Note: The following is an excerpt from 30 Days to the New Economy Second Edition, available soon on Amazon. This links to the first edition with few changes except for this Afterword provided here.
Steward your business with both the local and global connections at your disposal, using all the technology available to advance your idea, and you can play a major role in the New Economy.
Language leads the way. If you want to put your finger in the wind of public sentiment or policy, listen to the words people use. In business circles, the word “resilience” has been replaced by the word “non-fragile”. That subtle difference speaks volumes about how we see ourselves, and it presages the kind of hard times that we think are ahead.
“Resilience” speaks of inherent strength – strength of character, depth of resources, and the ability to adapt. “Non-fragility” emphasizes weakness, and we are reminded of the fragile nature of life itself. Is our transportation system fragile? Are our supply chains weak? Is our food supply unsustainable?
We want to emphasize our resilience and our potential.
Actually, our future is the one that we imagine it to be. Because as a man thinketh portends our reality. That is not to deny the reality that our world – in the face of one microscopic pathogen – was shown to be a naked man, skittering across the stage holding a blanket across his torso. But we have the ability to think, and from those thoughts, we can act our way toward a world that embraces all the good that is possible and rejects resurrecting the things that had outlived their usefulness and, in some cases, had turned rotten as they’ve aged.
We are headed toward the future on hyperdrive.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average (DJIA) refuses to tank even amidst historic unemployment. Some skeptics attribute that solely to the Federal Reserve Bank of the U.S. pumping unprecedented amounts of liquidity (U.S. dollars) into the system. Because the stock markets can sometimes lead sentiment, rather than follow it, let me suggest that there is an underlying bullishness about the economy because it is shifting into a new reality more aligned with the kind of possibilities outlined in this little book. I am suggesting that the stock market is discounting the present because it sees the future. And the economic readjustment period has just encountered warp speed due to a pandemic that shut down the old way of doing things. When we ramp up again, we ramp up into the future having just imploded the old system.
For those who follow such things, we knew the old system was imploding. Our global relationships relative to the supply chain (think China) were already changing with an increased emphasis on national independence and more closely politically aligned partnerships. The Federal Reserve had already started pumping massive amounts of liquidity into the U.S. banking system 4 months before the pandemic even had a name. When oil’s price per barrel of crude went into negative territory on April 21, 2020 to minus $40 a barrel, it was not just in response to the pandemic. Our global supply chain and trade had already started to slow for other reasons. If oil went negative, perhaps we need to go positive because that indicator presages change. It means many of the changes discussed in this book are underway.
In the New Economy, we are encouraged to make a few new moves, just like the old moves, but better.
Here are a few directions to consider as we feel our way forward in the dark.
First, all politics and relationships are local and person-to-person. That also applies to business. Nurture personal relationships and imagine ways your business can flourish in your local geography, no matter what you do. We have discovered how fragile our supply chains can be, how quickly transportation and production can stop. We discovered in a harsh way the importance of local business to meet physical and psychological needs. You can play a role in keeping things moving by making sure you are sustainable locally. Be part of the Main Street movement.
Also, consider the converse.
The power of the internet anchors the New Economy. No matter how local your business and relationships, nurture your global connections. When you stay connected to all the best ideas and people available to you in the global economy, you will continue to improve your own prospects in your backyard.
Let’s wrap up and return to Day 1.
New ideas spread through wars, conquest and trade. The pandemic may give us the opportunity to bypass the war and go straight to the reward of moving the world ahead through an economic revolution aided by technology. After all, aren’t all revolutions economic at their inception?
Ask the British subjects living in North America about their opposition to “taxation without representation”. Or the French common man about his servitude to King Louis XVI (that one ended badly in a dictatorship – take heed!). Or the Southern U.S. plantation owners when the north threatened their economic model built on slavery. Human history is built upon populations pushing back against entrenched power and failing systems.
The pandemic is an opportunity to recalibrate the economic system, enjoy a flattening of power and financial wealth, and truly liberate individuals to embrace their personal power and express the full measure of their productivity.
Graphic Credit: http://www.clker.com/clipart-fragile-red-3.html
In celebration of the audio version of Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, I am giving away 3 copies of the audiobook. If you would like one, please email me at email@example.com and I will send you a code so you can access your complementary copy. It is also still available in hard copy.
