Executive blogging? Hmm…

NoBloggingBlogging by senior management appears to be an ongoing struggle. I wrote about it earlier and remarked that it is not for everyone.
In my opinion, key success factors are:

  • You need to like doing it. It will cost a lot of time and effort, and if you do not like to spend that on writing, you’d better use your time in another way.
  • You need to add something new to the mix, something your employees have not already heard several times through your official channels.

Last week, I came across two other articles about executive blogging.

Do not blog if you do not know where you are going

Erika Parker posted “Executive Blogs: 7 Signs You Should Just Say No “

She also mentions that executives have to feel a need to blog. There should be something driving them, whether that is their personal opinions, a need to interact with employees or a need to change behaviours. If they feel they do it because they have to, they better find another channel or another way altogether.
And while it is not necessarily wrong to hire a ghostwriter, an executive has to feed that person with the direction, the tone-of-voice,  personality and topics. They can not leave it all to the writer. But remember: they should always post their blog themselves!

Do not blog about knowledge management

And if this all does not show enough that blogging by executives is not necessarily a simple thing that you “just do”, Nick Milton posted: “Why you should not ask your senior managers to blog“.

That sounds more forbidding than it really is. Nick warns that senior management should not blog about knowledge management, at least not about anything other than stating its importance.
In general, a senior manager’s blog will be too formal (an official communication), too hierarchical and too conceptual to be of practical use. It is not a good example to start informal company-wide knowledge sharing between peers.

Nick gives a few better options for using blogging as a method of sharing knowledge among employees.
I strongly support that opinion, just like I support blogging instead of publishing monthly newsletters.

I am almost starting to feel sorry for all executives.
If they have the drive and enthusiasm (which appears not to happen too often), then they are forbidden to blog about a certain topic. If wonder if any executive still has any motivation left after all this. 🙂

Perhaps you know of a good example?

Image courtesy of Ambro at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

KM: Leaving Experts Knowledge Extraction Flowchart

It is about time to reveal the second part of the Leaving Experts flowchart, don’t you think? Until now I have only been showing you the first part, to determine if an expert has knowledge to transfer and if yes, how long (s)he is available to do this.

This is the second part, including the best ways to extract their knowledge given the situation.


Download the full flowchart as pdf.

It will come as no surprise that someone who retires in 6 months will give you more options than someone who leaves the company in 2 months’ time. So if your colleague is leaving the company soon, get into action as soon as possible!

The flowchart above shows the best extraction methods. You may want to check if these are also the best ways to produce the knowledge products that you need. The table below shows you more.


Or download as pdf.

The “staying connected” knowledge extraction method is not mentioned since this can take all kinds of shapes and is usually ad-hoc.
You will also notice that some techniques lend itself to create many different products:

  • Interviews
  • Workshops
  • Thinking out loud
  • Mind mapping

You may want to brush up on those skills, or learn where you can hire the expertise.

Now you go and get that knowledge from your colleague before it is too late!

Even better, start promoting working out loud at this very moment, so you do not have to leave everything to the last moment.
If that feels like too much exposure right now, why not start blogging first? This will not only be useful for your colleagues, but also for yourself.
I write blogs to collect, store and share my own experiences about things like SharePoint permissions or copying from Excel into a SharePoint Datasheet.  I also use blogs (my own and other’s) as help materials to the users I support. A good blogpost saves me a lot of time explaining it over and over again.

And if you think: “Why is she writing this to me? I am not a KM expert or responsible for knowledge management”, think again. Capturing and retaining knowledge is also your responsibility, perhaps not for all your organization, but certainly for your own work and your own team.

So, how are you dealing with “leaving experts” in your team?

KM: 5 more ways to extract knowledge from an expert

KM-extraction with othersIt often takes 3-6 months before a successor can fill the vacancy that an expert has left. Vacancies need to be approved, people selected, obligations to the earlier employer fulfilled. The person-to-person knowledge extraction methods described in my previous post are not applicable then.
The following methods are available to capture knowledge without the need to have the successor(s) present, but you will need someone to do the “writing”.
These methods are indirect, because the knowledge is only shared through the knowledge product and there is no option to ask for an explanation or feedback. On the other hand, these products are independent of time and location and they can be re-used and improved upon over time.

