Thought Leadership

Organizational Learning

Leaders and team-exemplars - Lazy hand-overs - How to break the spirit - Often the quiet ones - Is your remuneration model broken? - 360-degree feedback - Jane dropped everything to help me - Knowledge nuggets for lunch

In a previous blog, in a series on knowledge management (KM), I outlined a set of eight illustrative practical levers (i.e. ideas, practices, tools) that can bring your KM Strategy to life. This week’s blog examines another key aspect of knowledge management: organizational learning and aligning your KM and HR strategies.

Eight illustrative knowledge management levers 

Lever 01: Form a KM team
Lever 02: Run regular knowledge fairs
Lever 03: Develop a who-knows-what directory
Lever 04: Systematic development of your intellectual property (IP)
Lever 05: Develop and curate your knowledge repositories – tactical/strategic
Lever 06: Organizational learning and aligning your KM and HR strategies
Lever 07: Undertake regular KM audits
Lever 08: Regular staff communication

Lever 06: Organizational learning and aligning your KM and HR strategies

If you have read any of my previous blogs on the topic of knowledge management (or, indeed, on the topic of high-performing professional service firms generally) you will know that people (well led!) sit at the heart of it all. 

Embedding improved knowledge management practices within your firm is, like most meaningful capability projects, fundamentally about changing behaviours. 

Behavioural change happens by a thousand small positive increments which, of itself, requires two key types of agent: leaders and team-exemplars.

The first group is, hopefully, self-explanatory. There is no point setting off on an initiative to improve a firm’s KM practices if the leaders aren’t foursquare at the heart of it: “walking the talk” and signalling their authentic support through their personal time allocation, messaging and collaborative behaviours.

Too often such change projects are kicked off by well-intended corporate rhetoric “from on top” and then lazily handed over to others to “make happen”. Even worse are the company leaders who provide titular endorsement with no actual behavioural alignment; for example, by claiming “how important this all is” and then not facilitating any actual resource allocation to it (with adjusted utilisation targets!). 

If the leaders don’t conceptually get the importance of this type of initiative – or – do, but aren’t prepared to position themselves at the helm of the change, then don’t even start.

If you do, you will probably go backwards; as a minimum, it will break the spirit of many capable professionals en route as the early energy dissipates.

The second key group are the team-exemplars. 

These are your upper-quartile team-players who excel at client delivery but also prioritise the time required to collaboratively support others and to invest in the firm’s intellectual foundations. 

They will exist in most firms. 

Often, by their nature, they can be less visible than others – not full of their own self-proclamation – but rather exude calm professionalism and peer respect. These colleagues are the critical change enablers and it is essential that their behaviours are highlighted, championed and rewarded. 

In short you need to align your KM and HR strategies to emphasise these traits. 

What does this mean in practice?

I will write in the future about observed, best-practice performance management. For now, let me just summarise this by saying that the best firms combine in-the-job coaching with regular, scheduled (say, every six months) career/performance objective reviews. 

Regardless of frequency, such scheduled reviews are to ensure quality time is (regularly) invested in this conversation by all parties. As a side note, I would also say that the best conversations are light on admin and paperwork (we had a “single page of paper” rule at Moorhouse). 

The key point to emphasise is that these performance reviews should be explicitly balanced across a range of contributions and behaviours – over and above client delivery and sales targets (as important as these both are). Specifically, you seek to recognise and reward (bonus) those team members who are rounded contributors to your firm’s development. Recognition – starting from the leaders – includes celebrating such contribution publicly as well as linking such contribution directly to promotion (commensurately, even excellent delivers need to be coached that promotion to a higher grade is contingent on such multifaceted contribution). 

Organizational Learning | Image 01

To ensure alignment you may need to subject your bonus regime to strategic review. Does it champion client delivery (and/or sales success) to the exclusive detriment of this important aspect? Is the critical investment in firm capability build (on which your future growth and value will hinge) adequately referenced/weighted in this remuneration model?

A really valuable exercise to feed into such regular reviews is a (potentially anonymous) 360-degree feedback which, as a minimum, allows everyone to positively accredit senior, peer and junior colleagues with experienced, collaborative support. As MD of Moorhouse, using such an exercise, I was often blown away by the stories of how certain individuals were oft-referenced in this regard – stories I may have easily missed – that celebrated the “Jane dropped everything to help me, late into the night, with this urgent client deliverable” type moment. This information enabled us to quickly hone in on the (often unassuming) team-exemplars and ensure their values-aligned behaviours were positioned as firm-leading. 

Finally, with Lever 06, a holistic KM strategy should facilitate organizational learning (working closely with your HR professionals – if you are at the stage of having them in your team). 

A simple idea here is the coordination of regular knowledge sessions (say over breakfast or lunch) where subject matter experts (everyone should be encouraged to contribute) are encouraged to give a 15-30 minute presentation – with ensuing discussion. Such sessions can (and should) be recorded and stored away in your developing library (there are now even video platforms where you can search back on voice-to-text transcripts). 

Organizational Learning | Image 02

Example of an internal knowledge session: Moorhouse’s Kudos programme (regular internal briefings etc). 

Organizational learning should also emphasise the sharing of lessons learned – as this pertains to your firm’s central delivery activity.

“Sharing lessons learned” has to be one the great soundbites of our corporate age – so what does this actually look like in (premier firm) practice?

Well, taking the example of a professional service engaged in regular, multi-week client engagements, you might want to do a number of things. At the end of each engagement (of a certain materiality) have your assigned knowledge manager (remember this blog) come facilitate the engagement team through a discussion as to, say, what deliverables were first-class, what aspects they would do differently etc. The output from such a short workshop should lead to: updates to your “master” service methodologies and toolbox (Method Grid massively enables!) and exemplar deliverables signposted to future teams (again, Method Grid enables). Leading firms will also dedicate a component of their regular practice/firm gatherings to communicating the aggregation of such (recent period) “best practice” results: new tools, approaches, expert colleagues etc.

Progression beyond these foundations might involve the development of a wider training library (internal/external provision), your stated levels of investment in CPD (time allocation and budgets), and the mapping of such courses to a competency framework. 

This, however, starts to drift more into the realms of broader professional development – a subject for another blog. For now, just ensure your firm’s KM strategy includes the basic encouragement of modular “knowledge nuggets” being shared across the team (and accessible to all). 

Naturally, per the preceding thesis, you will wish to champion and reward those that contribute most actively to such an internal effort also. 

So, what’s next?

I will continue this sub-series on knowledge management by continuing to detail out two more illustrative practical levers (ideas, initiatives, tools etc) that can bring a knowledge management strategy to life. 

Hopefully, you’ll join us on this journey. It’s totally free, and you don’t have to be a Method Grid customer (though you’re more than welcome to sign up for a free trial here). 

We’ll be releasing a new post each week. To get each post emailed to you as soon as it’s published, sign up for the Climbing Mount Audacity mailing list below.

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