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‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT’   Leave a comment

‘IF IT AIN’T BROKE, DON’T FIX IT’: WHY THIS IS BAD BUSINESS ADVICE ON TOP OF POOR LEARNING OUTCOMES FROM FAILURE

When it comes to learning from one’s own corporate experience, there are two main areas of educational focus. The first is from failure and the second from success. If anything, most deliberation is directed at the former, whose triumphs are hardly evident in today’s low-productivity workplace, while success is widely ignored, probably because it is seen as the lesser priority and the wide acceptance of a modern proverb that says if something is working adequately well, leave it alone+.

In explaining the non-learning attitude to success, the Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2011/04/why-leaders-dont-learn-from-success) says that leaders typically make fundamental attribution errors by presuming that it is their talents and business model that are responsible. Decision-makers also give short shrift to the part played by environmental factors and random events while displaying so-called ‘overconfidence bias’ with a failure to systemically examine the causes of good performance.

The truth is that learning can take place from both success and failure for one big fact of modern business life – that both are subject to changing circumstances and environments in today’s fast-moving marketplace. Whether the erstwhile outcome was positive or negative, the change factor means that the decisions related to both need to be reapplied, a reality that requires a resolute mindfulness of earlier experience. Unfortunately, the modern flexible labour market – the average number of employers in a working lifetime is now around 10 in the UK, more in the US – disallows much of this, a workplace transformation that employers have yet to adequately address. Covid-19 will no doubt be adding to these totals as well as providing a new tranche of hard-won corporate knowledge loss.

Even the traditional approach to learning – the post-project review – becomes flawed when employees move on, among them top decision-makers and professionals who are now increasingly more mobile. Their actual input suffers from second- or third-hand recall from remaining employees, which inevitably influences the quality of any reflection and application.

Whilst admitting that success can breed failure by hindering learning at both the individual and the organisational level, HBR’s explanation falls short by disregarding the prime capital factor that the workplace is hampered by high staff turnover’s continual exodus of much prior corporate awareness across the employers’ different/specialist activities. Adding to this, the non-focus on corporate success means that organisations’ opportunity value for learning is actually very low. It’s an uncomfortable explanation for employers’ difficulties around organic and productivity growth, which can be corrected by another management oversight – knowledge sharing.

Short- and medium-term organisational experience – aka institutional memory – can be retained by skilled oral debriefing, most commonly of important departees for the benefit of their replacements, and long-term memory by properly researched and written corporate history, which can be updated on a regular basis. Provided to employees and replacements at induction/onboarding, they can smooth jobs and workplace disruption, prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel, provide the lost evidence to allow for proper reflection by the new kids on the block (and colleagues) and improve decision-making.

See mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do such knowledge capture and transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture and learn from these mediums. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.

+ The proverb relating to leaving success out of the learning cycle is attributed to one Thomas Bertram Lance, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget in US President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 administration, who was quoted in the newsletter of the US Chamber of Commerce, Nation’s Busines (May 1977) as saying that “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” It’s a maxim that’s stuck but as general advice to commerce and industry, it hides a huge learning opportunity.

Posted August 19, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

Open Letter   Leave a comment

AN OPEN LETTER TO OWNERS & TOP APPOINTEES IN COMPANIES AND OTHER ORGANISATIONS ….

Dear Principal Decision Maker,

Capture it – or lose this valuable slice of your intellectual capital

As one of the top decision makers in your organisation. I wonder if I might run something past you concerning the important question of who owns the knowledge and experience that your employees acquire in your employ. When they leave, employees traditionally consider it proprietorially theirs, in spite of the fact that you’ve actually paid for it. In truth, ownership is shared which, if this was acknowledged, offers you an unprecedented opportunity to salvage an important corporate asset that others abandon and which you could use to advantage.   

Given your position, you’re best placed to reference the twin issues of our very flexible labour market and knowledge sharing more authoritatively.  

This is crucial in today’s stop-start and cold-start workplace, where you induct new appointees, you train them, you provide them with the resources necessary to do their jobs and then, typically, they leave for other employers after a relatively short time (average tenure across the board is now around five years in the UK, less in the US). Other than the emails they leave behind, you, the employer, then has no access to any of the other, special non-explicit knowledge and experience with which you could reflect and learn. In effect, flexible working and your nomadic employees are disenfranchising you from your own know-how and stalling potential progress.  

If your more important employees could be dissuaded about their restricted title, imagine the added value you could access from capturing their knowledge and experience before departure and sharing it with their replacements and others? It’s something that employees can also benefit from – by improving their own performance in a much shorter timeframe. We specialise in knowledge transfer.    

I have written a short article explaining the wider issues around knowledge ownership in our highly flexible labour market and how this know-how can be shared. As you’ll appreciate, it’s a cultural issue that is a hangover from the time when short tenure was unusual and the organisations’ practice was always readily available. I have also produced a step-by-step TOOLKIT http://mrcorporateamnesia.com for employers to do the knowledge capture and sharing themselves. It is a serious effort to solve a systemic problem impacting our wider decision-making ability and our organic and productivity growth.