  1. Interviews

The following set of questions could be used to structure an interview focused on knowledge:

  • What types of skills are relevant for your work?
  • What would you have liked to been taught when you took this position?
  • What are the main information sources (internal and external) that you use on the job?
  • Who are the people (in or outside of the organization) who provide you with knowledge?
  • What are the key points your successor or the organization needs to know?

The interviewer could write the questions into a top 5 do’s and don’ts, a list of resources, a skill set and training plan for this role, etc.

2. Thinking out loud

The expert is confronted with a situation and is asked to deal with this while talking aloud about all decisions, alternatives, doubts or side steps that come to their mind during the problem solving process. These situations could be ‘real life’ situations or cases that are typical for real situations. The process is normally recorded on video. After analysis this information could be used to create decision trees or protocols.

I am currently practicing this on SharePoint permissions issues, to make my approach more consistent and sharable.

3. After action reviews

After Action Review (AAR) is a method for extracting lessons learned from an unexpected event, usually a problem, defect, recall or similar occasion. It is a professional discussion that has to be planned immediately after the event, amongst people who were involved (i.e. team members). In the discussion four questions are addressed:

  • What was supposed to happen?
  • What actually happened?
  • Why was there a difference?
  • What can we learn from this experience?

An AAR is a good example of a simple instrument to share lessons and to make knowledge tangible. It can lead to an adjusted protocol or workflow. I think many of you are using this on a regular basis.

It is not always suited for planned knowledge exchange, in case of a leaving expert. Unless you create the event yourself, of course 🙂

4. Project evaluations

A project evaluation is comparable to an After Action Review but is focused on a complete project, so it has a much larger scope. The objective is to capture all relevant lessons from the people involved, share them amongst the participants and report the most relevant lessons for use within the follow-up project, the project organization or company. The outcome could be a set of do’s and don’ts, a good practice, an improved process or material for a case study.
Like the AAR, these are not always suitable for a leaving expert, but if you have an opportunity to plan the evaluation while the expert is still there, use it!

Project Evaluations have been a large part of my KM-work, and I will post about this later.

 5. Mind mapping

The mind-map in itself is abstract and high-level, but will be sufficient for another expert. (not so much for a more general audience) It is a fast way to capture the essentials when your expert leaves soon.
As discussed earlier the process itself could also be used to create other forms of job aids. For instance one could use mind mapping to identify the index of a manual / hand book or the issues which should be addressed in a training binder, or the disciplines involved in a certain process.

What? No mention of “working out loud”?

You may have missed references to Working Out Loud (in a network) and Blogging. Yes, I definitely consider them means to extract and share knowledge. In fact, I prefer them to the others, because they can be started long before your expert becomes a leaving expert.
But hey, remember I am writing my memoirs from around 2000 here. Working Out Loud and Blogging had not really been invented by then 🙂

What other current knowledge extraction tools have come up in the meantime?

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


KM: 6 ways to extract knowledge from an expert

6wayextractionIn one of my earlier KM posts I have discussed various knowledge products.
Before you can create a product, you have to extract the knowledge from the (leaving) expert.

That sounds more painful than it is 🙂

The most painful part is probably finding an internal or external person who is capable of capturing the knowledge and processing it into a useful product.

Knowledge extraction with the successors

If one or more successors are known (and this could be the remaining team) there are several options to choose from. This way knowledge is transferred directly from one person to the other. It is recommended to add “creation of the appropriate knowledge product(s)” to the objectives of the knowledge transfer, to check a correct transfer and to have something tangible to fall back on later

  1. Observation/Shadowing

Shadowing focuses mainly on transfer of knowledge by imitation. Employees who should take over the activities of an expert could join him/her and watch closely how a person performs the job. The successor repeats the activities when the next activity comes in. To make the shared knowledge explicit the observation period can be evaluated by a short ‘debriefing’ session in which the expert explains certain decisions and in which the other party can ask for explanation. The successors can then create a product in which they make their knowledge explicit.

