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THE MIGHTY MANAGEMENT TOOL THAT EDUCATORS AND EMPLOYERS SURPRISINGLY SNUB

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

A DISCUSSION PAPER: KNOWLEDGE SHARING IN THE AGE OF HIGH STAFF TURNOVER

Mention the subject to a business academic and you’ll get a full-throated acknowledgement of its value, yet knowledge sharing gets only marginal usage when it comes to applying the most obvious – and potent – of its tools. That topic is business history, a subject that modern educators and especially employers regard as unfashionably irrelevant. 

But change the word to experience and/or institutional or organisational memory and the reaction changes dramatically. They are universally acknowledged as the staple of how society measures its store of knowledge and how holders calculate its monetary value for purposes of their remuneration. As a corporate asset, it is also the home of hindsight, the source of insight, foresight and wisdom, and where the evidence resides for achieving the recognised wellspring of most progress called productivity, realistically illustrated in the UK’s case by official figures that show that the average French worker produces more by the end of Thursday than their British counterpart can in a full week. 

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Yet, however it is expressed, they are all indistinguishable from ‘history’ and the subject still gets short shrift. In one of their bigger oversights, both business education and the business world are ignoring a solution to one of commerce and industry’s bigger problems – the constant loss of their unique and hard-won knowledge as their employees join the very flexible labour market. Even before Covid-19, the flexible labour market’s average workplace turnover was around 25% a year in the UK, providing tenures of around five years. In the US average staff turnover is even higher. At fluctuating levels, it’s been going on for more than 35 years.

The biggest corporate knowledge loss, EVER

Imagine how much special knowledge – departmental and corporate – has walked out of every organisation’s front door in just the past eight Covid months? Irretrievably.

Of course, coronavirus was impossible to predict, so there was no time to do anything about it, but what if there was a knowledge transfer way of addressing the more predictable staff turnover in the future, i.e. from the more ‘normal’ passage of staff replacement? 

There is.

It’s buried in several more oversights by business education and employers. By not fully addressing the effects of short-tenure employment, both have shown that they believe a more generalised employee awareness of how the workplace operates is more important than the employer-specific knowledge and experience that takes flight. On the basis of existing induction processes, the continual import of others’ experiences – however related – simply dilutes their own raison d’être and their unique selling proposition (their USP). What has happened is that however much improvements developed from, for example, technology and infrastructure upgrades, educators and employers have forgotten the compounding proposition that the practical application of progress happens organically across the workplace, the building of one experience on another, which something like high staff turnover upsets at ALL hierarchical and departmental sectional levels. Even innovative progress, that which displaces organic development, requires a large measure of historical awareness with which to occur and sustain itself. 

What they have also overlooked is the loss of the unappreciated type of know-how that doesn’t appear in leavers’ left-behind documentation such as emails. Few trainers and educators teach the importance of non-explicit tacit knowledge and even fewer know how to articulate it. Such knowledge – less to do with functioning technical skills, more to do with the employer-specific way of getting things done – comprises the mostly subtle, obscure and intangible issues buried in actual experience alongside the organisations’ cultural ideals, values and special way of doing things. With academics describing it as the source of competitive advantage, its awareness enables learning to take place more efficiently and contextually.

Within this is the same deleterious effect that high staff turnover has on the more sophisticated decision-making methodologies such as Action Learning, just one of the many approaches to high-level problem solving that involves the team-based reflection of prior decision-making and events. The departure of individuals within a group reduces the first-hand evidence that others will need to make more rigorous determinations.  

Cut out these historical components and organic advancement falters, surely an explanation for our difficulties in maintaining productivity growth and ROI.  

The knowledge handover journey

Accordingly, employers need to replace what short tenure removes, NOT for the purpose of repeating past experiences, but for enabling employees, and especially replacement employees, to learn from that experience, however it turned out. Such is the purpose of knowledge sharing with its first-stage operational practice of knowledge capture before it disappears. Thereafter, with the evidence in hand, comes what’s called experiential learning (no, not experimental learning, what many managers usually mis-hear). 

Where such organisational memory can be most effectively applied is in the applications called oral debriefing, which focuses onthe skilful capture ofshort- and medium-term organisational memory delivered in either transcript, audio or video format, and the long-term application known as the organisation’s corporate history. Together they provide the detailed familiarity not made available in either business school tutelage and/or regular induction processes within employing organisations.  

At the business school level, oral debriefing – first championed by the Pulitzer Prize winning author and historian Studs Turkel and Professor Allen Nivens, who started Colombia University’s Oral History Collection in 1948 – could come into its own if curricula content included students having to rigorously interview several willing managers in their preferred industries.

Imagine the benefit to business students of acquiring suitable interview skills, understanding the value of tacit knowledge and learning the detail of how managers and/or other specialists do their job? Other advantages would allow role models to be directly accessible and provide a practical shoe-in to the same methodology being used at the corporate level, where knowledge transfer from exiting to replacement individuals could be applied to dramatically reduce the physical and intellectual disruption of high staff turnover. 

The problem of funding

The other knowledge transfer device that both academia and the corporate world could better employ is the established corporate history, whose publication is usually disparaged because their published accounts are almost always financed by the subject companies themselves. Unlike arrangements made between independent authors and their sponsors. for example in projects with other academic institutions, there is little trust around their credibility, their attendance perceived as more public relations than education. Additionally, the authors’ typical writing style is generally unsuitable for a corporate audience, confirmed by the minimal print runs of giveaway copies, usually only to top managers and big clients. Their lack of appeal by modern British managers is illustrated by the fact that more corporate histories were produced at the beginning of the 20thcentury than at its end. 

Regrettably, corporate history’s perceived value is long lost with few modern managers or educators championing their use. For formal encouragement of this form of knowledge transfer, one has to go back to a 1988 speech by Alex Fletcher, MP, a former Secretary of State for Corporate and Consumer Affairs comments[i]“There is a great deal of material in our schools and elsewhere about how babies are born but there is a tremendous shortage of publications about how businesses are born. Only a tiny number of people know there really was a Mr Barclay, a Mr Beecham, a Mr Cadbury, a Mr Rolls and a Mr Royce, and the marvellous stories of how they created these now world-famous companies. Generations can only understand these examples if they learn and understand the process, innovation and the leadership that made it possible.”