Of course, I’d be happy to mentor you through the process if you’re interested but if you support the idea of knowledge transfer, it would also be helpful if you could comment on this ground-breaking idea.

Collegially.

Arnold Kransdorff,
ak@mrcorporateamnesia.com
Website www.pencorp.co.uk
Blog https://biggernumbers.wordpress.com/
Twitter @mr_c_amnesia

Posted July 20, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

SERIOUSLY   1 comment

SERIOUSLY, WHY THE UNSPOKEN ATTITUDE TO KNOWLEDGE OWNERSHIP HAS TO CHANGE 

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Covid-19 aside, something seemingly insignificant is stalling the modern Western-style way of working. It’s around 45 years old and allows commerce and industry to react more efficiently to changing market circumstances but a dark, unintended consequence is offsetting its intended edge. 

What’s happening is that employers are disenfranchising themselves from their own hard-won and expensively acquired knowledge and experience. Specifically, their special learned competencies are constantly being removed and replaced by others’ corporate experiences that have to be reshaped to become relevant. As such, progress is constantly being reigned in; a classic case of corporate backsliding, a one-step-forward, one-step-back scenario imposed by a policy intended to be beneficial.

It’s the embedded, unaddressed and still unacknowledged impact of very high staff turnover, a phenomenon that’s been accelerating as many employees, professionals and even board-level decision makers now actively change employers to improve their remuneration and career prospects. For years such flexibility was seen as a positive influence, a sign that the economy was purposefully responsive to market forces, even an example that other, less flexible economies should follow.   

But consider this. In the two big flexible labour economies, the UK and the US, short tenure employment sees off up to 28% of employees every year. Along with them goes a substantial amount of their employers’ distinctive knowledge and experience. This is happening across the board, involving every level of activity.

While this flight of knowledge unquestionably helps to improve the general level of business awareness – and thus the overall quality of available experience in the wider workforce – much of the actual hard work that individual employers invest in themselves is lost. In truth, this means businesses are inducting and training each other with each other’s irrelevant personal specifics alongside the indirect disadvantage of having to endlessly re-educate themselves with the valuable intellectual capital they’ve already created and paid for.

The impact

The impact can be easily appraised by the escalated costs of re-employment and induction/onboarding, re-training, high workplace and jobs disruption and the increased level of repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons. Then, the insufficient efforts at bringing new employees up to speed are only fruitful for a much-reduced proportion of their short tenures. It’s the elephant in the room that employers and educators/trainers have negligently overlooked.

What employers lose is not the kind of knowledge that most organisations can retrieve from their walkabout employees’ emails. Rather, it’s the tacit or cognitive part of their knowledge base, the more important ‘how’ and ‘why’ of know-how essential for contextual, reflective and corrective application. This includes the unspoken, mostly subtle, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific issues that are buried in the organisations’ actual experience and which academics describe as the source of competitive advantage.

If the wholesale exchange of irrelevant corporate material is unavoidable – i.e. rooted high staff churn can’t be dramatically reduced – what needs to happen is for employers to replace the key part of what all those nomadic employees remove, notably the valuable non-explicit knowledge and experience that greases the corporate wheel. Put even more simply, employers need to transfer the important knowledge and experience of the outward bound to the new kid on the block, which can be done effectively via skilled oral debriefings delivered through the mediums of transcript, oral or video format.

But employees typically insist that their acquired knowledge and experience is proprietorially theirs, so why should they give it up? Up to now, employers have not generally challenged this presumption, a likely hangover from the days when a job-for-life was commonplace and their corporate knowledge would invariably be accessible.

But the flexible labour market has changed everything and its overall effect on the workplace is big enough to impact the corporate viability of the institutions that support our way of working and living. No longer can an employer draw on the full extent of its own knowledge and experience to reflect and learn. So, what to do, specifically how to persuade mobile employees to allow their employer to share their knowledge and experience in the new normal workplace environment of stop-start and cold-start short tenure employment? Covid-19, of course, will aggravate staff turnover even further.

The issue of knowledge title can be addressed with the simple argument that by paying for it, employers have joint ownership of the knowledge and experience acquired during their employees’ tenure, a reality that can be reflected in employees’ 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 – 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 or 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, prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel, provide the lost evidence to allow proper reflection and improve decision making.

Employer-explicit knowledge sharing goes to the heart of how to survive in a flexible labour economy. Without it, the intimate part of an employers’ intellectual capital just spins off uselessly. Employers need to acknowledge its true worth and not let it go walkabout.

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com 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.

Posted July 10, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

HOW TO AVOID THE EXPECTED MISMANAGEMENT   Leave a comment

NEW: HOW TO AVOID THE EXPECTED MISMANAGEMENT OF BORIS JOHNSON’s POST-COVID RECOVERY PROJECTS

 There is one hugely conspicuous promise embedded in Boris Johnson’s latest post-coronavirus recovery plan that details where he’s going to spend £5 billion. His build build build mantra to construct hospitals, roads, schools, homes, prisons, new broadband and other improvements to parks, High Streets and transport facilities involves a lot of individual and big projects – and you know how good we are at doing projects.  

