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HOW A SIMPLE CHANGE   Leave a comment

HOW A SIMPLE CHANGE IN THE WORKPLACE ENDED THE UK’s INDUSTRIAL ASCENDANCY

Revealed, three management no-shows that make us poorer decision makers

By Arnold Kransdorff

The slippage in productivity growth and worldwide downranking from fourth to fifth in the size of the UK’s economy says it all. Decision making in the UK is clearly poor when compared with the country’s main competitors, with just a one-day media snapshot providing substantiation; late petrol queue problems, difficulties in getting through to DVLA licence telephone number, wide skill shortages, uncontrolled migration, the woes of Southeastern train travel, NHS bullying, drug and plastics pollution in rivers, difficult access to GPs, rising fraud, ambulance delays, police officer attrition, house price rises and my own third-time broadband speed complaint in one year.     

For a supposedly sophisticated economy, it’s galling, seemingly undeserving and just plain puzzling. As the architect of the industrial revolution, aren’t we the most experienced? And why doesn’t this provide us with a competitive edge?

Three management no-shows

The traditional explanation is the long-time shortage of appropriate skills and training, which points the finger. But there are several other unaddressed and large management deficiencies around our decision-making abilities, one of which is acknowledged and deeply cultural, another 40 years in the making and still to be conceded, and a third, the certain consequence of both. In the suggested solution, they all subscribe to the recognition that education is the acknowledged best way to influence an embedded culture and knowledge sharing is the fresh approach to address institutional unfamiliarity, especially in the current upside-down workplace. Their oversight similarly points the finger.

The first is short termism[1], which traditionally refers to the excessive and obsessive focus on short-term results such as quarterly earnings at the expense of long-term interests. Most identifiable among the big north Atlantic economies and often called ‘Anglo-Saxon quarterly capitalism’ or self-styled myopic behaviour, it also foreshortens managers’ wider awareness along with important perspective and the essential broader contemplation necessary for improved decision making. Without the added awareness, longer term issues frequently get postponed, often described as matters that get kicked into the long grass (topical issues = climate change?…Lorry driver shortage[2]? … bricklayer famine?).

Another is the now highly flexible labour market[3], which employers continue to think is wholly beneficial. Introduced in the 1980s to help employers better cope with the fast-changing marketplace, it has led to widespread short-tenure employment and several critical outcomes for output, among them unproductive lead times, continual jobs disruption, much higher re-employment costs, increased induction/onboarding and – the most significant of all – the continual loss to employers of their own important and hard-won knowledge and experience. Known as corporate amnesia, this is the condition where businesses and other types of co-operative organisations literally lose the memory of why and how they did things.

No reflection, no learning from experience

From this continual workplace replacement comes the attendant inability to learn from their own experience, which explains the repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and other unlearned lessons that obstinately pepper the stop/start workplace. The art of learning from experience traditionally requires the individual participants in a decision to personally reflect and adapt their motivation, but today’s highly flexible labour market sees many contributors absented, which reduces the existent input to less useful second- or third-hand recollections by replacements and remaining colleagues. Alongside the reluctance of individuals to also take responsibility for others’ prior decision-making with a ‘we know better’ attitude, this inhibits the existing decision-making process.

The extent of the problem is evident in both the private and public sectors. Today, employees, including professionals and senior decision makers, use flexible working to enhance their remuneration and career prospects. Before Covid-19, UK employers saw around 26% of their employees move every year (Work in Numbers, 2018, AAT & LV quoted by the BBC, 2017). Then,  just as Brexit drove away an added substantial wave of labour back to eastern Europe and elsewhere (https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/we-face-a-perfect-storm-of-staff-shortages/), academics estimated that a further 38% took their leave during Covid (https://news.sky.com/story/job-vacancies-top-1-million-as-economy-rebounds-from-crisis-12383497#).

Elsewhere, the public sector has been even more flexible. At the top of the decision-making tree, secretaries of state stay in post an average of two years, with housing ministers chalking up no fewer than 18 separate appointments since 1997. Their advising civil servants are equally mobile; in just one year, 2016/17, new ministers in six departments of state found that 40% of their senior officials had been in post less than a year. Minister for welfare, Lord Freud, recollects that he, in effect, became the department’s institutional memory: “I sat there for six and a half years, looking at the third, fourth, fifth generation of a person doing a particular area: there is no corporate knowledge retained. That’s just a massive vulnerability.” (https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/sites/default/files/publications/government-reshuffles.pdf). 

Imagine ….

Given, then, that high staff turnover is evident across the whole workplace, imagine the amount of employer-specific knowledge and experience that walks out of the front door on a regular basis? Imagine the number of replacements that need to be repeatedly inducted/onboarded? Then, considering that ALL organisations depend on their differences to remain competitive, imagine departmental activities worked by individuals, all with little or no actual corporate-specific experience until they successfully inherit and adapt to their new employers’ practice, only to move on in short time? And, remember, that was before Covid-19, since when the workplace has upended itself even more.

The three management insufficiencies mentioned above are responsible for much of the shortfall in UK competitiveness and productivity growth. And in a short-tenure environment where discontinuity rules, addressing them directly has to be the way of quickly familiarising replacements with their new employer and, better still, enabling experiential learning.

All these corporate deficiencies can be attended through the medium of the various approaches to business history. Whilst detractors will no doubt contend that the past is not a suitable learning tool, there is no shortage of champions to the cause but precious few of them are fluent in today’s workplace, including in business schools.

The long-, medium- and short-term

The long-term form of business history can be attended through course work in secondary schools and universities, a subject long overlooked in the British educational system and which would better familiarise the working population with the vagaries of how they will be earning their livings. At the corporate level, long-term history can also be addressed through professionally produced company histories, most of which are poorly produced as public relations to celebrate an important anniversary. Both can be fashioned to incorporate the subject of short-termism along with the other ups-and-downs of corporate life.

Medium- and short-term business history can be delivered through the innovative medium called Oral Debriefing, when the experiences of important exiting individuals are recorded in either transcript, audio or video format for the benefit of replacements. Handed to new entrants along with confirmation letters of appointment, it’s a product that can substitute for inadequate induction/onboarding by countering the effects of constant workplace discontinuity and providing the necessary awareness for quick jobs uptake.  

Done in a more focussed way, Oral Debriefing can also provide the detailed experiences of departed decision makers to provide in-situ colleagues with their predecessors’ first-hand evidence for better experiential learning (EL) (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/ explains how, including the way to persuade employees to knowledge share) – in effect delivering the detail straight from the horse’s mouth instead of having to depend on second- or third-hand recollection.

Flexible working might be good for employees but it is not the same for employers. For it to work for both, Oral Debriefing’s knowledge-sharing evens up the score. Bottom line, it and business history in the curriculum provide the more efficient corporate pathway for organic development.

Coincidentally, the ‘history’ component of this suggested solution is one that arose in 2013 when Lord Butler, himself a former cabinet secretary responsible for effective decision making, called for “historical advisers” to be appointed to all departments (https://www.civilserviceworld.com/professions/article/experts-back-butler-in-call-to-appoint-historical-advisers). It’s a good plan but wouldn’t it be even better if departmental history could be added to the skill set of every major departmental adviser and decision maker? Now, that would also mean that the four decades old counsel that “History provides experience cheaply” needn’t have been kicked into the long grass, the conclusion of the UK’s first professor of business history, the London School of Economics and Political Science’s Professor Leslie Hannah, who had been sent to the US to investigate whether British business schools should adopt business history into their teaching.