Seize this opportunity to enact your knowledge management plan.
Many businesses are using this time to do online training for their employees. That’s a good idea.
Let me propose a more radical idea – that businesses use this time to create knowledge bases and training materials while your experts may be idled for a time. For all your experts who are usually too busy with the day-to-day work in front of them to capture their knowledge for the next generation of employees, some may be in a slowdown and can be a valuable resource right now.
What is the fallout from an event like the COVID-19 pandemic? What does it mean for companies that are working with skeleton crews or shutting down for a while? What do ongoing essential services look like? Who provides these services? How will business resume? What happens if this virus does, indeed, become the #boomerremover?
This is where a strong knowledge management plan is the bedrock of business continuity planning. With well-documented procedures, businesses can keep operating according to SOP during and after unanticipated events.
Knowledge Management and Business Continuity
The assumption in capturing and preserving critical knowledge in your organization is that:
- you know where it is
- you know who knows it, and
- you have access to those people when you need them.
The premise of a strong knowledge management plan is that you may not always know who those people are, where they are or have access to them when you need what they know to keep your business running, so you should find them, talk to them and plan ahead.
Up until the coronavirus crisis, my supposition has been that the biggest threat – and it is a very big one – to business continuity is the loss of knowledge of your retiring employees. But today, it is clear that the loss of knowledge can occur from a random, “black swan” event such as the one we are experiencing right now. The coronavirus pandemic just underlines the importance of retaining expert knowledge in an era of uncertainty.
Depending on your industry, you may be hit with retail closure, warehouse overload, hospitality industry challenges with closed hotels and grounded flights. All of this will certainly affect planning and operations well into the future.
Like every crisis, this event also holds opportunities for businesses and industries.
“We’re too busy doing the work to document it!”
One of the main complaints I hear from people who are trying to get some time with their subject matter experts to work on knowledge gathering and training is that the experts are so busy doing the work at hand every day, they don’t have time for tasks like working with the training department or cataloging their knowledge. Well, they might be available now. If you want to know where to start, think about the things that would be most damaging to lose, the information that would be difficult to recapture. That knowledge is known only by a few and is least likely to already be captured in a systematic way. In my three books, Working with SMEs, Finding Your SMEs and Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, I lay out some ideas for finding critical information and capturing expert knowledge in your organization.
What You Can Do Now to Retain Expert Knowledge
In a work slowdown or stoppage, very busy people (your experts) may have some time on their hands. So, here are just three things to think about – and possibly act on – while the time and corporate will to do so is front and center. These are only three activities, but they can keep your organization busy for a very long time and benefit it even longer.
- Let this pandemic threat serve as an example to those who are advocating a knowledge management program within their company to highlight the importance of knowledge capture and ongoing learning programs.
- For employees who may have down time or are sitting at home idled by a work stoppage, they can be enlisted to write down their job tasks and processes for future training programs.
- Create mentor-mentee relationships between veteran and younger workers with time off so they can get to know each other via Zoom, Skype or a company platform, and give them a structured mentorship program to work through to strengthen company processes and culture in the future.
Software programs, learning modules and methodologies all exist to facilitate these kinds of proactive tactics to bring knowledge management to the forefront of your organization at a time when executives most certainly are worried about their business continuity plans. Even though it seems right now as if business will continue to be slow and the world has come to a halt, operations will resume normally and when they do, these opportunities may be lost as people return to the performance of everyday responsibilities. In fact, there are some classic economic models that suggest a frenzy of “pent up demand” will bring businesses back with a roar, once again pushing knowledge management to the back of the line.
For the people who heeded wise counsel to stop the potential spread of this virus, you will know that all your hard work and sacrifice made a big difference in the outcome. With healthcare workers already contracting the virus on the frontlines, it is clear this must be stopped in its tracks. In the meantime, use this time wisely to do what needs to be done during this hiatus from normal business activity.
If we stay focused on the future, when businesses are all humming along again – and they will be – you will have accomplished something of value by using this downtime to preserve the critical knowledge that makes your company unique in the marketplace.
Want to chat about some things you can do today to use this time to advance knowledge management in your organization? Send me a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll set up a time to talk. Stay safe out there.
