No time to sharpen the axe?
December 8, 2007
In the 1990’s I spent a large portion of my time helping large companies manage their “knowledge” – no matter how elusive this quantity (or quality) may be. Since then, the topic has not fallen into disarray, but instead it has been gobbled up and partially internalised. Of course, as you know if you work in a company yourself, you are aware of the issues around (1) knowing what you know, (2) knowing what others know, and (3) knowing what the company knows – e.g. through improved sharing techniques (not necessarily technologies). Here is a nice recent article on the question “is knowledge management dead?”
How does this relate to coaching? Well, for one thing, if you don’t know (as a person) what you know, you will underperform. Your ability to learn is impeded. You probably also do not know too much about your process, either. Your ability to network (learning from others, learning about opportunities, learning social skills) is impeded, too. It follows that most executives probably know fairly well what they know – including knowledge of their process. The latter is important when they mentor and teach others, because executives mostly teach others the “how” (process), and not the “what” (content).
While the issue is less with individuals (hence, in one-on-one coaching, knowledge management techniques rarely come up), it is enormous when we look at teams and organisations. Again, however, successful teams tend to manage their internal (owned by the members) and external (owned by others) rather well. A company can be successful without establishing knowledge management as a discipline, but its success will hardly be sustainable without it. Most successful companies developed their KM out of the instinct of smaller units, departments or teams – as they grew, the corresponding processes were forgotten (b/c the process knowledge was not articulated, shared and/or kept), and the company’s success dwindled.
Now, if you are an executive in a company, here are three simple practices to get started in this area:
- check whether there are explicit KM processes (sharing, consolidating, using knowledge and information) and people responsible for them
- check your own ability to recognise knowledge and information-related processes, e.g. by estimating how much you’ve learnt over the past, say, 6 months (can you articulate that?), and how much of what you learnt you passed on to others in your firm (would they agree?)
- look at your most admired competitor in the market and try to evaluate their knowledge management practices – can you relate them to your competitor’s success and possibly copy or evolve them?
If you have difficulty in doing this, do not despair 😉 Most likely, you run into the issue that is predominant in companies, too: a lack of incentive – in a company, that would be called an “incentive system”. Here is a really good article from Knowledge@Wharton on Economics for Humans by economist Tyler Cowen.
Of course, none but a few of these processes are established as part of the management canon – despite our efforts in the 1990’s – therefore, many an executive axe has gone dull and needs sharpening. Which takes time.