How to change the minds of experienced professionals

Have you ever suggested what you considered to be a minor change to an experienced professional, only to watch them go ballistic? Somehow not everyone likes changes to the way they work – not even if you leave out words like “change”, “improve”, or “different”.

In this post I’ll show you how you could handle this kind of situation – by sharing some experiences from when I did an archiving project.

One common mistake when introducing a change to experienced professionals

You forgot it’s a change to someone’s work – a big deal for them.

How to help experience professionals change

Change: where to stop, how to go forward?

Just because you know what needs to be done doesn’t mean everyone else knows about your plan, or agrees. You’re going to have to convince them no matter what their manager has told you.

Our team’s project goal was to structure and clean out the team archives. The biggest bunch of paper was kept by someone who didn’t care what his manager thought. A previous undiplomatic attempt to clean things up had not improved his temper.

Why do people react so negatively to change?

People build a set of actions that they know will work most of the time. It’s called experience. Telling them to change is like yanking the chair out from under them. I wrote about the way change projects can go wrong in an earlier post.

In my experience, a lot of resistance comes from people who are very much involved. They have made it their personal responsibility to safeguard certain knowledge.

It’s just a set of procedures. What’s so hard about following rules?

Maybe you feel you’re only following the (new) rules. But rules aren’t people.

Experienced professionals know that many new rules and projects will go away after a while, leaving things pretty much the way they were with a few minor tweaks. If you make a lot of noise, some people will wait for you to leave and for the dust to settle after your exit.

Back to the archives: I knew our objectives. And then I let an individual employee get away with about half a dozen exceptions to our rules. Why? Because I needed the person’s cooperation and even goodwill. That’s why.

Importantly, I didn’t break or even bend any rules. I just:

  1. made sure to ‘weed’ the files as lightly as possible, so anyone could reconstruct the process that had produced an important final document.
  2. stressed the potential importance of the files so we’d have to keep them secure for longer. Within that time those files would probably be digitized, and kept for ever. If not, the ‘keeper of the keys’ would be retired before anything happened. Even he could agree that he wouldn’t be guarding the archives past the age of 70.
  3. personally guaranteed to our seasoned professional he’d be able to access the files whenever he asked to.

How do you convince experienced professionals who don’t want change?

Convincing experienced, critical, ‘difficult’ professionals is the only way to move forward without being pushed back in ways you never anticipated. For this you need to understand the role a person sees him/herself in.

For best results, leave people’s professional identity intact.

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Interviews as a time-saving part of your business content strategy

You may have noticed that bloggers like Mark Schaefer (@MarkWSchaefer) and Steve Farnsworth (@Steveology) interview subject matter experts on a regular basis. Interviewing experts has got some advantages to asking them to produce content for your blog:

  • You don’t ask much of their time – catch them at a congress if you want a video. Or ask them a specific question through any medium: e-mail, Twitter, or their own comments section.
  • Visiting your SMEs may give you some opportunities to get video footage. If you don’t have much time, pick up the phone and get a few short questions answered.
  • If there’s any writing to be done, you’re the one doing it. That’s an advantage if your SME is not used to writing for the audience you’re interested in.

Interviews can be a valuable part of your content strategy – if you decide to make the most of them.

Bits For Your Business Content Strategy

Bits of content for your business content strategy

SME interviews as part of your business content strategy

Remember those busy subject matter experts from my post about single versus multiple content creators? What if they’re your colleagues?

You could simply make a few phone calls or pick up your mini-cam and head over to wherever your SME is hanging out and interview them for the business blog or website. When you’re done, you tell them when you intend to publish.

Then publish and let your SME know, so that they can reply to any comments – if they want to. Or you can opt to have your SME post the video themselves in an online community. If you send them the video (or URL) via e-mail:

  1. Make sure your SME knows the procedure (see 2-5).
  2. Add instructions, starting with the publishing date. Inform your SME that if the video isn’t posted by [exact time on specified date] you will go ahead and post it yourself.
  3. Add a copy-paste text for them to use or edit.
  4. Check if it’s posted.
  5. If it’s not posted, post the video yourself and notify your SME. You can even invite them to reply. Add an example like “My personal favorite from this list is actually X.” This isn’t a must-do, but it can help.

How do interviews save you time?

The time-saving won’t work if you spend an entire day on an interview then share the results only once.

