Monthly Archives: January 2009

Knowledge Management

This weekend I finally got around to reading a book that I have been meaning to spend some time with for a while now. It is “Knowledge Management” by Carl Frappaolo. knowledgemanagement
This book can pretty easily be digested in an afternoon and it presents the reader with an overview of knowledge management concepts and some interesting case studies. Additionally different types of technology that foster knowledge exchange are considered and the use of web based portals for accessing information is discussed.

The most fascinating aspect of this book to me was related to how culture (corporate as well as geographic) drives the attitudes of the individuals involved in sharing information and knowledge. Subtle management behavior and attitudes can foster knowledge transfer or it can create a competitive environment in which knowledge is hoarded.

If you are looking for an in-depth guide to applying knowledge management to your organization I would not recommend this book. However, if you are interested in becoming conversant in the topic and are looking for a starting point to learn more this is a good book.

The Conscience Police

From Wikipedia:

Conscience is an ability or a faculty that distinguishes whether one’s actions are right or wrong. In plain English, it is a person’s inner sense of what is right or what is wrong morally. It leads to feelings of remorse when one does things that go against his/her moral values, and to feelings of rectitude or integrity when one’s actions conform to our moral values. It is also the attitude which informs one’s moral judgment before performing any action. The extent to which such moral judgments are based in reason has been a matter of controversy almost throughout the history of Western philosophy.

Commonly used metaphors refer to the “voice of conscience” or “voice within.”

The “Conscience Police” came about a few years ago on New Year’s Eve at our neighbor’s house. I have to apologize to Candy for stealing this concept. So you might ask – what is the conscience police? It is an elite force on a covert mission to enforce a conscience on those who don’t seem to possess one. The conscience police will lock you up!

handcuff

I think you know what I mean.

At work for example we have:

  • Customers yelling or even swearing at support personnel for things they couldn’t possibly be responsible for, nor fix.
  • People who will eat your food in the work fridge without asking or replacing it.
  • Co-workers who won’t clean up the kitchen when they caused the mess.
  • Teammates who take ideas and pass them off as their own.

In the rest of the world we find:

  • People who can’t be bothered to say please or thank you to service workers.
  • Drivers who will run you off the road to get one spot ahead in traffic.
  • The hurried who park in fire lanes and handicapped spots because “they will just be a moment”.

I know, I know. These are minor things. It’s not like someone is out there murdering children. However, it demonstrates a distinct lack of empathy for the rest of the world. I’ll go even further and say that it is fall-out of our me-centric society. If I can justify the benefit to myself it’s good enough. Who cares how it impacts someone else.

Imagine a world in which the conscience police existed. Ok, I agree it’d probably be pretty scary – I know that I’ve had some lapses! Guilty as charged! But think – you’d take a minute and smile at someone who looked like they needed it. You’d stop treating service workers like they were invisible. You’d be kinder to your coworkers and your family.  I’d also venture to bet that people who start treating you better in return too.

Weak Ties

The Art of Making Online ‘Friends’ provides a interesting perspective on social networks as a way to leverage what is known in sociology circles as “weak ties”. This support group provides a bridge between tighter groups of friends and gives the job seeker additional avenues to explore.

An observation in the article is that people tend to become more persistent in “friending” others when they are searching for a job. I believe that networking should be something that you do continually. Starting in times of distress won’t provide you with as good results as if you had nurtured your network all along. Are you on LinkedIn? What about Facebook? How do you maintain contact information of the people you went to college with or your ex-coworkers?

Time for a Paycut?

Here’s an article from CNN Money Same Job, Less Pay that talks about ways that companies are saving money and jobs by cutting staff salaries to weather the economic turmoil.

This is an interesting proposition. When it comes to layoffs the pain involved depends upon how lean your company is running. If you continually work to eliminate your worst performers it can be extremely difficult to identify candidates to layoff. When you have a group of solid contributors how do you identify who to cut? As a manager I would much rather not have to make that choice, although I have had a bit of experience doing just that during the dot-com bust. The company I worked for cut staff repeatedly over a number of years. At the end of it, there were only top performers left.

What I like about this article is that it provides a way to reduce costs and keep key personnel in preparation for the upturn. What it touches on a little bit is the fact that there will be some people in your company who can’t afford the pay cut. They will have to look for a new job. If your top performers are among that set of people, they will be the ones that will have the most impact on your business – and they are also the ones that are most likely to be able to find new jobs when times are tough.

Switzerland

There’s a huge difference between really being a neutral party and politicking and trying to appease everyone. In one case you garner the respect of all involved, in the other, there definitely will come a time when things will blow up in your face. This article from Business Week on politics in the office is a good read about staying above the fray: Resisting the Pull of Office Politics

Be Switzerland….
switzerland

I think that trying to please everyone usually starts when you find yourself agreeing with people in settings when your brain is screaming “NO!!! That’s so screwed up! What are you an idiot??!!!”  Maybe this person is your boss – or someone who has authority over you in some way – that makes it even harder. Maybe you’ll throw in a little placation too. Heck, and once you’re there – if they are ranting about someone else it is always easy to make some snide comments and have fun at someone else’s expense. Someone who isn’t there to defend themselves. Besides, it is easier to agree than to argue.  Anyway, it’s harmless. Right? Wrong. Well, next thing you know, you find yourself having a more similar conversations, maybe with people with the opposite viewpoint. The poison is spreading to other people. The team is splitting into multiple factions. There is no empathy between the different sides.

