Knowledge Management in a Law Firm: Yes, It’s a Thing

giammarco-boscaro-380903-unsplash What does knowledge loss cost a law firm? If an attorney leaves a firm, usually knowledge loss is considered in the context of the loss of an individual attorney’s area of expertise and their relationships including the clients that might leave with them. The problem of knowledge management in a firm, however, transcends relationships and even the attorneys themselves.

In an article on legal knowledge management, the focus is on what has historically been called records management with an extended nod to efficiently managing electronic assets such as email. This addresses part of the problem of retaining expert knowledge in a traditional framework.

Forward-looking firms expand their definition of knowledge management to include the value of many types of knowledge – not all of which is legal or relational – and what might be lost to the firm if that information isn’t captured, preserved and able to be transferred as an asset.

Consider:

  • Automation: Begin to consider automating functions once considered human – think legal secretaries. One lawyer who lost the secretary upon whom he relied for support will be doing that job until a replacement is identified at a high cost of losing his billables while doing a job below his pay grade. What parts of that job can be automated or supported virtually to allow a bridge between the different humans who will be sitting in the desk thus retaining important functions beyond individual persons?
  • New tools for capturing, preserving and transferring knowledge: It’s not just what your employees know, it’s how they know it. If you wonder how your wunderkinds think, find out. Give them tools that capture their thought processes so you can replicate how they see the world. Those tools exist, and they allow younger associates to learn how their more experienced counterparts make decisions and craft arguments.
  • Corporate culture: A professional world is often a world of egos and personal value. No, an individual is not irreplaceable, but another valuable individual is different. It’s important to capture the essence of the value of a high-profile, charismatic person to replicate the style as well as the substance of that individual as part of the culture of the firm that you want to preserve to retain your competitive advantage with clients.

As in many other professions and industries, it is difficult to completely inoculate your organization from knowledge loss. Particularly in fields such as the legal profession where personal privacy and data security are acutely critical, capturing and retaining your expert knowledge has unique challenges. Yes, your departing employees will take relationships and tacit knowledge with them. You can’t prevent that. You probably already create barriers to prevent personnel of all types from taking digital assets with them. Beyond that, your employees are storehouses of value some of which may be captured and preserved to retain your edge in an increasingly competitive and cost-sensitive environment.

Is it time you do a thorough knowledge scan of your law firm to find out what you need to preserve and where you need to bolster your assets?

Photo by Giammarco Boscaro on Unsplash

 

When They Don’t Follow the SOP

Point of SuccessA retired friend of mine, an engineer by profession, wrote a wonderful book last year looking back on his career that is full of the humor and irony of a life of assessing and mitigating damage at chemical plants. If you are a member of the broom brigade in the elephant parade, you’ve got stories. And he’s got stories.

One story in particular caught my attention as it highlights the challenges of managing the overzealous employee who – by virtue of wanting to improve upon the written instructions – took it upon himself to shorten the wait time in a chemical process. Okay, you see this coming, don’t you?

The story goes thusly:

Most manufactured chemicals are very sensitive. During the processing that creates them from a variety of other materials, any variation in the reaction conditions can lead to impurities, byproducts or even an undesired final product. This is particularly true with pharmaceuticals which are by their nature complicated and usually involve long, multiple steps…

Occasionally a batch (2,000 gallons) of the initial material in the production chain came up off-quality. It would have a haze of insoluble byproduct that was very difficult to remove and thus led to reworking expense as well as scheduling nightmares. The engineers went to work to identify the problem with the sub-standard batches. They checked all the measuring instruments and devices, recalibrated them, confirmed the cleanliness of all the equipment, verified the quality of the incoming materials, redid all the intermediate analytical checks, and so on and so on. In analyzing the data, they realized that one individual – let’s call him Al – charged all the off-specification batches. Charging is the process of adding all the materials involved in the chemistry into the reaction vessel.