You may want to share the original interview soon after it takes place. But every interview can be ‘mined’ for later use. You can structure the content you’ve collected soon after the interview to have bits of content ready which you can integrate into new posts or save for a content emergency.

  • You quote from the interview.
  • Top tips from your SME for achieving a certain goal.
  • Mining the interview to get ideas for related topics.

Getting strategic about your interviews

On the other hand, if you do a series of interviews in which you ask one or more identical questions, you can:

  • collect the answers as you go.
  • share the answers to a specific question in yet another piece of content. Or two. (Or three.)

This means you make collecting data from multiple interviews part of your business content strategy. I’ll admit it sounds like research 😉

This approach will let you (re)share parts of your content much later in a different context following the principles of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”.

Your content strategy – and the subject matter experts

Of late I’ve found myself thinking that blogging is the easy side of the content story. At least content strategy-wise. In this post I’ll explore a few pros and cons of having a single versus having multiple content creators on your platform (blog, community, website).

Content Strategy And Subject Matter Experts

The lone ranger content strategy model

Check out my blog right here or consider your own blog.

  1. You’re on your own, typing away about anything you like. No meetings, calls, discussions via e-mail to get your content calendar filled.
  2. It’s up to you to come up with ideas and to decide if you need a content strategy – or if having a content strategy would suck all the creative juice out of your blog.
  3. If you don’t come up with new content, there will be no new content. Search engines will lower the frequency with which they scan your blog accordingly.
  4. You’ll need to do research to get the facts right.
  5. You need – well – discipline to go through the entire process every time. Having a content strategy helps you by planning what you do and when. But it doesn’t help you with the other aspects of content creation.

This model is great for people who love to create content. It can also turn into a time-consuming habit.

Team content strategy: the subject matter experts (SME) model

O-kay, here we go. You have multiple players in this model. Anyone can contribute. That adds up, content-wise. In theory.

  1. You’ll need to schedule at first, so that all ‘your’ SMEs get used to posting on a regular basis. And remind them it’s their turn.
  2. Without a schedule, if nothing gets posted, it’s nobody’s fault. They all thought someone else might produce or find some fresh content.
  3. SMEs don’t exist for your convenience. They have their usual tasks that need doing first.
  4. It’s easier for SMEs to share a bit of content that’s already out there than to come up with something new.
  5. How does your content strategy fare? You may have great plans, but if content creation within your team is not part of the picture, you’ll depend upon existing content created by others inside or outside your organization.

With many potential, but few actual content creators, “what to share when” quickly turns into this choice:

  • share now, because it’s fresh or
  • share later, when it fits into our content calendar.

A lot of content goes stale after a while, so it’s often shared at once.

How to ensure a constant stream of content?

I’d opt for a combination of both approaches.

  • By all means get your SMEs involved in your content strategy – only the owners of a (personal) blog can risk running a blog by themselves.
  • Make sure you have plan B prepared – in case your experts forget to show up 😉

Note: If you’re interested in content strategy and related topics, stay tuned for my next post.

Bridge the gaps: how knowledge management helps you learn

How are learning and innovation connected to something as outwardly dull as knowledge management? In this post I’ll explore the question how managing your personal knowledge allows you to focus your learning efforts.

Do You Know Where You Need To Go?

Do You Know Where You Need To Go? Bridge your knowledge gaps
Photo posted on Flickr by Halil Gökdal; Vimeo video byEugenia Loli-Queru.

Learning and humor

In my previous post I compared knowledge management to herding cats. Using metaphors can help explain a topic while adding a dash of fun to dry facts (or severely dehydrated opinions). It helps the learning process along. A post I read some time ago was about “comparing apples to oranges“. I enjoyed the post, which was actually about innovative ideas.

Innovative approaches are often the result of looking at familiar topics from a different angle. In that respect, innovation has a lot in common with humor: take two seemingly completely different topics, crash them into one another, and see what happens. If you want a slightly more predictable result, you try to control the process that leads to innovation (or humor).

Using proverbs, metaphors, and other ‘language tools’ in learning is not without hazards. Reading in a non-native language makes it even trickier. For example, I’ve always thought of “comparing apples to pears” (from Dutch) as measuring two completely different things by the same criteria. In that case a perfect orange would make a lousy apple (or Apple). On the other hand, in innovative thinking, borrowing criteria from one context and applying them in a different context may yield unexpected insights.

