Posts Tagged ‘corporate survival’

Activity-Based Auditing and Workflow

October 14, 2013

In 2011, I was building an on-boarding plan for an innovative aftermarket logistics model at multinational electronics firm, and I needed to have a knowledge audit element.
Since auditing of knowledge, while not a fully mature science, is at least a very well trodden area of Knowledge Management (KM), I had no doubt that I would find a suitable auditing model within a few looks at the work of fellow KM practitioners, a glance in my bookshelf, or a few minutes browsing websites.
However, to my surprise, although there were indeed a great many knowledge audit templates, none fitted the level of detail required for a production line environment like the one I was facing.

As a result, I needed to build a knowledge audit model almost from the ground up that would match the workflow nature of the business environment in a highly complex and large electronics repair organization that was geographically spread across the world, and which included an integrated supply chain. The target was a reverse-logistics chain that included the customer, a call center, logistics partners, multiple repair centers, and the original equipment manufacturer.

Once the model was created, the basic methodology was published in the JKMRP as a position paper on critical activity knowledge auditing for other KM practitioners to use[1]. Although the intention was to solve a practical gap in a specific area of reverse-logistics, it was obvious in retrospect that the audit model was well suited to any environment in which there are specific goals served by a documented workflow, from clinical and surgical environment, to manufacturing and repair industries. In response to requests to expand on the paper, the Ark Group (a Wilmington company) published “Knowledge Auditing: an Activity-Based Method for Organisational Success” [2]. (Free intro and sample chapter available for download).

Like many long journeys, this one started with a very innocent-looking question: How does the person carrying out this task know how to do it?
Yet when I asked this in practice for repair activities, it became obvious that there was some uncertainty about something that was critical to success.
Laying out the flow sheets of how the repair process worked, it was clear to everyone what sequential steps were to be carried out, and there was reasonable agreement on whom the actor would be, but less clarity on how they knew how to execute.

You might ask why this is important to anyone, yourself in particular.
There are three market pressures and three areas of neglect that make this important, and if you don’t have a solution, you are going to be buried.

Firstly the market changes:

  1. The “Silver Tsunami
  2. Market Turbulence
  3. Globalization

Now the areas of neglect:

  1. Hiring is a mess: In most firms little better than flipping a coin, in many a horror of wasted talent and superstition that is exceeded only by the secrecy and invisibility of just how bad it is. Hiring is typically done with no regard to knowledge.
  2. Training is ineffective: Usually decoupled from the actual job and doing little more than putting “bums on seats” (however you would like to interpret that).
  3. Job instructions are useless: Mostly people have to interrupt each other or create their own “cheat sheets”, which are often out of date, faulty, or downright irrational.

The most knowledgeable people are going to be leaving, there are too few replacements, and those replacements don’t have nearly the training and knowledge of those leaving. The time taken to on-board or even fire up off shoring is excessively long, and efficiency is way down and matched only by worker disaffection.
The market changes rapidly and big players in the top 500 vanish so fast that one can scarcely keep up, while disruptive technologies and business models spring up as if from nowhere. In addition to new customers, new competition, and rapid changes in technology that demand very agile responses and planning, the share of market capitalization has shifted dramatically over the last fifty years. In figure 3 the asset components of the S&P 500 market value is broken down between tangible (standard) and intangible assets. Clearly what a firm knows has become far more important in most cases than what tangible assets like property, equipment, and even cash balance they have.

Figure 3. S&P Market value by asset type Courtesy Ocean Tomo

In a globalized world, new competition and new customers will spring up wherever the market is, not where traditionally located or preferred, and those firms who are unable to rally flexible knowledge application are at a strategic disadvantage to those who know what they know and know how to scale up or down to match market pressures.

If your business has a workflow, then the audit process is designed to identify, on-board, and support workers faster and better, and to result in improvements in the organizational objectives served by those workflows.
The audit does so by making hiring, training, and job aids closely tied to the actual task execution.

The basic auditing principle is not all that hard when one looks at it coldly. The firm comes about to having an actor with the right knowledge, in the right place, and at the right time by some combination of:

  • They were hired to have that knowledge already;
  • The actor was trained in some way; or
  • A job aid would be provided to them at the time of execution.

Precisely which knowledge and what it pertains to would require a bit more granularity, and that hides in the diagram in figure 1 below.

