New Year’s Resolutions for Business Success

December 31st, 2012

This is the time when many of us think about what we can do to have a more productive and rewarding New Year. If being more successful in your career is on your list, here are a few ideas to consider.

Recent Graduate – Getting Started

  • The job market is still tough. Look for an intern position to gain experience and demonstrate your capabilities. Check with your college or university intern office or websites such as craigslist or

Young Employee

  • You want to demonstrate your capabilities in a meaningful role or project. Learn about the top priorities of your organization. Talk to your manager about your skills, interests and goals. Work together to find a task or project assignment you can handle.
  • Read about the Employee Engagement Mindset to learn actions you can take to put yourself in charge of your career.
  • Ask questions. Ask to go along with another employee on an assignment or visit.
  • Join a community of practice or network focusing on your role or discipline. Volunteer to work with an expert to write-up a procedure and ask other experienced employees to review it. Volunteer to help maintain the community’s website.

Just Promoted

  • Take time to talk to your predecessor, new peers and manager. Learn details of the new assignment, your roles and responsibilities, other people you need to know and how your success will be measured.
  • Expand your personal network. Develop relationships with colleagues in other parts of the organization. Become a “connector” between different departments. This will help you understand the bigger picture and suggest innovative solutions.

A Manager

  • Engaged employees will contribute to your success. Read about the Employee Engagement Mindset for ideas on how you can create a great environment.
  • The skills and experience of your team are critical for accomplishing your goals. You are accountable for developing your team and retaining expertise. Talk with your employees to understand their goals and interests. Create development plans to provide opportunities to gain knowledge and experience.

Thinking About Retirement

  • Find your successor and help him or her get ready to take over.
  • Look for opportunities to mentor others. Help them get involved in special projects.
  • Share thoughts on how you solve problems or handle complex tasks. By learning this “mental model”, younger employees can cut years off their time to competency.

Book Review – Employee Engagement Mindset

November 1st, 2012

The Employee Engagement Mindset – The Six Drivers for Tapping into the Hidden Potential of Everyone in Your Company”, by Timothy R. Clark, McGraw-Hill (2012)

Engagement should be a win-win partnership between a company and its employees. Employees gain professional skills and personal satisfaction when working with energy, purpose and passion. The company retains people longer, innovates faster and achieves better business results.

Sadly, Clark found that 75% of employees are not fully engaged with their work. They are often bored or burned out. Many are waiting for the organization to engage them. He interviewed committed employees and found that they had a different mindset that became the driving force for their own engagement, with characteristics such as:

  • Taking responsibility for their own engagement and take deliberate steps to become engaged.
  • Feeling the least entitled, understanding they must manage their employability on an ongoing basis.
  • Engaging customers, revealing their level of engagement at the customer interface.
  • Remaining highly engaged in all kinds of settings at work and in their personal lives.
  • Consistently applying behavioral drivers to sustain high levels of engagement over time.

Clark outlines six behaviors that drive their engagement.

  1. Connect: They expand their connections to their work, their colleagues, and the organization.
  2. Shape: They customize their professional experience based on their preferences, while pursuing the organization’s goals.
  3. Learn: They learn at or above the speed of change to keep their professional skills up-to-date and retain their value to the organization.
  4. Stretch: They build their capacity by stretching out of their comfort zones and pushing to outer limits.
  5. Achieve: When employees achieve, they become more engaged.
  6. Contribute: Contributing beyond “self” toward a meaningful purpose produces a more powerful kind of engagement.

Clark provides ideas on how to strengthen these behaviors. For example, relationships formed in business and personal networks are a part of a healthy balanced lifestyle, providing fulfillment and engagement. But an over-reliance on digital means of communication makes it much harder to develop meaningful relationships.

Read Clark’s book to discover other ways to reinforce the behaviors that shape an employee’s engagement mindset and lead to greater business results.

What are your engagement success stories?

Driving Business Results with Social Learning

November 1st, 2012

“Social Learning” is the latest term used to describe the informal knowledge transfer that happens through conversations, mentoring and website posting. Nurtured properly, it can create a natural learning ecosystem that augments formal training and stimulates productivity and workforce performance. The recent explosion of social media tools such as Facebook, Yammer, Wikis and Blogs has made it much easier to connect with colleagues to share information, ask and answer questions and innovate.

The “social” angle is not new. Similar collaborative knowledge sharing systems have been deployed by knowledge management (KM) groups for more than twenty years. One lesson learned by KM practitioners is that technology alone does not inspire long-term activity or create measurable business value. Two other ingredients are critical: context and behaviors. To be effective, a social learning implementation needs to be organized into multiple contexts aligned with skills, competencies or processes. With clear boundaries, learners understand where to seek or share information, and who might be able to answer questions or provide advice. A few examples will illustrate the approach and resulting value.

After a merger that added many international refineries, a client needed to find a way for the new colleagues to leverage existing technical expertise. Refining leadership championed the development of a new global network to connect technical experts, refinery engineers and operators to enable them to search for answers or ask questions concerning day-to-day operating problems, to share successful practices, and to tap into a wide variety of refining knowledge in a single location.