It would, incidentally, also help give added meaning to Boris Johnson’s professed strategy to level up, which David Smith, economics editor of The Sunday Times, points out that higher wages requires higher productivity (https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/david-smith-never-mind-the-dog-whistle-higher-wages-require-higher-productivity-rndl02bc7).

Here’s one way – no, three ways – to do it ….

—————————————————————————

[1] Derives from the view that UK companies positively associate their belief about the level of emphasis placed by the capital market on the results of reported earnings (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8551.00072).

[2] Boris Johnson: I’ve known about lorry driver shortage for a ‘long, long, long’ time (https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-hgv-petrol-shortage-b1931392.html).

[3] The flexible labour market became prominent in the 1980s when Mrs Thatcher was challenging the Trades Unions’ dominance in the workplace. It followed widespread deregulation of labour relations to allow for employers to adapt to the fast-changing marketplace more easily.

Posted October 12, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

SHORT-TERMIS   Leave a comment

SHORT-TERMISM: HOW TO SAVE CAPITALISM FROM THE CAPITALISTS 

Bring back business history

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Whenever one dares to compare the attitudes of Western business with that of its Eastern counterparts, one difference, arguably the biggest, stands out; the former’s strategic outlook is generally short term while the latter takes the lengthier span. Known as Anglo-Saxon’s ‘quarterly capitalism’ or self-styled myopic behaviour, the shorter approach is pervasive and is seen in how decision makers make their investment decisions. Western economies will even admit to it, concede that it reduces firms’ international competitiveness, impacts on their capacity to respond to new market challenges and that it creates higher unemployment. It often manifests itself in frequent internal reorganisations, extensive mergers and acquisitions and financial re-engineering that has little relevance to underlying business capabilities.   

By focussing on short-term results, individual companies, asset managers and asset owners, even national economies in its extension, can – and does – undermine economic growth, ultimately leading to slowing GDP and lower future investment returns for savers, with implications for everyone. In essence, what the short-term fixation does is remove wider awareness and important perspective which, in turn, automatically reduces the importance of dealing with seemingly longer-term issues. Postponement is its mother and father.    

The debate – short-term vs long-term – has been going on for decades and is generally positioned on individual large companies, where the attitudes are often self-contradictory in the big north Atlantic economies (https://integratedreporting.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/SPLong-TermismversusShort-termism.pdf and https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1467-8551.00072). Mutually, the vast majority of their main decision makers admit that the pressure for their short-term determinations comes from their boards of directors who, in turn, report that they channel pressures from institutional investors. ‘Passing the buck’ has become pervasive which in turn, has become cultural and thus difficult to change. And is very, very damaging to everyone, whose wealth has been dramatically compromised.

It is not uncoincidental that this endemic characteristic has also spilled over to non-business matters, notably politics, where even bigger issues take their own lengthier positions in the ranking queue. The biggest example is global warming and its chain of connected concerns that have imposed their own delay in being addressed, despite their shared, extremely expensive and potentially ominous outcome. For the short termers, dealing with its consequences only seems practical when their backs are against the wall ….    

No long term, no perspective

But returning to the business world, short termism has its roots and effect in a number of other factors that have flawed the existent decision-making process. In the UK’s education system, for example, the inclusive subject of serious business history is studiously overlooked, with the result that employees, including trained decision makers, receive little or no business inheritance or wider business culture. In the US, the removal of compulsory business history from first-year attendance at Harvard Business School similarly contributes to the removal of the same awareness, specifically by the more important future decision-makers.     

This foisted unfamiliarity with the cultural past extends to several other endemic characteristics evident with individuals generally –  their short, selective and defensive memory recall of personal practice (http://nevillab.org/images/images/pdf/rafireview.pdf) alongside a widespread predisposition to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice (https://sprigghr.com/blog/hr-professionals/responsibility-vs-accountability-whats-the-difference/). Another is the very flexible labour market, which in the case of the US and the UK, replaces most employers’ staff and their company-specific knowledge and experience every three to five years, with the current pandemic contributing further huge numbers to workplace turnover.   

While all this employer change might well provide employees with a wider awareness of other employers and their jobs, it also removes the current employers’ own, more important, knowledge and experience, necessitating a corresponding greater effort to induct/onboard replacements, whose employer tenure is going to be short too. The unending unfamiliarity with employees’ latest employer is an explanation for the epidemic of repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and other unlearned lessons that pepper the workplace and undercut productivity. Continuously, one of the pillars of good decision making – the employers’ long-term evidence – is missing. Its absence represents one of the main dysfunctions of modern business education and training.

And they’re all characteristics that automatically delay practical action with clear implications for the quality of good judgement and business acuity.  

Replace the lost evidence

At this level, the solution is to inject into business education and corporate training what the absence of business history and flexible labour removes, namely commerce and industry’s long-term memory and employers’ equivalent long-, medium- and short-term memory, otherwise and unfashionably known as history. 

The remedial instruments are simple. Commerce and industry’s long-term memory can be provided in schools and universities with available and relevant course work while companies themselves can deliver their own long-term history through well-produced corporate chronicles. Alongside this, their short- and medium-term history can be offered through skilled oral debriefs of exiting individuals in either transcript, audio or video format for the benefit of their replacements (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/), a product that can substitute for inadequate induction/onboarding by reversing the effects of constant workplace discontinuity and providing the first-hand evidence for better experiential learning (EL).

This solution aside, the issue of short-term vs long-term is in itself a product of the imposed inaction around short termism, which regularly gets raised by economists and journalists. In recent times there was a review in the last UK Parliament and representations by several members of the Bank of England led by its chief economist Andy Haldane (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-33718644). If anything, all that’s happened are monetary and fiscal initiatives introduced to spur investment but with little or no change in the attitudes towards the length of investment decisions.

Is it not time to turn towards the source of the problem, notably the short-termists themselves?

While Government could play their part with some overdue legislative reform to influence corporate governance along the various lines already suggested, it is shareholders/investors, the managers of the companies making the investment decisions and the ultimate owners of capital who need to be persuaded that they are currently not working in their own interests – and, specifically, that good decision-making needs a less constrained outlook. Given the acknowledged relationship between an embedded culture and behavioural norms, the imaginative use of their business inheritance, their legacy, their specific organisational memory (OM) – aka their working history – is another way.

To requote Duncan Weldon, the Newsnight economics correspondent who succinctly reported on the Bank of England’s most recent attempt to resurrect the debate, there is a need “to save capitalism from the capitalists”. 

Posted September 14, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

EMPLOYERS, YOU LISTENED   Leave a comment

EMPLOYERS, YOU LISTENED BUT DIDN’T HEAR, JUST LIKE THE GLOBAL WARMING NIXERS

How regular decision-making got itself flawed

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

When the history books are written, one of the bigger observations will be the late, very late, reaction to the effects of global warming on climate change. It’s puzzling because of the scale of the problem, big enough to threaten the very existence of the only planet we live on, yet we’ve vacillated ad nauseum until the Doomsday clock has reached one minute to midnight. And it’s not as if we were not warned. Today’s never-been-higher heat waves, never-been-more wildfires, never-been-wetter flash floods and new droughts have been foretold for more than a century with the evidence building up over decades, even entertainingly turned into best-selling books and blockbuster movies. Still, the decision makers overlooked the omens and the proof, leaving the problem too late for the solution to be addressed efficiently.

Just like being a climate change denier. What’s this all about, at least in the UK and some other economies…?