Figure 1. Workflow Sub-Structures

However, this obviously entails a lot of analysis, so another core component of the audit is to focus only on the knowledge that is individually necessary and also collectively sufficient to achieve the organization’s critical goals. After all, organizations have a lot of knowledge that really isn’t on that critical path between work and their main organizational aims. Figure 2 traces the path from the organizational objectives to the individual tasks that lead to their achievement.

Figure 2. Critical Path

So what should you do?
Here’s my suggested shortlist:

  • Gather a team to perform an audit to identify the critical workflows and to audit the knowledge needs
  • Update hiring practices to match the actual knowledge needs at an activity level, and throw out vague and wishful role-based hiring methods
  • Refactor training to align with work activity knowledge needs
  • Build a knowledge base of job aids suited to the activities in the critical knowledge value chains, and that will deliver job aids in a fashion appropriate to the working conditions
  • Build an audit practice that monitors for deviation and applies Lean principles to fixing wasteful workflow

That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

References

1.    Loxton, M.H., A simplified integrated critical activity-based knowledge audit template. Knowl Manage Res Prac, 2013.

2.    Loxton, M.H., Knowledge Auditing: an Activity-Based Method for Organisational Success. 2013, London: Ark Group.

Matthew Loxton is a certified Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew works at WBB as a senior analyst applying KM principles to Health IT implementation. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

Why KM isn’t going away anytime soon

September 4, 2012

There have been a fair number of people in the blogosphere over the last few years who have trumpeted that KM is “Dead” – some of them mean it in an ironic way or simply as a provocative hook to get eyeballs on their blogs, some think the way we understand KM is changing and that the old ways are “dead”, and some actually believe that KM is a term best ceded to IT and that the next shiny thing beckons – be that complexity, agile, or something else.

The real acid test is whether there is an increase in the number of jobs that are either about KM or require some degree of expertise in it, and whether they mention KM activities or compliance with KM practices as an essential part of jobs – But this is something I can’t answer just yet, since getting Monster, Indeed, etc. to pony up data on what KM jobs there were over the past decades is not easy.

Until then, let’s look at three things that would individually drive a need for Knowledge Management.

  1. Business variance and volatility – i.e. “Turbulence”
  2. Increase in the share of firm’s market capitalization due to Intangible Assets
  3. Demographics

My position is that the swell produced by each of these three market dynamics would individually create a need for Knowledge Management, but that collectively they make it an imperative – firms that do not get this right are in my view already dead men walking.

Turbulence

One of the markers I look for in firms to tell me if Knowledge Management is likely to deliver ROI, is the degree to which they are subject to variation and volatility. To get a metric on that I measure inter alia the following:

  • Change in regulations, laws, technologies, and players in their market space.
  • Product churn and variation
  • Staff turnover, skills variation, and performance variation.

Many economists have a similar measure that they simply call “Turbulence”
Here’s an interesting image that is typical of a measure of turbulence that just keeps showing up wherever one looks. It is a measure of business change in terms of new startups, mergers & acquisitions, business closures, etc.

This example is focused on healthcare, but as I said, the same shape keeps showing up – very little turbulence in the decades prior to the 70’s, with an explosion in the 90’s, and a small amount of calming running through the oughts, but no sign of anything like a return to the stable days of the 50’s and 60’s.

(HBR, 2012)

This is the “new normal” of the business world, with turbulence of an order of magnitude higher than what was previously “normal” and a status quo in which turbulence is a constant companion.
The days of a person doing the same job for decades, or a firm staying in the same business, or ownership of the firm staying constant are gone and never to return – and consequently, the ability to acquire knowledge fast, to be able to use it effectively, and to be able to “manage” one’s knowledge assets both tacit and explicit are critical to survival both for individuals and for organizations.

Intangible Assets

As per the image from Savage (1996) there was a time when “wealth” pretty much meant owning land – Being a big landowner meant having status, position, power.
Then it shifted to access to labour and wealth meant being able to acquire, mobilize, and manage a workforce.
Then it was having access to capital to fund business operations.

… and now it means controlling knowledge.

(Savage, 1996)

Over the last century, the proportion the market value of a publicly-traded firm that an auditor could capture with the balance-sheet in one hand and a pencil in the other has gone from over 90% at the start of the 1900’s to a low of under 20% in the 2010’s. The balance is made up mostly of “Intangible Capital”, and was often tossed into a bucket marked “goodwill”.