Connecting knowledge management to learning – and innovation

You could view personal knowledge management as a controlled way of assessing what you know. ‘Knowing what you know’ gives you a basis for deciding what you else you need to know but don’t. You can then focus on bridging the gaps by either learning about those topics yourself, or by contacting someone who has the necessary knowledge and asking them for help. Both actions have their pros and cons.

  1. By taking control of your learning process, you will gain new expertise which may serve you well in the future. On the other hand, you need to judge what level of knowledge you need. If it’s knowledge on a specialist level which you need urgently, learning may take too much time. If speed doesn’t matter quite so much you can focus on learning the basics and figuring out the rest as you go along. This tends to happen on blogs a lot 😉
  2. By contacting an expert, you ‘risk’ two different world views crashing into each other. If you communicate what you need (and don’t need) from the exchange, and facilitate an honest and open dialogue, you may discover more in less time than if you try to master a new topic by yourself. Moreover, if you bring in a person with a different background, opinion, and expertise, you won’t be able to self-censor anything which doesn’t fit into your view of the topic. This way you open up new possibilities. It’s up to you to then select the things that might actually work for you. This kind of confrontation is useful for innovative thinking, but it’s also a great way to get unstuck if you’re stuck trying out #1.

(I’ve actually done #1 on this blog, and I’ve helped someone out being their ‘nearest WordPress.com expert’ so that’s my #2 for now.)

Using knowledge management (KM) to learn

Harold Jarche, in a post on his KM blog, mentions David Williamson Shaffer’s book How computer games can help children learn. After explaining the word epistomology (the study of knowledge, page 10), Shaffer goes on to say:

“…here I argue that computers create both the means and the necessity to fundamentally rethink what it means to know something – and thus what is worth learning and how we teach it.”

I don’t think it’s specifically a computer thing, but I do think computers have made it painfully clear what happens when technology changes and we don’t accept that change means we need to adjust – to learn. Nowadays it’s worth reviewing our assumptions on a regular basis. The problem for many people is that it usually doesn’t seem worth the effort. You can use your time to do either of these things:

  • sit around thinking about what you know, or
  • get your job done and bring food to the table.

If you lose your job, your first inclination won’t be to sit and think carefully but to put the turbo on to get a job. If that doesn’t work you may spend some time panicking before you sit down and (hopefully) think things through. Most of us only sit and think either when we can afford to take the time, or when we have exhausted all other options – when we have to.

Check up on your assumptions (or ‘knowledge’) at regular intervals

What if you take the proverbial ‘step back’ from your canvas every few weeks to check where you’re going, where you want to go, what you need to do next, and what other options you see? Options which you’ll leave largely unexplored for now, but keep in a treasure chest until you want them.

Read more:

How do you view your (personal) knowledge and its management – how do you decide what to learn next?

Hat tricks in business: why change is an unwelcome guest

My earlier post about change management sparked a few interesting comments. Change isn’t always welcomed by the people who ‘ought’ to change.

Why do people treat change like an unwelcome guest?

Change: do you take things as they come? [Click to view on Flickr]

Change: do you take things as they come? [Great photo by Anders Young on Flickr]

People in a business environment are mostly employees, and a smaller part of the group consists of managers, senior managers…

You could argue that change in business means some can’t keep up, and dysfunctional employees or teams show up like a sore thumb. You could even add more (possibly quite cynical) reasons for individual employees to reject change.

Take an employee’s view of organizational change for a moment. Having change thrust upon you for no (apparent) good reason doesn’t help you embrace the process. Especially if you don’t see that there’s anything wrong with you or the way you do your job. But there’s more.

Hat tricks in business

Consider a magician’s classic hat trick in a business environment. Some enthousiastic individual bounces into your office, or cubicle, or wherever, and pushes the hat under your nose. A rather pungent animal smell wafts out. What can you expect? Will you find a cute (but slightly nervous) white rabbit? Or will you end up pulling an unkempt smelly goat out of the hat? Or… worse?

Keep this situation in mind. Now let’s push two distinct groups into the spotlight – call them ‘change advocates’ and ‘bean counters’ – and compare their actions and motives.