With Covid-19’s equally devastating outcomes – and many, many other less huge events at both the global and corporate levels – is this indicative of how modern determinations are being made? Convention teaches that decisions should be evidence-based – i.e. determinations should be made using actual experience and best practice to fashion ‘lessons learned’ among the prescribed disciplines such as ‘experiential learning’ and ‘risk management’. On this basis, how true is it that we more often only react when our backs are against the wall? With some encouraging examples of pre-emptive behaviour such as the initial tackling of the Malthusian prediction that the world’s population will outpace agricultural production (still in play as population numbers continue to mushroom) and the 1980s ban on ozone-depleting chemicals (promptly offset by the late reaction to the equally important issue of damaging fertiliser usage impacting the pollination ability of bees), the responses would suggest that modern decision makers are, indeed, less receptive, less inclusive and even less practical. 

Are the issues just too big? But this is also happening to the many more smaller examples. Too many? Yes, perhaps, but that’s a function of procrastination anyway. Too convoluted? OK, but this suggests that the grander decision-makers are automatically adept….

A worthier clue is buried in the nation’s acknowledged attraction towards short-sightedness, where most things long-term, especially in politics and business, are intuitively overlooked. Such imposed inattention removes much perspective which, in turn, lowers the importance of issues and encourages a succession of other factors that flaw the existent decision-making process. In the UK’s business education system, for example, the inclusive subject of serious business history is studiously overlooked, with the result that employees, including trained decision makers, receive little or no business inheritance or wider business culture. This foisted unfamiliarity with the country’s cultural past supplements two other endemic characteristics evident with individuals generally –  their short, selective and defensive memory recall of personal practice (http://nevillab.org/images/images/pdf/rafireview.pdf) alongside a widespread predisposition to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice (https://sprigghr.com/blog/hr-professionals/responsibility-vs-accountability-whats-the-difference/). Without the mindfulness of a long- or short-term consciousness, one of the pillars of good decision-making, the awareness of actual experience, is missing, an explanation for the epidemic of repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and other unlearned lessons that pepper the workplace and undercut productivity.

They’re all characteristics that automatically delay practical action and inhibit productivity with suggestive implications for the quality of good judgement and business acuity.

The never-been-higher statistics

Now global warming and Covid have highlighted another collection of ‘never-been-higher’ phenomena to which employers are aware but widely overlooked. For decades the big flexible labour economies – mainly the north Atlantic nations – have been changing their workplace composition by up to 26% a year for decades (Work in Numbers, 2018, AAT & LV quoted by the BBC, 2017), meaning that employers have been continuously losing a large proportion of their own special knowledge and experience. Even though it’s been plainly evident, employers have been content to maintain their ability to adapt more quickly to changing market conditions in return for having to continually and expensively re-hire, re-acquaint and re-teach their numerous replacements that come from umpteen unfamiliar environments. Academics now extend the pre-pandemic transposition of employees who were having up to 14 different employers in a working lifetime (Work Institute, 2018 Retention Report, 2018 & Department of Labor, 2018) by another 38% (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210629-the-great-resignation-how-employers-drove-workers-to-quit), just as Brexit drove away an added substantial wave of skilled labour back to eastern Europe and elsewhere (https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/we-face-a-perfect-storm-of-staff-shortages/). This has provided a never-been-higher level of vacancies (https://news.sky.com/story/job-vacancies-top-1-million-as-economy-rebounds-from-crisis-12383497#) alongside the new way of home working with which to contend.

With every single new employee needing to be hired and then inducted/onboarded, imagine the scenario where departmental activities are being run by so many new bloods, all with little or no actual corporate-specific experience during their on-going short-period tenures? Workplace disruption was already high. It’s now worse and not getting any better, as will be the continuing loss of employers’ hard-won institutional knowledge and experience that registers as the single most important of all the corporate assets. That it’s happening across whole workforces all the time and includes professionals and other top decision makers, makes it big enough for the solution not to be ignored. It’s an unpretentious perfect storm going on, heedlessly and recklessly ….  

Yet losing one’s employees doesn’t have to mean losing their acquired know-how, except of course if they’ve already swept through their employers’ swing doors. In this case they and their corporate experiences are lost forever into the arms of other employers, who have to deal with the self-same issue. But what about those left behind, those about to move on and THEIR replacements?The solution is an example of a pre-emptive process so absent in the conventional workplace; transfer the knowledge and experience of important exiting individuals to new hires by way of transcript, audio or video. A skilled Oral Debrief enables workplace disjointedness to become connected, it delivers a quick workplace jobs booster for the unacquainted and, instead of a drawn-out customary self-induction period of up to a year and often longer, it provides a foretaste of any evident skills shortfall and an interim solution ahead of any necessary re-training. An updated DIY TOOLKIT (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/) explains how employers can do the knowledge capture and transfer themselves. Explaining the issues around knowledge ownership (employees are normally reluctant to share their know-how), it gives employers the ability to continue to take advantage of modern flexible working without losing their key knowledge and experience for more efficient on-learning.

THE PERFECT STORM   Leave a comment

THE PERFECT STORM IN THE WORKPLACE: WHAT EMPLOYERS COULD’VE, SHOULD’VE, DIDN’T DO – AND WHAT THEY HAVE TO DO NOW 

Knowledge capture, knowledge capture, knowledge capture

The warning signs have been around for at least four decades but no one took any notice of the underlying handicap. In fact, employers indulged themselves with the flexible labour market, using its opportunity to change their workplaces to better adapt to the high-change marketplace. It worked for a while and employment even rose to impressive heights but, unexpectedly, productivity started to become more difficult. The experts puzzled: Why would more available and work-savvy replacements lead to stagnating output? The experts continue to puzzle, suggesting all sorts of reasons bar the one that Covid-19 is highlighting and now imposing brutishly on the place where employers and their employees earn their livings. 

Consider the build-up to the current workplace. Pre-Covid-19, around 26% of UK employees, including professionals and top decision makers, changed their employer every year (Work in Numbers, 2018, AAT & LV quoted by the BBC, 2017), now much higher. In the US, the other big flexible labour economy, the average was even more with individual workers heading for 14 different paymasters during their working lifetimes (Work Institute, 2018 Retention Report, 2018 & Department of Labor, 2018, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2018). Whatever the pandemic contributed, UK employers have got to add another 38% of UK workers intending to change their employer in the next 12 months (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210629-the-great-resignation-how-employers-drove-workers-to-quit) while the mid-Covid quit-rate in the US is now 24% higher than it was before the pandemic (https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkc-yuqTgrGtBKbZxOgpyPxy9s_N_3SfoJ).

The figures confirm a never-been-higher measure of workplace disturbance alongside the even more troubling forfeiture of never-been-higher levels of corporate-specific knowledge and experience. Ipso facto, much of the special way companies source their earnings through their workers will be going, or will have gone, elsewhere – and more than many employers will have to start virtually from scratch in many of their departmental activities.

Imagine the scenario where procedural-type practices and relationships will have to be re-hired, re-invented, re-taught and re-learned by so many in umpteen unfamiliar environments. Could it one day be described as business and industry’s long Covid?  

The missed opportunity

In this, employers, the experts and the academics serving the business community have missed a huge issue – and opportunity – relevant to workers’ output. Non-specific business education/training and wider workplace awareness from multiple employers may well be useful but it is corporate-specific knowledge and experience that is the more important. What widespread short-tenure employment has done is continually interrupt and remove the special way employers actually do their business. No sooner than individuals start to be useful, so they leave. And every time this happens, corporate momentum slows. At another level it used to be called the Brain Drain. Now it’s The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle or The Turnover Tsunami. With so many employees doing what the Australians call walkabout, difficult times are ahead for all employers with depleted workplaces. The business quickstep – one step forward, one step back – has become the new corporate dance, and we’re not very good at what is known as Experiential Learning. 