If they were better produced, imagine the benefit to a business student wanting to work in, say, the telecommunications industry if their recommended reading list contained an accurate, updated and readable corporate history of Vodaphone or even 3 UK, one of the smaller operators? Or a budding engineer having access to the story of Babcock International? Ditto the corporate accounts of the UK subsidiaries of acquired British companies and the many other institutions that future employees will join, even the detailed stories of burgeoning start-ups? 

Done well and updated at regular intervals, such long-term accounts of their history would be able to provide more comprehensive information to employees. Accounts could be given to new arrivals during their most receptive period immediately after appointment while predecessors’ oral debriefs could be handed over immediately after induction/onboarding. 

If employers could address the problems they bring, they reduce the time new employees take to get themselves up to speed as well as improving the quality of their decision making. Both require different mindsets as well as skills, issues that comfortably fit within the corporative orbits of knowledge management (KM), human resources (HR), business education and training, and information technology/library. 

So, how to do them properly?

For oral debriefings, which represents an upgrade to the conventional, but lame, exit interviews that are little more than a 20-question survey of why employees leave, the principle of knowledge sharing has to be agreed with sitting employees, who conventionally consider their experience proprietorially theirs. Thereafter, employees and interviewers have to be acquainted with interview techniques and the nature of tacit knowledge. And for corporate histories, subject companies have to address the problem around unavoidable own-project funding, how to choose and manage suitable authors, what their contractual arrangements should include and, if their books are good enough, whether and how to take them out of private circulation and put them on sale to the public. 

The upshot of this proposition is that without a more detailed awareness of experience or organisational memory – ipso facto employers’ corporate history – the status quo survives without too much trouble and, with time, wanes. Knowing it provides the evidence with which to lead change. And the ability to learn from it enables progress to happen more easily. It’s the smart lesson of knowledge sharing in our very flexible labour market.  

mrcorporateamnesia.com provides a step-by-step DIY TOOLKIT for employers to do knowledge sharing themselves. It explains the issues around knowledge ownership and knowledge capture 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. 

p.s. Written history IS available to play a part in business education but its exposure to functioning employees is either ignored as a curricular subject or reserved for higher functionaries. The mediums are business history, the historical narrative of the wider business sector and economic history, the even wider study of societal economies. It is noticeable that the generic history of other professions is part of the instruction of architects, artists, medical doctors, musicians and soldiers, even in many trades but, for whatever reasons, not business. 

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

By Arnold Kransdorff, aka Mr Corporate Amnesia

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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AN OPEN DISCUSSION ON HOW WE TEACH THE UK TO DO BUSINESS

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

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.

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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).

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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. 

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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. 

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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.  

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SUCCESSION PLANNING: Don’t overlook this HUGE after-appointment dividend. You’ve already paid for it so it just needs to be claimed

Succession planning was once confined to CEO appointees and a few other top decision makers in large organisations but in today’s highly flexible labour market, its function is much wider. It’s now known as workplace planning to cover a whole range of new appointees from heads of department to less senior operatives. In truth, its priority as an important part of the HR function is low and organisations generally overlook a blindingly obvious opportunity that would otherwise better prepare chosen replacements for their roles – and one whose existence has already been paid for.

To counter workplace discontinuity – and staff turnover at all levels is uncomfortably high – employers can provide chosen successors with skilfully executed Oral Debriefs of their predecessors’ organisation-specific knowledge and experience. Delivered in transcript, audio or video format, such provision affords new hires with permanently recallable accounts with which to kick-start and shorten their cold-start inductions/onboardings, smooth stop-start workplaces and – importantly – reduce widespread corporate-specific knowledge loss to enable more efficient reflection and re-purposing of their own decision-making for their new host. And instead of new bloods having to rely on second- or third-hand recollections, the evidence it provides is straight from the horse’s mouth as well as averting the inherent problems of everyone’s short, selective and defensive memory recall.

And lastly, it allows employers to continue to benefit from the flexible labour market’s versatility.  

The main issues like knowledge ownership and the best way of engaging this form of knowledge transfer are covered in http://mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s TOOLKIT for employers to do the job themselves.  

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When employers actually PREVENT their employees from working well

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IT SEEMS unlikely but, yes, employers are missing a huge opportunity to provide their employees with the means to do their jobs well.

However bizarre it seems, they generally allow their departing employees – and in today’s flexible labour market there are plenty of them* – to walk out of their front doors with the most important part of their erstwhile hosts’ intellectual capital, namely their special knowledge and experience of how they do things. Every time this happens, new hires have to re-learn this squandered asset on their own and in their own time, slowly. And then, shortly after they become employer-aware and productivity-active, they re-join the flexible labour market. It’s expensive – and unnecessary.

All employers have to do is skilfully capture select employees’ knowledge and experience before it leaves and pass it to their replacements immediately after HR’s induction/onboarding for their reflection and application to their hosts’ new environment and circumstances. Discontinuity avoided, this kick starts and shortens individuals’ cold-start familiarisation periods, smooths employers’ stop-start workplaces, reduces widespread corporate-specific knowledge loss, improves employees’ decision-making and more efficiently resumes productivity growth, the acknowledged biggest problem facing many developed economies.

It makes business sense for employers and employees to INSIST on knowledge sharing for the former to improve their bottom line and the latter to better capitalise on their skills, a real WIN-WIN for workplace flexibility. It’s time to wake up to knowledge transfer for both employees & employers.

mrcorporateamnesia.com shows you how.

*Latest statistics show that up to 28% of workers in the US and the UK change their employer every year. Top decision-makers and professionals are among the more mobile.

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WHEN THINGS GO WRONG, WHO’S RESPONSIBLE, MANAGERS OR THE WORKERS? AND A MID-COVID-19 PERSPECTIVE OF OUR FITNESS FOR LEARNING

The debate – it’s the fault of the workers, no it’s the managers – has been going on for decades, an argument interspersed by any number of instances.  When, for example, some hi-tech application allows more widgets to roll off the production line, it’s the workers. When the same corporate mistakes get repeated, it’s the managers and/or the workers. Each constituency finds it difficult to admit to anything adverse, yet productivity growth in many developed economies has been stalling for many overlapping years, suggesting that the actual reason is less ‘back-and-forth’ and something more multifunctional.

