Archive for October, 2009

T1-3 Private Corporations: Supporting Desired Customer Actions

October 30, 2009

This is a sequel of the previous blog (“Development Organizations: Supporting Desired Stakeholder Actions”).

Advertisers are skillful in answering the question: “What message, and how shall it be delivered, so that it enables desired customer actions?” The answers depend on what normally drives the customer’s actions: her values/interests and her problems/needs.

information to trigger desired customer action

Observe how concisely Starbucks delivers a message that appeals to social responsibility — a value that more and more customers are expecting from companies they buy from:

“Responsibly grown.
Ethically traded.
Proudly served.”

“Let’s drink to
a better future for
coffee farmers.”

Going back to the topic of the previous blog, if you belong to a development or non-profit organization, what concise message can you deliver to enable, support or trigger stakeholder actions that you mutually desire?

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T1-2 Development Organizations: Supporting Desired Stakeholder Actions

October 29, 2009

Knowledge management in government and development organizations is more complex than knowledge management in private corporations. For one, development organizations have to serve and deal with many stakeholders and external actors with their many different and sometimes competing interests and operating at different levels: international, national, local and community levels. For another, market-based measures common in private corporations are generally absent in the development sector.

I am in Hanoi, Vietnam this week, interviewing managers in public, local and international non-government and international donor institutions — stakeholders of the UNISDR-Asia Pacific (UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction). My mission was to help UNISDR-AP better understand the knowledge needs of its various stakeholders in South and Southeast Asia, starting with Vietnam (a Stakeholders Knowledge Demand Assessment study).

An exceedingly simple framework for this purpose is one based on the same basic KM framework described in the F-series of my blogs:

KNOWLEDGE and other actionable information –> Desired stakeholder ACTIONS

The steps are straightforward: (a) identify and rank (by power and reach, level of trust in your relationship, etc.) stakeholders whose interests coincide with those of your development organization, (b) identify and rank (by relevance, coincidence of interests, etc.) specific stakeholder actions that you mutually desire, and (c) identify and rank (by cost-effectiveness, responsiveness to top knowledge gaps, etc.) the knowledge products and other actionable information that can enable or support those actions.

Some observations and caveats:

  • In the private sector, the desired stakeholder (=customer) action is simple: keep buying your products. In the development sector, desired stakeholder actions are multi-level and more complex. The above steps can be useful for prioritizing across various choices.
  • Enabling or supporting desired stakeholder actions is central to value creation in development organizations. This can be called “external KM” and it is often more important than, or it is what drives, “internal KM” which aims at internal or operational efficiency.
  • Advocacies of some development institutions are not readily understandable by the common layman. UNISDR advocates “disaster risk reduction” or DRR — a concept that cuts across many sectors and disciplines: project design, community preparedness, building codes, land use and zoning policies, early-warning technologies, speed of coordinated implementation across government agencies, basic risk management knowledge among the general population, revision of existing legislation and standards, etc. One cannot simply ask a stakeholder what knowledge it needs, without first assessing its level of awareness and knowledge of DRR. A stakeholder knowledge demand assessment is useful only after a stakeholder had moved from unconscious ignorance (not knowing what they need to know) to conscious ignorance (being aware of what they need to know).

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T3-5 Reducing Knowledge Loss When Experienced Staff Resigns/Retires

October 23, 2009

Here are some techniques my colleagues and I have advised, tried and/or monitored to reduce knowledge loss when experienced staff is resigning/retiring:

  • Over a period of several months, the retiring staff confers with his understudy whenever the former makes an important or critical decision or problem solving episode. He explains the situation, what factors he looks at, what are the risks, and why he chose the solution. In other words, the coaching process is focused only on important decision-making episodes.
  • For a very busy executive about to retire, ask few but high-value questions. For example, we asked an executive who was centrally responsible for conceptualizing and overseeing a unique program: “After doing this program several times, what advice will you offer a new executive who will take over the program? Let us say that you have only 10 minutes available to provide this advice.” The 10-minutes limit forces the executive to “skim off the cream” and thus provide the most high-value advice culled from his long experience.
  • One difference between an experienced staff and a neophyte is that the former has much tacit knowledge about what could go wrong in a particular activity, business process or project. Interview the retiring staff or ask him to list the risk factors involved, and the corresponding signs (we use the terms “pink flags” or “red flags” to differentiate between levels of probability and seriousness of a risk) that he looks for to check if the risk seems to be materializing.
  • Ask the resigning/retiring staff to collect and provide you with his work templates. Turn this over to the understudy or replacement, who must be able to ask the retiring staff questions whenever the manner of use of any template is not clear to her. This technique presupposes that members of the organization is aware of the value of, and can recognize work templates and other reusable knowledge objects/products.
  • Request the retiring staff if he or she can be occasionally consulted by phone after retirement.
  • Do not call a project “harvesting knowledge of retiring staff.” Who wants to be “harvested”? This was odious title of an actual project in one organization and the project did not fly. “Knowledge turnover” or “knowledge transfer” or “understudy program” sounds better. The other reason for failure is that the actions called for on the part of the resigning/retiring staff were not part of the terms/contract of employment of the staff. Therefore the next tip is:
  • Insert “knowledge turnover” provisions into the employment contract of knowledge workers.
  • Form an informal “consultants pool” consisting of retirees in a specific area of work and set up agreed protocols for consulting members of the pool on problems in their specific area of specialization.
  • If a work process is relatively specific, predictable or uniform, encourage a retiring experienced staff to accept outsourcing jobs after his retirement. In one factory, the owner even sells the associated equipment at a much reduced price.
  • If the retiring staff is a business development officer, an account executive or a marketing officer with personal and crucial relationships with business partners or clients, he introduces his understudy or replacement to the business partners/clients (and their secretaries or assistants), brings her to business and social events where the business partner/client will be met and briefs her on the specific and unique personality characteristics, requirements and expectations of each business partner/client.
  • Adopt a company policy that replacements must be hired or identified at least 30 days before resignation or retirement, and corresponding company procedures for knowldge transfer during that period.