  1. Change advocates are convinced that changing [fill in favorite topic] will improve your organization.
  2. Bean counters are convinced that cost cutting will improve your organization’s balance sheet.
  3. Change advocates tell you to work differently in order to achieve more.
  4. Bean counters tell you to work more efficiently so they’ll need fewer employees.
  5. Change advocates believe that a tasty carrot will convince people to change, and say that working differently will make you (feel) better.
  6. Bean counters are of the stick persuasion and say:
    1. If you don’t work more efficiently we’ll fire you.
    2. If you do work more efficiently we’ll wait a bit longer then fire the other guy. Possibly. Unless you grow slack. (If this sounds like Dilbert: I think I swallowed the book a couple of years ago. Have been unable to locate its whereabouts.)

The rest of us are, in the average organization, probably somewhere in the line of fire between these two world views.

Change projects gone cost-crazy

One thing which happens to projects started with the best intentions is that they are interpreted as a way to cut costs by financial teams. Assuming you are in favor of a specific change: if you don’t prepare for this eventuality you could lose control over your project.

How on earth will you combine change and finance without forfeiting every last bit of trust? I would say by starting early and taking the financial side into account from before the word “go”.

  1. Your project plan or business case should show clearly what you intend to achieve and what is out of scope. Prepare a document listing potential side-effects and answer a couple of questions. How likely is it: that this side-effect will occur? That it will lead to a substantial cost reduction? How likely is ‘finance’ to pick up on this possible side-effect and treat it as a fact? How could this impact your project? Evolve a worst-case scenario and look for counter-measures.
  2. Double-check if your plan aligns with any of the plans laid out for your organization as a whole.
  3. Reality check. Meet up with someone outside the financial team, but with a similar professional profile. Risk aversity is a major requirement. Test your plans on this individual to make sure you’re prepared for attempts to hijack a project started with the best intentions.
  4. Make sure you get 1, 2 and 3 sorted out before you enter the bean counters’ den. Otherwise expect fur to fly and the result to be either
    1. some bit of shared Cheshire Cat wisdom on the lines of “if you don’t know where you want to go, you can pick any direction you like” – and your budget slashed, or
    2. your project turned into a cost-cutting tool. A rather ineffective one since you didn’t start your project with the intention to cut costs. And one that will leave any number of employees extremely distrustful of change initiatives in the future.

I hope you enjoyed this post – one triggered at least in part by the comments on my previous post. Have you encountered any ‘hat tricks’ in your organization – or have you seen business change at its best?

X is for Change. Making good ideas work in big organizations

This is a bit of an odd one out in view of all the knowledge management posts I’ve written lately. Yet there is a common background to them: change in organizations.

Apart from knowledge management, there is social business, and probably a couple of other great change initiatives I’m not aware of, but that you’ve witnessed from the enthousiastic launch right down to the moment when the last “new way of thinking” motivator turned their minds to different activities – or launched the escape pod to another company in hopes of finding converts there.

Change in Big organizations

Change for the better? – Image by HikingArtist.com

Big change is bad news in big organizations

Getting an existing company to change the way it does its work may involve changing the organization chart. It’s messy and people tend not to like that. Employees don’t like it because it could be their job on the line. Managers and the people with jobs that start with a C don’t like it because change, real change, could backfire in a big way. That would leave them looking rather silly in terms of return-on-bonus 😉

But they can’t do nothing. So they hire someone to handle the new project. This one person may even grow into a small team. They target groups of people at once, trying to make as many converts as possible.

After a while, budget is moved elsewhere and the expert or team may move along with it to another department. The bar may be lowered because things don’t go as smoothly as hoped.

Small change is… very small change in big organizations

In a big organization, small changes look like background noise. They may still be fundamental changes, but it takes a while for any change to come up to the surface to get some fresh air.

Most people who try to change the organization (or at least parts of it) are experts in their own field: knowledge management, social media in business, or anything else. Unfortunately it looks as though the cash cow is grazing on a different field: that of change management. Knowledge management, social business, and the like, give you something to aim for. Lack of knowledge and skills to help you get there frustrates your whole project.

Good ideas in big organizations need change management

What is change management? If done right, the recipe contains organizational theory, strategy, ideas about how to deal with the human resources side of it all, possibly some other herbs and spices, and psychology (quite a lot of that actually).

Suppose you’re trying to get someone to fly to the moon. Or to abandon their cart in favor of travelling by train. You need to convince your intended converts:

  • that the goal is worth working towards.
  • that your contraption won’t break up, explode, crash or simply grind to a halt in the middle of nowhere.
  • that they can actually operate the vehicle – that they will be trained thoroughly.
  • that they will get real help quick whenever they don’t know what to do next (I just got a flash of the Apollo astronauts calling the helpdesk…yikes!).
  • that they will benefit from their effort – not chucked out into the cold.
  • that there is no true alternative, even though they think they’re sitting on it – that there is no comfort zone.