PHOTO CREDIT: Image accessed on Bing at https://www.bing.com/images/search?q=coronavirus+affects+business&FORM=HDRSC2.
A few months ago, this blog featured an incident from a delightful little book, Stories from My Working Days by Richard Sakulich, a retired engineer who spent his working life solving problems around the globe for industry. With his eye for irony and ear for the comic, he has recounted his adventures for others to enjoy. His friends, family and the occasional stranger who read Stories from My Working Days have encouraged him to continue, and he has obliged with a sequel, More Stories, just in time for holiday giving. In the new book, his musings continue to explore the comic-tragedy of the human condition through the mind of a logical person.
The office atmosphere was fairly relaxed, a professional environment and rather than being one huge room, there were a number of connected smaller areas for the various departments. This helped make it cozier. People worked diligently enough during the day but at the normal quitting time, you did not dare to get caught standing near the exit doors or serious bodily harm could result.
But there were exceptions to the stampede…one of my employees, an Industrial Engineer who had been with the company a fair number of years, was always still at his desk… It bothered me that he worked late constantly, day in and day out, so one night I stopped and stood around a bit until he realized someone was there. We had the following exchange:
Me: Why don’t you pack it in? We certainly don’t expect you to be putting in extra hours like this every day.
Him: It’s no problem. I just want to keep ahead of some of the projects we have going.
The conversation did not end with that, and I dragged out all the stereotyped managerial phrases that are appropriate to a situation like this. Finally, it seemed he was rather tired of my benevolent intentions and he looked up wearily from his desk, shoulders rounded and hunched from a lifetime of paper shuffling…
“Dick! You do not understand. For years, I have had the habit of working late. It is my standard routine, well-established and I am quite comfortable with it. In fact, the people around me have gotten used to it and they scheduled their lives to match. If I went home right now, it would be a complete and utter surprise to my wife. It is the last thing in the world she would expect. In fact, to fill in the time when I work late, she probably plans a little dalliance now and then with some bozo and if I came home early, it is likely I would catch them together. Now, if that happened, I could not just ignore it. It would be necessary to react and do something and the bottom line is that no matter what that would be, I would have a major marital problem. And Dick, with all the work I have to do here, I don’t have time to deal with a marital problem, too!”
Was this beleaguered employee just getting Richard off his back? For this full story, and more stories from the minds of engineers, you can obtain a copy of this privately published gem by contacting me or Richard, and we’ll get a copy to you.
Richard Sakulich’s book is available at local bookstores in the Doylestown, PA area. For most of my readers, that is a bit of a hike…or flight. So, if you would like a copy, contact me at email@example.com. I will forward your request to Richard and he will make arrangements to get a copy to you.
I occasionally hear from readers of my blog or the books who are out there working with experts in every imaginable field and type of industry. You are all out there, gathering information for training, for organizational continuity, and just “for the record”.
Some of you, it seems, feel like you are working in a vacuum. You are trying to figure out what to capture, who and where to gather your institutional knowledge and how to store it. And people are doing amazing jobs. I am always fascinated to hear the breadth and depth of the kinds of work you are doing, and who you are doing it for. Global companies. Governments. Non-profits.
Experts in a Vacuum
I have found two types of vacuums when working with experts. One is the person or people tasked with collecting knowledge who are feeling like they are inventing processes from the ground up. (Actually, you are in many ways because of the unique nature of many of your situations.)
The other type of vacuum is when you are working with an expert in a field of their own. Sometimes experts really are the only ones who know exactly how something is done that is particular to your need. And that kind of vacuum can be daunting for people gathering information for a few reasons:
- You only have one source of information – your expert
- You have nothing to backstop you on the veracity of the information
- The people around the expert – and there are always people around the expert – may have alternative viewpoints or a completely different view of reality and you either a) don’t have access to them/don’t know they exist or b) can’t bypass the expert to check reality against the people around them.
If the last few paragraphs seem a bit arcane to you, they don’t relate to your situation so not to worry.
But if the last few paragraphs have hit a nerve with you, you understand the discomfort of working with experts in a vacuum. Even under the best circumstances, with good access and relationship, there are pieces you just don’t know and may never be able to pressure test against reality.
