From the Twitterverse: The Importance of Critical Thinking Skills

Capture Okay. I admit it. I love Twitter. I often find out what is happening in the world by following news and information threads.  See #RedSox, for example. But not this week.

The Twitterverse is teaming with inspirational quotes, opportunities to peer quickly into the minds of others (for good or ill!) and creates a place for community and conversation.

The other day I caught this quote from Einstein posted by a Boston University professor:

Told of Edison’s view that a knowledge of facts was vitally important, Einstein disagreed. “A person doesn’t need to go to college to learn facts. He can get them from books. The value of a liberal arts college education is that it trains the mind to think. And that’s something you can’t learn from textbooks.”

Einstein’s quote was never more true in this age of burgeoning information. Replace the word “books” with “the internet”, then replace the word “textbooks” with “a search engine”, and it is obvious that this sentiment is truer today than when it was spoken nearly 100 years ago.

This dramatic uptick in information is evident in the way companies choose  which information to store and transfer, and affects the types of skills and training that the modern corporation must encourage to grow and prosper. Today, a company’s money is well spent on teaching discernment about the relative merit of almost limitless information and on educating employees about the application of the relevant to the task at hand.

Translation for your corporate knowledge management plan:

1. Discern what information is critical and particular to your organization

2. Spend your finite resources to preserve and transfer that information to your employees

3. Spend the rest of your training dollars teaching people how to think, discern, and apply what they know to your challenges

Take it from Einstein.

[Thanks to Boston University Professor of International Studies Vesko Garcevic for the Tweet. Follow @VeskoGarcevic ]

 

Until Robots Make Humans Obsolete, What’s Your Plan?

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According to futurist Ray Kurzweil’s Law of Accelerating Returns, he estimated back in 2001 that knowledge will double every 12 months in this century. With such rapid proliferation of knowledge, it begs the question how long experts remain so and what bits of information are important, essential, need to be captured and carried on – or really have any value at all – in light of the rapid progress in robots and artificial intelligence.

For those of us who follow developments in the training world, you know that we are learning how to train robots.  Research is making the leap so that robots can now acquire learning that builds on prior knowledge – you know, the same way we silly old humans learn.

If you believe the future is here, you are right. However, if you believe you still have to operate in the present, you are also right.

For those of us still living in the pre-AI world, we need to continue to contend with the issues of human knowledge capture, retention and transfer between generations of workers for the ongoing success of your enterprise. What and how you capture, preserve and transfer information will change over time, which is a different discussion. For now, consider that you have knowledge under your roof that is the lifeblood of your organization today and preserving it against an imminent loss of expertise remains crucial.

Making a Plan to Retain Human Knowledge Until the Robots Take Over

If your experts flee to retirement or leave your organization for any other reason, you are still vulnerable to losing their valuable knowledge, skills and attitudes to fulfill your mission effectively, efficiently and in a cost-responsible way today.

What are you doing right now to make sure you keep your expertise under your roof even if your experts leave?

Here’s what you can do about these issues in your organization today:

  • Raise awareness. Speak to your organization’s decision makers to help them analyze their risk of losing valuable expertise
  • Get a plan. Explore methods to help you dissect your organization for areas where you are vulnerable to losing your critical experts
  • Work your plan. Identify and capture intelligence from individual experts in your organization

Think about it. Until the robots take over, you still need to rely on the humans that got you where you are.

In my book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge From Retiring Subject Matter Experts in Your Organization Before They Leave, I lay out a pathway to dissect your organization, find your experts, decide where to spend your finite resources to preserve knowledge and explore options for preserving and transferring knowledge in an age of rapid change in technology and the way we learn.

Contact us at workingwithsmes@gmail.com to schedule a call to discuss capturing expertise as part of your knowledge management plan.

Photo courtesy of Davide Ragusa on Unsplash.

 

The Ultimate Knowledge Management CQI Process for Organizational Leaders

imagesQC7VSL6F.jpg     Knowledge management is an ongoing, living process.

Ideally, it is part of the knowledge management component of your larger business continuity strategic plan. Using the concept of continuous quality improvement, these six-steps reinforce the idea that your knowledge management process is iterative; you will revisit your decisions in the future, make new ones, and change your tactics to align with evolving business strategy.

Also, it is helpful to recognize that parts of the cycle are always in play somewhere in your organization. As you think about your knowledge management plan, consider the 6 Steps of CPI Knowledge Management framework to review the value of the assets you will dedicate your finite resources to preserve.