T3-4 Identifying Non-Technical Skills that Affect Productivity the Most

October 19, 2009

We cannot always assume that, in any specific work context, (cognitive) knowledge assets are all we need to manage for greater productivity and innovation. Affective or non-technical skills and aptitudes can also be important.

In fact, in one of my multinational corporate clients, we found that non-technical skills account for more than two-thirds of the variation in employee productivity! We explained this finding by observing that this organization manages its (technical or cognitive) knowledge assets so well that doing more of the same would produce less impact on productivity than doing something else that they nearly forgot: enhancing non-technical or affective skills. I dare assert that many organizations practically have a blind spot in this area.

Over a 1.5-hours lunchtime brown-bag session in another multinational client, we were able to identify non-technical skills that greatly affect productivity the most by asking one simple trigger question: “From your experiences and observations, what are the skills and aptitudes of a high-performing professional staff which are not reflected in their CVs/resumes?”

This particular client operates over many Asian countries, and their professional staffs have to deal with clients from different Asian cultures. Among the outputs from this short lunch session were: cultural sensitivity, politically savvy, emotional intelligence, communication skills and people skills.

Some learning of participants from these short sessions were:

  • With the right trigger question, high-value tacit knowledge can be elicited and cross-validated by a team in a short period of time.
  • We have much individual tacit knowledge about what works well which we are not always aware of as a group; KM serves to convert these into more useful group explicit knowledge.
  • Managing knowledge is not enough; emotional factors must also be managed but the management tools for the latter seem relatively unrecognized and unorganized or not systematized.
  • There seems to be a gap in the HR Department’s screening/selection and performance evaluation frameworks.

You are welcome to read my previous blog posts related to this one:


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T0-4 Measuring the Impact of a KM Initiative

October 16, 2009

If you are not clear about the business value of your KM initiative, then you will also find it difficult to measure its impact. Selecting a KM initiative from gut feel, or from fascination about a new technology or from reading about a KM best practice, but not being clear about its link to business results your company desires will result in also not being clear about its business impact.

Here are examples of how you measure the impact of a KM initiative, based on the link (–>) between it and desired business results:

  • Enhancements in the company intranet –> Less time wasted hunting for information
    (Impact measures: reduction in percentage of working hours used in looking for information, extra days per year saved and equivalent amount of monthly payroll saved, additional productivity from extra days saved; compare this with cost of installing/training in intranet enhancement; caveats: to ensure attribution, interview/survey each user if he had actually used the enhancement; it can happen that the financial gain is not entirely attributable to the intranet enhancement: see previous blog on “Interactivity and Context”)

  • e-Orientation of new recruits, including training in effectively using company intranet –> Shorter learning curve
    (Impact measures: after most of the new recruits complete their learning curves, interviews/survey to estimate person-days they saved compared to former recruits who did not use e-Orientation, convert person-days to money values; money saved from shorter face-to-face briefing of new recruits; compare these savings with cost of developing/testing e-Orientation package)

  • “Ask the Experts” program –> Faster and better resolution of a high-value business process problem
    (Impact measures: compared with pre-program baseline data, shorter resolution time and less frequency of rework, and money value of shorter downtime resulting from both; compare this with the cost of setting up the program including an official customized/detailed expertise directory plus the money value of experts’ time used up; caveat: these financial measures do not reflect the value of ego-boost to the company-acknowleged experts and enhancement of knowledge-sharing culture/habits)

A footnote: the Asian Productivity Organization or APO — an inter-governmental network of 19 Asian governments — is convening a third study meeting on KM Measurements at Taipei, Taiwan in the third week of November 2009. The first two were held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Manila, Philippines.