Al was a very good guy, a conscientious operator, experienced and trustworthy. So, we descended on him to watch how he charged the materials. It seemed very straightforward. The medium of choice was water and the first process step required Al to add it to the vessel. While the water was being added, he began adding the other materials which came out of 50-pound bags. We found no problem with how he did this. There were no scraps of bagging material accidentally being added, no other problematic events.

Then the head scratching began. Al was apparently doing everything correctly. And yet the problem persisted. Then one genius suggested instead of focusing on the errant operator, we should see how the other operators did the charging process. Upon doing this, a glaring difference immediately appeared. The written instructions, created years ago, directed the operator to add the required amount of water to the vessel and only then begin adding the other components. Whomever designed the equipment installed a feed line that was not very large. As a result, it took about an hour to fill the required amount of water. So, what did the other operators do? They followed the instructions literally and took an extra break to fill their time.

We went back to Al.

“Why do you charge the materials while the vessel is filling?” we asked.

His answer would have warmed the heart of any supervisor.

“To be more efficient,” Al said matter-of-factly. “Why waste that time? This gives me a head start on the whole process.”

It really hurt to tell Al to stop being so concerned and dedicated, and to take an extra break just like all the other operators until all the water was in place. Needless to say, his feelings were hurt.

He took the extra break and the quality problem disappeared. The solution was perhaps not elegant, but it did the job. We all believe that greater efficiency is good, but we forget, at our peril, that it does not exist in a vacuum. –

From Stories from My Working Days by Richard Sakulich

Following the SOP and Reinforcing the SOP

In following the SOP, Al’s one apparently minor, inconsequential deviation was costly. A few lessons:

  • When your product does not meet specifications, are you checking to make sure all your employees are following the SOP to the letter? It is usually written exactly as required for a reason.
  • When the SOP is not followed to the letter, but the deviation is – as in the case of Al – the result of an overzealous employee trying to improve on the process, how do you handle it? In this case, Al was simply and gently corrected as his “cutting corners” was intended to be helpful. Don’t lose a good employee by embarrassing them or punishing them.
  • When the well-written SOP is not followed, it may require a slight modification to explain the process and avoid deviations. In this case, an extra sentence could be added to the instructions explaining, “The water must be filled before any chemicals are added, or the final product will not meet specifications.”

Even the best plans and most well-written SOPs will encounter an Al or two. And when this happens to you, note the process variation and address it in the SOP. There is always another Al waiting to improve upon perfection.

How do you address employees who don’t follow the SOP exactly as written?

Richard Sakulich’s book is not yet available for general purchase but if you would like a copy, contact me at workingwithsmes@gmail.com and I will forward your request to him. This is one of many great tales in “Stories from My Working Days” that will leave you giggling.

Use Your Subject Matter Experts as Part of Your Data Quality Initiatives

pankaj-patel-516482-unsplash  An article in the autumn issue of strategy+business  Digital Champions discussed the imperatives of linking all IT systems across the organization to be able to compete, excel and innovate. Certainly, as data is used for decision making, you need to link all pieces of your information architecture together in a way to create an intelligent organization. That means getting data quality right.

First, data quality requires essential tasks like making sure your inputs are accurate. And it goes even further than that. Getting data quality right means that your assessments of your data are also accurate. You’ve got to know what it means and how it is likely to impact you to truly experience the power of the information you are gathering.

For that, you need more than your IT team. Think strategic. Think long-term. And think about involving your experts from across the organization to make sure you are interpreting your information in a way that you truly have an intelligent system.

Here are a few ways to engage your experts in your cross-organization data efforts:

  1. Involve them in determining the parameters for quality inputs.

Your experts understand what defines accurate data in their own field. Involve physicians, chemists, engineers, human resource professionals and so on when you are creating parameters. The values you have been using may be outdated, or the ones set my standards organizations may not apply to your special case, for example.

  1. Ask them to help you rank projects and initiatives by importance

This is where your business teams are especially critical. Your executive team knows best the direction of your organization, so make sure to start there. Then drill down to find out the order in which things should roll out both from a practical perspective (you can’t implement B without making A operational) and which functions are most essential for running the business day-to-day so you don’t trip up your current operations.