Consider the following unconsidered – and unexpected – explanation, which bears on both communities. It’s the flexible labour market, which has a direct impact on the ability of organisations to learn from their own experience. While the current Covid-19 emergency will undoubtedly make things worse in terms of higher unemployment, staff turnover in the main flexible labour economies of the US and the UK, for example, was already providing average employer tenures of less than five years and up to 14 different employers in a working lifetime. This includes many top decision-makers and professionals, who are among the more mobile. Every time someone moves jobs and/or employers, their acquired know-how becomes more distant and successors see themselves as being less accountable of prior practice. In essence, employees generally ignore information that doesn’t reflect their own experience and the individuals’ willingness and ability to learn from their host organisations’ special experience retreats.

Even when the experience is less remote, the ability to learn can be questionable. This is an observation that emerges from a recent “practice run” for an actual influenza pandemic. Recalling the Government-run dutiful event, 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.”

It is still too early to formally assess how well the current Covid-19 pandemic is being handled but the effects of flexible working at the top end of decision-making is instructive. Since 1988, when the recently-retired Kenneth Clark, MP, was Secretary of State for Health and Social Services, there have been 12 corresponding ministers (tenure an average half of the countrywide 2019 staff turnover) and at least 12 epidemics/pandemics of various strains, among them HIV/AIDS, Dengue, Cholera, Ebola, Yellow Fever, Swine Flu, Mers, even the Plague. Helped by similarly short-tenured civil servants and ‘experts’, the final assessment of how well the pandemic was handled will testify to at least one constituency’s ability to learn from experience.  

In truth, employers, whether in government or commerce and industry, have been overlooking the underlying issues of high employee churn for decades. The state of the current discontinuous workplace is not healthy – it’s nomadic, rootless, disloyal, amnesiac, insecure and needy. Imagine how much individual corporate knowledge has departed employers and needs to be re-learned? And how much organic progress has slowed from all those stop-starts and cold-starts?

In such environments where every employers’ locale is different, the importance of efficient induction and onboarding is paramount. Typically, however, their content has changed little since the days when staff turnover was more stable. Usual delivery covers topics such as the new employers’ rules, policies and employee benefits and, mainly for the more important decision-makers, an orientation process that includes more personalised socialisation designed to facilitate teamwork and deliver context and understanding. While the former is usually explicitly conveyed, the latter is typically hugely short of the unique non-technical way of getting things done, otherwise known as the employers’ tacit or cognitive knowledge. It covers the type of know-how that doesn’t appear in emails or reports, is mostly subtle, mainly unspoken, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific, all of which is buried in tried-and-tested experience. The lubricating constituent of one’s knowledge mix, academics describe it as the source of competitive advantage.

Just the bones ….

In truth, new hires are provided with the anatomical equivalent of their new employers’ corporate bones rather than its meat and marrow. As a result, replacements, whatever their skills, have to be endlessly taught about their employers’ essential processes and culture. With efficient learning entirely dependent on the provision of the host employers’ special knowledge and experience, replacement employees are expected to perform WITHOUT much awareness of their new employers’ special practices. Then, when employees eventually become employer-aware and productivity-active, it doesn’t take long for them to leave. The insufficient 20-question Exit Interviews that are sometimes used are usually designed to try and work out why individuals leave while post-project reviews often have to be carried out without one or another leavers.

To fix our discontinuous workplaces, the solution is not rocket science. Simply put, new hires must inherit their predecessor’s knowledge and experience. Long-term organisational memory (OM) can oblige through suitable corporate histories while short- and medium OM can be transferred via skilled oral debriefings delivered through the mediums of transcript, oral or video format. Such provision would kick-start and shorten individuals’ cold-start inductions/onboardings, smooth stop-start workplaces, reduce widespread corporate-specific knowledge loss, improve decision-making and more efficiently resume productivity growth. The collaborative effort between employer and employees to boost and apply the corporate evidence base would also help to defuse the blame game of who’s responsible for imperfect performance.

 mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s DIY Toolkit for employers explains how. 

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THE HIRING CHALLENGE FACING HR AND KM IN THE AGE OF FLEXIBLE WORKING

For workplace continuity, transfer the knowledge and experience of the outward bound to the new kid on the block

Whenever the flexible labour market 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 changeable workforce. In the main flexible workforces in the US, the UK and Canada, up to 28% of employees now change their employer every year. The average employer tenure is now five short years and less, including professionals and top decision-makers who are among the more mobile.  

Strangely, there is little concentration on the upstream, post-departure side of staff churn. What does happen in almost all cases mostly materialises at the induction/onboarding phase, where efforts to familiarise new hires mostly revolves around minimal 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 acclimate with mainly their own experience. 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.

This short-changing of employer-specific practice – otherwise known as its organisational memory (OM) – is the biggest drawback to flexible working’s acknowledged advantage of allowing employers to more efficiently adjust their workforces to the rapidly-changing marketplace. With induction periods taking at least a year for new hires to become fully productive (the specialist journal Training Industry Quarterly suggests it can take up to 24 months), individuals’ main productivity period is extremely short.  

So, how does an employer more efficiently provide the nuts and bolts of their corporate meat and marrow?

By bringing together HR and Knowledge Management (KM) to give new-hires a detailed record of their predecessors’ experience in the form of Oral Debriefs, a more professional adaptation of the conventional exit interview. Skilfully delivered in either transcript, oral or video format, they shorten replacements’ induction/onboarding periods, smooth jobs disruption, avoid self-imposed corporate amnesia and help to improve decision-making.

mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s DIY Toolkit for employers explains how. 

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COVID-19 in flexible labour economies: Time for employers to review a hard lesson in everyday knowledge loss

Employers are being reminded that the current Coronavirus situation is an opportunity to review a critical knowledge-loss decision that they’ve been overlooking for years.

Remember the old forewarning about the effect of a key decision-maker falling under the proverbial bus? If it happened, what would the organisation do about the sudden loss of all that individual’s important knowledge and experience? Now think of what the Coronavirus situation is delivering in spades, underlined by the examples of just two of the biggest high-profile individuals of all, the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Prince Charles. They survived but thousands of still employed and skilled individuals at every occupational level haven’t.

What’s presently happening in the world of commerce and industry is mimicking the effects of our highly flexible labour market, which already sees off huge amounts of employers’ unique knowledge and experience that have to be repetitively recycled through rolling generations of replacements. With staff turnover in countries like the UK and the US reaching 28% a year – and this includes professionals and top decision-makers – workplace discontinuity rules, organic progress is constantly interrupted and productivity growth is stifled. With our workplaces now nomadic, rootless, disloyal, amnesiac, insecure and needy, flexible working’s flaws in our business model have been largely unaddressed ever since it emerged as an antidote to the fast-moving marketplace in the 1980s.