(Ocean-Tomo, 2010)

In fact, if you look at the data from Ocean Tomo, just since 1975 the proportion of market value of the S&P 500 has gone from just 17% to 80% in 2010.

So picture this if you will – you are an investor, and you have a bag of cash and want to grow it by purchasing a firm that you believe stands ready to take advantage of new needs and to generate a tidy profit for you (or your backers). You send in the bean-counters, and they take stock of the firm, ticking off as they walk the premises every line item on the balance sheet – raw materials, buildings, plant and equipment, finished goods, cash in hand, etc. By the time they have met with your banker (who might also want to see the results), and have walked the floor, they could give you circa 1910, an account that was close to 90% accurate as to the worth of the firm.

No doubt you would be happy with this statement of affairs and you could make the purchase with not too many sleepless nights.
Barring unforeseen circumstance, all should be well and the small amount that was unaccounted for and lies in the entry marked “goodwill” was merely icing, and if push came to shove you could just sell off the assets and still be in the black.

Fast forward to 2012 and your accountants return to you a balance sheet and inventory that reflect only 20% of the value of the firm, and they report that they think that maybe there is another 80% hidden in the “goodwill” line, but they aren’t sure. It may be 0%, it might be 90%, they just don’t know.
You spend days with your stomach churning, and if you represent investors, you fret over how you will explain this.

At this point investors, bankers, analysts, and increasingly shareholders, are simply not satisfied.
Leaving 80% of the value of a firm to guesswork simply is not acceptable, and they have various plans afoot to force firms to identify the value of their intangibles – ranging from the SHRM attempt to have value metrics for Human Capital, to more complex evaluations of the worth of a firm’s knowledge.

2012 saw some banks put dollar value against patents for the purposes of loan collateral, and who can forget all the patent auctions of 2011-2012, with more no doubt coming.
IC is no longer something that is seen as a bit of icing, it is now the major part of the cake itself – >80% in fact.

Demographic Change

We talk a lot about the “Baby Boomers” and their immanent retirement, but have you ever actually seen it?

Here is what a population pyramid for Germany looks like:

(Source US Census Bureau 2012)

What this means is that there are way fewer people in each age-group following those who are now at the peaks of their career, and the number of people entering the job market won’t be able to fill the spots as the groups above them shift up and the oldest shift out. The bulk of that 80% of value represented by IC lies in the skills, knowledge, and traits of the knowledge workers you employ – and generally the older ones are the most valuable to you. They know how, they know what and when, and most of all, they know why.

If you create a population pyramid for the Knowledge Workers in your firm, you might be in for a nasty shock (especially those of you with a need for highly-skilled practitioners such as engineers, planners, and managers) – you simply might not have enough people to replace the older skilled workers as they shift out of the job market, and you don’t have all that long to figure out what to do. In fact, in some firms it is already too late, they are simply going to go bust as their older and most experienced and qualified people retire.
The best such firms can do is plan for a somewhat orderly shutdown.

Knowledge Management

Let’s agree not to play “definition” bingo and to go down the rabbit-hole of the myriad somewhat-overlapping definitions of “Knowledge Management”, and suffice it to say that what we are trying to achieve is to have a clear picture of what the organization needs to know in order to execute its operational activities, to organize, regulate, control that required knowledge, and to maintain levels of it sufficient to meet operational needs.
So if we were to lay out an ISO9000 diagram of all the operational processes necessary to achieve the organization’s tier-1 goals, and then determine for each activity in the flow what the person would need to know, we would arrive at a list of what knowledge was minimally necessary (and perhaps not even sufficient) to meet EBITDA and other requirements.

The terrain in which KM practitioners operate is for the most part that of Intangible Capital, as depicted below.

(Adams & Oleksak, 2010)

The role of the person(s) responsible for Knowledge Management in the organization would be to see that the needs for knowledge were identified, to identify and measure the degree to which these were met, and have a plan and processes to make sure that the organization acquired, maintained, and put to work that knowledge in the most cost-effective and timely manner possible.

This is not going to be the IT guy any more than the IT guy is responsible for running the finances of the organization.

Conclusion

There has never been another time during which control over knowledge assets has been more important, and firms that do not have a robust knowledge management practice humming along will experience very high rates of failure as we track forward.
Far from being “dead”, knowledge management is going to be a significant determinant of which firms survive, and which roll over and sink as the combined effect of turbulence, the value of IC, and demographic change swells up around them.

