When we don’t know what we know

Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

One of the biggest obstacles organisations have when they introduce a learning and development program for the first time is designing a curriculum. Creating individual content for an e-learning system, for example, can be a daunting exercise—not unlike the writer facing a blank page. Even preparing a new team member with what they need to know can be a challenge when you don’t know what you know. Well, you know what they need to be able to get done, but you may not be able to explain the process or articulate the how or even the why, because the way you get it done has become so automatic that you don’t even think about it. This is called tacit knowledge and it’s what Dave Snowden describes as being the knowledge we don’t know we have until someone asks us the question.

Here are some ways you can reveal that tacit knowledge, so you can transfer it and increase the value of those knowledge assets through reuse and improvement.

  1. Create a checklist of steps from the start of a process or task through to completion, paying attention to the steps you take intuitively and noting down why you took a particular step or made a particular choice from a set of options.
  2. Have the learner interview the expert and document the questions and answers.
  3. Facilitate conversations in a comfortable environment with questions and answers captured on paper or whiteboards.
  4. Describe your organisational culture by mapping values and desired behaviours to specific impacts and outcomes.

The key to revealing tacit knowledge is to expose why decisions are made and actions are taken. When we know why, we can teach the how in a meaningful way and interrogate the what for improvements.

Don’t forget to validate your new knowledge assets by having some fresh eyes step through the material and test it for accuracy. Is there any confusing language? Are there any missed steps?

Capture, validate and test.

Investing in mentoring: why it matters

I grew up in the family business of ticketwriting & screenprinting. I went to TAFE to learn foundational skills in calligraphy, brush lettering, and screenprinting, and I spent time in the workshop with my parents showing me how to apply those skills. I was able to build on that learned foundation and they were able to transfer the kind of knowledge that can only be gained from years of hands-on industry and organisation-specific experience, such as why certain decisions were made. Essentially, it was a period of apprenticeship.

Corporate life typically doesn’t work the same way. The closest I’ve experienced to that is double-jacking in a technical support contact centre, allowing me to listen in on calls and learn how to do the job. Peer learning is valuable but it’s targeted to transferring existing process, and you frequently move your pairing relationships around so you can learn multiple perspectives. Like I said, it is certainly valuable, but it doesn’t do what mentoring does. Mentoring allows for meaningful one-to-one knowledge sharing relationships to form and outlast any particular tactical goals there might be. More tacit knowledge is shared organically throughout the relationship, than what happens with peer learning and e-learning, as the mentee develops trust and the psychological safety they need to ask questions they may have otherwise kept to themselves. For the mentee they develop a depth of knowledge in their subject domain, and for the mentor, their sense of self-worth gets a boost and they learn more from the process of teaching someone else.

I’ve covered mentoring tech on this blog before, and I’m proud to announce my commitment to Mentorloop as an angel investor. Mentorloop takes the administration overhead of spreadsheets and emails and manual matching out of running a mentoring program, making this valuable knowledge sharing format much easier to adopt and manage. It intelligently matches mentors and mentees and offers guidance throughout the relationship to keep both parties on track.

Better human relationships at work aren’t just about a market differentiation from AI-based services, although that is significant strategic move, it’s also about enabling our journeys towards self-actualisation and connection to meaning and purpose. Great mentors help us get there.

Establishing good habits

A knowledge management program is a change management program, and lasting behaviour change needs rewired routines. One of the simplest and most cost-effective ways to reinforce new behaviours is to make those expectations visible with posters in the work area. The Consortium for Service Innovation was smart enough to develop simple and memorable statements to help practitioners remember the activities most critical to the Knowledge Centered Support methodology.

Knowledge Centered Service doesn’t have a big following in Australia, yet, but it’s well-known in IT service management circles, and it’s perfectly suited to support environments like call centres and IT help desks. But KCS is in no way limited to those applications and the fundamental techniques are just good habits for all knowledge workers.

Search early, search often

Most of the time, the answer to any question you have already exists in your organisation or in your knowledge base (if you have one). Search first, so that you can understand what you already collectively know.

Reuse is review

Every time you reuse an existing knowledge asset, review it and improve it. The best thing about KCS is that it’s demand-driven maintenance, and means you aren’t wasting effort on maintenance overhead where it doesn’t add value.

Capture the customer’s context

This is a friendly reminder that the most searchable and reusable knowledge articles are those that are written in the customer’s words. The way a customer sees and phrases a problem is different from the way a knowledgeable person describes it. By using the customer’s words and context you can push that knowledge towards customer self-service, and that’s where you get your time back for interesting and less-repetitive work.