The extra way employers have been trying to reduce high staff turnover is though non-traditional incentives, everything from the provision of discounted wine deliveries to employees’ homes every month, free child day-care to an allowance of fitness items such as running shoes and membership of gyms and sports clubs. To address the knowledge issue, it has been customary to little-use apprenticeships and mentoring. Elsewhere, the standard induction/onboarding processes only provide terms of employment-type information and formal introductions to future colleagues, with uncommon overlapping conversational access between exiting senior individuals and their replacements, all of which – as the record shows – have done almost nothing to reduce either staff turnover or knowledge loss. In the sharing game, both contributor and beneficiary all suffer from endemic short, selective and defensive memory recall alongside the widespread predisposition by new employees to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice. It’s an explanation for the repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and other unlearned lessons that pepper the workplace and undercut productivity. 

Except for some press coverage on the more expressive subject of corporate amnesia, the tightly related issues of high staff turnover and related huge knowledge loss are – puzzlingly – widely overlooked by most individual practitioners and business academics. They are arguably two of the most important factors that impact on business, and thus national productivity. 

Instead of flogging a dead horse ….

Instead of depending on lame efforts to reduce high staff turnover, there IS a logical restorative measure; it’s the skilled knowledge transfer between key exiting individuals and their replacements.

For this to happen requires a more knowledgeable appreciation of knowledge itself. Among the several types of this prime corporate asset resides two basic variants – operational skills such as technical competence and the type of knowledge that makes this know-how more resourceful in its own distinctive environment. It’s important because they’ve always been inter-dependent for optimum effectiveness but only relatively recently recognised. The former is called explicit knowledge, the know-how that we’re all taught to undertake a specific task, while the latter is its non-technical companion, tacit knowledge, first identified by Michael Polyani in 1958, and acknowledged by practitioners Peter Drucker as “techne” in 1993 and as “operacy” by Edward de Bono in 2006, among others. By at least 1991, the top KM academic, Ikujiro Nonaka, had described it as “the source of competitive advantage” and that “about 90% of the knowledge in any organization is embedded and synthesized in tacit form” (The Knowledge-Creating Company, https://memberfiles.freewebs.com/84/90/65819084/documents/The%20Knowledge-Creating%20Company.pdf). In terms of the explicit and tacit’s transferability, the former is relatively easy to record and communicate, while the tacit is more difficult, mainly because of the personal nature of its cognizance that is context, co-worker and organisation-specific, derived from subjects like cultural ideals, values, ideology, language, prejudices, customs and rituals, and other indigenous management strengths and weakness. Left to individuals to record themselves, even senior decision makers are notoriously poor communicators who find both autobiography and the subject of tacit knowledge difficult to articulate. Uncommunicated, little of it appears in email databanks or reports and, consequently, of course, impossible to retrieve after the employers’ swing doors have finished turning. So one would think …

As Nonaka has noted, both the explicit and the lubricating tacit are deeply buried in the employers’ historical experience. Given the difficulties individuals have in verbalising testimony, the more effective approach is to apply the extraction technique known as Oral Debriefing using a skilled facilitator who has the ability to “peel onion skins” – i.e. keep asking probing questions when the narrated evidence is imprecise. If employers feel uncomfortable allowing an outsider to do the job, there is now a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the knowledge transfer themselves (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/), which explains the issues around knowledge ownership, how to encourage knowledge sharing among employees (who are normally proprietorial about owning their knowledge), and how to best capture this elusive main corporate asset. The acquired verbatim debrief can then be passed down to successors through either transcript, audio or video format, providing the means for employers and their new-blood employees to also better learn from their actual corporate experience through the usual process of reflection – but now with the benefit of the retrieved evidence that would otherwise be lost. Therein lies the answer to smoother progress and productivity growth in our short-tenure labour market.    

Posted August 1, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

REVEALED   Leave a comment

REVEALED, THE INSPIRED WAY TO TACKLE HR’s COCKEYED WAY TO FIX HI STAFF TURNOVER

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Covid-19 will be making things much, much worse but it’s still puzzling enough to question the resourcefulness of employers and management education, in particular their HR and KM specialists.

Staff turnover has been uncomfortably high for at least three decades but business, which depends on workplace continuity to maintain its momentum, stubbornly continues to think that the solution is somehow to find ways to encourage employee retention. Yet, when all efforts to slow it down have failed, the experts persist. Is the Idiom ’flogging a dead horse’ appropriate when employers consciously disregard the potential of addressing the single biggest effect of so much workplace discontinuity?

Typically, high staff turnover – pre-Covid it was around 25% a year in the UK, higher in the US, including among important decision makers – is generally seen as a reflection of organisational inadequacy such as poor management, an uncomfortable working environment and/or low remuneration, among others, issues that standard exit interviews are designed to disclose. They are – but the reality is that high turnover’s biggest impact is the loss of much hard-won organisational-specific knowledge and experience and the attendant institutional inability to effectively learn from one’s own practice. As organic development is the largest contributor to underlying organisational progress, this lost intellectual asset must be re-learned by replacements, who typically take up to a year and more of their average four-to-five years’ tenure to be inducted/onboarded. At this rate – and except for a handful of stalwarts – employers have been replacing almost all their staff every four to five years; hardly a formula for corporate stability. It’s not been greatly noticed because such workplace movement does not all happen at the same time but the net effect on corporate self-identity and underlying productivity is nevertheless dramatic – and wasteful; after all, the acquired knowledge and experience has already been expensively paid for. And don’t forget, the pandemic is throwing the workplace out even more. 

Continuing to try and lower staff turnover OR ….

The usual focus of this continual stop-start scenario is to somehow discourage employees from leaving but even where this has not worked, little or nothing is done to address corporate knowledge loss other than at some senior levels, departees personally brief their successors. Replacements are also expected to depend on employers’ voluminous written archives such as emails, which typically record only the explicit-type operational side of what happened. Few new bloods refer to old emails anyway, employing the time-worn attitude of their profession that ‘we know better’ besides instinctive behaviour to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice. Alongside this survives another knowledge gap, arguably the more important – the employer-specific know-how that facilitates procedure-governed skills to work more efficiently. It’s known as tacit knowledge, the ‘how’ of getting things done (or not) in a new environment that employers expect their employees to acquire through their own resources over time. Garnered from personal involvement and context, both these types of knowledge are buried in the experience of standing employees; that is until they take their leave when individuals, and particularly skilled individuals and important decision makers, realise that they can improve their remuneration and career prospects by jumping ship.

With Covid-19 shortening employee tenure even further, it’s impossible to see how this nomadic behaviour makes any sense for employers. No sooner than individuals start to be useful, so they leave. And every time this happens, corporate momentum slows in consideration of the extra fistfuls of money  immediately offered to their replacements and the lost buckets of knowledge and experience that have to be re-learned. It used to be called the Brain Drain. Now it’s The Great Resignation, The Great Reshuffle or The Turnover Tsunami. It’s cockeyed, it’s unproductive and it’s not clever ….

So, as employee churn is variously difficult to reduce, is now solidly embedded in the psyche of the working population and expensively unavoidable, what’s the answer?

Instead of vainly trying to only reduce staff turnover, employers could more profitably concentrate on skilled knowledge transfer between important exiting individuals and their replacements, a provision that would allow new employees to receive the full complement of otherwise lost knowledge not offered by conventional induction. The technique is called oral debriefing, a more specialised application of the humble exit interview. Delivered to important incoming employees in either transcript, audio or video format, it provides an up-to-date and quicker way for short-tenure generations to inherit their predecessors’ experience. Without individuals having to remember details of any prior discussions with predecessors, the permanent record would – importantly – also offer a first-hand and thus more reliable account for unacquainted individuals to apply the evidence to their own knowledge and experience. It’s a big way to further professionalise HR and KM, give the two disciplines an additional string to their bows and raise their low profile among the corporate hierarchy whilst continuing to retain the benefits of the flexible labour market. Crucially, it also provides the means to better learn from actual experience.  

