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“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.


Sustaining customer experience through growth

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