Speed to Proficiency     Creating a sustainable competitive advantage

CAT | Knowledge management

ConvergenceThere has been a lot of talk over the years about the convergence of learning and knowledge management; I’d like to provide a concrete example.

Our customer was the 10,000 person IT department of a Fortune 50 organization, implementing a new time accounting/project management system, and extensive policies and procedures for their use.

They faced several challenges. The previous implementation of an early version of the software had failed, and only a small minority of employees were using it. However, failure now was not an option as time had to be accounted in the new version. There was little appetite for eLearning as the past training consisted of 160-slide eLearning megaliths. There were 300+ pages of arcane policies and procedures that had to be taught, which contained many procedures that simply didn’t work. And, of course, the software itself was complex.

Our solution was to first break the learning into small chunks like “start a project,” “close a project” or “create an order of magnitude estimate”. For each we taught the same way – a short CBT teaching principles followed by a demo and simulation.

But the heavy lifting was carried by the knowledge base we created. Its taxonomy followed the steps a project manager took during the life-cycle of a project. Each page was organized the same way. If it was a process page, it contained the inputs, outputs, responsibilities, time frame, and links to appropriate procedure pages. Each page also contained relevant resources, from P&P pages through Excel workbooks to links to appropriate experts’ profiles.

The last learning activity for each “chunk” was a scavenger hunt asking 10-15 questions for which the learner needed to go into knowledge base. Training time was dramatically reduced, as we trained to the tool, which was then persistently available for just-in-time learning afterwards. A spin-off benefit was that when P&Ps changed, the change could quickly be made in the knowledge base without needing expensive re-work of eLearning modules.

The customer was extremely happy with the solution. Not only did learners “take” to eLearning now that it was being done right, but training time was cut by 50% with a 96% completion rate. Manager surveys indicated that they were extremely satisfied with employee’s ability to use the new system. And best of all everyone’s getting paid, so something was done right!

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DIKW-200The vast majority of learners are not knowledge workers. That’s a convenient fiction that leads to wrong-headed approaches to training and learning. They might better be termed “information workers.” By losing sight of this difference, our approach to learning and training may be skewed.

For our purposes in creating effective organizational learning programs, the distinction between the nature of work in what I’m calling information workers and knowledge workers is key. (This distinction relies on the DIKW hierarchy: data > information > knowledge > wisdom.)

How might we think about that difference when we think of examples of knowledge workers and information workers? College: professor v. financial aid officer; Insurance: policy analyst v. claim adjuster; IT organization: solutions architect v. system administrator; Advertising company: creative director v. inside sales rep.

Information Worker Knowledge Worker
Critical thinking required Creative thinking required
Follow guidelines Create guidelines
Fewer degrees of freedom More degrees of freedom
Know when to refer Buck stops here
Less self managed More self managed
Less intrinsic job satisfaction More intrinsic job satisfaction
Less organizational recognition More organizational recognition

I would suggest that the nature of work needs to guide the nature of learning – that more structured and formal approaches to learning will be better suited to enabling information workers to be proficient at their jobs.

Excerpted from Speed to Proficiency: Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage. (c) Bill Bruck, Ph.D., 2015 (paperback and Kindle)

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Speed to ProficiencyI’m pleased to announce that my new book, Speed to Proficiency: Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage is now available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle.

Learn how to change from providing “so we did it” training to creating learning initiatives that produce capability change. Everything is covered: Aligning initiatives with the business, understanding the roles and responsibilities of stakeholders, weaving together training with reinforcement and coaching, integrating informal learning and performance support, and selecting the right learning technologies.


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Basic RGBIT owning knowledge management is like the stadium builder coaching the basketball team.

I was working with a disability and life insurance company a few years ago, and was talking to their director of knowledge management. She was livid. “You’re not going to believe what the IT director just told me,” she said.

“What’s that?” I asked.

“He came into my office with a big smile in his face. Then he said, ‘We did something for you last week. We heard that there were complaints that the knowledge base search function wasn’t really useable, so we fixed it! It used to be if you searched for life plus VT plus individual you would get 700 hits. Now you get over 2,000!’”

“I can’t believe it,” she added. “The reason we got complaints was the wild number of false positives. Who can work with 700 hits? Now he tripled it? And, of course, being IT they didn’t ask us what the problem was – they simply assumed in their infinite wisdom that they knew better than anyone else and went ahead and fixed it.”

Imagine that a builder gets the contract to build your city’s new stadium and does a fantastic job! And your city council immediately turns to him and says “You know you built us one fine stadium. The basketball facilities inside it are great. In fact they are so good, we’d like you to coach the basketball team.

That would seem pretty silly, wouldn’t it. Yet this exact thing happens in knowledge management with distressing frequency. If you believe, as I do, that knowledge management and learning and integrally connected, then the people who organize the organization’s knowledge, provide it to workers in the form of performance support, explicate tacit knowledge, and facilitate knowledge sharing need to be the same folks who are accountable for employees learning the skills they need to do their jobs.

This is why, in several organizations with which we work, L&D is called the Knowledge and Learning department.

Abstracted from Speed to Proficiency: Creating a Sustainable Competitive Advantage. In press.   (c) Bill Bruck, Ph.D., 2015

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