References

Adams, M., & Oleksak, M. (2010). Intangible Capital: Praeger.

HBR (2012). The Volatile U.S. Economy, Industry by Industry Retrieved 09/04/2012, 2012, from http://hbr.org/web/slideshows/the-volatile-us-economy-industry-by-industry/1-slide

Ocean-Tomo (2010). Intangible Asset Market Value Retrieved 09/04/2012, 2012, from http://www.oceantomo.com/media/newsreleases/Intangible-Asset-Market-Value-Study

Savage, C. M. (1996). Fifth generation management : co-creating through virtual enterprising, dynamic teaming, and knowledge networking (Rev. ed.). Boston: Butterworth-Heinemann.

~~~

Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management practitioner, and is a peer reviewer for the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice. Matthew holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

It’s Time for a CKO

June 18, 2012

This blog post is a companion piece to the presentation I gave at the June ICKC Practitioner’s Meeting in which I presented slides and discussed some of the history of the launch of Knowledge Management, and why now is a critical time for firms to have a CKO. The title of the presentation was “Time for a CKO?” and was the second presentation of the meeting after “The New Economics” by Peter Bretscher.

The full slide-deck is also available both as a pdf and as a power-point slide deck at SlideShare

The Big Flop

In the 80’s and 90’s “The Knowledge Age” was the new fancy idea, and was taken up mainly by gurus like Drucker, but also several business academics.
Unfortunately the hype quickly overtook any ability to deliver, and consulting firms and software companies pounded money out of it and it quickly turned into a fad.

The idea was good, but the terrain was unprepared and consulting and software simply wasn’t going to deliver an ROI – Management didn’t know how to “do KM”, nobody was quite sure what the objectives were, and there simply were too few actual KM practitioners to even make a dent in it.

The result was an expensive, highly visible, and embarrassing belly-flop.

Back to Basics

So let’s just revisit two of the big moving parts driving KM and for the moment ignore all the practical reasons for KM like faster on-boarding, reducing waste, increasing quality, etc.

Two major changes have been underway historically – where wealth comes from, and the proportion of corporate value that is due to intangibles.

Firstly, wealth has changed in principle source from real-estate during feudal times, to being able to command labour and capital, to a current situation in which knowledge is the primary source of wealth.

Over the last hundred years, the measurement of corporate wealth has shown an increasing shift from property to ability. At the turn of the last century a firm’s wealth was made up primarily from its ownership of tangible assets – real estate, equipment, stock, and cash, but by the arrival of the early Knowledge Era, this had already been shifting

The current era is marked by a shift in the balance between the contribution to EBITDA and Market Capitalization in favor of Intangible Assets, and this is deemed likely to continue for several decades.

Secondly, the share of Intangible Capital as a share of the market value of firms has changed from a historical norm of <20% in the 1970’s to a current situation in which IC accounts for over 80% of a firm’s value.

illustration of the split between tangible and intangible value in the S&P 500 rising from 20/80 in the late 70’s to 80/20 in 2005

Knowledge was seen by Drucker, Senge, and others as being the only remaining way that firms can stay competitive in the Knowledge Era, and the major source of differentiation amongst competitors. These days every firm has more or less the same access to capital, raw materials, basic labor, and equipment as every other, and competitive advantage is no longer a matter of merely securing access to resources or materials.

The thing that separates Apple or 3M from the lower-order players is not physical assets but knowledge and acumen.

At the same time the people that track market valuation have been noticing an increase in the “Q” value that Tobin derived by comparing the market value of a firm with its physical assets and cash.
What has been increasingly obvious since the mid eighties is that the gap has been rapidly widening and that it seems to be stabilizing at around 80% of a firm’s market cap being attributable to intangible assets.

Source Adams & Oleksak (2010)

As per the International Association of IC Practitioners (IAICP), these include:

  1. Relationship Capital such as customer goodwill, reputation, and referrals
  2. Human Capital such as skills, knowhow, and expertise
  3. Structural Capital such as processes, patents, and trade secrets

They also add a fourth component, “Strategic Capital”, which I take as being the overlap of the first three that are individually necessary and collectively sufficient to achieve organizational strategic objectives.

Where Are We Now?

“Intellectual property has become one of the most important resources in the 21st century. It’s now an accepted fact that, just like financial capital or commodities or labor, IP is more than an economic asset – it also forms the basis of a global market”

Manny Schecter, chief patent counsel at IBM. (Forbes 2012)

Nonaka provides a model that distinguishes between knowledge that people can turn into documents (Explicit) and knowledge that either can’t be expressed or is locked away in their heads and practices and maybe even something they were unaware that they knew (Tacit). His model provides ways to move explicit knowledge into tacit knowledge (like studying and practicing the cello), tacit into tacit (like an apprenticeship), tacit into explicit, and explicit into explicit.