If experience teaches us anything, many of them will be over-budget and/or overdue, which means there’s going to be much poor value for the taxpayer. For the uninformed, the Government’s admitted botch rate is high – in 2018, 80% of projects across various government departments were classed as being either in doubt, hindered by problems or virtually unachievable. A third of projects had costs of more than £1 billion.

Quoting the imposed urgency of the Covid-19 challenge and the Nightingale hospitals and ventilator responses, the Prime Minister insists that the challenge they provided was evidence that the projects could be done right and done better. Infrastructure, he said, had the power to rebuild and repair the country – “and we will”.

So why the scepticism? And what to do about it? An examination of the record is instructive. 

There is a huge amount of detail from the many routine post-project reviews that explain the why, all suggesting – nay confirming – that we don’t learn well from experience. So why are we so poor at this most systemic of management skills?

The reflection aspect of learning

It’s because we don’t know how to properly reflect and learn. It’s not only my opinion. The observation has been around for almost a century, when the celebrated US educational reformer John Dewey, observed that “We don’t learn from experience. We learn from reflecting on experience.” Since then the skill’s been updated by the likes of Professor David Kolb, who has refined the reflection part of the learning process.

The reason why reflection is so important is that the passage of time always changes the reality of prior experience, which means that it forever needs to be applied to new circumstances and environments. It’s a skill that educators and trainers have yet to pass on in sufficient measure alongside the inescapable reality that coal-face decision makers also have to be aware of their employers’ corporate experiences. And the reason for this element’s absenteeism is the unacknowledged phenomenon that accounts for the biggest change in the workplace for more than 40 years – the flexible labour market.

As unexpected as this reason might be, the simple fact of high staff turnover – average tenure is around five years in the UK, less in the US, with project managers among the more mobile – means that employers’ awareness of their unique and hard-won corporate knowledge and experience at all levels of specialism is low. It has walked out of the front door, leaving little for rolling generations of employees to reflect upon and, ipso facto, little possibility of actual learning. The direction of progress is not north ….. 

Because all organisations are different, the lesson this teaches is that non-employer experiences are only partially relevant to good decision making. And that while short-tenure employment provides the opportunity for organisations to more quickly adapt to changing market opportunities, the downside of continuous workplace disruption and corporate knowledge loss needs to be better accommodated by the support of all the players in Boris Johnson’s open cheque book plan, namely the finance provider, the background educators/trainers, the project managers and their subordinates. Which brings up the question of what to do? 

Simply replace what short tenure removes – i.e. the non-email content of important individuals’ know-how known as tacit or cognitive knowledge. This type of knowledge is mainly unspoken and uncommunicated, subtle, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific, all of which is buried in tried-and-tested experience that academics describe as the source of competitive advantage.  

This can be done through skilful and specialised oral debriefings and delivered in transcript, audio or video format. For projects, this should be done ahead of departures for the benefit of replacements or, if the project is especially lengthy, at regular intervals during the project cycle.  

At a stroke this helps to smooth jobs disruption, prevent new hires from having to reinvent the corporate wheel, provide the lost evidence to allow proper reflection by both the new kids on the block and colleagues, improve decision-making and disallow so much poor value for the taxpayer. It’s also called productivity, that which the UK is famously under endowed. Alongside his ‘Build Build Build’ and his ‘Jobs Jobs Jobs’ refrains, Mr Johnson has invoked Tony Blair’s Education, Education, Education mantra of 2007. 

Another promise from on high, another under-delivery or …? 

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge capture and 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.

Posted July 3, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

IF YOU’RE HIRING   Leave a comment

IF YOU’RE HIRING, SEE HOW YOU COULD DRAMATICALLY IMPROVE THE PERFORMANCE OF YOUR LEAVER’S SUCCESSOR

A Harvard Business School investigation into the hiring of supposed “stars” should get the attention of employers in today’s very flexible labour market that’s been radically upset further by Covid-19’s staff contraction. When organisations are ready to begin hiring again, be aware: the proposed new kids on the block might not be up to their expectations.

In the world of talent acquisition, competence is usually measured by educational qualifications and experience but employers often overestimate the value of the latter. The Harvard study into the phenomenon of corporate poaching, which represents a large proportion of executive and vocational churn, found that after supposed ‘stars’ moved from their old employer, their performances invariably plunged, as did the effectiveness and market value of their new paymasters. Although the research was done in 2004 there is no reason to believe that much has changed since or that lesser mortals might not be different.

Contrary to popular belief, the explanation was that employers overlook the fact that executive performance is not entirely transferable because personal competencies invariably include company-specific resources that have been left behind.