2. Coaching

In daily life knowledge is transferred when an expert coaches trainees/juniors in their new role. In coaching the expert verbalizes much of his knowledge ‘on the spot’. Unfortunately much of this feedback disappears in action but when properly documented this feedback could be used to create more tangible products. One could ask the successors to document the feedback they receive from experts and translate this feedback into a top 5 of do’s and don’ts, a decision tree, a mind map etc.
A leaving expert might coach the successor in his new role. The successor takes over the activities and receives feedback while doing so.

3. Workshops

Workshop can either be very focused (how would we solve this specific problem together?) or have a more open structure (discuss the area in more general terms). Workshops are especially beneficial when the knowledge should be shared to a team of people at once.
For leaving experts an exit workshop may be useful, where successors can ask all kinds of questions to the leaving expert. Successors have the opportunity to ask their specific questions and address the issues they think are most crucial to be transferred. Preparation is key for success: successors should prepare what they would like to know about.
Preferably the outcomes of the workshop are reported into an FAQ, top 5 do’s and don’ts, a list of resources etc.

4. “Ask the expert”

Building a repository of questions and answers could be done based upon the actual requests for expertise. An expert could agree on answering requests from people in the company via the enterprise social network or another tool. This helps day-to-day problem solving but also allows for recording of expertise because questions & answers are documented at the same time. Employees could use this growing set of questions & answers when they encounter problems before they ask the expert for help.
For a leaving expert, you could organize an  “online workshop” or “leaving expert chat” on a certain date and time.
This method can be used to create FAQ-repositories based upon an analysis of actual questions.

5. Lecturing on internal programmes

The knowledge of an expert may be so valuable that it should be part of an internal training program. This expert can act as lecturer and share the knowledge with several other employees at various times. Of course the experts should be supported in the process of creating educational materials (slides, stories, exercises, reading materials, E-learning modules) in order to achieve the most optimal results. This instrument should be applied in collaboration with the training and development department or people who are responsible for internal training programs.
This is generally used when the expert stays in the company.

6. Keep connected

For leaving experts one could arrange a so-called ‘Keep connected initiative’. It might be that the leaving expert agrees on being available for some time afterwards for questions of his successors. This could be organized by telephone or email, or via LinkedIn or other networks.
One of the important prerequisites for these types of initiatives is an up-to-date Employee Directory allowing the successors to find their predecessors, if they stay in the organization.

In my next post I will mention the methods that can be used without the successors present.

If you have any  other suggestions for person-to-person knowledge transfer, please let me know!

Once again, I am indebted to Rob van der Spek .

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Knowledge Management is urgent

KMUrgentThe Maeslantbarrier in The Netherlands is a unique piece of water engineering. It is a storm barrier of epic proportions and inventive technology. It has been created between 1991 and 1997.

People who have designed, built and maintained it are nearing their retirement, and it is essential that the knowledge of this artefact does not get lost. Therefore the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment, the owner of this construction, organizes regular training sessions for everyone who works with the barrier. And because they have found that learning-on-the-job is more effective for such a unique piece of engineering, they also work according to the age-old master-and-apprentice model to exchange information.

The article that I am citing above (in Dutch) also has a scary statistic (by Paul van den Brink, KM specialist)

90-95 % of companies in the Netherlands do not take any action to keep knowledge and expertise in the company.
And that while the population of The Netherlands is ageing, and many people are facing retirement, or being laid off due to reorganizations or bankruptcies.

I think we have all complained that nowadays it takes so long before a vacancy has been filled. Having 3-6 months between departure and arrival is not only annoying for colleagues; it also means that there is no time at all for knowledge exchange and that new employees start at level zero – again. Everything that the old employee has learned in their job, is gone – at least for the organization.

Of course you can sit back and think: “Oh well, I will wait until we have a company strategy on knowledge, or until we have figured out what the company knowledge is that may not be lost.” Or “Yeah right, we do not have Watson or any other machine learning software, so I can not start.”

Think again. There is knowledge involved in your job. It may not be the strategic company knowledge, such as “developing and marketing new coffee products for consumers and foodservice”, but you have specific knowledge of the products and processes in your role. It would be a waste of time and effort if colleagues can not use it now, or find it after you have left.