In support of this much has matured since his model was devised:

  • Many colleges and universities now offer master’s and doctoral programs for KM, and several institutes such as the Knowledge Management Institute and KM Pro offer certification courses for practitioners.
  • Several KM journals are published, amongst which the Journal of Knowledge Management Research & Practice has a rated impact factor.
  • KM interlocks with several other fields – at one end with the TQM, Lean/6Sigma movements, Applied Psychology, and Operational Research, and at the other end with Finance & Economics through Intellectual Asset Management and Intangible Asset Management

In addition, many large and innovative firms employ KM – from 3M to Xerox, including Deloitte, Dow Jones , Forrester, Fujitsu, Gartner, Google, HP, IBM, Lexis-Nexis, Pratt & Whitney, PWC, Siemens, World Bank , etc.

The primary areas of activity for KM are in workplace collaboration, management of innovation, the development of occupational communities in which standards of practice are refined, and corporate valuation through increased discovery and accounting of intellectual assets.

So where are we compared to the 80’s and 90’s?

The reasons for the lack of mainstreaming of institutionalized Knowledge Management have all fallen away, but the reluctance is still dwelling because of that memory in the minds of many executives. At the same time we have several emergent and increased pressures for institutionalizing Knowledge Management.

  • Technological changes and adoption rates continue to climb
  • You cannot simply put 80% of an organization’s worth under “goodwill”
  • The trade in IC has increased sharply over the last decade both for defensive and product development uses.

Simply put, IC is becoming fungible.

… and even being considered as collateral for loans by banks.

Return of the CKO

The CKO is not a new role, but one which holds increasing relevance in an age where knowledge and other intangible assets form such a large proportion of value, and in a time when retirement rate reaches 10,000 people per day in the US.

The CKO should be the structural keystone that brings IC and knowledge in particular under a single umbrella of scrutiny, management, and governance.
The days in which a firm’s knowledge could be left to the day to day operational dynamics are long gone, and it amounts to corporate suicide to leave knowledge management to chance.

To be sure, everyone “does” Knowledge Management, just like every firm “does finance”, but leaving it to chance implies that it is not likely to be done well, nor done in a fashion that enhances the likelihood of achieving organizational objectives. In much the same way that a CFO does not personally own all the money in the organization but provides governance, guidance, and a framework under which money and physical assets are managed and accounted for, the CKO should do the same for knowledge and IC.

Knowledge Management straddles all operations of an organization, and at its heart asks a simple duo of questions: how does a person know what they are meant to do, and how do they know how to do it?

In this sense KM overlaps on one side with HR/Recruitment in terms of what skills and experience a person needs to have prior to joining the organization in order to execute the assigned activities in their role.
KM also interfaces with Learning and Development in order to make good on knowledge that must be taught in addition to those “just-in time” job aids that must be presented to a worker at the time of execution in the form of knowledgebase articles.

On the valuation side, KM interfaces with Finance to establish value of knowledge artifacts and the abilities of staff.

KM provides both tactical and strategic support for the organizational mission as far as knowledge is concerned – from operational knowledge-bases, to Communities of Practice, to valuation of Intangible Capital such as trade secrets, methods, procedures, copyright, patents, etc.

In addition KM provides the framework and basis upon which those could be bundled or commoditized to make them available for franchising, leasing/licensing, or sale.

Is it For You?

The CKO role, and in fact organized and institutionalized Knowledge Management, is not for everyone, and the research shows consistently that there are several factors that are indicators that institutionalized KM and a CKO role would deliver a strong ROI.

The higher a firm rates on these items, the more likely there is to be a positive ROI for institutionalized Knowledge Management.
Here we deal with the three broad areas.

  1. The Business Model
  2. The Organizational Culture and Environment
  3. Volatility & Variability in the business terrain

Variability and Volatility deserve special attention since the more fluid and volatile the market, products, and labor pool are, the higher the need to be able to learn quickly and adapt fast and be able to lower the risks of volatility by having on-hand knowledge that represents the best and most current available.

To find out for yourself, try two surveys that I have built

  1. The KM Fit-test Survey
  2. The KMOL-C climate survey

Conclusion

The time to institutionalize Knowledge Management is now – the game has changed and all the old obstacles are either solved or no longer significant hurdles to implementing a formal process to gain control of IC.
There has never been a time in which pure knowledge in the form of know-how and know-who determine the value of a firm, and ongoing survival is going to depend on gaining a high degree of management capability over intangible assets.