Politics start before high school. You’d think that as we grow up that we’d learn that this isn’t a game worth playing. Sadly, even people who should be older and wiser fall prey to this.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

Respect, everyone wants it. Everyone deserves it. Just because someone doesn’t have as much money as you do, as much status in their role at work, or even as nice clothes doesn’t mean that they are less deserving than you are. Many times it means quite the opposite. There are a lot of hard working genuine people in the world. They have a lot of dignity, and they treat others with kindness.

The crew on our boat this past week were the quiet hardworking folks. Our captain and the first mate always kept the boat and the zodiak on course. The cabin steward kept the place clean, made up our beds, always had coffee and food served perfectly (he even folded the napkins just so!) and was ready with a joke. The engineer fixed everything with a smile. And the cook. Oh man, Eddie wasn’t just a cook, he was a chef – the food he prepared was superb. He was professionally trained in Columbia. He used to own a restaurant but gave it up because he couldn’t find good help long term. He decided to cook on a boat.

Eddie also is diabetic, that’s a hard sentence for a chef to bear. So is my husband. Apparently blood glucose testing meters and strips are not the norm in Ecuador and he noticed we brought one and asked to be tested. To make a long story short, after a week of talking to Eddie through a translator, and through pantomime communication and lots of testing we made a close friend. It makes me smile just thinking about him wishing me a good morning and asking me how I was doing. Midway through the trip my husband gave Eddie his spare blood glucose meter and enough testing strips to last him over a month. He educated Eddie in how to test his glucose and about keeping his blood sugar stable.

As for the rest of the crew, for Christmas we packed some chocolate treats to share. I made sure to share them first with the crew before the other passengers. These guys were working over the holidays. They weren’t on vacation like the rest of us. Feliz Navidad. As the week progressed, we pulled out more “American” snacks – and always put them out for the crew first.

All of this didn’t seem like much to me. We could easily afford it. It was the right thing to do. Neither one of us expected anything in return.

Some of our vacationing shipmates seemed to think otherwise. Instead of connecting with they crew they barked orders at them. “Get me coffee!”. “We didn’t like dinner – we want beans and rice tomorrow”. Where was the “please” or “por favor”? Where was the “thank you/gracias”? It wasn’t forthcoming. Our guide made a point of pointing this out to them. It fell on deaf ears. For some people on our trip, our crew was relegated to the role of the invisible servant.

At the end of the trip, the crew presented me with a Club Deportivo El Nacional Team jersey. I was floored. I wasn’t expecting anything in return. All of the crew had the same jersey. I have some terrific photos of me with some of them all dressed alike. The funny thing is that these same folks who treated the crew like servants kept asking why they gave me the jersey. I suspect that they thought they would get one too. It was obvious to me – clear as the nose on your face.
dekao044_l1

My question for you: how do you treat your office manager, your secretary, your support personnel? Do you bark orders at them? Do you really appreciate what they do? Do you try to connect with them? If not – why not? What could it hurt? I am sure that it would help.

Teamwork

To me, teamwork means looking out for one another. It means taking up the slack when someone is falling behind. It means helping to make sure that everyone will make the deadline. It means compassion. It also means the drive to be successful.

I guess I have always felt that marriage is one of the greatest example of how good teamwork can really make a difference. One couple on our trip was a sterling example of this. They would switch a backpack between them while hiking to lighten the load. They would jovially help each other getting on their wetsuits. They would always look out for one another, making sure they had enough water for our treks, worrying about hats and sunscreen etc. It was really sweet to see. What made it even more remarkable was the fact that they had been married for 25 years and were still so caring. I ever heard any complaining or bickering aside for some very kind hearted joking. Team work at its absolute best. They accepted each others faults and compensated for them.

The other couple on the trip was the opposite. Holy cow. The first night at dinner when asked about the low lights and highlights of their trip so far, the husband said that his low light was his wife’s complaining. He said this to a bunch of strangers. What was he thinking? He also went on about how they were “sort of married” (I later found out for nearly 10 years) because she didn’t take his last name. How can that be “sort of”? What kind of statement was that? When she fell behind on the trail, he left her and didn’t even look back. When he was her snorkeling “buddy” he would swim off and let her fend for herself. She ended up spending most of the snorkeling time in the zodiak boat because she was afraid of the sharks in the water. They each packed their own packs and water for the day. There was no sharing or camaraderie. Later on during the trip he talked about how he “took her in” when she had problems with her apartment and she had nothing. It was as though she was a pet, not a partner. I guess he should have adopted a different puppy with the way things seemed to be going. He was also very controlling – he always had to tell her what to do. If she was late he yelled for her rather than doing what he could to help her. It was really embarrassing to watch.

I’ve seen this type of behavior at work too. There are people who are part of the same team who do everything they can to position themselves for success at the expense of everyone else. They point to others for blame. “It wasn’t my fault we didn’t make the milestone – my deliverable was ready on time.” They refuse to provide the aid that is necessary for the entire team to be successful. This is crap. A good team is like a good marriage. People are there for you when you need them, and you are there for them.

A really great team knows how to capitalize on the best skills of the people involved and how to compensate for their shortcomings. Through peer coaching and mentoring the team can provide a safe environment for junior members to learn and improve their skills.