It’s a conclusion that also endorses the value of emplyees’ ‘left behind’ knowledge and experience, which happens to provide the failsafe solution of a radical new approach to induction and onboarding – skilled knowledge transfer between exiting employees and their replacements. Employers typically try and do this by sometimes overlapping senior individuals and via their induction/onboarding processes. But, as conventional practices show, induction periods still take up to a year and sometimes more for new hires to settle in. Without an intimate awareness of their hosts’ own knowledge and experience, their decision-making on behalf of their new employer is inevitably less than rigorous. There is a better way.

The better way

By providing the incoming employee with a comprehensive oral debrief of the knowledge and experience of the outgoing individual. This’ll require employees to change their attitude to knowledge ownership – they typically believe it is proprietorially theirs – but because employers have paid for it, title is actually jointly held. Employers can therefore request access, an ask that should be obligatory and form part of their terms of employment. While difficult to legally enforce, sensitive handling is required but usually considered flattering by employees who leave of their own accord. Some form of remuneration could be offered for their cooperation.

Delivered in either transcript, audio or video format immediately after induction, the debrief should offer a detailed first-hand account with which to kick-start the new hire’s cold-start employment. Done well, this smooths overall workplace disruption, cuts short normal induction times and helps to avoid the commonplace corporate amnesia that previously dogged the workplace. Given that the average tenure of today’s employees is around five years – so-called stars are among the more mobile – it increases the new employee’s high productivity period. Significantly, the ‘straight from the horse’s mouth’ account also provides the replacement (and other colleagues) with a permanent record that can be referred to at any time.

This solution takes care of the short- and medium-term memory that would otherwise be lost. There is also a way of providing employers’ long-term memory, which would extend corporate awareness even further. Immediately after appointment and before induction, new hires could be provided with a suitable-produced corporate history, which could be updated at regular intervals. What usually happens with this product is that it is published as part of a celebratory occasion once or twice every 100 years.

Consider the stop-start workplace scenario where cold-start employees now get inducted virtually immediately. And employers don’t have to worry too much about working with uninitiated short-tenure employees. It’s called proper Experiential Learning (EL) in a flexible labour economy.   

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge capture and 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.

Posted June 29, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

OUR CHANGED WAY OF WORKING NEEDS BUSINESS EDUCATION   Leave a comment

OUR CHANGED WAY OF WORKING NEEDS BUSINESS EDUCATION & TRAINING TO FILL A VERY BIG BLACK HOLE

AN OPEN DISCUSSION ON HOW WE (DON’T) TEACH THE UK TO DO BUSINESS

There are plenty of plaudits for one area of business education that gets little attention from the modern manager. Unfortunately the applause is only articulated by the older group of successful businessmen, management consultants and academics, many of them now deceased, like Sir Peter Parker, a former chairman of British Rail (“ … a missing dimension”), Sir Alistair Pilkington, the late chairman of glass makers Pilkington (“Lack of awareness must put us a disadvantage”), Sir George Blunden, a former deputy Governor of the Bank of England (“Why reinvent the wheel”) and many others. All advocated business history as a necessary component of the education of businessmen and women, best espoused by the words of the UK’s first Professor of Business History, Leslie Hannah, “History provides experience cheaply” (extracted, The Death of Wisdom, Arnold Kransdorff, Business Express Press, 2012).

In the UK’s educational sector the discipline is represented by several associated professional bodies while there are small groups of academics who turn to business to find subjects on which to base their research; also there is a larger community that focusses on the allied field of economics. But little business history filters down to general business or tertiary education, even post graduate education, with the result that the working community at large is essentially bereft of much awareness of their broad business or even sectoral past. The closest business history gets to any curriculum are references to Britain being the forerunner of the industrial revolution and snapshot accounts of real-life business scenarios known as case studies, usually of well-known non-UK companies. 

It’s instructive that politics, the military, music, art and other disciplines even some crafts, use their generic history in the education of their professions, yet not business. If anything, the field is left to commercial publishers and television producers who use mostly professional writers/reporters to investigate important business subjects and, on behalf of a diminished band of companies, print their corporate histories to celebrate important anniversaries once or twice every 100 years. It surely appears that academics primarily produce the product for themselves, the modern manager is history phobic and, for wider society, an explanation for little understanding of the world of work. 

This particular oversight aside, and apart from low-circulation and widely discredited corporate histories, there is another section of business history that is glaringly ignored.  To use IT language, it’s the Small Data counterpart to Big Data, the lesser account of ‘history’ at the more immediate corporate level, more fashionably called institutional or organisational memory (OM) that happens at the coalface of commerce and industry.

Identifying this area is pertinent because of the uprooted system of employment. Not too long ago it was commonplace for employees to have one or two employers in their working lifetimes. Today, the flexible labour market has dramatically increased the current tally in the UK to 10 and rising (in the US it’s 14), providing average tenures of less than five years. It is the single biggest change in the workplace for perhaps 50 years. 

What the flexible labour market has done is to dramatically disrupt the workplace at every level and across commerce and industry, leaving employers and resident employees with no longer-term corporate memory, no medium-term memory and only a disconnected short-term memory. And because every employer is different – they’re dissimilar in their culture and special way of doing things – this miscellany requires employees to more quickly and better understand the singular ways each employer works. As it is, short-changed induction/onboarding processes reduce new employees’ high productivity periods by at least 12 months of their short tenures, which helps to explain why employers find it so difficult to improve organic and productivity growth. 