~~~

Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management professional and holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra. Mr. Loxton has extensive international experience and is currently available as a Knowledge Management consultant or as a permanent employee at an organization that wishes to put knowledge to work.

Expert Wisdom and Slurping up Context

December 20, 2011

Most firms employ experts, and let’s be honest, don’t really use them much.

Considering that being smarter, that is fielding better knowledge resources, than one’s competition is a key survival criterion in business.
After all it is putting knowledge to work, or the actual deployment of Intellectual Capital that is typically what makes one firm survive and another die or get eaten.
So it is curious that many firms fail to leverage their expert’s discretionary effort, subject interest, and awareness.

In this blog I will provide a practical technique for using your experts better to increase your holdings of Intellectual Capital and for improving your firm’s awareness of its business environment, and perhaps even taking another step in the direction of becoming a learning organization.

In a recent webinar for the ic knowledge center I presented some ideas on Knowledge Management & IC and you are welcome to download the presentation slides from the ICKC website, or to join the conversation.

Objectives of Knowledge Management

Firstly, let’s just remind ourselves of the two main forks in Knowledge Management objectives

  1. Operational Excellence
  2. Niche Mastery

In the first we want to put knowledge to work and by doing so to reduce cost due to wasted effort and duplication, increase output and efficiency by replicating best practices, and by propagating knowledge across the organization.

In the second we want it to be seen that we do this, and make it clear to potential customers, investors, and would-be employees that we are masters of our craft and market niche.

Expertise is the gold, but alone it is insufficient – you can’t just have expertise, you must put it to work in as many ways as possible in order to make it a competitive advantage rather than just an “also-have”.

The Learning Organization

As I have outlined in previous posts, a major cause of corporate mortality is failure to learn – in essence a fatal learning disability.

One of the primary features of such a learning disability is an inward focus and a steady loss of awareness of what is going on outside the firm – such firms stop using external events and information to drive change within their organization.
For a firm to learn I believe there are several components that must be satisfied.

Inter alia, a firm must successfully engage in and master:

  • Environmental Awareness
  • Processing & Contextualization of external information
  • Deriving Synthesis & Meaning from external information
  • Adaptive Behavioral Change

A firm needs its experts to be aware of what is going on in the world and specifically in terms of their area of expertise, to have a high index of curiosity, and to do something with what they see.

Specifically, what I have in mind is that they will place a context around things that would otherwise simply pass the rest of us by unnoticed or unmarked, and as a result the firm will adapt to external conditions and innovate.

How an Expert Tags Novelty

What this means in real terms is that I want experts to be aware of things going on in the outside world, for example news items, events, technological changes, and market movements, and then to pull those into the firm, and provide an explanation of what this means, how it is relevant to what the firm does, and finally, to suggest actions that could put this to use for the firm.

In the presentation I give two examples, but your use is likely to be different and should be driven by your experts because they are the only portal through which new ideas can enter your firm without triggering the embedded immune systems that usually crush novelty as a form of error.

DIY

Here then are the steps I suggest you use in getting your experts to pull in Intellectual Capital for your firm

  1. Capture Content from external sources
  2. Provide a Context from the eyes of an expert
  3. Explain why this is Significant to the firm
  4. Add an Evaluation to test message integrity
  5. Provide a Social Environment for interaction
  6. Layer with advised Actions

Although hosting the content in a CRM, LMS, or Wiki will help, don’t prioritize IT systems over the people element – most KM practitioners I have polled believe that people-factors account for 80-90% of the success of this kind of thing, and technology only 10-20%. So spend proportionate amounts of time and effort on organizing, motivating, and helping the people and don’t get distracted by the shiny IT toys.