To ensure quick response to urgent questions, the web-based system features an email-enabled process that directs questions to a subset of over 1500 members who have registered their willingness to provide answers in a few of over 200 subject categories. Usually a question receives 2-4 responses within several days. But if no answer is submitted, the question is escalated to technical experts who are responsible for the subject area. Since the launch in 2004, over $100 million of costs savings has been documented.

Social learning was a success factor for another of the client’s critical business strategies – Operational Excellence (OE).  OE focuses on safety, health, environment, reliability and efficiency. Project teams were created to define best practices in each OE focus area. We created a community of practice (CoP) for each team that included employees who would be responsible for global rollout. These CoPs had an executive sponsor, a clear charter and operating plan and used a website and monthly meetings to share deployment experiences and collaborate on improvements to the associated practices and methods. The knowledge transferred in these CoPs was recognized as an important factor in creating and sustaining world-class health and safety performance.

What are your experiences?

The Mental Model: Thinking like an Expert

November 1st, 2012

Many companies are caught between a rock and a hard place. As experts with critical knowledge walk out the door carrying years of experience, their replacements often aren’t ready to take over, much less perform at a competent level. Wouldn’t it be great if you could teach your employees to think like your best experts?

Becoming an Expert

True expertise has three features: it must deliver performance that is consistently superior to that of other practitioners; it must lead to successful outcomes; and it must produce repeatable results. Ericsson’s research1 shows that expert-level performance is not just a result of innate talent or genetics; it can be created by years of deliberate practice and coaching.

This level of performance takes time – 10,000 hours of training over ten years is a common benchmark. In addition, it requires the guidance of a skilled coach or mentor who can give constructive feedback and introduce challenges that drive higher levels of performance. While many companies need a small core of experts acting as thought leaders to create competitive advantage, not everyone needs to perform at the expert level. Still, it takes many years for new hires to become competent performers, able to make good risk-based decisions with minimal guidance.

Fortunately, there are two practical methods you can use to significantly cut the time it takes for employees to reach a competent performance level:  eliciting mental models and coaching.

A Mental Model

An expert seems able to observe a situation, quickly recognize relevant characteristics and almost immediately recall solutions that have worked in the past or even suggest a new approach by synthesizing results from past experiences. Ericsson2 describes this performance as an ability to efficiently encode the knowledge of events and solutions using the most important domain-related concepts learned over years of practice. Rapid retrieval of solutions follows as much of the situation’s information can be filtered out. Less experienced practitioners take much longer to determine what really matters. These key concepts form the expert’s mental model.

I have found that many experts are able to articulate these key characteristics. They can also describe patterns of characteristics they have observed in both good and abnormal situations. This knowledge can be efficiently mapped and taught to less experienced practitioners; significantly reducing the years of trial and error spent trying to figure out what is important. The mental model is a useful framework, like the index for a filing cabinet. To think like an expert, practitioners need to use the model to catalog experiences in their personal knowledgebase of problems and solutions.

If the only way to really learn is by doing, is there any way to accelerate the acquisition of meaningful experience?


A coach or mentor can further accelerate competency by providing feedback as the practitioner observes and interprets information and forms conclusions and proposed actions. He or she can also share additional, less common examples that add to the mentee’s knowledgebase. But if your company is like most, your experts are already fully engaged in projects or other assignments. You can’t afford to give them time for coaching. Or can you?

Not only are experts interested in serving as coaches in the later years of their careers (it helps to combat burnout), it is actually cost effective for your company to have them do this. Instead of being assigned to a single project, an expert can coach several junior practitioners, each of whom is assigned to a project beyond their current capability. With the expert in a coaching role (this is a great opportunity for retirees), the project is guaranteed to have the best available knowledge. The mentee gains tremendous experience by doing the hand’s on work under the expert’s guidance and review. The expert is able to influence the success of several projects while accelerating the learning of several others.

This is a four-way win for the projects, the expert, the junior practitioners and the organization.

  1. “The Making of An Expert”, K. Anders Ericsson, Michael, J. Prietula and Edward T. Cokely, Harvard Business Review, July-August, 2007
  2. “Expert Performance and Deliberate Practice”, K. Anders Ericsson,  2000

International Knowledge Transfer (BRIC)

June 12th, 2012

Over the last year I have been fortunate to be invited to present my ideas on “Unlocking the Value of Knowledge” to business groups in India, Brazil and Russia. These represent three of the four “BRIC” countries (including China) that are at a similar stage of advanced economic development. These groups understand that global competition requires much more than low cost geography. Sustainable competitive advantage will come from the intellectual capital of their workforce.

Starting from the top CEO priorities (business growth, talent development and innovation) I described how knowledge transfer can accelerate competency, increase workforce performance and deliver tangible business value in terms managers understand: increased revenue, lower costs and improved quality and customer satisfaction.  I also shared examples of practical ways I accomplish these results with Chevron and other clients. Integrating knowledge transfer into existing operations and HR processes is a great way to invest in people to build the necessary skills and experience to meet business goals.