To address this, employers need only capture the organisational memory of key exiting employees through skilful and comprehensive debriefing, and transfer it via transcript, audio or video to their replacements, thus smoothing workplace disruption and avoiding widespread corporate amnesia. Thereafter, acknowledged decision-making methodologies need to incorporate this additional evidence when determinations are reflected upon and applied. To serve employers’ long-term memory, the traditional corporate history needs to be more suitably produced, with contemporary history updated at regular intervals. 

Alongside this more appropriate long-term overview, consider the stop-start workplace scenario where cold-start employees don’t have to work with short-changed evidence. And employers can continue to work with short-tenure employees. It’s called proper experiential learning in a flexible labour economy that also uses the acquired wisdom of Messrs Parker, Pilkington, Blunden and Hannah. Address the obvious problems of knowledge capture and it’s a no-brainer for Win-Win ….

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge capture and 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.

Posted June 22, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

COVID-19 ADVICE TO BUSINESS:   Leave a comment

COVID-19 ADVICE TO BUSINESS: “DON’T LET YOUR HARD-WON KNOWLEDGE & EXPERIENCE WALK OUT OF THE FRONT DOOR”

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

Covid-19’s devastating impact on both employment numbers and gross domestic product has renewed the importance of productivity as the best way of achieving any sort of recovery. This representative measure of corporate and national output in several big Western economies has been difficult enough for too long, so how? 

By fixing their dysfunctional workplaces.

This might sound glaringly self-evident but consider this: There is an intimate connection between productivity and the workplace that is often missed, the former being a function of how effective the latter is. Fix the workplace and the journey will become easier. 

But the state of the West’s modern workplace is dire, its tenants being nomadic, rootless, disloyal and insecure, a place where jobs are constantly being disrupted, where employers’ re-employment and training costs are sky high and, because important employer-specific knowledge and experience is regularly dispersed, decision-making is less than rigorous. All this is hardly conducive to efficient organic and productivity growth – and Covid-19’s devastating effect is only going to make things worse. 

The return of high staff turnover

While the virus’s immediate after-effect will likely reduce the turnover of those employees who survive the workplace bloodbath, the endemic presence of staff churn will soon return as employers vie with each other for the available expertise. And employees will continue to use flexible working as a pretext to increase their remuneration and career prospects.       

How difficult is this going to be for employers?

Very. In truth, well-nigh impossible for many years. For one simple reason – the breakdown in the employers’ knowledge and experience base. The initial departure of so many employees means the loss of enormous amounts of hard-won expertise at all levels that employers will need to reconstruct and then use to recover. And later, as recruitment picks up, there will be the resumption of the ‘new-normal’ staff turnover levels. For a reminder, ‘old-normal’ churn – just five months before at the time of writing – meant that up to 28% of employees changed their employer every year in the two big flexible labour economies of the US and the UK. 

How to do it

The answer? Implement a multi-level knowledge retention programme of skilled oral debriefings in either transcript, audio or video formats to firstly capture the knowledge and experience of as many of the important first-wave departees as possible. For suitable cooperation, offers could be made to supplement redundancy packages. This would cover the immediate knowledge-loss problem. The programme could then be continued to address future know-how losses that would occur from the new-normal staff turnover. Because it is a permanent record, the captured knowledge and experience could be retrieved at any stage and recycled to serve both in-situ employees as well as replacements. 

Importantly, such a programme would help to maintain a level of operational continuity in the workplace, contain what’s called corporate amnesia at the employers’ many functioning levels, and help both decision-making and productivity. Employers could then turn to mending the other dysfunction aspects of the flexible labour market – its rootlessness, disloyalty and insecurity. 

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do 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. 

+ In different – but not too different circumstances – one of the best examples of this was in Los Alamos, the birthplace of the Atomic Bomb. In the wake of the US Government’s decision to stop testing nuclear weapons, officials were concerned that the skills it has developed would atrophy. In the event that it has to one day resume testing, it undertook a massive programme to ensure that the expensively-acquired expertise it has accumulated over the years was not lost forever as archives progressively degenerated and scientists retired. As part of the programme, retired weaponeers were brought back for videotaped interviews intended to salvage information about nuclear bombs that could never be gleaned from blueprints and archived documentation. The Los Alamos researchers recorded about 2,000 videotapes. Behind the need to guarantee that they retained the expertise to build atomic bombs was to ensure that they did not have to re-invent the wheel. “We don’t want to press the erase button on our memory and go back to where we were 50 years ago,” said John D. Immele, director of nuclear weapons technology at Los Alamos (extract, ‘Corporate Amnesia, Keeping Know-how in the Company’, by Arnold Kransdorff, Butterworth Heinmann, 1998).