Conclusion

Experts are often underutilized and pigeon-holed into highly specific roles that reduce their effectiveness as agents of organizational learning that can boost operational performance and increase adaptive capacity. By deliberately encouraging your experts to retrieve found articles of information from the outside world and add value to them by explaining context and implication to the firm, and by specifying recommended actions, the expert can extend their value and that of the firm.

~~~

Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions. Matthew is a peer reviewer for several Knowledge Management and Information Science Journals.

CoP vs CoE – What’s the difference, and Why Should You Care?

June 1, 2011

In a previous blog I covered how corporate Silos and Communities of Practice work together, and in this blog I will cover two similar ways to leverage expertise.

Other than having snappy Three Letter Acronyms (TLA), Centers of Excellence (CoE) and Communities of Practice (CoP) provide a company with ways to consolidate and build on its expertise in areas that bring direct financial and competitive results, and which translate to higher customer satisfaction, increased referenciability, and improvements in both capacity and capability. Both techniques of deploying expert knowledge provide increased job satisfaction and career development for staff at the same time.

One requires special organizational changes and an operational budget, and the other simply needs some infrastructural support to let people do what they are passionate about.

The following operational definition of a CoE is fairly useful

Whatever you call them, a Center of Excellence (CoE) should, at a most basic level consist of:  A team of people that promote collaboration and using best practices around a specific focus area to drive business results. This team could be staffed with full- or part-time members.” (Strickler 2008)

Strickler goes on to list what he considers to be the responsibilities of a CoE:

  • 1. Support: For their area of focus, CoE’s should offer support  to the business lines. This may be through services needed, or providing subject matter experts.
  • 2. Guidance: Standards, methodologies, tools and knowledge repositories are typical approaches to filling this need.
  • 3. Shared Learning: Training and certifications, skill assessments, team building and formalized roles are all ways to encourage shared learning.
  • 4. Measurements: CoEs should be able to demonstrate they are delivering the valued results that justified their creation through the use of output metrics.
  • 5. Governance: Allocating limited resources (money, people, etc.) across all their possible use is an important function of CoEs. They should ensure organizations invest in the most valuable projects and create economies of scale for their service offering. In addition, coordination across other corporate interests is needed to enable the CoE to deliver value.
  • (Strickler 2008)

In comparison a CoP provides more or less the same in terms of 1-4, but has no official authority over deployment of company resources such as people, places, equipment, or budget.

A CoP provides as follows:

  1. Support – provision of a network of experts from both inside the organization and from outside
  2. Guidance – a CoP can be entrusted to devise and document best practices, standards, methodologies, tools, bodies of knowledge
  3. Shared Learning – Except for actually creating formalized roles in a company hierarchy, a CoP does all the same things as a CoE under this heading, plus provides mentorship, apprenticeships, and access to external informal and formal trade groups.
  4. Measurements – besides providing measurements of efficacy, a CoP typically describes what measures are appropriate for the proper execution of the domain of expertise or trade
  5. Governance – in this one dimension a CoP differs greatly from a CoE and instead of managing resources, a CoP strives to refine and improve the domain of expertise itself. A central function of the CoP is to improve the domain itself rather than simply managing its deployment. A CoE for project management seeks to improve the deployment of project managers and the like in furtherance of operational targets, whereas a CoP would seek to improve the entire field and practice of project management itself.

The Carnegie-Mellon Software Engineering Institute (SEI) offers a more detailed account of CoE including how to measure them

(Craig, Fisher et al. 2009)

They also offer a broader definition

(Craig, Fisher et al. 2009)

Their categories are similar to that of Strickler, but the SEI tabulate them as follows:

  1. Internal Business Process
  2. Customer Focus
  3. Leadership
  4. Innovation and Learning
  5. Financial

Again we can usefully compare what a CoP does on the same dimensions

  1. Internal Business Process – A CoP applies domain principles to service organizational goals
  2. Customer Focus – While a CoP is focused more on refining the domain than on customer service, it acknowledges that this is a business goal of the host organization and therefore puts domain expertise in service of customers.
  3. Leadership – a CoP provides leadership on the use and principles of the domain itself
  4. Innovation and Learning – These are perceived as vital objectives and programs within a CoP, although it must be said that neither a CoP nor a CoE are natural sources of innovation as such since they are both conservationary entities rather than innovative.
  5. Financial – CoPs have little or no financial responsibilities , in part at least because they depend on members to provide discretionary effort and volunteerism rather than performing work in exchange for payment.