Virus increasing corporate knowledge loss

And Covid-19 is not going to help any, making the productivity of employees’ short tenures even more important than ever – and especially the effectiveness of traditional induction and onboarding.

Conventionally, their delivery covers new employers’ rules, policies and employee benefits and, mainly for the more important decision-makers, an orientation process that includes more personalised socialisation designed to facilitate teamwork and deliver context and understanding. While the former is usually quite explicitly conveyed, the latter is typically hugely short of the special non-technical way of getting things done, otherwise known as the employers’ tacit or cognitive knowledge. It covers the type of know-how that doesn’t appear in emails or reports, is mostly subtle, mainly unspoken, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific, all of which is buried in tried-and-tested experience. The lubricatingconstituent of one’s knowledge mix, academics describe it as the source of competitive advantage.   

In effect, new hires are typically provided with the anatomical equivalent of their new employers’ corporate bones rather than its meat and marrow. As a result, new hires, whatever their skills, have to be endlessly taught about their employers’ essential processes and culture. While this happens, individuals depend almost wholly on the unrelated experiences of their previous employments to make their decisions. The insufficient 20-question Exit Interviews that are sometimes used are usually designed to try and work out why individuals leave while post-project reviews often have to be carried out without one or another leavers.

The well answer – knowledge transfer from the outward bound to the new kid on the block

Instead of depending on resident employees to provide the missing evidence, what if new hires could be delivered of the knowledge and experience of their predecessors, thereby providing the absent evidence first hand, straight from the horse’s mouth so to speak? Skilfully done, it would enable induction and onboarding to happen faster, overall jobs disruption would be smoothed, organisations would be able to retain their special knowledge and experience without employers having to constantly impart it and, with this additional evidence, enable employees to make better decisions. It need not replace traditional induction or onboarding but supplement it.  

mrcorporateamnesia.com ‘s ground-breaking DIY Toolkit explains how employers can capture the important knowledge and experience of key leavers for transfer to new-hires’ reflection and repurposing to accommodate new circumstances and environments. The techniques use recognised knowledge capture and learning techniques that have been adapted to the modern short-tenure labour market.

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INQUEST INTO LABOUR PARTY’S 2019 GENERAL ELECTION DEFEAT

Did you spot the unacknowledged explanation for the UK’s low productivity growth?

when two new words enter a language, its meaning often represents a sociological journey from denial or misunderstanding to acknowledgment. When the words are spoken by a major personality at a big historical event, its significance then becomes recognised and its implications start being examined – and hopefully addressed. when two new words enter a language, its meaning often represents a sociological journey from denial or misunderstanding to acknowledgment. When the words are spoken by a major personality at a big historical event, its significance then becomes recognised and its implications start being examined – and hopefully addressed. 

Such were the words “corporate amnesia” uttered on the first day of formal reflection by the Labour Party into their disastrous defeat at the 2019 General Election (December 17, 2019). They were made by the Labour peer Dame Margaret Hodge, an arch-critic of the Labour Party’s leadership who retained her seat as a Labour MP.  As the scourge of Government waste when she chaired the Public Accounts Committee, her conclusion was that the Labour Party was in denial of what happened, one of the physiognomies of corporate amnesia, others being that the corporate body disremembers its history, interrupts its organic continuity and becomes less able to learn from both past failures or successes. In Labour’s case, they had become experiential NON-learners, the exact circumstance of Britain’s employers, no thanks to corporate amnesia’s main modern architect, the very flexible labour market.

The nearest the subject gets to being acknowledged as a proper business concern is the occasional discussion around the importance of ‘institutional memory’ but Dame Margaret Hodge’s usage of corporate amnesia is its first mention by a leading ‘influencer’ to signal the damaging effect of actual knowledge loss and self-denial. The fact that the Labour Party is a well-known and important national institution will have raised the subject’s dysfunctional potential even further.

While the gathering impact of modern corporate amnesia through flexible working was first identified by this author in the 1980s, employers, business educationalists and the experts have largely ignored its delinquent significance, namely the dramatic effect on workplace continuity, the equally high levels of institute-specific knowledge loss and linked poorer decision-making, the typical response by employers being to vainly try and reduce their workplace churn. More skilled employees have now also enthusiastically adopted the business model to improve their remuneration and career prospects such that average staff turnover in the UK is now 26% a year, employer tenure is around five years, and falling, while the official projection is that new entrants to the workplace will have at least 10 different paymasters in their working lifetime (mrcorporateamnesia.com).

All this experiential NON-learning explains the pandemic of repeated mistakes, re-invented wheels and other unlearned lessons that litter the workplace. In truth, the modern workplace is nomadic, rootless, disloyal, amnesiac, insecure and needy, no place for organic or productivity growth. And because it’s impacting almost every employing organisation in the country, it’s as macro-economic as any of the other corporate resources that the experts have identified as the influences affecting our lowly national output and competitiveness.

If employers want to take full advantage of flexible working, they also have to address their workplace disruption, their loss of valuable institute-specific knowledge and experience and their consequential poorer decision-making.

+ Other similar words/phrases that needed high-profile acknowledgment to get recognised: feminism, global warming, transgender, fake news, et al. Refer also celebrity causes that need prominent mention to get noticed.

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KNOWLEDGE SHARING: Without it, Knowledge Management is pointless, so what’s best practice?

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 The subject of knowledge sharing is one on which depends the whole subject of Knowledge Management (KM). Without it, there’s little point in KM, so why do employers find it so difficult to progress this crucial discipline, which is still in the Cinderella stage of its essential development?

The short answer is that so few of them understand KM’s new importance; the longer answer is that their corporate culture is stuck in a previous age along with their unhoned skills.

The so-called Knowledge Age make this intellectual commodity essential to acquire while the flexible labour market makes it even more important for rolling generations of employees to inherit. Otherwise, organic progress is – simply stated – disabled. To avoid this, knowledge sharing is key.

Yet employees are reluctant to share their knowledge for a range of seemingly intractable reasons buried in a cultural minefield ranging from beliefs that knowledge provides them with job security to a fear of negative work evaluations. Alongside some of these accurate cultural perceptions, employers seem happy to concede that knowledge is proprietorially owned by the employee, a hangover from the days when a job-for-life was commonplace; thusly, their employee-held corporate knowledge would continue to be accessible.