The pathway

The problems to solve? How to persuade employees to share their knowledge and experience? What are the legal requirements? When to orally debrief? Which is the best medium? How to do knowledge capture properly? Whether or not to use an external facilitator? When to share it? And how to learn from it? A step-by-step TOOLKIT (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/) is now available to help employers do the job in-house.

Done well, oral debriefing is a history-aligned approach that is acknowledged as a tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied. The Toolkit has been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.  

Postscript:  The BBC is reporting that 38% of UK employees are threatening to move away from their employer in the next 12 months (https://www.bbc.com/worklife/article/20210629-the-great-resignation-how-employers-drove-workers-to-quit). In the other big flexible labour economy, the US, the mid-Covid quit rate is now 24% higher than it was before the pandemic (https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZMkc-yuqTgrGtBKbZxOgpyPxy9s_N_3SfoJ), a 20-year high. In April alone, almost four million US employees left their employer, the highest total ever and double the number a year earlier. Elsewhere in the US, the Work Institute, which specialises in providing employers with employee engagement programmes, including advice on how to conduct exit interviews to research why employees leave, was questioning the candour of CEO’s in addressing the popular narrative that high staff turnover was a priority (https://workinstitute.com/hr-priorities-are-misplaced/?utm_medium=email&_hsmi=136868858&_hsenc=p2ANqtz-9YtObEGKjXtlMiDxkMprOkUguvF_oOMtqi70ExcvW_1F98X3wAmIo30HoDpKS4lePYvopQD0CKO_yY3uQGLtTh8ogaOw&utm_content=136868858&utm_source=hs_email). In its latest Retention Report – the Covid edition, President Danny Nelms reported feedback from HR leaders saying that non-retention projects were being tackled instead, a suggestion that CEO and HR practice “do not appear aligned in practice.”  Speaking to his audience directly, he said: “Hopefully your organization is currently working to retain employees otherwise it might be too late.” 

No Sir, there is another way to handle low retention in today’s nomadic workplace – skilled knowledge transfer between key exiting individuals and their incoming replacements. It’s more decisive and practical.

Posted July 12, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

THE NO-BRAINER   Leave a comment

EXCLUSIVE: THE NO-BRAINER FIX FOR BORIS JOHNSON’S BIG PROBLEM – HIS POOR DECISION MAKING

Why “Data, not dates” is fundamentally flawed & how other managers could also profit 

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Stand back from Boris Johnson’s main decisions around Covid-19 and his strategy is obvious. Caution reigns, as the Prime Minister’s reaction to almost everything pandemic has illustrated. Except for a successful vaccination drive, he has set the UK apart with a proportional performance that compares poorly alongside other countries near and far. Has the astronomical cost in lives and hard cash been a sensible strategy, especially in a fast-moving situation?

“Data, not dates” has been his standard stated approach to almost all his determinations, chalking up recurring difficulties with the country’s infection rates, his imposed lockdowns and the catalogue of attendant issues ranging from foreign travel corridors, education, care homes, mass testing, PPE, contact tracing, masks and eat-out-to-help-out, among others. Throughout the outbreak, advice has been taken from a small group of chosen experts whose decisions have been similarly circumspect. This shared approach would seem rational but how so?

Consider the less obvious evidence of this common position ….

Reactive vs proactive

The fact that Covid-19 infections rates were, and are still, changing daily, means that ALL delays in addressing it and related events are – by definition – automatically behind the curve. Unavoidable might be the obvious retort but the outcome is nevertheless fatally flawed, an approach to decision making that is described as reactive in nature – i.e., based on responding to events after they have happened. But reactive decision making on its own encompasses several unhelpful features. Rigidly sticking to it limits the opportunity to introduce good judgement or common sense and it works to prevent the most valued of all managerial and decision-making skills – the ability to effectively learn from corporate experience, self-evidently called experiential learning (EL). This form of decision making is associated with proactive decision making, which focusses on eliminating problems before they have a chance to appear, a skill that provides the valued ability of would-be good managers and decision makers to be ahead of the curve. With proactive decisions entirely dependent on the skilled reflection and application of the familiar evidence from which defensive decision making stems, there has been precious little of this crucial way of turning ordinary decision making into good and better decision making. In Covid-19’s case, this should also have included more deliberate scrutiny of pre-Covid-19 plagues and others’ continuing experiences. Perhaps the most neglected was the detail of the UK’s sponsored dummy run of an influenza epidemic in 2016 – codenamed Exercise Cygnus (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exercise_Cygnus) – and the largely unheeded biological security strategy that was published in 2018 to specifically address a pandemic threat (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/730213/2018_UK_Biological_Security_Strategy.pdf).

“….. English exceptionalism?”

The necessity of more immediate good and better decision making is a clear pre-requisite in any situation but the fact that many of UK’s fast-moving Covid-19 decisions were taken too slowly and without much proximate experiential learning confirms a fundamental weakness in governance and specifically in decision making  – and, according to Sir Chris Ham, the immediate past chief executive of the independent public health think tank, the King’s Fund – “a misplaced belief in English exceptionalism” (https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.n284). Mr Johnson has stubbornly insisted that the process of learning the lessons of Covid-19 would be left to a Public Inquiry at a later time. Sadly, too late for that which has past but what about the rest of Covid’s on-going activity, the next pandemic and what’s been happening in the rest of the economy for decades ….?

Not uncoincidentally, the UK’s learning deficit with Coronavirus also resonates with the country’s non-public sector, where decisions in wider commerce and industry are generally made only when problems become acute. Occasioned by the very flexible labour market, employees now have tenures averaging only around five years (less in the US) – and equally absent memories/awareness of their new employers’ unique and hard-won practices. Like the management of Covid-19, this means little or no experiential learning at the corporate level.

Corporate amnesia is surely the business equivalent of long-Covid. So, what price the best way to fill the irregularly-imposed knowledge gaps? To continue the allegorical virus depiction, the so-called herd immunity fix can come from skilled knowledge transfer between key exiting operatives of important divisions and their un-familiarised replacements (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/). It becomes a timely first-hand, straight-from-the-horse’s-mouth, record that can keep on reminding new bloods that they have a responsibility to address their employers’ otherwise missing prior experience. It’s the way to do experiential learning in the very flexible, flexible labour market. 

Posted June 25, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

WHY, OH WHY   Leave a comment

WHY, OH WHY, IS THE UK SO UNPRODUCTIVE? An updated explanation and its logical, so simple, solution

 “We’ve carelessly unschooled ourselves by becoming forgetful

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesi

Given that weak productivity growth is the conceded most important problem facing British industry, the most exasperating business-related question haunting the UK must be why we rank so low on its international league table. We’re the oldest industrial nation with the most business experience. So, having travelled the business road many times before, it would be logical to suggest it would be easier for us to make good and better decisions. But no, there are other developed countries that out-produce us – and they’ve been doing it for more than a few decades. France, for example, our nearest big competitor – similar populations, comparable modern developmental history – can do by Thursday afternoon what the UK can only produce by Friday evening. Only Italy under-performs us.