  1. Make them part of your documentation teams

After you’ve built it, you need to capture what you’ve done so it can be maintained, built upon and improved over time. Documentation is essential to information management. People need to be able to use it, know where to find it and train others on it. For that, make sure your experts are involved in documenting your systems because they understand the logic behind them and can put the content in context. Sales managers need to be involved in documenting software used by their teams, and so on.

  1. Leverage their experience to help you integrate your initiatives across units, divisions, etc.

No man is an island, and no data capture effort can stand on its own, either. If it is important enough to capture and analyze, it has impact beyond your own part of the organization. Involve people who understand impact upstream, downstream and who know where the bridges are that cross the stream. Cross-check your data gathering efforts with the people who will use it or will be impacted by it in all pockets of the organization and outside the organization – like your customers, suppliers and wholesalers.

  1. Include them in your long-term strategic planning process

We usually think of strategic planning as the province of the executive team and the board of directors. When you dig down into an organization, you have experts in pockets everywhere who may hold vital pieces of information who may contribute to altering your plans or even redirecting them completely. Your experts in different areas will see things in the data and trends that impact your direction.

The quality of your data is only as good as the parameters you set when you determine what to collect, the integrity of the inputs, the way it is organized and interfaced, and the way it is interpreted. Each one of those phases requires experts across the organization who “get it” when it comes to their corner of the world. Find them and ask them.

Photo by Pankaj Patel on Unsplash

 

 

The Shift: From Training for Information to Training Information Processing

scott-webb-765610-unsplash  Prepare for a shift in the continuous knowledge management process. As your organization is growing, learning, innovating and bringing on new people, what you know and what you will need to know is constantly changing. The people who know what you need are always changing, too.

Much is being written about the differences in learning styles between Millennials and their younger colleagues about to join them in the workplace. We’re adapting to the fact that learning is more

·      On demand

·      Virtual

·      Mobile or platform-agnostic

·      Flexible

·      Bite-sized

A much bigger shift is on the horizon. NextGen workers really aren’t the same as their predecessors in ways that will cause a tectonic shift in training.

That’s because it is not just the “how we train” that’s changing. The immediacy of all knowledge and the instinctive information-seeking behavior of the youngest working generation also changes the content of our training. Instead of hiring people for what they know, companies will be hiring people for their ability to access what they need to know, how they are able to process it, relate to others and how they apply it. This impacts training in a multitude of ways beyond just making sure our training programs are short, accessible, relevant and just in time.

The next generation of learners – those just entering the workforce fresh out of college this year – have stronger virtual communication skills, online collaboration skills and intellectual independence than any generation before them. They multitask across platforms continually. You don’t need to show them or tell them how to do something. If it is online either inside or outside your organization, they will find it for themselves and figure it out on their own. These skills cross all demographics. This brave new streak changes the role of training from teaching people what to do and how to do it and morphs your training into the role of guiding them in how to apply it to meet your business goals.

Thriving companies will be teaching two main skills that will antedate all else: 1) critical thinking and 2) strategic thinking skills. In fact, a recent Food and Drug Administration guidance for compliance training stated that the #1 skill required today is the ability to think critically.

To paraphrase Mark Twain, the rumors of the death of training may be a bit premature. However, the reality of the death of “training as we’ve known it” is already a fact. Beyond guiding employees to the information that they need to know, companies will be working with colleagues to develop a culture of cultivating natural intelligence in ways that complement artificial intelligence to make the best possible use of the voluminous amounts of data available to them to make great decisions in real time across the organization.

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

 

Build Your Business Muscle with Targeted Knowledge Management

Chubby wrestler

If you throw a lot of training at a problem, you might be getting some results but they may not be the exact results you need. Too much training with too few results is a sign that your corporate learning might be top-heavy with learning programs built to solve ill-defined problems that don’t focus on clear business solutions.

