Posts Tagged ‘training’

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.

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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.


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