The prevailing explanations have been around for ages – poor business education without a focus on much historical, lower skills, an unhelpful infrastructure, subdued investment in research, development and innovation, even because our national culture is not proactive, all of which can perhaps be bunched around the broad doctrinal heading of politics and managerial arrogance. Over the years Governments have spent billions on upgrading skills, infrastructure and more, but output still lags for want of an unaddressed and crucial impact on a factor of production that’s been compounding ever since it took hold in the 1980s. Its knock-on effect is big enough to impact every single employing institution all the time, yet it is barely acknowledged even among the futile attempts that employers make to reduce its effect.

That factor of production is labour whose workplace has been changed out of all recognition by the seemingly innocuous flexible labour market to which we’ve become so accustomed as to be blindly tolerant. Introduced to help employers better cope with the fast-moving marketplace, the rising staff turnovers first initiated by employers are now supplemented by employees themselves, including professionals and top decision makers, who are increasingly using it to improve their remuneration and prospects.

Dropping the baton

Consider, then, the business of business as a marathon made up of multiple relay races, each dependent on smooth decision-making to encourage continuity for best forward movement. Discontinuity, such as dropping the baton, is the enemy within. It slows everything down. For commerce and industry, ‘discontinuity’ comes from flexible working’s short employer tenure, running at average staff turnovers of around 26% a year in the UK, higher in the US (and that was just before Covid-19). So much hard-won institute-specific knowledge and experience – both explicit and tacit – departs its host that decisions at all hierarchical levels at both top-level strategy and lower-down operational determinations are less than rigorous as replacements try to play catch-up with their new employers’ tried-and-tested practice and special way of working. Without such corporate awareness – the equal of dropped batons – many new entrants make decisions based on their previous employers’ experience rather than also taking account of their new paymasters’ special environments and circumstances.

Now run your calculator over the numbers of every departee and every replacement across the economy all the time. Then, picture this impending scenario; no sooner than the replacements for every single 26%-er clock in, another 26% gets ready to clock out. In five years the entire workforce of every employing institution could be replaced, although the likelihood is that there’ll be a handful of stalwarts who will be expected to remember everything. Fat chance ….  

By letting so much of their main intellectual asset go walkabout, employers have unschooled themselves and acquired what’s called corporate amnesia, the other name for being forgetful. That means it’s more difficult for them to learn from their own special experiences which, in turn, explains the repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons that plague the workplace. Organic progress stalls and along with associated continual jobs disruption at all levels and increased employment costs, it accounts for our difficulties with productivity growth.

The traditional approach to providing relevant corporate-specific awareness has been through little-used apprenticeships, some mentoring and minimal conversational access with exiting senior individuals, while standard induction processes usually only provide terms of employment-type information and formal introductions to future colleagues. While these approaches could be escalated and/or improved, the endemic effects of short, selective and defensive memory recall of both contributor and beneficiary in which everyone participates subdues any potential advantage. This is often accompanied by individuals’ instinctive behaviour to disclaim ownership and responsibility for others’ previous practice.

The knowledge transfer solution

There IS an unorthodox and disarmingly simple solution, however; replace what flexible working removes by transferring the knowledge and experience of important exiting employees to their replacements. Delivered in either transcript, audio or video format, the most effective way to do this is through oral debriefing, a technique that – done well – can more than substitute for the absence of its owner by providing first-hand detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. The technique is acknowledged as a tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied.

There are several alternatives for such capture, the most unpredictable being departing individuals writing or recording their own experiences either on a regular basis or before they depart. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify important tacit knowledge. A more reliable way is to outsource the capture to an experienced interviewer/facilitator with the ability to ask pertinent questions when the narrated answers are imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, another option is to train up an internal individual to do the job. For this, there is a step-by-step TOOLKIT (http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/) which explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory (OM). The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

Imagine replacements having personalised and detailed access to their predecessor’s knowledge and experience within days of their arrival?

Flexible working may well have turned in the unintended consequence that medicine calls dementia but the reality is that the UK’s short-term employment workplace is, fait accompli, the adopted choice of employers and the popular occupational journey for much of the workforce. At the end of the day productivity is a hands-on business and the skilful determinations of both senior and lesser decision-makers, including and especially nomadic ones at all occupational levels, are important to keep the corporate bus moving and allow new employees to efficiently apply their own experience to their employers’ special environment and circumstances. Stop-start multiplied by the number of departees and replacements requires a different and better way for the workplace to do its business.

Posted June 4, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

UK’S VACCINE ROLLOUT CARRIES A POTENT MESSAGE   Leave a comment

UK’S VACCINE ROLLOUT CARRIES A POTENT MESSAGE
FOR OUR PRODUCTIVITY WOES – ELSE WE’LL BE LIKE ITALY

“Knowledge transfer, knowledge transfer, knowledge transfer”

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Like the rollout of the Coronavirus vaccine, the priority has been to deal with the most vulnerable communities first – and then ratchet the strategy to the lesser exposed groups in sequenced order, the objective being to address the pandemic problem at source. In this, there is a compelling message for business, which is trying to address its own long-time pandemic of low productivity growth, famously characterised by the Economist’s editor Emma Duncan that Britain’s workers are so unproductive that the French could take every Friday off and still produce more[1]. Just last year – in 2020 – the Guardian was reporting academic research showing productivity growth was the worst since the start of the Industrial Revolution 250 years ago[2]. Just as illustrative is think tank Resolution Foundation’s warning that, without improvement, the UK risks per capita incomes closer to Italy than Germany by this decade’s end[3]. And just to confirm what’s wrong, weak productivity growth, according to one of our top economists Professor Sir Charlie Bean, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, is the UK’s “biggest problem“[4].

To gain maximum traction on the Covid-19 jabs solution, the strategy has been to treat a pervasive problem with an exhaustive fix at the point of distress, i.e. where the issue potentially resides in the wider population – with everyone. In the case of the UK’s equally problematic productivity growth, remedial energies have been largely confined to top-down fiscal efforts, little of which has had any effect on the wider workforce where competitive output ultimately lives and breathes. Topping up skills and infrastructure are not unwelcome in a disadvantaged workforce but there’s also a systemic issue that’s been automatically removing much of this planned benefit. It’s been ignored for decades and impacts the decision-making skills of almost everyone in our offices and factories.

The issue is that staff turnover at every hierarchical level is now so high – around 25% a year in the UK on average, higher in the US (and that was before Covid) – that jobs disruption at executive, managerial level and the shop floor is, like the virus, continuously overwhelming. This level of corporate upheaval means that UK employees have at least 10 different employers in their working lifetimes while the US is on track for 14. So much corporate-specific knowledge and experience – both explicit and tacit – is walking out of employers’ front doors on a regular basis that both top-level strategy and lower-down operational decision-making is less than rigorous as walkabout replacements try to play catch-up with their new employers’ tried-and-tested practice and special way of working. Without such corporate awareness, new entrants risk making decisions based mostly on their previous employers’ experience rather than also taking account of their new paymasters’ special environments and circumstances. Widespread flexible working disadvantages almost everyone, impacting effective learning, hampering incremental progress – and helping to explain the UK’s productivity woes.

It’s gutting our CORPORATE experience

Another way of looking at it is that something as routine and supposedly beneficial for employers as flexible working (it provides workplace flexibility in a fast-changing marketplace) has been unconsciously and progressively gutting our employing institutions of their main asset, their own hard-won and expensively paid-for experience. This has been going on for more than 40 years, the approximate time when our productivity has been increasingly under strain. While new employees might be providing useful awareness of their previous employers, it’s also given us a rootless, disloyal and insecure workplace where jobs are constantly being disrupted, where employers’ re-employment and training costs are sky high, corporate amnesia is widespread, there’s a very high incidence of repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons, and, for an advanced business education system, an embarrassing and deafening mantra “we must learn the lessons.” These latter consequences clue up the answer – replace what the flexible labour market removes. In management speak it’s called knowledge transfer ….