6 Steps of Continuous Process Improvement Knowledge Management

  1. Discover and uncover KSAs. Drill down to identify the knowledge, skills and attitudes that make your company unique by uncovering your Competitive Advantages.
  2. Categorize critical information. Distinguish among critical information that makes your company, product or service unique in the marketplace, essential information that is general to your industry but necessary to operations, and non-essential information that is nice-to-have. Identify critical KSAs for business continuity.
  3. Search for internal experts. Find your internal experts who are the keys to your success and possess your critical information.
  4. Capture and preserve critical KSAs. Work with your internal experts to capture your critical knowledge, skills and attitudes using methods that authentically capture them and preserve them in a way that they can be transferred and replicated later.
  5. Transfer critical KSAs. Choose the best methods for transferring specific types of knowledge, skills and attitudes to others, especially relying on technology that you can reasonably expect will be available and usable in the future.
  6. Evaluate and refresh. Review your current critical KSAs against the backdrop of your long-term strategic plan considering the rapid pace of change. As you identify new critical KSAs, repeat this process to capture, preserve and transfer updated assets with the aid of your internal experts.

No, execution of this plan is not easy. However, your discipline in capturing your internal expertise is the lifeblood of your current and future success.

Each of these steps is more fully explored in the book, Finding Your SMEs.  Workshops and consulting are available to help you integrate this process into your strategic plan.

If you would like a copy of the 6 Steps of CPI Knowledge Management diagram, write to me at workingwithsmes@gmail.com and I will email a copy to you.

Please comment below and share your knowledge management challenges as we are always learning together.

 

 

Mass Layoffs and Your Knowledge Capture Plan

bench-accounting-49908  Yesterday, I had the privilege of presenting a webinar to ITMPI, an organization that provides project management support for IT professionals. Our topic was Three Strategies for Capturing Retiring Expertise, and as is always the case, I learn a lot from the participants. Yesterday, the questions gave me a glimpse into some of the challenges they face.

In particular, some companies need to capture knowledge from large groups of people at the same time due to anticipated layoffs. When one company is encountering an issue, I expect other organizations face it, too. That makes it a ripe topic for discussion here.

Several large organizations I have spoken with over the past few months are doing mass knowledge capture assignments, one with 6,000 internal research scientists and another with engineers across a national system. These knowledge transfer challenges require process and standardization to make sure the work is done consistently and catalogued in a logical way. Most of this work requires tedious planning and particular execution.

The issue presented by yesterday’s webinar participants goes beyond those of systemized planning, organization and execution because the question is: How do you gather knowledge from experts en masse in anticipation of a round of layoffs? No matter how well you plan your knowledge capture efforts, you will encounter some resistance and resentment due to the nature of their separation. Most likely, some of the experts you are working with under these conditions are unwilling and unhappy.

In Working With SMEs, we discuss ways to handle The Reluctant SME and other experts who do not have the time or inclination to share their wisdom. But the problem of capturing knowledge from a group of people who are being separated adds a layer of complexity to the interaction.

While you can’t overcome the feelings of employees who are being laid off, you can implement a few strategies to help you work with them in a manner that is sensitive and respectful of their situation. They are, after all, facing at least a job change and at most a period of unemployment. They aren’t happy campers, but you can help set up a campground that smooths their transition.

Here are a few common sense ways to deal with capturing knowledge from a group of employees who are facing layoff:

1.       Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening by avoiding the obvious, but don’t dwell on it either. You can’t solve the problem but you can empathize with workers. “I know this is hard for you. I (or my wife) was really scared when I (she) was laid off a few years ago.” Feeling understood helps reduce the sting for anyone who is angry, depressed or fearful.

2.       Try to structure their remaining weeks or months to allow for some dedicated knowledge capture time so you don’t add the burden of another task to their regular workload while you are expecting them to continue to do their jobs effectively. Adding one more straw to the camel’s back can only increase their resentment and reduce their willingness to participate in your knowledge capture efforts.

3.       Consider adding a bonus for working with the company to capture information about their role.

4.       When the laid off group is large and concentrated, implement a corporate communications plan that informs employees about the company’s knowledge management plan and any other relevant information they need to know about their remaining time with the company. When people know what is going on, it reduces the rumor mill’s ability to cause strife and increases trust with supervisors and managers with whom the worker has relationships.

5.       If, and only if, the workers may be called back, remain positive about keeping the company functioning and vital during their layoff period so it has the greatest chance of success. 

When you are capturing information from experts who are not just reluctant – but being reluctantly separated from your organization – you face special management issues that go beyond implementing a good process for knowledge capture. If you have faced a similar challenge in your organization and would like to share your experiences, please comment below.

