey article Building the Civilized Workplace, and Bob Sutton's work) and treating everyone with dignity and respect
  • effective recognition practices
  • recognizing a set of cultural practices (behaviours) that engender trust, productive relationships, information sharing, being productively candid, collaboration, learning, innovation and fault tolerance
  • rewarding and recognizing managers for creating humanizing work environments that support and encourage everyone to "be there," and apply the full extent of their learning, knowledge and experience to the work at hand
  • referring to people by name and not purely as aggregated numbers on a spreadsheet so as not to disengage from the human consequences of decisions and actions