No more. The average tenure of the modern employee (including top decision-makers) is now around three-to-five years in economies such as the UK’s and the US’s. Although employee change doesn’t happen all at the same time, the net effect on employers is both evident and widespread – continual workplace disruption while much of their unique, hard-won and expensively-acquired knowledge and experience walks out of the front door on a regular basis, preventing them from smooth learning from their own experience. Academics have estimated that, when individuals leave, they take with them up to 90% of their employers’ unique knowledge, much of it falling into an undocumented class of intellectual capital known as tacit knowledge.

The irony is stark. Employers are wittingly disenfranchising themselves from their own labour – all because of actively-encouraged short tenure and the unresolved question of who owns the knowledge that employees acquire in their jobs? Valued employers have also jumped on the bandwagon as a way of advancing their careers and salaries. The answer, which I’ve raised in my books and blog, is something I’ve been addressing for some time, with some success.

To address this, employers have to acknowledge that the rolling transplantation of new employees, even those in similar sectors or seemingly better qualified, is never seamless. As such, knowledge sharing among employees, and especially between changing generations of replacements, is the only way to fill the experiential gap, so employers have to create an accommodating culture within the organisation. The excellent short Paper by Zach Wahl of the consultancy firm Enterprise Knowledge on ‘Why people fail to share knowledge’ (https://enterprise-knowledge.com/why-people-fail-to-share-knowledge/) is a good start.

My 30-year experience is that this becomes possible with the following argument – that, by paying for it, employers have JOINT-ownership of the knowledge and experience acquired during their employees’ tenure. As such, they have the right to capture and share that self-same knowledge and experience with succeeding generations of employees, a condition that can be included in employees’ conditions of employment.

Once this is firmly established then the other, more practical, issues can be addressed – whether, for example, an additional disbursement should be paid, how best to capture the knowledge and experience, how and when to share it and – to achieve the potential added value – how to ensure that both in situ employees and replacements can efficiently APPLY said knowledge and experience, otherwise known as the largely untaught skill of Experiential Learning (EL).

Inevitably, even with a contractual obligation, not all categories of employee would be agreeable or their contribution useful, for example those who might be dismissed or made redundant. But for those who leave voluntarily – and this is usually a substantial proportion of departees, all of whom are probably key knowledge owners anyway – are, in my experience, typically flattered to be asked to cooperate. Knowledge capture can be done on a regular basis, say annually, immediately after key events or just before departure.

The form of knowledge capture is another issue to consider.

The emails of knowledge owners alongside the content of employers’ data banks are customary resources but these still only reveal the explicit knowledge of an employers’ know-how that traces ‘what’ happened and when. The more valuable part of know-how is tacit or cognitive knowledge, the how of know-how that doesn’t get recorded, much of which is unwritten, even normally unspoken, but which is embedded and synthesized in knowledge owners’ heads. Different from explicit knowledge, this is the kind of knowledge that is mainly implicit, esoteric and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific that outlines how particular organisations get things done.

How to document it is the gold standard of knowledge capture that ‘lubricates’ the explicit.

Usually what happens is that something is written by the knowledge giver or there’s a face-to-face conversation with the knowledge receiver – otherwise called ‘watch and learn’ or ‘overlap’ – but this approach has several disadvantages. Employees, including managers, are notoriously poor authors and storytellers with a tendency towards selective and defensive recall while the receivers have short memories or at least memories that can’t be recalled accurately. Their understanding of tacit knowledge is also low and, anyway, they’re both going to move on, so anything said verbally can’t be referred to at a later date.      

For this type of ‘memory’ recall, the most efficient instrument is a specialised and detailed oral debrief, optionally recorded via audio, video or transcript. The idea is not exactly new, with its origins in the traditional exit interview with departees, which is typically a formulaic 20-questions way of uncovering why employees leave. Where it differs is that it should concentrate on the unrecorded non-technical tacit knowledge to extract the important practical and management issues and decisions unique to the individuals’ job and employer. Optimally, they should be conducted by a skilful and knowledgeable interviewer, either in-house trained or externally hired, whose main quality – mainly because the knowledge has to be expertly teased out of interviewees – should be persistence and the capacity not to be intimidated by authority. These oral debriefs are then shared with appropriate incoming employees at induction time.

The process of knowledge sharing doesn’t stop there.

In situ and replacement employees need to understand that knowledge sharing is not an opportunity to repeat past experience, rather a device to APPLY past experience to their employers’ changing circumstances and environment. Educationists know this as continuous learning that, by definition, has to spring from the workplace, where so-called old experience can be transformed into new experience. In its new guise it’s called Experiential Learning (EL), the precept of which turns on the ability to constructively reflect on the past, a methodology not formally taught in conventional business education. In this particular model, the past is a more comprehensive evidential base that, in principle, will provide better decision-making, better productivity and, in the case of the UK, better competitiveness ahead of a post-Brexit future.

It is undeniable that the flexible labour market has helped to boost employment. But its use has also affected productivity, so for employers to continue benefitting from the ability to quickly adjust to changing circumstances, something has to compensate. Addressing the inevitable workplace disruption and the loss of one’s knowledge and experience is the holy grail of modern business process ….

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WHAT HAPPENS WHEN CEOs MOVE? THE UNACKNOWLEDGED – AND SHOCKING – EFFECTS

When top managers move their jobs at the same rapid rate as the rest of the working population, the business community, business academics, even the politicians, should take note. The spinoff’s not pretty. 

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The latest figures from PWC’s 2016 Strategy& survey indicate that thanks to the drop in merger and acquisition activity, the turnover of CEOs in the world’s largest 2,500 companies decreased from its record high of 16.6% in 2015 to 14.9% in 2016 but the lower rate has remained at around the same level for 10 of the last 16 years. In fact, the turnover continues to remain close to the rest of the working population in a number of mature economies that, today, change their employees every four to five years on average.

Within the survey, the regional changes are equally instructive. The median length of CEO service in the biggest 300 British businesses, for example, is 4.8 years, down 73% from 2010’s high of 8.3 years. More than 3% of British CEOs are forced out every year for ethical lapses, compared with just 9% who leave with succession plans; what’s clear is that most replacement CEOs still receive little support to adequately address their new employers’ discontinuity and institute-specific corporate amnesia that plague both their own and others’ jobs.