Valuable Knowledge Worth Preserving

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From the turn of the 20th to the turn of the 21st centuries, humankind experienced the greatest leaps in technological advances in recorded history. From horse-drawn buggies to space travel, human intelligence and creativity took us from a plodding, linear existence to soaring, exponential possibilities. Books like Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock first chronicled this geometric explosion of knowledge to Peter Diamandis’ Bold and Abundance took us the rest of the way toward the melding of humans and machines to remake the humanity that brought us here.

No need to recount those books or to re-tread that ground here. Rather, recognize that the same human knowledge and creativity that got us here will get us there. So with the rapid acquisition of new knowledge – some estimates say knowledge now doubles every two years – it is important that we identify our journey and catalogue it individually and collectively.

We live in the greatest transfer of knowledge in all of human history.

The whole of human knowledge is a big bite for anybody, especially you and me operating in isolation. However, taken one person, one company, one organization at a time, we can preserve what we’ve done so we can replicate it. To many practitioners at the organizational level, that is a training function. But a full knowledge capture goes beyond the practical and immediate application of developing a training program for employees to continue best practices. Each organization has a history, a culture and knowledge that went before that may have lost its current relevance but not its importance. It is that broader vision of knowledge capture that this book addresses.

As we rapidly move toward artificial intelligence and computer-generated activities that simulate human functions, it behooves us more than ever to preserve the knowledge, skills and attitudes that makes us essentially human if for no other reason than to create an accurate history.

Having defined your vision and the mission, preserve corporate knowledge, assess your circumstance and judge the value of what you would labor and spend valuable resources to capture.

What valuable knowledge are you preserving?

Please comment below and tell us about your contribution to human wisdom.

Photo by Neven Krcmarek on Unsplash

Are Traditional Experts and NextGen Experts Different?

 john-mark-kuznietsov-174918 1950s: The astrophysicist of yesteryear studied in relative isolation, probably in an exclusive school gleaning formulae from weighty tomes speaking almost exclusively among (usually) his limited universe of peers. Very few understood or related to his comprehension of relativity.

Today: The astrophysicist delivers online classes from MIT widely available on MOOC platforms watched by your curious and precocious 12-year-old. Your son or daughter jumps on social media to post a cool link to the lecture.  Friends “like” it or comment that s/he is a nerd or a rocket scientist or give your child some other widely acknowledged nod of approval. The NextGen astrophysicist is in the flow of like minds.

Two radically different cultural and educational milieu are going to produce two very different individuals. An experience of isolation and exception versus an experience of community and commonality will affect the human personality, both how they see themselves and how they see their place in the world.

A Traditional Expert will carry the experience all his life of being exceptional, being misunderstood and being isolated from the mainstream. A NextGen expert swims in the social flow connecting easily with peers from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and Germany.

Not All Experts are Astrophysicists

The above example is extreme. Your experts will come from all backgrounds and fields of study. Your Traditional Expert may be the nurse who has been there for 30 years, the machinist who has run that lathe since he graduated from high school or the chemist in your lab who hasn’t looked up from his beaker since Reagan left office. All of them grew up in the same environment of relative isolation and exclusivity in their domain. That is, relative to the widely available, global and instantaneous communication and education of the NextGen of experts who will carry the torch of knowledge forward.

Due to the instantaneous communication and rapid proliferation of ideas, it is estimated that knowledge now doubles about every two years. That, too, changes the nature of experts because no expert remains one for very long.  

These changes have implications for learning, teaching and working styles that impact the way you collect and transfer expertise in your own organization.

Expect a few things from  NextGen Experts:

·         knowledge is widely dispersed and they are open and generous with their knowledge

·         experts commonly explain what they know openly and share it widely

·         expertise is not exclusive

·         knowledge not widely shared is not valuable

·         transfer of knowledge is open sourced and curated

·         learning is tailored to the task, the learner and the environment in which they apply it

What are differences you see between the Traditional Expert and the NextGen Expert? Please comment below.

 

From the Mailbag: Working with Generation Z or Post 9-11 Babies Go to Work

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In this space, we usually focus on the knowledge capture part of your knowledge management plan, specifically working with your soon-to-be-retirees so their expertise isn’t lost to some golf course in Tampa. The flip side of knowledge capture is transferring that information to generations two or three removed. That brings us to the realization that babies born after the year 2000 are entering the workforce this year.

And yes, they are different.

One of our faithful Working with SMEs tribe, Hal Alpiar from bucolic Cookeville, Tennessee, sent us an article entitled “What You Need to Know About Generation Z” with seven helpful tips for maximizing your Gen Z workforce. The article is from AMAC Small Business Solutions dated July 11, 2017, and Hal popped it in snail mail along with one of his cute refrigerator magnets “Are You Breathing?”. Hal is a marketing and training guru who occasionally pitches in around here with advice and support, including his business mentoring.