Posted June 14, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

Topical   2 comments

NEW: OVER BUDGET & OVERDUE – HOW TO FIX PROJECT MANAGEMENT IN A FLEXIBLE LABOUR MARKET

SO MANY comings and goings are not an unusual scenario in today’s very flexible labour market. Assuming conditions will eventually return after Covid-19, project managers, especially good ones, will continue to be in great demand and, in addition to the usual list of reasons why they leave, they, like others in today’s disruptive workplace, will transfer their skills between employers keen to pay higher salaries. Actual turnover rates for project managers are difficult to find but some 2020 research by the UK’s Association for Project Management (APM) found that around 34% of its membership said they were likely to change employers in the next 12 months, a rate in excess of staff turnover elsewhere in the economy.

Given that the projects they manage can be among the bigger investments in the corporate roll, their smooth implementation is important. Yet their outcomes are often over budget, overdue, even unfeasible, exactly as the extended list of failed and problematic projects in both the public and private sectors can testify. A big part of the official explanation for project under-performance Is workplace ‘instability’ as the UK’s The Institute for Government acknowledged in 2018.

It revealed that 80% of projects across various government departments were classed as being either in doubt, hindered by problems or virtually unachievable. A third of projects had costs of more than £1 billion, most being contracted to the private sector. At the top of the decision-making tree, it found that 85 out of 122 ministers had been moved to new posts since the general election the previous year. In all departments, new posts were also augmented by operational departures proper to other employers.

When first-hand walks away

When project managers move, the left-behind project falters from four distinct sources – from the workplace disruption triggered by the departing individuals, the replacements’ lack of intimate familiarity with both their new employer and the project they’re about to work on and the interim- or post-project reviews, whose reflective contributions towards improvements occur without the first-hand inputs from the departed. From both sitting and departing managers there are even the common memory issues of endemic short-, selective and defensive recall that muddies the project’s waters.

The combined impact on project performance is great as the extent of failed projects in both the public and private sectors proclaim. At the bigger end of the project list, remember Carillion (cost £6.3 billion)) and the Garden Bridge (cost £53m) in the UK, the US’s Boeing 737-Max (346 lives lost), Europe’s Volkswagen’s vehicle emissions system (cost €30 billion) and Airbus A380’s discontinued production (cost undeclared, but certainly billions of dollars in lost opportunity and other costs)? Covid-19 is going to top everything by a large margin. No less evident, the project failures in smaller companies can be equally difficult to sustain.

Given the relative costs and huge importance of many projects, ANY practical and realistic solution would surely be acceptable.

Straight from the horse’s mouth

With the turnover of project managers difficult to control, the best recourse for any improvement is through the traditional project reviews which, depending on project length, are normally carried out during implementation and/or after completion. But how can this pathway be made to work more effectively when the recollection of departed individuals – the ‘straight from the horse’s mouth accounts’ – are available in only second- or third-hand form from fellow project managers and others? And then there’s the associated common-place memory loss from resident employees that, of course, becomes progressively less exacting with time.  

For the nomadic manager – and of course the employer – the fail-safe solution is to transfer the knowledge and experience of the outgoing individuals to their replacements through skilled debriefings in transcript, audio or video format. While the departees’ operational emails will likely provide much of the acquired explicit knowledge and experience around the project – the what of know-how – they customarily lack the tacit or cognitive part of the knowledge content, the how and why of know-how that are essential for contextual, reflective and corrective application. This includes the mostly subtle, otherwise unspoken, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific issues that are buried in the project’s actual experience. Alongside the replacements’ own experience, this first-hand account can then be transformed into new knowledge through reflective and corrective application to new circumstances and environments – otherwise known as Experiential Learning (EL). Typically, this type of ‘evidence’ is best collected by a practiced interviewer.  

At a stroke, the availability of such detailed awareness of the project’s modus operandi will reduce both project and wider workplace disruption and replace the detail that would otherwise be lost. Done expertly, the debriefs are actual first-hand accounts that can be revisited at any time.

There’s a variation to correct the other problem of sitting managers whose memories suffer from prevalent short-, selective and defensive recall; carry out equally rigorous debriefings at regular intervals during the project.  

For both categories of project managers, employers will be able to better tolerate continual workplace disruption. And with the improved awareness of the project’s detail, replacement project managers will be able to better capitalise on their skills through improved decision-making.

A variation of the equine proverb “For want of a nail, the war was lost” is a good remedial analogy.

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do 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. 

RETHINK OUR FAILED BUSINESS MODEL   Leave a comment

THE POST-CORONAVIRUS CHALLENGE FACING BUSINESS: RETHINK OUR FAILED BUSINESS MODEL

Skilled knowledge transfer between old & new employees to tackle huge workplace discontinuity & knowledge loss

By Arnold Kransdorff

AS if Covid-19 wasn’t bad enough, the virus has got something ELSE up its sleeve. It’s just as invisible and will have an even more devastating impact. Not in the same, tragic, deathly way but on how employers work. Largely unacknowledged, it’s been happening in a big enough way for decades but Coronavirus’s arrival and its widespread poor management has focussed its impact to the point that the traditional business model’s decision-making processes must be considered flawed.