If you are working in a vacuum, don’t worry. You aren’t the only one. You are doing the best you can. Your work is appreciated or will be by those who come after you. And, if you are lucky, your work is also appreciated by the expert you are getting to know.
Do you ever feel like you are working in a vacuum?
It’s kind of like being a new parent…
The focus of Working with Subject Matter Experts includes the technical aspects of knowledge capture – the process of what to capture and how to efficiently capture it in a way that makes transfer easy and accessible.
One of the biggest hurdles for people who work with experts to capture and transfer information is the human element. People who capture knowledge from experts find they often must overcome resistance and reticence on the part of the expert.
Here’s why. Experts are used to being in charge. Either they are literally the leader of the organization, or they are one of the smartest people in the organization who house valuable information between their ears. It takes a leap of faith for experts to transfer their knowledge to someone else because it requires two difficult issues for anyone who is used to being on top – trusting other people to do an important job well and letting go so they can do it. After all, the inhouse leader and expert in charge of the domain has often been “getting it done” by himself or herself since the beginning. I have worked with more than one expert who has founded a company or organization, and it is their baby. For any new momma who has ever left her infant with a sitter to run to the grocery, you know about trusting your baby to someone else for the first time. This is kind of like that.
As a writer who has worked with experts and as a momma who has left her babies with someone else for the first time, I offer a few pointers to working with experts to help them trust and let go.
- Start small. Don’t expect to get the keys to the kingdom the first few tries. You need to gain the trust of the expert until they know that you understand them and can translate or execute for them in a way that is faithful to their mission and intent. Leave your baby for short periods of time and extend it slowly so your child can eventually go to Kindergarten without you.
- Examine resources around the expert to find support for expansion. When a leader is having to trust and let go, it is in the interest of furthering their passion. Maybe they have to let go of some tasks so they can concentrate on more important things. Maybe they want to preserve their work so they can move on. Or maybe they want to preserve it for posterity much later down the line. In any event, knowledge and responsibilities will have to be shifted today, so look for people around them who can be trusted to do the job faithfully in place of the expert. Slowly transfer tasks to trusted others. To extend the mommy metaphor, ask the teenager next door to help you with the baby while you are at home so you can watch them in action before you leave them alone with your child.
- Put supports in place to build a replicable framework. Figure out how things are done and capture the processes in steps and schedules. With the right documentation and systems, people will know what to do, how to do it and when to do it to keep things moving without direct input from the expert. Mommies do this when they write down baby’s schedule for the sitter.
- Prepare for contingencies. Life happens. Build in backup plans and have extra resources on hand. This might require having a virtual assistant on call to provide administrative support in case the regular staff is overwhelmed, for example. Or you may want to have strong ties to a professional network that can provide experienced engineers (or whatever) to pull through a project. Remember, the hands-on expert has been getting it done all the time and often by themselves. Your goal is to change that dynamic so they can be replicated. Mommies post Grandma’s and doctor’s cell phone for the sitter in case of emergency.
- Expect change. As knowledge and control leaves the hands of the expert, the input of other people will have two effects 1) things will be done a bit differently with different people executing tasks 2) the organization will be able to start to grow. Those changes require adaptation from everyone, including the expert.
Be prepared to be an organizational ninja as the expert watches their baby grow up and away from them with supports and systems in place. Help the expert expand his or her knowledge and mission beyond anything he or she can do on their own.
Send those babies out to grow into all they can be.
It is important to return to the basics occasionally.
The field of expertise and expert knowledge is growing exponentially, just like all knowledge in all disciplines. New ideas are always fun and attractive. No matter how exciting to explore fresh fields, it is important to return to the fundamentals to keep solid ground under your feet.
I was reminded of this yesterday when a colleague approached me with a classic subject matter expert dilemma: We have some brilliant people teaching in our institution, but they are not good instructors. They wander down arcane paths and lose the students.
My colleague is an experienced trainer, in fact an exceptional one with great credentials. We realized this is the time to revisit the basic materials on facilitation and instructional design. So, we put our heads together and came up with a plan for training the program instructor-experts that I would like to share with you:
- Hold a required train-the-trainer class that includes all instructors. This serves 2 purposes: it avoids creating an environment that singles out poor performers, and it allows the great performers to provide feedback and mentoring to those who are learning new facilitation and teaching skills.