Make any change look too insignificant, and people will be so slow in moving you’ll barely notice their progress. Make it look too big and scary, and people will freeze up and wait for you to leave and leave them alone.

Disruptive change? No thanks.

Steer clear of the organizational terminators if you really want to change anything.

X is for change

In the course of your working life you may have read articles calling for a CIO, a CKO, or a CMO – and I just remembered a CCO too. Some of them even exist in a couple of companies, though rarely on a par with the “big C”s: the CEO (boss) and CFO (finance).
Based on my own experiences my vote would go to a CXO: a change leader. Just to get the good ideas going on a strategic level. I can’t guarantee it’ll work – but I have the impression it might just make things that little bit easier.

Read more:

Have you ever initiated what would have been a welcome change (for the better) for your organization, or part of it? Or, have you ever wished a co-worker success with their attempts to change anything wondering how long they’d last?

Stuck like glue: how knowledge powers business relationships

How does knowledge affect business relationships? It’s a matter Ross Dawson has written a whole book about. In this post I’d like to share my thoughts on knowledge in business relationships and related matters like advising (internal) clients, or even friends for that matter.

What do you bring to the table in your (business) relationships?

Knowledge needs food to grow

Tree of knowledge? Image HikingArtist.com

  • Knowledge. By this I mean your personal set of experiences. Not just your education, because your peers share much the same background.
  • Time – which may seem in short supply so you’d rather spend it on activities that add value than on stuff that really isn’t that important but “management say they want it so go do it”.
  • Social skills (if I’m being presumptuous please let me know).

It makes sense to invest your time in building a good relationship with your (potential) clients and allies. Apart from your subject matter expertise (SME), focus on extending the knowledge you have about your client:

  1. Listen carefully to what’s being said.
  2. Listen even more carefully to what’s not being said.
  3. Ask away.
  4. Keep asking.
  5. Be open about the way you work (from the start), and
  6. ask for structural feedback to help finetune your actions. When you plan your activities for a client, include a continuous feedback loop from and to your client. If that’s not possible, plan regular feedback moments.

Focusing on the interaction, on the knowledge you and your client need from each other and produce as a result of your conversations, steers you away from ‘just’ delivering your service or product.

What does this advisory role demand from you?

The interaction with your clients demands that you take the conscious decision and then muster the patience to get genuinely involved. Getting involved also means sharing knowledge, and that may lead to the following situation:

  • If you’re a veteran in your branche, you may have grown used to skipping steps. It’s been so long since you wondered why you do what you do in this specific way. But to the non-expert there is no “obviously”. There is no obvious reason for doing anything. Or for doing it in this way. So add all the steps your client needs.
  • Having someone ask you questions and giving you feedback may well point you toward things you had overseen! Listening to your clients’ questions may well teach you a lot about yourself as well as about your client. Once you’ve learned anything you need to review what you thought you knew. Improve, tweak. Review. Learn, and unlearn! Knowledge building will guide you and your client by showing you should stop doing one thing and start doing the other.

How does knowledge power your business relationships?

By getting involved and being open about your methods you will:

  1. learn a lot about your client. You’ll understand better than anyone else what makes them tick. What worries them. What stumps them.
  2. build trust. Your client gets a genuine sense of what you know, how you think, who you are as a professional and as a person.
  3. get feedback from your client about details in their particular situation that might affect the results of your efforts.
  4. have a chance to review your own business
  5. improve your own skills as an advisor
  6. accumulate heaps of richly detailed cases you can use as examples with other clients.

There’s just one thing to watch out for. And that is getting too comfortable knowing what you know about your clients. Knowledge needs to be fed regularly if you’re to reap its fruits. Neglect your knowledge and it will lose its connection with reality. Your reality. And your clients’ reality. If you find that your attitude stands in the way of really listening to your clients – if it prevents you from being a good advisor, tell yourself to stop being a [fill in appropriate noun here].

And two (this point occurred to me thanks to this picture): remember to harvest the fruits of your labor. The point of knowledge is not having it – but using it.

Read more:

How would you describe the relationship you have with your (business) connections? Leave your thoughts about knowledge, business, clients and relationships (and possibly about glue and apples) in a comment – I will reply to anything non-spammy 😉