Download these PDF posters to help set good habits in your team.



“In learning you will teach, and in teaching you will learn.”
― Phil Collins

In the first of my KnowTech reports, I am focusing on applications that facilitate formal mentoring programs.

What is mentoring?

Mentoring is a concept we’re all familiar with. We often form a mentor-mentee relationship organically, and it may only be through reflection that you describe an individual as your mentor. Some of us seek out mentors, and some of us are approached to be one. It doesn’t seem to go the other way quite so often, and I think that’s to do with a lack of self-worth and confidence, and perhaps the perception of it being a one-way benefit.

Mentoring is a knowledge management practice from the Growth quadrant. As individuals, when we feel a need to develop our understanding, we look for someone who can guide us there. They’ve been there before and they have a map. (A coach, on the other hand, has a torch and shines it in the direction you think you want to go.)

Why organisations offer mentoring

Organisations establish mentoring programs to grow the capabilities of their staff and to safeguard against the loss of knowledge from staff turnover. Mentoring programs are particularly helpful for onboarding new staff and for developing competencies where no external training exists. However, right now, we’re seeing a surge in organisations establishing formal mentoring programs as a strategy to achieve diversity and inclusion goals, and as a way of tackling hiring challenges where access to senior recruits and skills are limited. Two such organisations, in Australia, are Envato and Hooroo.

Mentoring technology

Mentoring is often facilitated manually with a staff member acting as a co-ordinator to match mentors with mentees and administering the program with spreadsheets. Mentoring pairs are then left to work the rest out between them. There are some consulting services that work to make your program more effective, and there are applications that exist to relieve the administrative burden of running an in-house mentoring initiative:

*Disclaimer: I’ve submitted an EOI to become an angel investor in Australian startup, Mentorloop.

When comparing mentoring software, consider the availability of in-product guidance to mentors and mentees, activity tracking, measurement and reporting, and intelligent matching functionality.

The future of mentoring

Artificial Intelligence will add a lot to this space and is a big opportunity for vendors looking to build out matching platforms, not just limited to the boundaries of an organisation or membership community but across whole industries and regions. The desire for millennials, in particular, to learn from their professional communities is strong enough that LinkedIn has caught on, just announcing a new feature that matches potential mentors with mentees.

From the 2016 Deloitte Millennial Survey:

Where it exists, mentoring is having a positive impact and six in ten (61 percent) Millennials are currently benefiting from having somebody to turn to for advice, or who helps develop their leadership skills. Again, this varies by market and appears more prevalent in emerging (67 percent) rather than mature (52 percent) economies. Mentorship levels are particularly low in Australia, Germany, Canada, The Netherlands, and France, where only a minority of respondents said they have mentors. Improving these levels can not only advance the careers of Millennials, but it will also go some way toward strengthening loyalty.

The demand for mentoring solutions is only going to increase with the recruitment pressures in the software development space, the collaborative attributes of millennials, and perhaps even the approaching mid-life crises of Gen X and the resultant desire to build a legacy before we turn our backs on our professional careers and become urban subsistence farmers or Etsy artisans.


KnowTech reports focus on emerging tech in the knowledge enablement space. Please leave a note in the comments or via contact form to let me know what else I should be looking at. Consider sharing a product review, too, if you like.

The strategic KM map: a model in progress

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know.
—Donald Rumsfeld

All individual and organisational knowledge falls somewhere on a spectrum. From unknown unknowns, to unknown knowns, to known unknowns, and finally known knowns. When Donald Rumsfeld elevated the concept to public awareness at a press briefing in 2002, he wasn’t presenting an original idea. He had taken a cognitive psychology tool from the 1950s and adapted it for his own means. The tool he drew his inspiration from is called the Johari Window and it was developed by two cognitive psychologists, Luft and Ingham, as a means of creating an individual’s self-awareness.johari window

You can read more at the Wikipedia link about how the tool works in a personal development setting, but it’s also been built on as a workshopping tool for uncovering corporate and project risks. Here’s Dave Gray’s step-by-step adaptation called, The Blind Side.

It struck me that the Johari Window is a solid basis for a map to guide leaders on selecting knowledge management practices to contribute to an wholistic knowledge sharing strategy. Taking the quadrants as shown in the above image, I’ve described them  each in the context of organisational knowledge.