You can tighten up your flabby programs when you clearly identify your knowledge gaps and define the exact behaviors that will close them. Then make sure those gaps align with your strategic plans.

In fact, LinkedIn Learning’s 2018 Workplace Learning Report found that executives want learning leaders to more closely align training programs with business objectives. Business leaders are overwhelmingly asking for learning to reflect business imperatives and make an impact on the business.

Leadership Craves Impact and ROI_LinkedIn

All of this begs the question: What is the best way to design your corporate knowledge management efforts to align with your business objectives?

The answer to this question is evolving because the technology to create a robust internal corporate knowledge management is improving all the time. While the tech exists now, you still need to have a clear vision of the knowledge you need to capture to get you where you are going.

Just to get started, here are a few overarching ideas to consider as you create your knowledge management plan.

  1. Be clear about where you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. And yes, tomorrow means your 1-year, 3-year, 5-year and beyond strategic plans. These plans get fuzzier the farther out you go because a lot is changing on the ground but it is good to have some general ideas about where you would like to be.
  2. Figure out who your experts are that know how your business runs and thrives today. Some of them will be retiring and some of them will be the bright bulbs you just hired. Identify the things you need to know and the people who know it.
  3. Finally, begin to consider the best ways to capture the knowledge you need to know to secure your current position/customers/contracts/business and what you need to capture or acquire to meet your long-term strategic goals.

Yes, that’s a lot to think about. So over the next few months, we’ll start to dig into each of these areas in more detail. Stay tuned.

Use 6 Structured Questions to Identify Critical Corporate Knowledge Needs Today and Tomorrow

jack-b-758025-unsplash

One of the core ideas in Retaining Expert Knowledge is to make sure you are spending your valuable, finite corporate training resources capturing the knowledge that is most critical to maintaining and growing your business. That critical knowledge is information to keep your current customers coming back and the information you need for growth and innovation.

Capturing knowledge is more than just a preventative measure against future loss. It also means identifying information to solve current problems and gaps.

Some of that knowledge is in the heads of your employees and needs to be part of your training assets. Identifying the right experts and the right knowledge that you need to capture today requires looking at what is going on in your organization.

On the other hand, some of the information you need to solve current problems or anticipate future needs may not be in your organization today. The sooner you know what you need, the sooner you can begin to go out and find it.

Here are a few suggestions for asking yourself some structured questions to help stem the tide of knowledge loss and for initiating your hunt to bring in information and expertise you need to excel.

  1. Diagnostic Inquiry: Do you have a current and obvious knowledge gap? What are the problems you are experiencing today? What do you need to know to bridge the gap and solve the problem?
  2. Metrics: Which metrics are you trying to impact? Which ones are difficult to move? What do you need to know to be able to take actions to positively move the needle on those hard-to-move metrics?
  3. Performance Analysis: What are employees not doing today that you would like them to be doing? What are employees doing that you would like them to stop doing? Are there tasks that need to be done to which no one is specifically assigned? Are people assigned to tasks that have no real value (busywork)?
  4. Urgency and Frequency: How often does a certain problem occur? How much of your business does it impact? Does it impact your biggest customers and your largest orders?
  5. Location: Where does a problem occur? Does an issue exist in one business unit or at one site? Is the issue across the entire company? Does it happen only under one particular leader or manager?
  6. Scope and Impact: What is the immediate impact of the problem? What is the size of the problem? Is it a shortage? Does it indicate too much of something exists somewhere? Does it impact the whole organization (cultural and broad) or is it isolated to one area, unit, site?

By applying your data-gathering efforts in a structured way, you can be sure you are identifying the information you need to solve problems that are affecting you today and can impact you tomorrow.

Do you conduct a structured knowledge scan in your organization? If so, what methods do you use?

Photo by Jack B on Unsplash

 

Succession Planting for Retiring Experts

This article is also posted at the International Federation on Aging website here.