It’s a rate that has upturned the workplace ever since the flexible labour market introduced such high levels of discontinuity 35 years ago, when a job-for-life was not uncommon. The change has not been adequately addressed by both employers and business education alike.

However useful to employers is the flexible labour market in today’s high-change environment, the significance of this survey is that it helps to clarify several associated offsetting issues that indirectly affect the quality of their and their employers’ decision-making skills, which don’t get improved.

The first is certainly counter-intuitive. Because the CEOs are arguably the single most important decision-maker in any organisation, their determinations largely dictate the quality of their employers’ development. If for any reason they make a poor decision, the outcome of their subordinates’ determinations risk being equally poor. This ‘cascading’ characterisation is an observation that must shift much of the responsibility for poor decision-making away from coalface workers, who are the traditional scapegoats.

The second reason concerns the growing evidence of an undeniable link between flexible working and acknowledged declining productivity, which also lacks widespread acceptance. With some spikes, the latest stretch of struggling productivity scores actually coincides with the advent of flexible working.

This can be easily demonstrated. Up front, up to 12 months at each end of every replacement employees’ tenure is typically worked at lesser productive levels, which automatically reduces the period of optimum output by a significant margin. Alongside this, few of the many corporate functions within organisations ever survive without one or more employees leaving and a replacement arriving, heralding the breakdown in the way most progress occurs, organically – i.e. from the uninterrupted building of one experience on another.

Then there is the most dramatic consequence of all for the way good decision-making happens; exiting employees take with them much of their employers’ unique knowledge and experience, including their important tacit know-how, foreshadowing the onset of what’s called corporate amnesia, when businesses and other types of co-operative organisation literally lose their memory of how they do things in their own special way. In addition to constantly diluting individual corporate cultures in an unmanageable way, this combination of factors dramatically reduces the relevant evidence base with which replacement employees would otherwise need to make good and better decisions on behalf of their new employer. In effect, they end up utilising mostly the knowledge and experience of their prior employers and education, much of which is unrelated according to their employers’ unique selling point (USP) and experience and, anyway, is subject to inherent short, selective and defensive memory recall. With jobs disruption and the absence of institute-specific evidence upsetting almost every job and every employer, EVERYTHING has slowed, exactly as the productivity scores in many countries show.

Even top-flight employees become disadvantaged and CEOs are no exception, explanations for the many repeated mistakes, reinvented wheels and other unlearned lessons that now litter the modern workplace.

To address this hidden handicap, employers have to step up and provide replacement employees with a better inheritance that reduces flexible working’s inevitable workplace disruption and corporate amnesia. Then business academics have to better teach the largely absent skill of Experiential Learning (EL). And given that neither has shown much inclination to upgrade their respective roles to compensate for continual stop-start working, the politicians have to find some way to motivate them, if only to improve national productivity and their own tax receipts.

In their own interests CEOs could lead the charge – or maybe some visionary other? 

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BROKEN CHAINS, THE STUFF OF OUR LOST PERSPECTIVE. A THOUGHTFUL HEADS-UP FOR BUSINESS

broken chain 1

If you believe small observations can signpost big, unnoticed, issues, read on …..

I recently had a conversation with the owner of a Linkedin group who thought a post I wanted to publish had a tenuous relationship with his specialist subject. My response was that there was a close association between his group and some of Linkedin’s other representative groups of knowledge management (KM), human resources (HR), experiential learning (EL) and business education, which were all referenced in my post.

I further suggested that economic history, business history and corporate history, which were also represented through a smaller clutch of groups on Linkedin, were similarly part of the one common objective of them all – to achieve good and better decision-making, itself in a devoted group.

Although an accurate accusation of being irrelevant on a dedicated Linkedin group would be justified, the lesser charge of being tenuous does provide evidence of my wider observation that the more we specialise, the more disconnected we appear to become. In my experience with initiating discussions, some groups – seemingly loyal to themselves alone – find it difficult to mutually engage. I’ve also had discussions rejected or spammed when the contribution clearly addresses a/the larger related issue.

All this might seem like ‘small potatoes’ – it is – but the observation suggests a behind-the-scenes outcome that commerce and industry’s decision-makers seem unprepared to acknowledge and unable or unwilling to address.

In Linkedin’s case, the groups don’t realise how closely related they all are but the net effect of what is otherwise familial estrangement is that they individually place themselves in so-called silos, with nary the desire to mutually commune. However much individual disciplines gets discussed, refined and/or improved, these self-imposed disconnects – I call them broken chains – serve to lessen their potential role available within the greater organisation. They illustrate how ‘more is less’, an expression that describes how, however much is being invested in today’s changed workplace, a disproportionately lower outcome results.

If my ‘broken-chains’ observation is accurate, there must be some enduring effect, difficult to pin down precisely but there’s no argument about what’s happening to productivity and productivity growth, which are big indicators that investment returns are on the slide. The fall in some geographical areas is dramatic (in the UK, for example, the current levels of individual output is at a 25-year low and almost 20% below our main competitors). Some experts think that the wider decline is temporary until the next big techno development kicks in but the edifying point is that that they don’t know why exactly. Given that the modern workplace has not fully adapted to the changed workplace environment – notably the very flexible labour market and the attendant constant migration of employers’ unique knowledge and experience – I’m suggesting that commerce and industry’s broken chains can help the explanation.  

As challenging a problem familial estrangement must be at the corporate level, the effect can be even more explicitly illustrated when the phenomenon extends to whole industries and where the net outcome is both demonstrable and deeply dysfunctional.

Witness the deeply worrying example in health care, where the soil sector, farmers, food manufacturers, the pharmaceutical and pesticide industry and doctors all operate independently of each other. The soil scientists have given farmers a nutrient-deficient way of increasing production. To compensate, food manufacturing introduces into their product chemical additives, only a small fraction of which can be absorbed by the human body, a state that inevitably compromises the human immune system. Competition has also encouraged manufacturers to further add sugar, salt and trans-fats (they call these additives ‘bliss factors’ to sell their wares), all of which have hosted a range of opportunistic diseases to fill doctors surgeries and hospitals. Into this multiple whammy happens the pharmaceutical industry, whose experts have impressively invented pills for all reasons that extend the life of many. In the First World, the result is generations of elderly people, still with low immune systems, dying uncomfortably and expensively on Zimmer frames. In the Third World, they just die.