You can also do Knowledge Management on a smaller scale than Company-wide. I think it will even be easier if you can just focus on your own knowledge and your needs. Check out the knowledge products I shared earlier – and my example of the Tips & Tricks list.

Writing these posts is a little harder for me that writing about SharePoint stuff or videos. But with the frightening statistics above (and I expect they will be similar in other Western countries), I have promised myself to finish the rest of my “KM Memoirs” as soon as possible.

So, if you promise to think and act about collecting and sharing the knowledge of your job NOW, I promise I will help you with some simple and easy tools!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

KM – a practical example

In my opinion, the way to embed Knowledge Management in an organization is to a. avoid using the  term “Knowledge Management” as much as possible (like “Employee Engagement”, but that is another topic) and b.  keep it practical and aligned with the needs of the business or team.
That means you will still have to know the theory and do the thinking process, but you need to translate it into one or more products that work for you.

This is a small, but powerful, example of practical knowledge management: a list of good practices. This is one of the Knowledge Products from my earlier post.

In my earlier role, we had a team of 5 people creating Business Solutions, sites that were custom-configured to facilitate processes. Scroll through the tag “Business Example” to see what I mean. We advertised our services as “We have the experience, and we configure all solutions in a consistent, user-friendly, low-maintenance way”. We had expectations to live up to!

What did we do?

One of our tools was our “Good Practices List”. Here we added experiences, common issues, uncommon bugs, workarounds, useful URL’s, and other things we had found,  wanted to share and/or did not want to forget. Examples:

  • We agreed on a standard button from a button-creation website, and stored preferred shape, shadow, colours, typeface and font information.
  • We collaborated on a good explanation of the difference between targeting and permission settings.
  • We discussed the pros and cons of Choice and Lookup columns and as a result created some recommendations of when to use which type. (I turned it into a blog post)
  • We stored code snippets and instructions on how to use them for instance to change text colour on the edit page of a list item.

Everyone was free to add or comment on each item. We discussed new items and changes every two weeks in our team call.
At first, we all felt a bit hesitant. Sometimes we thought: “is this important enough to even write about it, let alone call it a good practice?” But once we got used to it, and we started to re-use more and more ideas from our list, it started to become a game. Who could add the most practices? Who found the next unexpected issue in our rather finicky content query tool? Who would finally find the code to use conditionally coloured texts in list columns?

Good Practices List
This is what the list looked like. Quite simple, right?


What were the results?

  • We became more aware of the benefits of having and sharing good practices. We learned about so many issues, small and large, that with every new solution we created, we thought more deeply about implications of changes over time, common misunderstandings from users, daily and on-demand maintenance etc.
  • We turned out to be complementing each other: one was very good at code; the other with visual design, etc. Each of us had our specialties that the others could learn from. We were stimulated to show our talents. This also resulted in shorter development cycles (we did not have to reinvent every wheel), and a better distribution of projects over the team.
  • Our solutions became indeed more consistent.

I am still using the knowledge from that list. Many SharePoint functionalities have not changed that much over time and some practices are still relevant. I have created a similar list in my current role.

It is not magic. In fact, the list itself was pretty straightforward:

Only 4 fields to fill to submit a good practice.

It was just being practical and realizing that creating and sharing experiences is fun and helped the team forward. It gave us all recognition.
So, this simple SharePoint list supported Knowledge Management AND Gamification! 🙂

KM – which “knowledge product” do you need?

KM-ProductsIn my earlier post we have identified our experts. Now we have to decide what to do with them :-).

You may want to ask yourself these questions:

  • Which knowledge does this person need to transfer?
  • Which “product” does the remaining team need?
  • What is the best method to create this product?

And you thought you could just apply a simple flowchart and all would be solved!  🙂
No, I am afraid you will have to do some thinking (as with every tool). Some knowledge products will be better for your team than others. Is a simple contact list of  internal and external experts sufficient, or do they need an extensive manual?
It also depends on your expert – is he/she a good speaker and happy to chat freely into a microphone and camera, or do they prefer to condense their knowledge into a mindmap?
You are the one who knows the situation best!