Leverage – the Leverage quadrant represents our known-knowns. We know we know these things and now we look to practices and tools that help us put that knowledge into operation. Process integration is crucial here. It’s no good collecting lessons learned, for example, if we don’t then interact with them routinely to help us to make better decisions.

Growth – the Growth quadrant are our known-unknowns. We know there are things we don’t know within our domain, so we actively seek to expand our understanding and depth of knowledge. Learning and Development programs sit in this quadrant on an employee level, while industry conferences and competitor analysis can provide insights at the organisational level.

Reveal – the Reveal quadrant relates to the unknown-knowns. Luft and Ingham described this region of awareness as the façade—it is where an individual knows things about themselves that they keep hidden from others. In a corporate sense, this is our tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is that which is constantly in use but remains unarticulated (and unwritten) until someone happens to ask the right question. It’s what happens when we become unconsciously competent at something.

Discover – the Discover quadrant is where we can work to mitigate risk within our organisation. Our unknown-unknowns are where the potholes lay—budget blowouts, unexpected project failures. Deliberate exploration is what takes place here. NASA conducts some of the riskiest activities both on and off Earth, and through necessity, have a rigorous knowledge management program. See page 15 of this paper for what goes into their Risk Mitigation Plan. For anyone else, noting the steps that might get you to imagined worst-possible outcomes of a project—a process called backcasting—can provide useful insights that can be addressed in the planning stages.

When we expand our organisational knowledge through Growth, Reveal, and Discover practices, it is ideal to find ways to improve our practices so that new knowledge can enter the Leverage quadrant. Continuous improvement of the design and functioning of our products and services is another way to leverage the knowledge we uncover.

If I take the processes I’ve mentioned, and then add a few more examples, we begin to get a map that gives us guidance on how we can apply practices in a more strategic way.

Often, knowledge management stops at providing a knowledge base or document management platform such as Sharepoint, when there are many practices and platforms that form the knowledge management ecosystem. This model is not yet complete, but it’s a good place to start thinking about where your organisation’s weaknesses are and how better knowledge management can be used to strengthen it. The leaders who actively look for opportunities to re-apply knowledge from each of these quadrants will have the most productive and successful teams and organisations.


Extending Slack for better KM

Slack apps for KM

Slack is a great tool for just-in-time comms, but it hits a wall when it’s your only centralised knowledge source or when conversations and channels get so vast, you have no hope of finding something that’s already scrolled by. Thankfully, there are a few add-ons that are coming to the rescue. It’d be nice if collaboration tool vendors would put a focus on building/acquiring good search in the first place, but it seems to be a universal condition, so let’s take a look at your options.

1. Niles

Niles is a bot that lives in and logs channels to learn the answers to common questions, and can be referenced directly within Slack. Anyone that’s supplied an answer will be prompted via email to review and refresh, if needed. Bots like this rely on machine learning, natural language processing, and time, so it won’t work perfectly out of the box. However, a great thing it has going for it is that there’s no external apps or extra logins. Interaction with the knowledge is all contained within Slack. It can be hooked in to your Google Drive to search docs and into Salesforce, which is great for sales teams. It’s filed under HR in the apps directory but it serves anyone that does any kind of support. More info in this Techcrunch article.

2. Obie

Obie is similar to Niles but has hooks into its parent product, Tasytt. Tasytt offers a CMS, process flows, and a built-in reward mechanism for knowledge contributors; and it integrates with a whole range of apps including Google Sites, Dropbox and Evernote.

3. qPod by nimeo

qPod takes it up a level and hits the enterprise right where it hurts—Outlook, Office 365 and Sharepoint; plus all the cool kids. Nimeyo aims to eliminate any friction by surfacing what you need directly in whatever you’re currently using. Intended for enterprise, pricing is on an annual per user basis and the baseline config is email analysis only. Context is king when it comes to knowledge and nimeyo is all over that.

4. Tettra

Tettra is a simple wiki that bolts onto Slack. Invoked with a slash command, it’ll show you a knowledge article within Slack and provide an option to share it with the channel. You can also allow requests and assign page ownership to domain experts. You can see what it looks like just by checking out their own support page.

5. Guru

Guru offers a Slack bot and a browser extension providing easy accessibility from wherever you spend most of your time. Guru’s schtick is trusted content, so they provide functionality for domain experts to verify knowledge articles and for search results to be prioritised by popularity score and filtered by tags, categories and collections. This is my pick if you’re in a chat-ops environment and you need to level up your reusable knowledge assets.  Integrates with a bunch of sales and support solutions.