Perfectly illustrated by the latest news that companies like Rolls-Royce is to offload 9,000 jobs worldwide, it’s the loss of the company’s special corporate memory at its many different levels, otherwise known by what it inflicts on employers: corporate amnesia. Imagine the amount of uniquely valuable institutional-specific knowledge and experience, all hard-won and expensively acquired, that will walk out of R-R’s front door? Then imagine the incredibly steep learning curve it will have to swallow to recover its momentum with new employees? 

Imagine …?

For a more quantified indication of Covid-19’s additional impact, a back-of-the-envelope estimate by the University of Essex is that layoffs will number 6.5 million in the UK, that’s from 32% of companies. In the US, it will impact upwards of 33 million people. In many cases employing organisations will have no option but to reinvent their corporate wheels.  

Worldwide, the effect on literally millions of companies is inestimable; when and if they return, many will, like R-R, also have no option but to renew themselves.

And the tragedy of it all is that it is now too late to do much about it.  

But not too late to reconsider our traditional business model to address the lesser problem of the flexible labour market, which is having a similar effect. Whilst not delivering the same difficulties that Covid-19 presents, its workplace disruption and knowledge loss is still huge enough to restrain organic and productivity growth for precisely the same reasons. With top decision-makers and important operatives among the more mobile, workplaces in the UK, the US and Canada, the main flexible labour economies, provide employees with average tenures of less than five years and up to 14 different employers in their working lifetimes. However ‘experienced’ rolling employees are, prevalent jobs discontinuity and corporate amnesia are hugely disadvantageous to good decision making.

Whenever the flexible labour market or high staff turnover is discussed, the focus is generally on the recruiting side of the activity, everything from the difficulties of finding qualified replacement candidates to how to retain an increasingly changing workforce. Strangely, there is little concentration on the upstream, post-departure side of staff churn. What happens in almost all cases mostly takes place at the induction/onboarding phase of the employment cycle, where efforts to familiarise new hires revolves around basic corporate information and introductions to relevant colleagues. In anatomical language, they typically deliver the business equivalent of corporate bones rather than its meat or its marrow, thus expecting new hires to acclimatise with mainly their own experience.

Without an intimate awareness of their hosts’ own practice, the decision-making process on behalf of their new employer is inevitably short-changed. And with induction periods taking around a year for new hires to become fully productive (the specialist journal Training Industry Quarterly suggests it can take up to two years), individuals’ main productivity period is extremely short.

Transfer knowledge between old & new employees

Where the business model has to change is to accommodate flexible working’s short tenure character and the host employers’ knowledge loss. Both shortcomings can be resolved by skilfully transferring the knowledge and experience of key exiting individuals to their replacements, which will quicken induction and onboarding times, reduce jobs and workplace disruption and replace the detailed awareness of their employers’ own tried-and-tested knowledge and experience. The discipline of HR is perfectly positioned to address the new role through their induction and onboarding processes alongside company training and coaching as well as the burgeoning discipline of Knowledge Management (KM). 

Importantly, employers would be able to continue using flexible working to better accommodate the fast-moving marketplace. And with the improved awareness of their employers, employees would be able to better capitalise on their skills through improved decision making, which could then warrant earned improved remuneration through better productivity. A WIN-WIN.

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge transfer themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture short- medium- and long-term organisational memory. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment. 

Posted May 24, 2020 by Knowledge Management in Uncategorized

EXPENSIVE LESSON IN POOR DECISION MAKING   Leave a comment

COVID-19: HOW THE ABSENCE OF HINDSIGHT IS OUR MOST EXPENSIVE LESSON IN POOR DECISION MAKING

However the Coronavirus pandemic turns out, there are going to be many, many inquests held by the numerous countries affected, all asking and trying to answer the same difficult ‘what’, ‘how’, ‘why’ and ‘when’ questions and their inability to effectively learn from experience. Among the thousands of interrogations that will be undertaken and the millions of words to be written, there will be the obligatory paragraphs referencing five sobering words to excuse the outcome, namely “With the benefit of hindsight ….”.

This deafening chorus will be the ultimate explanation for what didn’t happen but I warrant that none will clarify the reasons why it is so challenging for them to learn from similar hindsight. After all, hindsight is no more than the knowledge of what has happened before – the precedents that provide the basis of a rehearsal for what to do next time. It is unfashionably called history or, in its modern corporate representation, Organisational Memory (OM). In truth it is the model that can be used to examine practically ALL missteps but in Coronavirus’s case, there was a whole inventory of examples to lead the way – HIV/AIDS, Dengue, Cholera, Ebola, Yellow Fever, Swine Flu, Mers, even the Plague, each epidemics/pandemics that have been evident in the lifetime of many of today’s serving employees. The list is even longer if one goes back before 1988, when this list was compiled.

The WHY questions

If we actually experienced them, why, then, does prior awareness, and particularly institution-specific awareness, not feature highly in our decision-making practices? If it does, why are their lessons not truly learned? And then, why can some decision-makers with notionally fewer resources make better determinations?