Here is an excerpt from the AMAC article which you can read in its entirety at this link:

“Much as Generation X didn’t get the same attention baby boomers did, [Generational expert David] Stillman believes the current focus on millennials could leave Generation Z feeling ignored and misunderstood…Stillman says the main thing to know about Gen Z is that they’re not like the millennials.

1.       They want frequent feedback. ..Quick check-ins can be plenty for Gen Z workers.

2.       They seek security…They’re willing to start at the bottom and work their way up, as long as they can expect job security in return.

3.       They’re very competitive…Generation Z employees are more likely to prefer working on their own.

4.       They want to personalize their jobs…The more flexibility and customization your company can offer these workers, the better.

5.       They may be entrepreneurs as well as employees…The ease of starting a side business today appeals to Gen Z’s desire for financial security…Try harnessing Gen Z’s entrepreneurial spirit to create new ideas , products or divisions for your business – and rewarding them for it financially.

6.       They suffer from FOMO. Constantly scanning social media to see what everyone else is doing, Generation Z is suffused with “fear of missing out”…Gen Z may prefer trying out many different jobs or moving laterally to gain new skills…

7.       They’re “phigital”…They expect your business to have the latest technology (just like they do in their personal lives). If you’re at all behind technologically, they’re not likely to want to work for you.”

As you create your knowledge management plan and consider your methods for information and data transfer, look at your youngest workers’ styles and preferences when you shape your knowledge management plan for Gen Z.  After all, they will be fully in charge of your business by the middle of this century.

Thanks to Hal for thinking of us. If you want one of Hal’s “Are You Breathing?” magnets, email him at hal@businessworks.us and tell him you heard about him at the Working with SMEs blog.

We look forward to your comments below.

Do Your Experts Have “Beginner’s Mind”?

203714“None of our men are ‘experts.’ We have most unfortunately found it necessary to get rid of a man as soon as he thinks himself an expert because no one ever considers himself expert if he really knows his job. A man who knows a job sees so much more to be done than he has done, that he is always pressing forward and never gives up an instant of thought to how good and how efficient he is. Thinking always ahead, thinking always of trying to do more, brings a state of mind in which nothing is impossible. The moment one gets into the ‘expert’ state of mind a great number of things become impossible.”
Henry Ford

Henry Ford is also the entrepreneur who said if he had asked his customers what they wanted, they would have said they wanted a faster horse.

Inventors, engineers, and designers around Ford had the luxury of the support of a boss who believed nothing is impossible. That frontier spirit imbues technology and business now. The world is awash in Fords.

The question is whether the world is also drowning in experts. And the answer is no. A true expert remains cutting edge, and we are accumulating knowledge at such a rapid pace the edge continues to move as you approach it. Your background, education and experience only qualify you for asking good questions in a world where knowledge doubles every two years.

Encouraging Beginner’s Mind

The beginner’s mind sees things as if for the first time. A new approach lives in the novelty. While Ford imagined his customers as the uninvolved and passive consumer, that is not the case today. What’s changed in the last 100 years is that we now encourage our developers and designers to stay close to the buyer and listen carefully to the voice of the customer. The consumer of the 21st century is educated, sophisticated and trained to challenge the status quo.

Your customers experience your products with beginner’s mind, and use them in some contexts you may not have imagined. Employees from sales to delivery to design and engineering are encouraged to stay close to the customer and listen for their responses and recommendations.

If your experts are truly living up to their name, they know less every day. But they are smart enough to know it.

Once again proving that Ford was a man quite a bit ahead of his time.

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of our Working with SMEs tribe writes to me to relay the following: “The quote that leads your most recent SME mail. . .(t)hat is usually attributed to Roshi Suzuki, the guy who bought Zen to the US, with his book, “Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind.” And “Beginner’s Mind” is a Zen concept.” Thanks, Joe! Nice to hear from you!

Preserving the Spark: Downsizing, Mergers, Buyouts and Other Knowledge Capture Triggers

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It’s one thing if your valuable employees leave you for another job or for retirement. That one thing is that you really had no control over the event. The decision and probably the date was the employee’s decision and your company had little control over the timing or the circumstances.

It is quite another thing when you plan your employees’ departure through downsizing, mergers and acquisitions, buyouts, cost-cutting, or some other self-imposed staff reduction. That other thing puts you in a position that gives you some control over timing and circumstances. When it is your decision, you can give yourself time to ensure an orderly off-boarding or separation that includes preserving your valuable knowledge assets.