What’s happened is that both organisational structures and industry sectors have become disengaged. The separated and interconnected sectoral specialties have, between them, all contributed to a problem now harmfully affecting the health of more than a quarter of the world’s population (source: World Food Programme, 2007). In truth, neither the individual silos nor their parent organisations would admit to any responsibility for their downstream consequences, leaving dithering Governments to try and sweep up the mess, notably futilely.

One common factor of this problem seems to be size – and size features in another meaningful example of broken chains’ upshot of ‘more is less’. Government itself is often the largest single organisation in countries with ambidextrous departments, defined skills and large budgets. Using World Bank data from 104 countries over a seven-year period to 2011, the University of Georgia’s Professor Jeffrey Dorfman, an economics specialist in how policy redistributes wealth, concluded that more Government spending means less economic growth (Forbes, December 10, 2013).

Size also features as one of the contributory factors behind the 2008 debacle around the banks, where their interconnected activities covered everything from housing to nearly everything else. It is instructive that few of the main players in that saga saw it as anything to do with the familial estrangement of connected silos, where – to quote another idiom – the separate entities ‘couldn’t see the wood for the trees’. One of the definitions of this saying is that affected entities are unable to understand what is important in a situation because they are giving too much attention to detail.

All this provides evidence of yet another knowledge-based ‘black hole’ for decision-makers and is a boost for the emerging movement known as Evidence-Based Management (EBM), which is establishing itself in medicine and some political policy-making. Studies have shown that, among doctors for example, only about 15% of their decisions are evidence based. And elsewhere, although senior executives are ultimately responsible for what happens in their organisations, the reason for lapses “could be more to do with the quality of decision-making than in any intentional unethical behaviour” (‘Decisions without Blinders’, Harvard Business Review, January 2006).

The paradox is nevertheless explicit; that despite individual heights of professional effort and/or achievement, the overall result is often less than triumphant. Forgive the opportunity to mix a few more metaphors – they are truly very good for illustrating different circumstances – but the evidence can’t be clearer, yet our ability to ‘connect the dots’ is seemingly absent. We usually describe this as ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’ but the malady seemingly goes further; with each silo – whether at the corporate or industry level – effectively saying it’s the left hand not caring what the right hand is doing. It’s an ‘I’m-alright-Jack’ attitude that proposes that the maxim ‘big is beautiful’ is now more parody than proverb.

Behind the massive scale of these examples is an obvious breakdown in wider awareness within organisations, whether inside corporate disciplines or related-industry sectors.

By awareness, I am referring to the detail of employer-specific innovation as well as tried-and-tested knowledge and experience, important because the former is almost always a function of the latter. With the linking of the ‘old’ with the ‘new’ providing continuity and the uninterrupted direction of travel, the stop-start character of modern commerce and industry – greatly enhanced by the modern flexible labour market – is replaced by the traditional organic way most progress occurs, i.e. one experience leading into another. For ease of classification, the sum total of acquiredwisdom’ can be boxed as organisational memory (OM). Without it, the condition that is familiarly known as corporate amnesia – which is the enemy of the comprehensive evidential base – kicks in.

Thereafter comes the main reason for what happens when chains get broken and awareness takes leave – individuals and the organisations for which they work lose their PERSPECTIVE. And deprived of perspective, which is one of the most important components of good decision-making, determinations become relevant only to the short term, the acknowledged curse of much of modern commerce and industry’s inbred character (at least in many Anglo environments).

There is another equivalent classification that I hesitate to use because of its unfashionable connotations in modern business education, even in general education. Mention of the word instantly makes the eyes cloud over but it is nonetheless memory in its most durable format. Prosaically called ‘history’, its chronicle is a seriously underrated agent of knowledge/wisdom, yet its various sub-divisional applications as a management tool is widely disregarded. For one, it can help solve the endemic problem of short, selective and defensive memory recall. For two, it can fill the employer-specific knowledge vacuum imposed by short employee tenure, which is the single biggest explanation for the pervasive dispersal of unique institute-specific experience. For three, it is also key to understanding culture, the backbone of almost all collective endeavour. And finally, it can improve decision-making, whose current taught methodologies still suit old-fashioned and inflexible labour markets, where the treasure trove of the corporate evidence base didn‘t decamp the front door at today’s ‘walkabout’ rates.

I hear the leaden cry of information overload but the reality of the situation is which is preferable: the status quo or an acquired perspective? Actually, the latter is not so far from reality as its detractors might believe.

The long-term of prior experience is ordinarily the responsibility of the standalone subjects of economic history, business history and corporate history, all given seriously neglected attentions. The medium- and short-term falls more neatly into the Cinderella disciplines of KM and IT (represented by our huge data banks of inert records) while the role of learning from all their hard-won intellectual capital is decision-making’s and, crucially, the acknowledged but widely unused discipline of experiential learning (EL). Parenthetically EL, which applies knowledge and experience in a reflective methodology to adapt decisions to changed circumstances and environments, revises the taught one-size-fits-all decision-making practices to accommodate individual employers’ new short-tenure and evidence-depleted work environment. With perhaps the exception of EL, business education and employers ALREADY have these under-exploited disciplines in place.

To acquire better perspective, then, time to make them work harder in today’s changed workplace environment, whether they live down the hall, in the boardroom or even at Linkedin, where Microsoft (median employee tenure four years amid $15 billion failed acquisitions since 2001 and a high level of failed/abandoned products) has taken charge. The latter please note, perspective is precisely relevant to KM, HR, EL, business education, history and many more groups ……  

Postscript: My reference to ‘history’, which is widely unfashionable in all education, is, as already indicated, a critical component of how any culture develops itself. Culture – and no less a business culture – is especially misunderstood, its detailed awareness being essential in any attempt to manage it. But its widespread neglect as a subject raises another observation of consequence in society. Many professions (for example architecture, art, music, the military, medicine, politics, science, the clergy and so on) all contain an element of their generic history in their education, awareness that underpins their specific professionalism. Contrastingly, history’s widespread absence in business education and businesses themselves is glaringly evident, suggesting that business and/or management is not considered a profession. This author contends the contrary and suggests that a more ‘history’-savvy workforce, one that intuitively knows more about their employers’ experiences, their industrial sectors’ experiences and their countries’ business experiences within the context of even wider business experience, would automatically improve their own employment, their business practice and their decision-making. Perspective would certainly help to clear my doctor’s surgery! 