6. Notion

Notion is a unified workspace, rather than a knowledge repository. It brings together your dispersed systems into one workspace that you can then customise based on your team’s processes and workflows. It integrates with Slack, but it also accesses content across Trello, Confluence, Google Drive, Basecamp and more, allowing you to move things around in a drag-and-drop fashion in a way that makes sense to how you work and what you need to know about.

7. ClozeLoop

ClozeLoop has one purpose: sales enablement. It brings disparate sources of sales content, like battle cards and RFPs, from wherever you’ve been keeping them and puts them right in the sales workflow. ClozeLoop integrates with SalesForce and Slack, and also has a web app with plenty of useful features. The app gives your sales team a chance to flag content when it needs updating, a simple thing that many knowledge base products forget about. I love that they’re dedicated to this one application of knowledge management with no intention to expand into other use cases, because they really nail it.

KM for strategic advantage


Original photo by Flowizm

It’s easy to see the benefits of knowledge management when its applied to a support function. Problems are solved more quickly, customers are happier, analysts are less stressed. It’s almost a no-brainer to look here first for improvements to knowledge flow

Knowledge management has application across the whole lifecycle of a product or service, though—from strategy, to design, to delivery and operations, to support, to continual improvements, and finally, to sunsetting (and even failure).

So, imagine the wobbly movie image as we flashback to the early days of a new service offering when it was just an idea in the CEO’s mind. She heads up a successful organisation servicing a healthy niche, and she’s looking to the future to offer a new kind of service in hopes of deepening relationships with existing clients and broadening market reach to gain new clients. A CEO that doesn’t look for new opportunities, isn’t a good CEO.

If you were the CEO, what you do next? (Is there a market for Choose Your Own Professional Adventure books?)

I want to focus on the organisational knowledge that’s locked away on your side of that equation for now, so we’ll assume that the customer’s context, in terms of your existing service offerings, is well understood. You gain competitive advantage when you understand your market intimately, you see and sense the market trends, and you know your competitors well enough to differentiate your service in way that makes you more attractive to the people you want to sell to. You have to understand what your particular mojo is and draw that connection to the new service/product, especially when it seems a little distant from what you presently deliver.  

How does our imaginary CEO do that? How would you do that? Well, we’re all guilty of making assumptions, and they happen pretty regularly in businesses that aren’t big enough to fund a research team. When you gather your people together to surface the unknown knowns, articulate your particular kind of mojo (the combination of internal skills, passions, mission and values), and then co-create the strategic positioning for your new offering, that is knowledge management applied to strategy.

When you use knowledge management practices at the strategy phase you have:

  • A “stickier” product/service, as a result of mindful positioning
  • Better decision-making along the way
  • Broader buy-in from the in-house expertise who will be delivering the new offering
  • Increased speed to market

The entrepreneurial culture has glorified failure, but if we embrace a knowledge culture from step one, we’re taking one big leap towards mitigating that risk. And I think we’d all rather succeed, right?


5 steps to better search with RightNow Answers


I’ve been working on an interesting project with a higher education institution. They have Oracle Service Cloud Enterprise, which ships Knowledge Foundation as standard. Knowledge Foundation is what used to be known as RightNow Answers. They came to me with a need to fix their knowledge base—the search returned irrelevant results, there was a lot of outdated and incorrect answers, and there hadn’t been a knowledge manager role in the organisation for more than a year. The platform was good enough to do the job, but their previous workflow had a built-in bottleneck and the state of the knowledge base had only gotten worse since that one person left.

Knowledge Foundation allows you to serve knowledge articles to different audiences via interfaces and respective access levels. My client had three interfaces, each with a matching access level, set up to serve separate and distinct audiences—current students, prospective students, and internal staff. But, with an unclear knowledge strategy, content relevant to one audience was often appearing in more than one access level, making the whole experience of using search a difficult one, no matter the audience. There were also a few basic features that could be enabled, and some minor configuration changes that could be made, all of which contribute to a far more effective knowledge base. I’m going to share the steps I took so you can improve the search effectiveness of your Oracle Service Cloud knowledge base. For now, I’ll leave the roles and workflow process for another post.