Apprenticeships, mentoring and conversational access with exiting senior entrants are evident and useful familiarisation devices but their usage is uncommon and they additionally suffer from several endemic traits of recollection – short, selective and defensive memory recall of both the donor and the recipient. While these approaches could be escalated, there is another knowledge sharing approach that is more rigorous because it provides a more explicit and permanent record. It’s from skilled oral debriefings of important exiting individuals and delivered in either transcript, audio or video format to replacement employees, even to other in-situ colleagues. The two types of otherwise lost knowledge are complementary, explicit providing evidential sequence and the context of what happened while tacit’s character is derived mainly from personal experiences around the ‘how’ of know-how, which would suggest that the departed individuals’ non-presence would make it extraneous. Oral debriefing, however, provides a permanent and first-hand record, which negates the need for replacements to re-learn shared corporate features. The combination of the explicit and the tacit allows new bloods to apply their own experience more productively.

Done well, oral debriefings can provide the detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. The technique is an acknowledged tool for serious scholarship, first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection as far back as 1948 that other universities have copied – and now a potent device for offsetting the modern walkabout workplace.

Must be able to “peel onion skins”

The discipline provides for several options. Departing individuals, either on a regular basis or before they depart, pen or record their own personal experiences. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify important tacit knowledge. Experience relates that the most effective way of documenting this type of testimony/legacy is to outsource the exercise to a specialist interviewer/facilitator who has the ability to “peel onion skins” when the narrated evidence is imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, another option is to train up an internal individual to do the job, whose prime qualifications would be a critical awareness of management process and an ability not to be intimidated by authority. For this, http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/%5B5%5D provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the knowledge transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory (OM). The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

Even though knowledge sharing will never be as extensive as Covid’s vaccine reach (it will not be necessary for everyone, nor will everyone agree to it), its lesson for employers nevertheless rhymes loudly; address a key solution to our productivity problem more widely and, in terms of retrieved content, collect it more professionally.

Flexible working may well have turned in an unintended consequence but the reality is that the UK’s short-term employment workplace is, fait accompli, the adopted choice of employers and the popular call for much of the workforce, who are, in their own responsive way, using it to improve their remuneration and job prospects. At the end of the day productivity is a hands-on business and the determinations of both senior and lesser decision makers, including and especially nomadic ones, are important to keep the corporate bus moving, allow employers to efficiently apply their own experience to their new paymasters’ special environment and circumstances, even to better monitor the better-sourced decisions of the top-down strategists. Stop-start multiplied by the number of departees and replacements requires a different and better way for the workplace to do its business.

[1] https://stag.prospect.pbc.io/magazine/britains-greatest-problem
[2] https://www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/03/uk-productivity-slowdown-worst-since-industrial-revolution-study
[3] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/18/uk-economy-could-resemble-italy-by-end-of-2020s-covid-brexit-climate
[4] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2021/may/18/uk-economy-could-resemble-italy-by-end-of-2020s-covid-brexit-climate
[5] http://mrcorporateamnesia.com

Posted May 20, 2021 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

WHAT OUR SHORT-TERM EMPLOYEES TAKE AWAY   Leave a comment

WHAT OUR SHORT-TERM EMPLOYEES TAKE AWAY – YOUR COMPETITIVE EDGE

An everyday story of our old-fashioned workplace and knowledge transfer

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Employers and senior managers, picture the situation of many of your departing employees. If you’re a UK employer, the individuals – and this includes almost all ranks in the corporate hierarchy – have been with you less than five years on average and that’s before the casualties from Covid-19. The US position is even shorter. During their short time with you, you’ve likely benefitted from their diverse experience but against this you’ll sustain a period of discontinuity and an induction period when their replacements’ productivity will be low. You’re also probably going to pay for additional training to update their skills and likely endure several repeated mistakes per individual while tolerating their reinvention of a corporate wheel or two due to their unfamiliarity of your prior practice.

As the swing doors revolve behind them, consider what else they’re taking with them – the singular way they’ve learned to do the things that’s relevant to your business and your industry. Less to do with their technical skills, it comprises the unspoken, mostly subtle, obscure and intangible issues that reside under the broad heading of your cultural values, all of which dictate their unconscious and spontaneous reactions. Among these unique reflexes come from mindsets such as your belief system, which can include your corporate insights, perceptions, customs, rituals, prejudices, distinctive language, the special way of doing specific things and your company politics. They’re what’s known as tacit or cognitive knowledge, otherwise described as the of ‘how’ of know-how, different to explicit knowledge’s the ‘what’ of know-how covering the more formal type of operational know-how that can be easily codified. In truth, their combination represents the most important of all the corporate assets, so their regular and incremental loss will be impactful.

The source of your competitive advantage

Conceptually, explicit and tacit knowledge are recognisably exclusive but their interaction provides for two opportunities for added value that flexible working’s short tenure turns loose. In the first place their awareness facilitates a smoother rollout of output for employees, a passageway that, in transportation language, embodies the grease that allows the corporate wheel to run more efficiently and what academics describe as the source of competitive advantage[1]. They’re Important because every employing organisation is different and the understanding of their variances dictates employee behaviour and ultimately their decision making. Several recent Harvard Business Review studies have reported that about half of externally hired leaders fail – and not for lack of ability. They crashed because they did not mesh with company culture or the people on their teams[2]. Elsewhere, a study of 240 organizations in 2004 was conducted by TalentKeepers, which found that the greatest impact of employee turnover was lost knowledge, which had negatively affected a staggering 78% of the organisations[3].

The second add-on value refers to the interaction of the tacit with explicit knowledge, which provides the evidence and opportunity – through reflection – to reposition decision-making to accommodate both the mistakes/lessons and the employers’ new circumstances. It’s how conventional decision-making works, the academics describing the process that turns old knowledge into new knowledge. It’s the incremental way that underpins almost all progress.

But hang on. Reflection, and especially accurate reflection sufficient for better decision-making, requires an accurate memory recall – and modern short tenure employment has ensured that many employees have walked out of the front door. Without the intimate awareness of their actual experience, effective deliberation – and of course good decision making – is a non-starter across the departmental hierarchy. It is surely disconcerting to realise that in today’s flexible labour economy, the mindfulness of individual employers’ experiences doesn’t extend beyond its longest-serving employee – and then sparsely. Is this not a precursor to employers progressively losing much of their raison d’être – and then becoming almost exclusively dependent on others’ dissimilar experiences? Thenceforth, where does viva la difference, the backbone of choice and competition, stand? In fact, short-tenure employment across the corporate community has been ongoing for more than 40 years – and our competitiveness/productivity has been in crisis ever since? A real-time association?

Dealing with the dispersal of corporate know-how is the most unmanaged of the important assets in the corporate armoury, mainly because of the difficulties in recognising much of it and the difficulties employers in recording it. In reality, the distinctiveness of both the explicit and tacit elements are opportunely buried in its actual corporate-specific experience. So, what to do?

The way forward

Replace what high staff turnover displaces, NOT for the purpose of repeating past experiences, but for enabling employees, and especially replacement employees, to learn from those prior experiences, however they turned out.

Where such recollections can be most effectively retrieved in a short tenure environment is in the application called oral debriefing, which focuses on the skilful capture of short- and medium-term organisational memory (OM) delivered in either transcript, audio or video format to replacement employees, even to in-situ colleagues. Done well, they can provide the detailed familiarity not available in traditional tutelage and/or standard induction processes. Oral history is already an acknowledged tool for serious scholarship; it was first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author/historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 that other universities have copied.