Already the evidence is threatening its explanation, even when the experience is even less remote than the current list. Recalling the recent British Government-run ‘practice event’ for an actual influenza pandemic in 2016, Ian Boyd, chief scientific adviser to the UK Government between 2012 and 2019, remarked: “We learnt what would help, but did not necessarily implement those lessons.” Then, in the midst of Covic-19, the former Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, announced in the House of Commons that there had been “a major blind-spot” in the approach taken in Europe and North America, representing “one of the biggest failures of scientific advice to ministers in our lifetimes”. Unlike some Asian countries like South Korea and Singapore, he said, the bigger Western economies prepared for and focussed on pandemic flu, not pandemic coronaviruses such as Sars or Mers. In the case of South Korea and Singapore, their individual death tolls since the pandemic began have totalled fewer than 24 fatalities each. However one reckons it, the still-rising equivalents of 10’s of thousands-plus must question the quality of determinations elsewhere.

While the experts, main decision-makers, backup civil servants and others will no doubt mention a raft of contributing factors to their non-learning processes, there are two underlying, seemingly unimportant but nevertheless decisive reasons that will likely be overlooked. They also help to explain why decision-making is just as difficult at lesser levels in commerce and industry, where the incidence of repeated mistakes and other unlearned lessons is also at pandemic levels.

Memory and knowledge transfer

Firstly memory – and corporate memory is no less relatable – is widely questionable beyond its occasion and typically misrepresented by individuals’ innate short, selective and defensive recall. This is now acutely exacerbated by modern very high workplace turnover that sees employees in the Atlantic economies of the UK, the US and Canada, including top decision-makers, now having up to 14 different employers in their working lifetimes. Every time someone moves, an organisations’ acquired know-how becomes more distant. And because employees generally ignore information that doesn’t reflect their own experience, new hires see themselves as being less accountable for their employers’ prior practice. At the Covic-19 level in the UK, for example, it is instructive that there have been 12 Secretaries of State for Health and Social Services since the 12-strong list of major international health issues since 1988, mentioned above, equal to an average tenure of 32 months.

Secondly, employers generally make little effort to share the detail of their special know-how and experience, with resultant corporate amnesia meaning that succeeding employees cannot adequately learn from the non-existent awareness of their hosts’ actual experience. With UK and US tenures averaging less than five years across the board, in-situ employees generally have no long-term awareness of their employer, no medium-term awareness and their short-term awareness is disconnected. Such absence also reduces individuals’ willingness to learn from their host organisations’ own unique way of doing things.

And while many employers are aware of their high workplace turnover, the most they do to address its downside issues is provide incentives for their employees to stay and and/or try to reduce their corporate footfall. The evidence shows that staff churn remains uncomfortably high.

In truth, experience – whether personally acquired or attained from others, also both failure and success – is the basis of much of life’s learning and in the world of business, the source of organic progress and productivity growth. Without reliable hindsight, foresight is accidental and its potential outcome, wisdom, is procrastinated, the very features that have dogged Kovic-19’s management.

The flexible labour market’s short-tenure environment has surely changed the decision-making scene. First introduced in the1980s as a way of allowing employers to more easily change their workforces to accommodate the fast-changing marketplace, it has meant that every single hiring organisation has likely changed its entire staff around 10 times; imagine the amount of know-how that has departed its hosts, requiring new employees to re-learn their new employer’s singular way of doing things. Without sufficient familiarisation and the ability to learn and quickly accommodate new corporate landscapes, much of the individuals’ short tenure is automatically less than productive. It’s as if employers have decided others’ knowledge and experience is more valuable than their own. Or that they’re fixated on the advantage of flexible working and unaware of how to do knowledge capture and learning from experience efficiently ….

HR and KM can collaborate

Not only does decision-making’s processes have to change but also the activities known as induction/onboarding and training/coaching. It would be opportune to include Knowledge Management (KM) to handle the institutional-specific capture component of the procedure.

It’s not rocket science, but the ability to best learn from experience in today’s flexible economies requires three separate processes – a reliable corporate memory, its sharing with organisational successors and the ability of employees to apply it along with their own knowledge and experience to changed circumstances and environments.

For this to happen demands skilful knowledge capture and sharing between rolling generations of employees and the taught ability to transform old knowledge into new knowledge. Most accredited decision-making processes theoretically do this but because of the labour market’s nomadic character, much of the old knowledge and experience is absent while employees will struggle with their unreliable recall. Hence the skilled capture element, which provides first-hand reminiscence that can be consulted at any time.

Our conveyer belt of cold-start and stop-start employments is no excuse for the status quo. Nor is the absence of hindsight or less-than-rigorous decision-making.

Questions for post-mortem investigators to answer: Another Coronavirus or better decision making? And how not to give up valued flexible working?

Click here: mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step TOOLKIT for employers to do the job themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership, knowledge sharing and how best to capture short- medium- and long-term organisational memory. The recognised tools used have been customised to accommodate today’s short-tenure employment.