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T0-2 Starting a New KM Language in Your Organization

October 13, 2009

Starting KM in your organization also means starting to learn a new KM language among your members. A simple tool towards this end is an FAQ on KM (FAQ=frequently asked questions) which can be circulated among members or placed in the KM webpage in your intranet.

Download CCLFI’s FAQ on KM by pressing “Ctrl” while clicking HERE. The FAQ will appear in a new browser tab.

wordle of FAQ

Thanks to Wordle for the above “word cloud” of the FAQ

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T0-1 A Quick Way for an Organization to Adopt a Common Understanding of KM

October 10, 2009

A few years ago, CCLFI was helping in the KM training of the secretariat staff of the Davao City Chamber of Commerce and Industries. In one of the meetings I sat beside the Chairman of the Board. He was scheduled to give a talk during the closing ceremony to mark the formal end of the KM training project. He asked me what KM is all about and I explained it to him as simply as I can. I promised to send him on the next day a one-sentence definition.

During the subsequent training session, I explained to the secretariat staff what transpired between me and their Chairman. I asked them: can we formulate together the one-sentence definition and decide to adopt it for common use by the secretariat staff?

The result is the “KM Elevator Pitch” below. We called it an “elevator pitch” because you can quickly recite it to anyone inquiring about KM while you both ride an elevator. It must be so short but meaty that you have “pitched the ball” (delivered your message) by the time you emerge from the elevator.

Once formally adopted, the KM Elevator Pitch can also serve as the standard KM definition that everyone in the organization must understand and memorize, and be ready to recite to anyone asking what KM is all about.

Note that the sample KM Elevator Pitch below:

  • Covers all three types of intellectual capital;
  • Includes two basic action words or verbs: “source” and “deploy”;
  • States the purpose and benefit of KM.

Below is what I sent the Chairman of the Board on the next day.


KM elevator pitch

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T2-1: A Quick Way of Mining Customer Knowledge for Service Improvement

October 7, 2009

The purpose of KM is to support creation of market value or/and social value. Who is the judge whether in fact value was created?

The answer: your internal and external customers. In the non-government and development sectors, the answer is the same, but the language is different: stakeholders. The user of the output of an action is the best judge of the effectiveness of the action, and the effectiveness of the knowledge assets utilized for that action.

When an action results in satisfaction of customers or stakeholders, value is created. Wherever the results of action is traded, then a measure of the value created is the price customers are willing to pay for a good or service less the production and distribution costs
of that good or service.

In the development sector, where the results of actions are often not traded, what is the measure of value creation? It is the stakeholders’ degree of satisfaction. Within a corporation, results of actions are also not traded and there is no price for an internal good or service. Similarly, the measure of value creation here is the internal customers’ degree of satisfaction.

Improvement or innovation of a product or service that will result in even greater customer or stakeholder satisfaction is another objective of KM. How do we do this? Where do we start? One answer: ask the customer!

In most cases, customers know what they want and they know what will satisfy them better (in the case of breakthrough or exceptionally novel technologies, customers will realize what they want only when the new technology is in front of them). They also definitely know what they don’t want; for this reason, customer complaints are good sources of ideas for product or service innovation.

Making improvements or innovations is faster and easier when the output is a service and not a product. The service delivery process is also subject to greater variability than a product manufacturing process. Improving a service output requires a broadening of perspective: from focus only on the internal business process to focus also on the customer experience process. The two processes overlap in delivering a service. Keep in mind that value creation takes place in the latter process, and not in the former, which is only preparatory.

Based on the above, a low-cost way of mining customer knowledge for service improvement is to ask just two questions. It will take the customer only a couple of minutes to answer, but it can lead to solid creation of greater value for customers. “XX” is where you indicate the name or description of the service.

Question 1: On a scale of 0-100, what is your degree of satisfaction with our XX service or output?
(If the answer is 100, stop and do not proceed to Question 2)

Question 2: What improvements on XX can you suggest to increase your degree of satisfaction?

From asking these two questions numerous times in over a hundred organizational contexts, I observed that:

  • Most of the ideas on product or process improvement from employees who perform a process do not match with those from internal or external customers who use the output of such process.
  • Employees who perform a business process are better judges of process efficiency than of process effectiveness.
  • In many organizations including in the private sector, asking feedback from internal customers is often not a systematic procedure nor a personal habit.
  • The answer to Question 2 is high-value knowledge; acting on that knowledge will surely increase customer value.
  • The entire customer experience process constitute what some calls the “Moment of Truth” or the moment when the value of an output is finally validated. Actually, it is not just one moment or one minute, but it can extend over hours or days.

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