The Future is Practical

The LEADit 2012 conference rounds out a pretty stellar year for the Knowledge Bird. Knowledge management topics were high on the agenda and I can’t help but think the interest my paper sparked last year had something to do with that. Under the surface, though, there was something even better bubbling away.

Karen Ferris presented her Balanced Diversity session as the opening keynote. We’ve been following each other around a bit this year, so I’ve seen it a few times, but Karen’s talk on making organisational change stick is always a hot topic. Read the paper, if you haven’t already, but the secret sauce is the portfolio approach to change. She explains how a balanced, but diverse, set of practices in combination with a continual improvement program is what we must do to embed any kind of change in an organisation. Karen says the reason 70% of organisation changes fail is because we’re too heavily focused on the upper right quadrant of formal practices. (The paper provides a great example.)

Rob England presented his Standard + Case approach. I’ve been watching him develop the idea for a while, and while it’s not unlike the way tech support has traditionally been handled, there is one fundamental difference to the way we’ve always done it. Instead of escalating those non-standard faults into the ether and moving on to the next tech support call, Rob’s approach calls on those more experienced analysts to become case managers, in effect. It empowers those analysts to continue working with the customer in whatever way that their unique situation needs. They’d require some relationship management skills and depending on the level of technical expertise, they may also need to team up with an engineer to work through the solution. Just like case workers from other industries, these guys would also be keeping extensive notes that are added to the knowledge base.

When I started in tech support in 1997, several of my team mates and I would hang out in an IRC channel together while we were working through the tech support queue. It wasn’t directly purposeful, but it did make a tough job more bearable because we had some like-minded people to blow off steam and tell jokes to. Years later, in 2006, I’d recently started a new operational role at a bank. When I fired up web MSN (all other messenger services were locked down), my team leader insisted that was a bad move. I went around him to the operations manager and successfully put my case: I was working part-time. By allowing us to run MSN, it would mean the guys could ping me on the days I was at home to pick up any loose threads. It was an excuse, but a completely valid one. In one of the closing keynotes of the LEADit conference, Ross Dawson, spoke of a developing collaborative workforce with each of us having deep knowledge of a single subject area. Those networking tools that I’ve been using on the job all along, enable all of us to connect as a global brain to get stuff done. I gotta tell you, I’m entirely happy being one small part of a global brain—it’s way less pressure.

The reason I bring these particular sessions up is because they’re all indicative of a shift in the paradigm of the way we work. Finally, gone is notion that we must know everything, control everyone, and define every expectation in such an unrealistic way. Yes, we can work to our strengths and connect to our network of collaborators to fill in the gaps. We can be empowered to do things better than we did the last time. It’s just more practical this way.