1. Know the reason your organisation may have more than one interface and/or access level, and clearly communicate the differences between them. In my client’s case, when a staff member searched for information to do with lecture recordings, for example, they were getting a lot of answers relevant to students. That results in frustration and disillusionment with the knowledge base. I bulk-edited answers to update them with the appropriate access level.

2. Enable Search Result Limiting. How many pages get returned when you use a common search phrase? If you’re getting pages and pages of results, many of which are irrelevant, it’s worthwhile going into the configuration settings to tune the search results. Search Result Limiting uses an AND search except where there are no answers, then it falls back to an OR search. As an example, students like to know when the coming “census date” is. This configuration setting took 60+ results of “census” or “date” down to six relevant results of “census” and “date”.

3. Oracle doesn’t use keywords in the same way that you probably do. When you put key phrases into the keywords field of an answer, it artificially boosts that answer’s weighting in search results when that term is used. Most of us use keywords as synonyms, but Oracle provide a text file to do this job. Monitor the Keyword Searches report and add commonly occurring synonyms to aliases.txt in the File Manager of your configuration settings. Keep the keywords field blank unless necessary.

4. Enable SmartAssistant Auto Tuner across all your interfaces. I don’t know why this feature isn’t turned on by default, because it’s so helpful to search effectiveness. The Auto Tuner is continually learning answer relevancy and makes adjustments automatically. It’s influenced by how often agents reuse answers in response to incidents and will push those most reused answers, thereby deemed most relevant, higher up the results in both customer portal searches and the Smart Assistant suggested answers in the agent console. When you click on SA Auto Tuner in the config settings, you see a bunch of weightings under the current search configuration, and what the suggested config would be for a tuned search config. From here you only need to click one button “Accept new config” to have those suggestions applied. Once a week, a new datapoint is collected for the search relevancy graph that is also on this page. It’s early days for my client, but I suspect that the more the agents interact with SmartAssistant and Best Answer features in their ribbon, the higher these relevancy percentages will go. I’ll have to revisit this theory later.

5. Ensure you enable the Best Answer button in your agents’ workspace. Related to the previous step, the Best Answer button allows agents to select the best answer from those that were reused in the incident reply. This is a significant input to the SmartAssistant Auto Tuner algorithm and helps that work more effectively.

Separately from Knowledge Foundation, but foundational to knowledge management in general, is to embed a Search First culture. If your OSC agents aren’t using the search features within the console, you won’t see the productivity benefits available with the platform, so don’t skimp on the communications and training.

Knowledge is not understanding

I watched a video on YouTube last week and I want to share it with you. Destin, of @smartereveryday, did an experiment that shows how those things we do every day that are just like riding a bicycle, are actually complicated. And when we introduce even a minor change, it’s hard and we won’t necessarily be able to do it straight away.

Watch this video and tell me how this backwards-bike experiment makes you feel about your organisational change initiatives.


From customer experience to employee engagement

Recently, I was lucky enough to be a voluntary participant for a customer experience study at a cafe. (The things one can do when one is between contracts.)

I hadn’t been to a STREAT cafe before, so I was the ultimate “potential customer”—able to play the role of the person who was walking in for the first time. STREAT want their customers to understand how every mouthful helps youth homelessness and disadvantage, but they also want their customers to keep coming back and to know about their other services. As a first-time customer, there’s a lot of information STREAT would like me to take in—the difference I could make to a young person’s life by buying my coffee there, the locations of other stores, where the food is sourced, how the program works, how I can contribute more, catering services, the cook book I could buy, and the menu.

The customer experience team had a small group of us consider two different scenarios and talk about the customer journey from the street, to the counter, to the table, and back out again. Where would the opportunities be to show customers what they need to know? What changes could be made to improve turnover for the management team? And how would any of these changes improve the experience of the trainees the program actually benefits?

It’s the kind of journey we don’t often, if ever, take in the corporate world and it’s impacting employee engagement.

Next time you feel like doing a little management-oriented research, walk out of your building and go and get your coffee, (from STREAT, if there’s one nearby. 😉) Then, retrace your steps with open eyes and a fresh perspective. What does it feel like to walk in the front door—is it welcoming or intimidating? If you’re the hiring manager, do you make sure you’re there to show your new team member around? After all, your face will be familiar from the interview. What’s your process for explaining the logistics of a role to new staff—is the information all in one place and easy to find and navigate? Do you have buddies/mentors/senseis to smooth out that awkward new employee phase? Do all your employees feel connected to the purpose of your organisation? Because if they don’t, they’ll move on.

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