Knowledge Products

In general it will be your expert and your team who will create the product. However you may need other professionals, e.g. writers, education professionals, designers, video editors etc. This is depending on your needs, the aspirational level (is this just for your team or for all the company?), and on the skills of the expert.
The knowledge products below are loosely sorted from generally easy to create (1) to very resource-intensive (14). Not all of them may be suitable for an expert who will leave in 2 months time, but there may be a few that you may want to start creating immediately, before any of your experts leave!

I am indebted for the overview to Rob van der Spek, who was our knowledge management advisor at the time.

  1. Lists of resources
    Examples: A list of contact details of experts, customers, suppliers or organizations; a list of relevant websites.
  2. Blogs
    This can be a “manual in many chapters” and may be easier to digest and apply for the audience than a fullblown manual, especially when the expert starts blogging as soon as possible.
  3. Instruction Video
    A video of how to do something (cleaning a machine, conducting an experiment or configuring a team site) can be highly useful and easier to create and absorb than a written manual.
  4. Frequently Asked Questions
    This tool is especially useful when questions reoccur because the target audience is changing and new people are asking ‘old’ questions.
  5. Mindmaps
    These are especially appropriate for knowledge areas that consist of many relationships and associations, including diverse knowledge sources. They will provide a structure and the relationships of a topic only – the audience should be able to understand this level of abstraction.

    Example of a mindmap. Highly abstract and schematic, but for the right audience it will be useful.
  6. Templates or macros
    Templates provide direct guidance to employees to create products in the company based upon earlier experiences. Think about project statements, market introduction procedures or weekly measurement reports.
  7. Top 5 do’s and don’ts
    This can be a list, a podcast (perhaps with a good story added to it as illustration) or a more fancy format such as an animated video or an information poster. Senior management love them, but be aware that you can easily oversimplify complex situations by reducing them to a bullet-point list.
  8. Decision Trees/ Process Flowcharts
    These are especially useful to structure process knowledge (which steps to take?), problem solving (what might be the problem and which solution should we try?) and selection problems (what is the best way to …?)
    They look simple, but creating one can take some time! Check out my flowchart to retrieve a disappeared web part.
  9. Good practices
    A ‘good practice’ has been implemented in operations and has proven to improve business results. I will show you an example later.
  10. Case studies
    A case study describes a situation from the past including the activities, decisions and outcomes that happened. Case studies are very popular to transfer experiences, and they are especially useful when the knowledge was very specific for a certain situation but provides general lessons for the future, for instance for the launch of a new product, or a merger/acquisition.
  11. Educational materials 
    All the products mentioned in this list are potential training materials. Good educational materials must focus on clear learning objectives, to-the-point information, and exercises and feedback mechanisms.
  12. E-learning
    If you plan to distribute the expert’s knowledge to a larger audience, which is also scattered around the globe, e-learning will be the best solution. This will need an e-learning expert.
  13. Handbooks/manuals
    Handbooks and manuals describe in a structured way how to perform actions, how a technology works  or how to perform diagnostics. They are most useful if the knowledge is easy to structure and does not change very often. You best create a handbook when you have a large audience with similar and repetitive tasks, which is willing and able to read this documentation when necessary.
    Today’s handbook/manual is very visual, with a strong structure, and bite-sized and searchable content.
  14. IT-systems.
    At that time my previous company had no idea which  type of knowledge we most needed to retain and build on, so all vendor attempts to sell us a “knowledge system” were in vain.  New product development? R&D? Knowledge about the customer? Financial risk analysis?
    By now, dedicated products to collect and analyse knowledge have been developed such as IT-ticketing systems and  CRM-suites, which work with large amounts of structured data. Also, knowledge-based simulation software is now more common, reducing the need to do physical experiments.
    IBM’s Watson is a class of its own: it works with unstructured data!

As mentioned, I did this project around 2000. In the mean time, more products may have become popular.  Which knowledge products do you use most frequently? Have I missed some good ones?

Next time, I will show you one of the knowledge products I have co-created. It is about and on SharePoint, so it’s back to the roots of my blog!

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net