So What is a CoP then?

Wenger (2007) defines CoPs as follows : “Communities of practice are formed by people who engage in a process of collective learning in a shared domain of human endeavour“(Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002) and goes on to provide some examples to demonstrate

“… a tribe learning to survive, a band of artists seeking new forms of expression, a group of engineers working on similar problems, a clique of pupils defining their identity in the school, a network of surgeons exploring novel techniques, a gathering of first-time managers helping each other cope. In a nutshell: Communities of practice are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly.” (Wenger, McDermott et al. 2002)

A CoP is an affiliation of people who share a common practice and who have a desire to further the practice itself … and of course to share knowledge, refine best practices, and introduce standards – but more on that later. CoPs are defined by their domain of interest, but the membership is a social structure comprised of volunteer practitioners.

CoPs differ from a CoE mainly in that they tend to have no geographical boundaries, they hold no hierarchical power within a firm, and they definitely can never have structure determined by the company.
However, one of the most obvious and telling differences lies in the stated motive of members – CoPs exist because they have active practitioner members who are passionate about a specific practice, and the goals of a CoP are to refine and improve their chosen domain of practice – and the members provide discretionary effort that is not paid for by the employer.

CoE members are paid by an employer substantively to perform that role, whereas CoP members may use infrastructure and time provided by their employer, but provide services and participation out of discretionary effort of their own. They are not paid for services rendered in the way a CoE member is.

For example: a CoP for Project Managers would transcend organizational boundaries and consist of members who are passionate about Project Management itself, and who may or may not be employed by the same firm or live on the same continent. They participate and contribute towards the improvement of project management itself because their common interest in refining and improving the practice of Project Management gives them a common interest.

CoPs may remain internal to a single company but there is no reason why they should do so (and plenty of reasons why they shouldn’t), and while they would benefit from support from the company, they don’t have to have it.

What a company can do for CoPs is provide resources like time, places to meet, IT services, stationery, coffee, tea, cookies, and maybe some money for occasional travel and beer.

What a company gets in return are fired-up and expert people who are masters of their game, and a set of practices and methods that get used consistently across different silos of the organization.

Suffice to say that companies that have thriving CoPs tend to be the leaders in their market niche and tend to have better staff retention and higher EBITDA than those that don’t.

Let’s look at the core characteristics of a CoP according to Wenger (2007)

  1. A Domain
    ‘…[a CoP] has an identity defined by a shared domain of interest. Membership therefore implies a commitment to the domain, and therefore a shared competence that distinguishes members from other people’
  2. A Community
    ‘In pursuing their interest in their domain, members engage in joint activities and discussions, help each other, and share information. They build relationships that enable them to learn from each other’
  3. Practice
    ‘Members of a community of practice are practitioners. They develop a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems—in short a shared practice. This takes time and sustained interaction’

(Wenger 2007) in (Smith 2003, 2009)

Conclusion

A CoE is something that you must be able to afford to put in place, whereas a CoP is something you cannot afford not to put in place. The essence of a CoP is the concept of management being enablers and then simply getting out of the way of passionate people so that they can do their thing. Whether a person’s passion is codification systems for diagnosis & repair, financial measurement, or business analytics, there are bound to be others in the company, amongst business partners, or within the customer-base that are dying to work together on refining and advancing their domain of interest – all you need to do as a manager is enable them, empower them, and get out of the way so they can put passion to work.

~~~

Matthew Loxton is a Knowledge Management expert, holds a Master’s degree in Knowledge Management from the University of Canberra, and provides pro-bono consulting in Knowledge Management and IT Governance to various medical institutions.

References

Craig, W., M. Fisher, et al. (2009). Generalized Criteria and Evaluation Method for Center of Excellence: A Preliminary Report, Citeseer.

Smith, M. K. (2003, 2009). “Communities of practice.” The encyclopedia of informal education Retrieved 31 May, 2011, from www.infed.org/biblio/communities_of_practice.htm.

Strickler, J. (2008). “What is a Center of Excellence.” Retrieved 31/5/2011, 2011, from http://agileelements.wordpress.com/2008/10/29/what-is-a-center-of-excellence/.

Wenger, E. (2007). Communities of practice: Learning, meanings, and identity, Cambridge university press.

Wenger, E., R. A. McDermott, et al. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice: A guide to managing knowledge, Harvard Business Press.


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