If you are in a position to control your employees’ separation, take the opportunity to put organization-wide knowledge transfer plans in place. The day of the exit interview is not the time to find out what you need to know from them for business continuity.

When you are organizing a mass layoff or initiating any other planned employee departure:

  1. Create a list of mission-critical employees and dates of separation.
  2. Determine what they know as far in advance as possible – at least 3 to 6 months before their departure – so you aren’t blindsided by having them take two months of accrued vacation before their official departure date.
  3. Have a standardized plan and best practice for working with departing employees that includes collection methods, who is responsible for working with them, what assets you need based on their role, how and where the knowledge will be stored, and how it will be transferred and used by others.
  4. Ask departing employees to review and sign off on the knowledge.

Just because your organization is in a position to put a knowledge transfer plan into place does not necessarily mean that it will. Often, it is an individual employee who feels a sense of obligation to the company and sees the need for knowledge collection and transfer that may institute their own knowledge management plan.

Two Stories

Here are two stories that came to me recently of employees who took personal responsibility for knowledge management in their divisions.

Story One

One woman who read my book Finding Your SMEs: Capturing Knowledge from Retiring Workers Before They Leave several months ago said she told her brother about it who had just retired from a division of a global food manufacturer and distributor. He told her that he had seen the problem first hand. Before he retired last year, he took it upon himself to survey the knowledge within his division, collect and preserve it. He came up with his own plan to make sure he left his employer with the critical knowledge they would need to find after he was gone.

Story Two

I just spoke with another woman last week who said she oversees the knowledge management plan for a division of the federal government. She’s been traversing the country working her multi-year plan to capture what the unit will need long-term. Her plan and practices are confined to her division and we talked about the potential of standardizing her methods to other divisions.

“I started out in reactive mode,” she said. Now she describes her knowledge management plan as “an ecosystem. I’m always tweaking it.”

Her plan is all the more important now as the federal government is looking to reduce the workforce by 15 to 18 percent in the next year through attrition and buyouts. She said her 25 years with the department makes her eligible for a buyout, but she wants to stick around and finish the job she has started. She expects to stay with the division about five more years to put something solid in place.

“I am trying to leave a legacy to help the agency after I’m 10 feet under,”  she said.

Wow.

Good as Gold

When you have employees who are looking out for your business continuity, those people can be the lifeblood of your business tomorrow.

If you don’t have a standard approach to knowledge management, support the efforts of those people who are looking out for you and doing the hard work of putting your knowledge management plan in place. Consider adopting and adapting their best practices to the rest of your organization.

These people are good as gold. Mine them.

 

 

Strategic Planning, Strategic Thinking and A Zen Mind Trick

Last week, we talked about critical thinking as a type of expertise, one that you can teach and grow quickly within your organization. One of the greatest values that a true critical thinker can bring to the organization is the ability to look without fear or favor at all parts of your business. That requires turning a bright light on a series of questions that will illuminate where you are and where your business is headed.

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Your big picture thinking about your business and industry needs to include your knowledge management plan or, more specifically, what expertise you need to bottle and preserve to keep your organization running.

When it comes to your knowledge management plan, you need unblinking honesty about the state of your business and industry. Because, quite frankly, not everything or everyone that got you here will get you there. The future is moving faster than the average long-term plan, which is why long term planning has fallen out of favor to agile product development and rapid prototyping. Plans be d*****d. Your competitors have something coming off the proverbial drawing boards that can send your product off in another direction, or off the market completely.

A Zen Mind Trick

An article in SmartBrief this week, Learn the Art of Avoiding Action for the Sake of Action, highlighted the difference between strategic planning and strategic thinking, and author Adriano Pianesi states, “Perhaps we’re ‘in the know’ enough to recognize that many consider the discipline of strategic planning to have long gone the way of the dinosaurs.”

Instead, he advocates strategic thinking as a response to the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous) world in which we conduct business and live. It’s a world that requires a bias toward action, informed action, but action nonetheless. Let me suggest it is informed action that still requires the type of long-view thinking more characteristic of strategic planning than agile rapid-response iteration.

I am a fan of rapid-response iteration within context. And it is that context that is driven from a deep understanding and analysis of the factors driving your business, your industry and the larger environment that is characteristic of strategic planning.

Critical thinking skills among leaders produce good decisions made within a framework that makes sense based on everything you know, and takes into consideration all the things you don’t know which is a Zen mind trick. And the list of things you don’t know grows longer every day, making those critical thinking skills even more critical.

Pivot and live to see another day.