As a newbie gardener, I subscribe to lots of gardening magazines and email lists to get up the learning curve as quickly as possible. This morning, I received an email about succession planting for a bountiful garden all season long. For those who have been cultivating a lifetime of knowledge, we also have waves of harvests. And it seems that the rules for succession planting in our gardens also make sense for succession planning for our lifetimes of contribution to the world around us.

Growing meals throughout the season means consistently looking forward, and reaping harvests from your education and experience means looking forward, too.

Let’s apply the 6 tips for choosing appropriate crops for succession planting to succession planning for your ongoing contribution to the world:

  1. Rotate plants in season. After you have harvested the value of your education and experience in one career, use that bed of knowledge to prepare for your next adventure – be it volunteerism, consulting or starting an enterprise of your own. Your prior experience will help lessen the chance for failure.
  2. Sow or transplant a small amount of seeds at one time at regular intervals. Make sure you have several little projects and interests in play for a well-rounded life. Your new business doesn’t mean giving up your volunteering. One thing may always lead to another.
  3. When planting late in the season, choose plants that can be enjoyed young. When you embark on an adventure completely new to you, choose one that you can enjoy immediately, like learning a few chords on the piano that allow you to play a simple three-chord song for immediate gratification.
  4. Switch varieties for switching weather. As your life changes, or as your mind, body and emotions change, be prepared to try a new hobby, interest or career path more in tune with who you are becoming.
  5. Consider how two plants share a space and interplant complimentary varieties. Think about the people around you, how you can build teams and community, and how you can serve others. Life is more fun lived with and for others.
  6. Transplant and sow directly. Sometimes you want to take skills and abilities from other parts of your life and earlier career paths, and use them in your current pursuits. Some other things can be started from scratch so you can always be learning something new.

Life is, indeed, our garden to nourish, grow and enjoy. With some care, you can reap harvests throughout all its seasons as you continue to mature, contribute and participate while sharing your unique gifts, talents and experiences to leave everything better than the way you found it.

Imagining Knowledge in the Age of AI

K35621_cvr  Artificial intelligence, data, analytics, neural net, computer-human interface…these aren’t the future. They are now. For those of us with a foot in the age of human intelligence and a foot in the age of artificial intelligence, it makes us wonder: so what do we make of what we know, if we (as humans) may become irrelevant?

It’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.

This blog will be brief because the idea is huge, and I want to give us all time and space to ponder this one thought.

Humans are finite, at least for now. We have a limited lifespan. For generosity’s sake, let’s call it 100 years. And then we take what we know with us when we go.

Some of us have preserved our thoughts, ideas and creativity for future generations, but let me venture to guess that most of us have not.

For millennia, without that knowledge capture, preservation and transfer, we kept starting all over.

All that changed with the printing press, and accelerated rapidly with video and audio capture. Look at the rapid proliferation of knowledge, now doubling about every one or two years because we are able to continue to build on what came before.

So what is the threat of AI to human intelligence? Here it is…

Computers don’t die. Teach them to think, and they will keep thinking and growing and learning and eventually…well, their intelligence surpasses that of any human simply because their learning curve is theoretically infinite.

This is what all the fuss is about.

I leave you with that.

And encourage your thoughts and debate in the comment section or send an email at workingwithsmes@gmail.com.

Oh, by the way, my latest book, Retaining Expert Knoweldge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload, was published in hard cover on May 10 and you can buy it here. I just noticed that a Kindle version has been added. Thank you for your continued interest!

 

Available Now! Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to Keep in an Age of Information Overload

K35621_cvr
I couldn’t wait to get out the word that my new book, the latest in the Working with Experts series, is available for sale today!

I’ll be doing some promotions which you will hear about later, but for now here’s the description on Amazon:
Retaining Expert Knowledge: What to keep in an age of information overload covers two major topics central to capturing and transferring expertise in organizations:

  • Methodology and best practices for interviewing subject matter experts (SMEs) to capture their knowledge
  • Identifying the SMEs to interview

The more critical problem is identifying the SMEs and the knowledge that needs to be captured.