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GROUND-BREAKING ‘FIX’ TO DETER SHOCKING LEVELS OF FRAUD IN US FINANCIAL SERVICES. A COMBINED EL/IT MODEL WITHIN KM FOR OTHER COUNTRIES?

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Three academics out of the universities of Minnesota and Chicago have just published some shocking statistics about financial advisers in the US. In a 10% sample of such advisers working in the decade to 2015, roughly 7% of them have indulged in some form of misconduct or fraud, with some of the largest financial advisory firms having more than 15% of their advisers with similar records of misbehaviour. Whilst the percentage of such dysfunction was unexpected – the academics were guessing a rate of around 1% – the real surprise was that offenders were five times as likely to engage in new misconduct as the average financial adviser.

For individual advisers, it pinpoints a high level of educational and ethical shortcomings and for employers, it identifies an elevated level of tolerance for misconduct, with firms disciplining only around half of offenders with dismissal. Both indicate dire levels of experiential NON-learning, which has encouraged the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (Finra), the non-government supervisory body for the sector, to initiate a ground-breaking solution using Knowledge Management (KM), Information Technology (IT) and Experiential Learning (EL) to address even further unsettling findings.

What’s happening is that around 44% of sackings are typically re-employed by less reputable firms that have a higher rate of prior misconduct themselves, a finding that unearths another unnerving picture to further reinforce the unwelcome spin-off to retail investors. The researchers found that so-called ‘clean’ broker companies are co-existing with firms that persistently engage in wrongdoing, among them companies that “specialise” in misconduct and which specifically cater for unsophisticated customers in areas with low education, elderly populations and high incomes (source: http://www.valuewalk.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/SSRN-id2739170.pdf).  

With this scandalously high level of misbehaviour and tolerance for misconduct, it would appear that the standards of individual financial advisers as well as the hiring policies of employers are seriously lacking.

The evidence for these less reputable firms – indeed, even with the brokers who concentrate on more sophisticated clients – confirms the importance of a better way for investors to do their own due diligence on their financial advisers. For this to happen they need the evidence with which to become better experiential learners, where the results of the survey are being made available to investors in a trailblazing way.

Finra is recycling the information in a free-to-access databank that records so-identified “disclosures” (see http://brokercheck.finra.org/) of individual advisers. On a continuing basis, it will track any sort of dispute, disciplinary action or other financial matters concerning individual advisers, including fraud and other wrongdoing. It is intended that when customers get into disputes with their brokers, the results of any formal proceedings (often arbitration) will end up in BrokerCheck, as will any penalties from regulators or others. If the broker has been fired for any cause, this, too, will generally show up, as will any personal tax liens on brokers or bankruptcies that they’ve filed. Pubic access to this database will, hopefully, achieve two objectives – by naming-and-shaming individual advisers, it will hopefully deter the less-than-honest and, in the process, enable ordinary investors to make up their own minds whom to trust with their money.

Where this differs from other similar national projects is that it refers to individuals by name, thought to be a first. In the UK for example, the independent Financial Ombudsman Service publishes its “determinations” – or final decisions – of all appeals but without identifying individual advisers. Business units are identified by name whilst complainants are acknowledged by their initials.

To put BrokerCheck and other similar IT programmes into their operational contexts, they broadly fit into the prevailing discipline known as Knowledge Management (KM) and Experiential Learning (EL), the former being the efficient handling of historic data and resources while the latter is the process of learning through historical experience. Both are designed to enable good and better decisions, with BrokerCheck using explicit knowledge to provide users with an unsophisticated choice between perceived good and less good. EL, which is the more sophisticated use of prior experience, applies both explicit and tacit knowledge in a reflective methodology to adapt decisions to changed circumstances and environments, the process that is plainly behind the resolution to name and shame delinquent advisers. A good example of joint application of two of the main arms of KM, it would seem that the US financial services industry is broadening its attempt to improve its service to its ultimate customers.  

I’m a modest investor myself and my choice of financial advisers has mostly depended on personal recommendation and broker-generated hype supported by generalised, oversimplified and confusing information that is always qualified. Down the years I’ve had concerns about my own choices whose reputations are similarly indefinite, with my complaints being expertly kicked into the long grass with the statement that “The value of investments can go down in value as well as up”. Except for team leaders in one example, I was never able to locate the identities of employer-assigned individuals.

Whilst most national financial service sectors have an Ombudsman to supposedly help cut away that long grass, wouldn’t it be practical for other national regulators to similarly survey their own community of financial advisers? If the results were, like the US, equally unwelcome, might not a similar BrokerCheck be fitting? It would certainly help to make investors a little more savvy before the Ombudsman or formalised legal route needs to be taken.

Given the evident employer-allowed misconduct in one country at least, one answer must be to give investors the evidential base with which to better choose their financial advisers for themselves. In truth, BrokerCheck won’t stop all misconduct or fraud. But it is an imaginative and constructive deterrent to an evident problem. 

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Posted April 15, 2016 by Knowledge Management

2 responses to “Topical

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  1. I want to respond to the Covid-19 article, although it would be useful to know when it was written. Yes the loss of tacit knowledge is vital and damaging, and yes the solution is to make the tacit knowledge explicit, which requires an investment. But how to cause the change?

  2. This was written in Week Six of lockdown, just before the UK was registering the highest number of Covik-19 deaths in Europe. It was written to illustrate how we DON”T learn from experience.

    If your question was how to capture tacit knowledge, the answer is through skilful debriefing of a prior corporate-specific experience, the purpose being to enable the interviewee’s narration to fully reflect the ‘how” and ‘why’ of their acquired know-how. In effect, the interviewee becomes the first-hand chronicler who has been encouraged to explain the subtle, otherwise unspoken, obscure and context-, co-worker- and organisation-specific issues, much like the peeling of onion skins. As you correctly inform, this awareness then reverts to explicit knowledge. This can then be transformed into new knowledge through reflective and corrective application to new circumstances and environments – otherwise known as experiential learning (EL).

    If your question was how to instigate this change in the way we could use our hard-won experience to make better decisions, over to all of you out there. It’s cultural, it’s educational, it’s fundamental, it’s change – and in our old-school world, just like pulling teeth. There’s a lockdown analogy in this dental metaphor somewhere ….

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