- Ask each instructor to create a 5-slide presentation overview of their class: 1. Title 2. Three learning objectives 3/4/5. description of the three learning objectives. This requires them to focus on their main points in a small amount of space and time, and does not allow for traveling down any rabbit holes.
- Keep the train-the-trainer class small so that each person has time to present their slides (6-8 people is ideal)
- Develop feedback forms the class uses to rate each person and provide helpful suggestions
- Pair each instructor who needs help with a mentor for ongoing support.
Train-the-trainer sessions happen every day. Going back to basics every now and then reminds us to keep our focus on the things that are most important. We can all use a refresher every now and then.
Do you refresh training skills with your experienced trainers?
Last Thursday, the IT Metrics and Productivity Institute (ITMPI) sponsored a webinar on Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload about building a crack innovation team by blending Traditional and NextGen experts. We unpacked how to build a winning innovation team, and I wanted to share a bit of it here with you.
First, let’s define traditional and nextgen experts.
Traditional experts are the employees who have been around awhile. They know your business, your products and processes, your industry and their area of specialty – all extremely well.
NextGen experts are the brilliant new minds that you hire who are wired for success in the age of exploding information. Their expertise forms a foundation for them to bring skills to your team that help you navigate the world of information. NextGen experts know what to look for, where to find it, and how to leverage open source knowledge to build the next great thing.
That blend of traditional and next generation expertise is your secret weapon when you are building an intentional innovative team.
Intentional vs Accidental Innovative Teams
As we look at the definition of intentional teams, we see that there is a lot of thought and choice that goes into determining who will build your next breakthrough product or process. You will ask yourself questions like:
Who has done something like this before?
Who knows where the market is likely to go?
What are our customers thinking?
What are the limitations of the current technology?
What are the unexplored edges of this technology?
Have we tried something similar and failed, and if so, why?
Why isn’t this being done elsewhere right now?
Where are the landmines?
And on, and on…
Your intentional, innovative teams are agile and versatile. They are unlikely to have all the answers you need, but they will know where to find them. They will look up and down your organization for the right people who will know not only the limits and promise of the technology but will know the mindset of the customers and the peculiarities you might face as you develop something new.
Your intentional teams are inclusive. Who is in your organization who needs to be considered? Are there cultural or physical considerations of your employees or your customers? Is your intended product or process accessible for low vision and low hearing individuals and mobility-impaired? Will someone in another culture understand your frame of reference and intent? Will the socioeconomic status of your employees or intended market limit or expand the possibilities of the features and benefits of your proposed solution? (Hat tip to SEI’s Inclusive Design panel discussion on October 17 in Oaks, PA. Thank you!)
If your innovative teams are not intentional, they are accidental. Accidental teams may make judgments without information. They include people who aren’t interested or who don’t know where to find the answers. Accidental teams are comprised of people who are available at the time to work on the project.
Do you assemble intentional or accidental teams to build your products and develop your processes?
NOTE: You can join ITMPI at no cost to access live webinars. Premium and corporate membership plans are available for recordings and PDU/CDU credit.
ITMPI Webinar this Thursday, October 18 at 11 a.m.
The IT Metrics and Productivity Institute is featuring a webinar on Retaining Expert Knowledge this Thursday, October 18. In it, we’ll focus on the difference between Traditional and NextGen experts, and the value that they bring to your organization individually and together.
Register at this link. I hope to see you there!
For the Next 2 Weeks, Read Retaining Expert Knowledge Online
My publisher, Taylor & Francis, is doing a trial program for people to read books online so you can try before you buy. T&F’s C&C imprint publishes professional and academic books. As part of this initiative, it is making new books available for a limited time so that potential institutional and corporate buyers are able to see the product before they buy.
Below are ways readers have been able to use the promotional advance glimpse at the book:
❏ Request their library purchase a copy
❏ Consider the book for course adoption or further reading
❏ Cite the book in future publications
❏ Share the link with their own network to widen dissemination
❏ Consider writing a book review on amazon or for a journal
I am happy to be able to offer this opportunity to my email list. Let me know if you use the link so we can ask for similar opportunities again.