One reason identifying the right experts is now so important is that in the next 10 years, the largest recorded exit of talented and knowledgeable workers from organizations will occur as baby boomers retire. In their wake, they leave their former employers understaffed and, even scarier, under-informed. Identifying the right SMEs is also critical because of the rapid acquisition of new knowledge. Some estimates say knowledge now doubles every two years, so it is crucial each organization identifies its journey and catalogues it individually and collectively.

This book provides managers with answers to the following questions:

  • Are we talking to the right subject matter experts?
  • What knowledge should we capture?
  • What knowledge needs to be captured immediately as opposed to eventually?
  • If we have limited resources, which experts are most important to speak with first?

Every organization has a history, a culture, and knowledge that may have lost its current relevance but not its importance. It is that broader vision of capturing knowledge, which this book addresses. It guides readers on how to preserve corporate knowledge and provides tools to assess organizational circumstances and judge the value of the resources to capture.

Retaining Expert Knowledge is a training resource, but it is also a business resource. As knowledge proliferates and organizational culture rapidly changes, now is the time to step back and determine what has been important to your organization’s success, where the organization is today, and what it will take to stay in the game tomorrow.

Your company houses knowledge, skills, attitudes, intellectual property, trade secrets, company culture, and individuals who will never be replicated exactly as they are today. Because they have demonstrated value in the past and are demonstrating value today, these treasures are worth preserving. This book shows how to preserve these valuable assets today for tomorrow’s successes.
You can buy this wherever you normally purchase your books.

Here’s a link directly to Amazon. 

 

Free Webinar 5/18:Critical Thinking Skills and Your SOPs

chuttersnap-425090-unsplash  Do you teach learners how to handle errors?

With Terry McGinn

Training programs usually teach “the right way” to do something, supplying learners with perfect answers, procedures, methods, policies, information, and so on. That’s good, but as you probably have noticed in your operations or studies every day, it isn’t enough. How often have you heard an employee implementing a “work around” that makes you want to smack your palm to your forehead after all the routing and requested changes (e.g. “You did WHAT in a sterile area?”)

The right way to do things works as long as everything goes according to plan. As we have all learned, nothing always goes according to plan. Every once in a while, you’ll encounter a deviation (and that’s okay). And when you do, what you do is critical. It can be the difference between averting a disaster and creating an issue that won’t pass regulatory scrutiny.

So, while the average training program teaches employees how to do it the right way, a full education teaches your employees how to do it right way and gives them the capacity to think through things that don’t go as planned. Comprehensive SOP training teaches investigational processes as well as correct document procedures to ensure the quality standards for your products are met and the results are recorded for investigational purposes, when necessary. After all, teaching requires building competencies.

But do we teach people how to take the right actions, make better decisions, choose wisely, and handle deviations? Most of the time, the answer is no. The severe impact of mishandled opportunities to make good, independent decisions can result in slow, no or poor actions, errors in judgment, and impulsive or risky decisions. And any of those things can hit your organization’s bottom line or reputation in fines, product recalls, regulatory rejection and more.

Interested in hearing more? Join us for a one-hour primer on applying critical thinking skills in an SOP environment and find out:

  • Why you need to teach learners more than just the “right ways of doing things”
  • Why workers and learners need to learn beyond the “what” to the “why”?
  • What are Critical Thinking Skills and how do adult learners absorb information?
  • Why do Critical Thinkers always learn new things while at work?
  • How is Critical Thinking applied in errors or unfamiliar situations?
  • How can we set up a culture of Critical Thinkers?

Join us for our free webinar “The Process of Critical Thinking About Your Standard Operating Procedures” and learn how to apply critical thinking skills in SOP situations.

Click on this link to register for the webinar hosted by Levy & Levy Enterprises with your presenters Terry McGinn and Peggy Salvatore on Friday, May 18 at 10 a.m. Eastern. And bring your questions. We look forward to meeting you there.

Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash