Posts Tagged ‘Management’

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.

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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.

Free Management Help – Pro Bono Knowledge Management, Organizational Learning, & IT Governance

November 2, 2010

I am looking for 2-3 organizations to whom I can donate some of my time and expertise.

Many people offer up time to hospitals and other worthy institutions and while I am sure that manning the gift-shop or providing directions to patients is both useful and beneficial, I am no good at using a cash-register and my sense of direction is probably best not put to the test in this way.

Instead, I am offering my professional skills in IT Governance, Management, and Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning – The general idea is that I can give access to experience, knowledge, and training for free that would normally cost around $150-185/hr.

Who

The typical institution that I have helped in the past has been medical in nature, but the bottom line is that I am looking for places that have a good social story to tell and whose activities have a positive social effect.

What you get out of this

Free consulting and help on issues to do with management, deployment of volunteers, IT governance and policies, building of communities of practice, organizational development and training, knowledge management, and intellectual asset management.

I can help you draw up IT or training RFP’s for example, help you craft IT and Internet policies, and assist in formulating a Web2.0 approach. I can help you get better value from your SMEs and executives, and put in place a training and competency framework.

What I get out of it

I get the warm and fuzzy feeling from doing something socially beneficial and augment that magic triad of excelling at something, being passionate about it, and getting something other than financial rewards for it.
I also get to put my knowledge and expertise to work in a broader context than just an employer, and to spread knowledge management and organizational learning memes.

Maybe I also meet new people, make new friends, and add new stories to my life.

What to do

If your organization would like to take advantage of my offer you can contact me via LinkedIn, reply to this blog, or email me

Death, Learning, and Corporate Survival

October 26, 2010

Why do mature companies die or grow frail and get eaten?

After all, once they have passed through the helter-skelter of childhood and have attained stability after the hectic days of early formation, why don’t they just live on forever?
This was a topic that interested Arie de Geuss of Royal Dutch Shell and he asked a similar question to one that led to a breakthrough in medical science almost four centuries ago – could the same hold for how we look at corporations?

Death as a subject

In 1662, John of Graunt built tables of mortality for the city of London, listing for each year the numbers of deaths by cause. This required not just the collection of data about death, itself a valuable exercise, but also required him to think in terms of categories of causes of death. Although many of the categories have changed over time, this process of thinking once set in motion, led to steady revision and improvement.

For example, from the year 1632, Graunt lists these as the top five causes of mortality:

Chrisomes*, and infants        2268
Consumption
**                     1797
Fever                                    1108
Aged                                     628
Flock
s†, and the small Pox    531

*Infant mortality before 1 month of age
**Tuberculosis
†Means “sediment”, but it is unclear what Graunt meant by this in conjunction with Smallpox

This systematic approach paved the way for tracking and intervention, and gave birth to the science of demographics and enabled epidemiology to develop.
You could say that Graunt was a necessary and key player in the development of modern medicine.

The Mortality of Companies

In his analysis of companies in terms of mortality, de Geuss created categories from the data that led him eventually to conclude that companies die because they develop learning disabilities – they became deaf and blind, and stopped learning – and therefore eventually succumbed to external forces that they were unable to notice or against which to marshal an appropriate response in time.

I view this in terms of Organizational Learning (OL) – which is why I describe my occupation as “Knowledge Management and Organizational Learning”, and I break it into five major components:

  1. Stimulus-Response Learning
  2. Vicarious and Promiscuous Learning
  3. Scenario Planning
  4. Ongoing Professional Development
  5. Innovation Intent

Stimulus-Response Learning

This is the kind of thing that even an earthworm can do, but which many organizations seem to lack.

If an earthworm touches an electrified wire, it eventually learns to avoid the wire, no matter which part of its body did the touching. In contrast, some companies will repeat the same mistake over and over again, seemingly needing to reiterate the same mistake several times with each and every business unit and team before the message finally gets through and becomes part of its adaptive repertoire.

Being smarter than an earthworm should not be that difficult for a corporation made up of smart people, but it means that internal communications and repositories are done in such a way that if one part of the organization makes a mistake or encounters something that poses a risk, that all other units and geographies have access to that same information in a way that they can actually use (and do!).

This turns out to be more difficult than one might assume and the “plumbing” side of providing email, portals, knowledge-bases, and content management are only about a third of the solution. The remainder is a corporate culture that is able to learn across divisional boundaries, and for this you need both leadership and vibrant Communities of Practice

Many organizations never get this far, and die because the rock that they stubbed their toe on last year, came back and hit them in the head this year.

Vicarious and Promiscuous Learning

Once one has evolved past the realm of Annelids, the next big advantage is to learn from other people rather than needing to take the lumps yourself. This saves money and time, and is therefore a direct competitive advantage.
Rome learnt from Carthage, apprentices learn from their tradesmen, and hopefully a company can actively look for examples of what to do and what not to do by observing others. Except where patents and copyright are an obstacle, the keyword is to “shamelessly borrow” ideas and then modify them to fit localized conditions.

This is best done by the leadership team, and by the Communities of Practice who can effortlessly dig their roots into the pool of expertise and experience that lies outside the organization but within their domain of excellence. When an SME comes back from attending a trade show or seminar they can mutate the ideas to suit the organization and spread them throughout the organization via the interdepartmental CoP structure.

Just achieving this stage will provide a significant competitive advantage and add decades of life-expectancy.

Scenario-Planning

So far we have dealt with the past and the present, and the next evolutionary phase is to consider the future beyond the next departmental quarterly review. Scenario-planning is a toolset that attempts to break at least partially free from the learned helplessness and practiced defensiveness that Chris Argyris outlines as part of “Single-Loop Learning“. By posing “what if” scenarios, there is the possibility, if you are nimble, to catch yourself before the auto-protective blinds come down and to notice the stealthy approach of a hidden predator, or surprise yourself with an outcome that was unexpected.

This is the playground of the giants mainly, because everyone else is too busy “just surviving” to look several years down the pike and try to make out the fuzzy shapes on the horizon or in the shadows. The irony is that it can lead to complacency (look at BP and the recent gulf of Mexico debacle), in the same way that seatbelts and airbags led to less careful driving in some people.

Scenario-planning requires a mix of dogged fact-finding and logical step-wise thinking, systems-thinking, and imaginative brainstorming. Plenty of DIY books exist on the topic, but usually a firm needs external help at least in the beginning. It also requires a mix of culture and technique that is frankly beyond most firms. After producing various scenarios and plotting the likely outcomes, and then working back to find solutions, it requires a very peculiar kind of management culture to stare the scenarios in the face and put money and executive sponsorship behind remedial action.

Although this is a critical component of achieving and maintaining longevity, its very success is a risk, since dodging future bullets makes a firm more likely to become complacent and also to value the process less. People in westernized countries are less likely have their children immunized because they have forgotten or have never experienced the real diseases – dodging them makes them seem less like the killers they are.

Ongoing Professional Development

Another dimension in successfully competing is simply having better skills and intellectual assets than your competitors. This runs the gamut of identifying people with better SKAs than your competition, to acquiring and keeping them, to putting them to work more efficiently and effectively than the next company in your market space. However, time passes, things change, tools rust, and if you want to keep ahead of the competition, having a workforce composed of people who actively pursue their own ongoing professional development is surely the best.

This is also the key element in forming a CoP, and without a culture of ongoing learning, the intellectual assets of a company will slowly gather dust and be buried.
The absence of a vibrant and concerted effort to maintain professional expertise is an early sign of cognitive degeneration in a firm, and a harbinger of senescence. If your staff don’t actively pursue their own ongoing professional development, you are already a dead-man walking.

Innovation Intent

The final dimension is the desire for change, and perhaps the hardest of all to achieve.

As companies age, like people, they tend to grow more conservative in outlook and more comfortable with the tried and true over the new and exciting.

This is a perfectly logical risk-aversive approach since most novelty, most innovation either fails or is deleterious. Mutations, for example, seldom produce an improvement – usually they just result in cancer. So sticking to what has already proven to work adequately is a very safe bet – in the short term.

However, this leads inevitably to rigidity in the face of change and decreased ability to formulate new solutions when the old ones no longer apply. Think of this in terms of bacteria – over time bacteria will acquire resistance to existing medications no matter how effective they were originally, and unless novel attacks are discovered, eventually the bacterium starts gaining ground and flourishes.
For this reason one has to have a deliberate intent to innovate, to test out new approaches and ideas before the old ones are exhausted and overrun.

However, this requires a cultural environment in which experimentation is supported, controlled, and encouraged. An early warning sign is if mistakes are typically punished rather than treated as learning opportunities – If punishment is the first and foremost reaction, then you have a safe bet that there is little innovation and the firm is already gathering moss and accumulating risk.

A word of caution is appropriate here – Major innovations don’t typically come from individual work, nor from steady evolutionary refinement over time, but from importing mature ideas from other domains and collaboration between people and across domains and organisations.
If individual work is rewarded and there is a winner-take-all culture, you already have a massive handicap.

Conclusion

Studying the causes of death in firms serves two valuable purposes – knowing the facts of death itself, and the formation of a classification on which to build remedial efforts. This provides a framework against which to take preventative and generative action, and with careful action, a firm can greatly extend its productive lifespan.

Most of the steps require a cultural component, and all require leadership and executive support that can look beyond the next quarterly earnings. But for those companies that have the character and desire, the processes listed can provide not just a new lease on life, but significant competitive advantage.

~~~~~~~~~

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.

Knowledge Management, Training, and Ongoing Professional Development

October 14, 2010

In a previous blog I covered the results of a case study into eLearning utilization and how the single biggest predictor of whether a person used an eLearning license was whether they thought their manager would smile or frown or be neutral if their staff used eLearning materials during office hours.

Not only did people who thought their managers would smile, use the licenses more and for longer, but they also put in significant amounts of their own time after-hours.
The big disconnect was that managers thought they were smiling but staff didn’t see it the same way.

This has significant implications for both the investment in learning materials and for ongoing professional development on the whole.

In this blog I will cover some of the next steps and what I have found by experience.

The Next Step – Engage the Managers

The obvious remedy is to engage managers and get them to conspicuously engage in their own ongoing professional development, and therefore by example demonstrate not just that they would be likely to smile, but that they were themselves eager participants.
Action, it would seem, might speak louder than words, or what managers believe their words portray.

Two immediate obstacles are likely to present themselves though – firstly, many managers regard themselves not as professional managers, but as SMEs who by virtue of seniority have been burdened with the unwanted baggage of managing other SMEs.
Secondly, even once that hurdle is crossed, the selfsame problem of perception about leaders disposition towards eLearning applies to managers – they are unlikely to take advantage of learning opportunities if they think that their managers do not value ongoing professional development.

This leads to infinite regress all the way to the CEO and beyond.

Before the managers will stick their necks out they need to know that senior executives would approve, and also to see learning behavior exhibited by the senior execs.

It comes down then to whether the senior executives will not only say good things about ongoing professional development, but also model the desired behavior themselves – If managers do not see both forthcoming from the executives, then they are likely to demure on self-development with the simple excuse that they are “too busy”, which is essentially shorthand for “not unless my boss makes it a priority”.

What to Do?

Getting senior executives to participate is the easiest thing, and the most difficult.
If managers ask for it, the execs are likely to wholeheartedly agree that budget needs to be allocated to training, that it should be done during office hours, and that managers have the duty to see that it happens – and they will generally be quite happy to include some choice phrases to this effect in their memos and speeches.

However, they simply won’t do any themselves.

The reason for this seems in many cases to be a mixture of three causes, one familiar, and two new.

  • Our old friend, “My boss doesn’t value it”
  • “I do my own development and it’s none of your business what that is”
  • “I don’t need any”

There are many technological ways to smooth the path, such as putting short audio-summaries of current books on their Blackberry’s or iPhones, printing out the 8-page pdf summaries for them to take on the plane, or subscribing them to business podcasts that deal with their divisional specialization or industry. Recorded interviews with business luminaries or respected leaders can be put on Blackberry or iPhone, as can short video clips from industry analysts. Technology updates on things like SaaS, Cloud Computing, and many other topics can be made available at the touch of a button (or few), and many can be done automatically via RSS feeds or concentrator applications like iTunes.

However, if they do not view it both as part of their duty as custodians of the corporate learning culture, and in their own benefit – and more to the point: that the CEO thinks so, then it is unlikely to happen no matter how technologically enabled it is.

The key would seem to be the CEO then.

The CEO

The CEO is under constraint and direction of the Board, and they in turn are beholden to the major shareholders who mostly want to know about EBITDA contributions and share-price growth, not training and ongoing professional development.
Likewise, the view of analysts and customers must be considered, and while customers are generally very happy to hear that a supplier keeps their staff well trained (and might be prepared to petition for it), it isn’t going to be very high on either constituency’s list of desired corporate achievements.

The problem then boils down to whether the CEO feels strongly enough about learning to stick their neck out and make it an issue, which they are not likely to do unless it has a good chance of success and has broad support and enthusiastic champions within the rank and file. Sticking out their neck on something that is likely to be a flop and not highly demanded is not a habit that many people acquire on their way to becoming a CEO!

Which brings us back to D’Oh, … or rather, to middle management.

Back to the Middle

Unless the middle management show passion about developing the skills of their staff and are prepared to push the executives on the topic, there will not be the kind of groundswell that would make a CEO likely to take up learning as a cause.

It all boils down to the importance of middle managers and their self-image as professional managers responsible for the well-being and development of their staff, and being prepared to make an issue of learning even though the executives do not seem to be modeling learning behavior (yet).
However, once they take the first step and have the initiative to step forward and be the example first and to drive learning in their own teams, then the door opens for the CEO to step through and for the executives to follow and start modeling the behavior themselves.
Once middle managers take the initiative to view learning and modeling of learning behavior as something for which they must make time, then the rest can follow.

It is the middle manager who can add learning activities to annual staff performance appraisals, and make that part of the criteria for awards, bonuses, and other rewards. It is the middle manager who can regularly ask staff about their progress, and who can align training units to team objectives. It is also the middle manager that most knows precisely what training is needed and which staff members would most benefit (and most deserve) the funding for training materials. They are also the only people who are in a position to allocate time for people to use the training materials, or to present tutorials to other members of the team.

It is again a case of organizational change happening from the middle up and middle down, and a clear illustration of why it is vital that middle managers see themselves as management professionals rather than as SME’s with an unwanted burden of having staff!

Conclusion

To get a culture of learning embedded in an organization and to reap the benefits of a highly-trained and current workforce, my experiences and research lead me to believe that two constituencies are crucial – the passionate activism by middle-managers on behalf of their staff, and a CEO that is prepared to be the sponsor for a learning culture (even if they later delegate it to a prominent CxO or EVP).

If you miss the middle, the ends unravel.

~~~~~~~~~

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.

Leadership Replacement: a Nascent Model for the Future

July 29, 2010

For several decades there has been considerable concern over a scarcity of leadership and also a large gap in management skills. Part of this has been filled (sometimes perversely) by management schools and the abundance of MBA programs, but this has neither turned the tide, nor has it satisfied the lack of effective managers.

A secondary approach may be to reduce the need for managers and leadership by what has been termed “Substitutes for Leadership” (Bennis 2009) and I will cover that aspect here.

First a few notes on leadership vs management.

The ability to lead vs just manage in a commercial organization is heavily influenced by two external dynamics:

  1. The amount of “clutter” that you encounter in terms of overhead administrative tasks. If you are too busy just getting the “command/control/report” stuff done, there simply isn’t time to lead because to lead you need “big picture”, and that vanishes when you are nose down and bum up.
  2. The support from senior management. You can only lead as far as your boss lets you. If your boss allows no space in which you can lead, then no leadership can take place.

I have sometimes been in the position where I suspect that “something different” needs to be done, but am too “busy” to devote time or the energy to think about it in any depth.

This leads to two scenarios in the life of anyone wanting or having to lead.

  • Firstly it’s almost a 24hr/day job and innovation requires breathing-space (which may be why “eureka” moments are so often reported to be in the bath, out walking, or dreaming).
  • Secondly, sometimes it seems like one just has to take a short term failure to have a long term success. Sometimes I have allowed my managers to fail in their daily and weekly goals because that’s the only way they will have the resources to put something different into place that will likely lead to a long-term improvement. Likewise, my boss let’s me do it.

Bennis posits that there is a “chasm” between leadership and management, and he paints leadership in a very flattering light – being “holders of trust” and “conquer[ing] the context”.

However, since he also says that leadership can be learned, shouldn’t we see leadership as just a set of tricks that a manager should learn if they want to improve?

Bennis further proposes that the time of Ford, Taylor, and Weber are over and that organizations are (and must?) changing the paradigm to “inspire people, empower them” through leadership.

“Pull rather than push” he says.

So what do we mean in terms of attributes when we give somebody the honorific of “Leader”?

Here are five that I have teased out of the research and my personal experience:

  1. Being exemplars of an attitude or behavior or way of seeing things
  2. Served as role models
  3. Inspired me to act or think in a different way than before
  4. Triggered enthusiasm in me, I felt energized to do something with eagerness
  5. Fostered cooperation

This boils down to “teaching” and “motivating” – but what if the people didn’t need a guru to teach them anything, and had no problem with self-motivation?

The paradigm assumes that the leader knows stuff that the rest don’t, and that they have to be motivated to action – but what if they self-organized to a large degree and were themselves the authorities in their subject domain?

What if the “pull” doesn’t come from one’s managers?

The Information Age has brought us to a situation that contradicts in many instances the assumptions of Taylor’s view of the workforce, and instead of all workers being simple units of production with the intelligence of an engine of production external to them, we now have knowledge-workers who often (usually) know more about their subject domain than their bosses and effectively are the engine of production.

In this scenario we also see that self-motivation is caught up in people who are passionate about what they do – they frequently don’t view life as a split between “work” and “life” but rather as a synergy that gets them money for doing what they are passionate about. Collins (Collins 2001) describes this in terms of organizational superiority in which those firms that excel put three dynamics together:

  1. Being Passionate about what they do
  2. Excelling in their subject domain
  3. Receiving sufficient revenue to satisfy shareholders

The same principle holds for individuals, and anybody who is passionate about what they do and excels at it requires little coaching by a boss, and nor do they need to be coaxed or punished into doing their work.

I view this mixture of dynamics as follows:

Passion Excellence Revenue Result

Pastime
Hobby
Miracle
Job

Career

(I assume that if you have none of the three it implies that you are either dead or a ward of the state)

Motivation shifts from extrinsic rewards and punishments to intrinsic forces within the individual based on a passionate interest in the subject domain.

Leadership replacement can be seen in various structures:

  • Forums and committees where individuals come together out of choice
  • Groups of “highly skilled professionals” that self-organize into SIGs, Guilds, etc.
  • Professional Communities of Practice

Reflecting on the five attributes I listed earlier, we can expect somebody who knows their stuff and is passionate about it, has the support of a Community of Practice to find their own exemplars of an attitude or behavior or way of seeing things in their CoP, serves as their own role model or finds one, is self-inspired, and requires no extrinsic or external motivation.

But would they cooperate and foster cooperation?

The success of the Open Source movement seems to suggest that they do, and that self-management and peer-pressure succeeds in a way that formal management cannot and which corporate leadership seldom does.

The remaining question is how to put this to work in a corporate environment where the power structures are not designed to allow people to be self-regulating, and where there is a vested interest in prioritizing financial results over domain success.

Given the way that commercial encyclopedias have been beaten by Wikipedia, perhaps we need to show some leadership and change the structures a bit!

That is my story, and I am sticking to it.

Please contribute to my self-knowledge and take this 1-minute survey that tells me what my blog tells you about me. – Completely anonymous.


Bibliography

Bennis W (2009) Bennis W. “On becoming a leader”. Public Affairs (2009)

Collins (2001)  Collins J. “Good to great”. Harper Collins, 2001.

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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.


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