But, for this to happen requires a positive cultural change in attitudes to knowledge sharing in the modern short-tenure workplace among employees and their employers/managers.

Employees, for one, generally feel proprietorial about their knowledge. It’s been especially self-evident ever since the flexible labour market took hold in the 1980s – and arguably justifiable in our competitive job marketplace. It’s given the workforce much more leverage and opportunity in their employment – but at the expense of their employers. While gaining wider experience, employers sacrifice their own knowledge and the advantage of jobs continuity. It’s not insupportable for both to have robust constituent bodies.

Two things need to happen – employees have to be persuaded to share their knowledge and employers/managers will need to acknowledge that knowledge sharing goes to the heart of how to better survive in a flexible labour economy. Without it, the intimate parts of the employers’ prime intellectual capital just spin off uselessly, benefitting neither, especially if employers are disadvantaged.

The big question: Who owns your knowledge?

There is a strong – and obvious – argument to support a collaborative culture change. Just settle the question: who owns the knowledge and experience that employees acquire in their employers’ service? Up to now, employers have not generally challenged employees’ presumption that it belongs to them, a likely hangover from the days when a job-for-life was commonplace and employees’ corporate knowledge would invariably be accessible. Today, it’s both relevant and decisive to ensuring efficient continuity in today’s merry-go-round workplace, in which case knowledge title can be addressed with the simple argument that by paying for it, employers also have proprietorship. In other words, the knowledge and experience acquired during employees tenure is JOINTLY owned, a reality that can be reflected in conditions of employment by allowing the employer the right to capture and share it.

The truth is that not everyone is going to cooperate with knowledge sharing, among them dismissals and those individuals who are made redundant. But the number of employees who leave of their own accord, including retirees and individuals who don’t mind sharing their knowledge – usually the more important decision-makers anyway – is high enough in today’s flexible labour market to make a difference.

Ordinarily, knowledge capture can be timed ahead of departures and delivered to replacements immediately after induction/onboarding. Or it can be done at regular intervals, say once a year at a quiet time, after important events or, in the case of long projects, during the project cycle. And even if it becomes necessary to offer some sort of disbursement to encourage full cooperation, it is good value to smooth jobs and workplace disruption, provide the lost evidence to allow proper reflection, improve decision making and prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel

How to do it?

Having addressed the WHY of knowledge sharing comes the HOW to do it.

There are several options against the endemic background that everyone suffers from short, selective and defensive memory. The first is that individuals, either on a regular basis or before they depart, pen or record their experiences. As a general rule, individuals, even senior decision makers, are notoriously poor communicators when it comes to autobiography and especially with difficult-to-appreciate and identify tacit knowledge. Experience relates that the most effective way of documenting this type of testimony/legacy is to outsource the exercise with a specialist interviewer/facilitator, who has the ability to “peel onion skins” when the related evidence is imprecise. When employers/managers find this too personal or private for an outsider, a third option is to train up an internal individual to do the job, whose prime qualifications would be a critical awareness of management process and an ability not to be intimidated by authority. For this, http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/[4] provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the knowledge transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from short- medium- and long-term organisational memory. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

The state of the modern workplace is acknowledged to be dire. Its nomadic character has brought with it rootlessness, disloyalty and insecurity. Short tenure employment now demands a different approach to getting things done. Corporate-specific knowledge transfer across the generations is one constructive approach, with consideration given to wider legacy handover across the departmental spectrum.

[1] https://eprints.bbk.ac.uk/id/eprint/22775/
[2]https://hbr.org/2014/01/for-senior-leaders-fit-matters-more-than-skill#:~:text=Outside%20hires%20take%20twice%20as,a%20leader%20promoted%20from%20within.&text=And%20ultimately%2C%20of%20the%2040,within%20the%20first%2018%20months
[3] https://www.thecompetencygroup.com/blog/the-effect-of-corporate-knowledge-loss/
[4] http://mrcorporateamnesia.com/

Some Blue Sky   Leave a comment

SOME BLUE SKY THINKING TO DEAL WITH TODAY’S OLD-FASHIONED WORKPLACE

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Picture the pre-Covid-19 workplace. Workers, including professionals and senior decision-makers, were changing their employer every five years on average, requiring businesses and other employing organisations to rehire and induct continuously high numbers of employees, at least in the UK. In the US, staff turnover was even higher. Such short-tenure employment, which was widely reducing individuals’ higher productivity periods for their employers, was already providing a continuous drag on efficient output.

Now, just one year later alongside Covid-19, there’s a huge number of employees working from home. Some are calling them hybrid or furlough workers, all of whom are now even more disconnected from their employers and colleagues. Linked to a corporate base by wi-fi, their new relationship with their employer is disjointed, more confusing and without much hands-on support from their bosses or colleagues. Individuals are now their own supervisor having to make many of their own unfamiliar work decisions. Importantly, there is little or no main office connection, no shared cultural signposts on which to depend and no toe-to-toe leadership or feedback. Many employees are on their own for the very first time. With independence, the environment might seem sweet to some but corporately and personally, isolation is the new reality and the reinforcement of a collegial business ethos is almost as rare as hens’ teeth.

What’s happened to home workers is that employee remoteness is removing the intimacy of the employers’ cultural environment and the awareness of corporate practice, both staples of co-operative progress. This, in turn, impacts the organic journey that depends on building one experience on another. In truth, the mainstay of evolvement has disengaged itself, even for those short termers who don’t end up working away. Both types of individuals are working with just their acquired skills and prior experiences – and, crucially, NOT alongside their current employers’ special and hard-won knowledge and cultural environment. Flexible working and Covid-19 are transforming almost everything by helping employers to largely lose their unique raison d’être. In effect, both employers and employees are working with only a half deck of cards.

However change comes about, uninitiated employees still have to be relatable to their new employer’s pertinent resident differences and particularly their special circumstances. This is usually attempted through piecemeal induction/onboarding that takes up around a fifth of employees’ remaining tenure – and often more – to become fully productive. As it is, it doesn’t mean that because workers are more mobile or remote, an employers’ past or organisational memory (OM) is any less important, or even irretrievable.

Just replace what’s lost

So, what to do? Or to put it better, how to continue to take advantage of being more fully incremental? Instead of having to completely reinvent the workplace, how can an employer make continuous what has become discontinuous – and then provide an organic way of sustaining that change? In management speak it’s called experiential learning (EL), a much-overlooked way of more effectively learning from experience in today’s highly flexible labour market, where the loss of established practice through departures has given our sophisticated workplaces its own pandemic of repeated mistakes, re-invented wheels and other unlearned lessons. For proof, the vaccines rollout notwithstanding, just refer to Covid’s stumbling beginnings that has put the UK’s pandemic deaths and costs at the bottom of the G7 barrel. And where conventional decision making hasn’t yet tried to deal with the departed detail of short-tenure’s exited knowledge and experience.

The most powerful way of doing this is to provide that which both home and flexible working removes. 

Important employees can be provided with professionally constructed and detailed oral debriefings of their departing predecessors that go way beyond conventional exit interviews, typically constructed to try and learn why employees leave. For the more specialist approach, the required debriefing skills have generally been unskilled or outsourced but because of the private and intimate nature of corporate debriefing, a new Toolkit is available for employers to train up suitable in-house individuals to carry out the debriefings themselves (http://www.mrcorporateamnesia.com/). It’s backed up with a mentoring service. 

To accommodate remote working, such evidence could be collected, for example, after 12 months in the first instance or when all short tenure employees are replaced. Delivered to replacements via audio, video or transcript, continuity could then be efficiently replaced for learning to address the missing knowledge and experiences of both employers and their employees. Productivity depends on it.