Two of these events were organized by local KM organizations.  Brazil’s conference (4th annual) was hosted by Rose Oliveira and The KNOW Network Brasil. Russia’s conference (2nd annual) was hosted by Khatuna Eletskih and Vostock Capital. In India I collaborated with Microsoft for visits with ten large corporations and public sector enterprises. Each group has a similar goal: raising local companies to world class performance in knowledge transfer and innovation practices. My observations and the feedback from these events confirmed that the local organizations are making a big difference in accelerating KM competency.

Book Review – HOW: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything

June 8th, 2012

How: Why How We Do Anything Means Everything”, by Dov Seidman, John Wiley & Sons (2007)

We all want to stand out, to offer unique products or services, to be better, faster or cheaper. But forces like globalization have made it easier for competitors to copy, to lower prices or increase marketing. In the 21st century, companies have an increasingly hard time differentiating themselves by what they do. Having great products is just the cost of entry. The differentiator is shifting to something not so easily copied: customer relationships – how we do what we do.

Think about it. If you reach out and inspire more people throughout your global network, your productivity skyrockets. If you keep promises 99 percent of the time while your competitor delivers only 80% of the time, you can gain critical advantage in the marketplace. If your interactions with others deliver a more meaningful customer experience, you engender a loyalty that brings them back again and again.

There are four HOWs that drive great relationships: how we think, how we lead, how we behave and how we govern ourselves.

HOW We Think

Changing how we think means worrying less about what existing rules say you can do and focusing more on what you should do. This doesn’t mean breaking rules or looking for loopholes. An over-reliance on rules can stifle creativity. Look to your personal values for innovative approaches and let them drive your business decisions.

HOW We Lead

In a knowledge economy, information and ideas are everywhere. It makes no sense to try to hoard knowledge. Command and control leadership is a paradigm of the past. Today’s leaders must encourage their workforce and business partners to connect and collaborate to tap everyone’s experience and insights.

Leadership style needs to move beyond motivation to inspiration. Employees are being asked to deliver more than ever: work with global colleagues with different languages, cultures and time zones; delight customers and act as ambassadors and brand managers in discussions and social media. Inspiration comes from creating a vision of how the company makes a difference in the lives of employees, customers and the community.

HOW We Behave

Today’s business moves faster, spans the globe and is more fluid than ever. We depend on technology to work effectively together. Successful collaboration depends on our behaviors. Are we trustworthy, do we have a record of accomplishment and what do people say about us?

Our reputation is a critical success factor. If you buy from eBay, it is probably from vendors with the highest ratings. We might select a restaurant based on Yelp reviews. A reputation, our personal brand, is based on consistent performance, particularly one in which we exceed expectations.

HOW We Govern Ourselves

Governance creates tension between the ways a company seeks to control versus the culture that reflects the way things really happen. Instead of dictating culture, companies need to learn how to govern employees through the corporate culture.

Herb Kelleher, CEO of Southwest Airlines said: “If you create an environment where the people truly participate, you don‘t need control. They know what needs to be done, and they do it. And the more that people will devote themselves to your cause on a voluntary basis, the fewer hierarchies and control mechanisms you need. We‘re looking for people who on their own initiative want to be doing what they‘re doing because they consider it to be a worthy objective.”

The freedom to self-govern can bind employees more tightly to the corporate values and common goals. This can be a significant competitive advantage. It is very difficult to copy a culture.

It is no longer WHAT you do that sets you apart from others, but HOW you do what you do. Your WHATs are easily duplicated or reverse-engineered. Enduring success – both for companies and the people who work for them – now lies in the realm of HOW, the new frontier of conduct.

Can KM Practices Reduce Employee Attrition?

June 8th, 2012

This question was posted recently on the Knowledge Management LinkedIn group by Avinish Mishra ( Most responders thought that KM did not have an effect outside of creating a sense of belonging or job satisfaction.

My experience is different. I believe there is an indirect but strong relationship between KM and attrition.  About 10 years ago, Chevron introduced an early career program called Horizons with goals of accelerating competency and getting new employees quickly integrated into our business. The program combined formal on-boarding, technical training on Chevron’s processes, 2-3 rotational assignments during the first 5 years, an assigned mentor and encouragement to join a discipline-related Community of Practice. Many of the program’s elements (mentoring, guided job assignments and CoPs) are familiar knowledge transfer techniques.

What is the value? Schlumberger has demonstrated that this sort of innovative approach can significantly reduce a new hire’s time to competency (autonomy). Their study (slide 9) showed an incredible 6 year reduction compared to companies using a more traditional training approach.

We also saw a significant drop in attrition. During the early 2000’s, some of our disciplines were losing new hires at a double digit rate during their first 3-5 years. Today, Chevron’s retention is over 98%.

There are two things today’s new hires (really all employees) are looking for: meaningful, challenging work and investments in career development. A program like Horizons gives new hires a solid technical background and connections to peers and experts that enable them to handle challenging assignments while minimizing the risks normally anticipated from a new hire’s lack of experience. If you provide opportunities like these you’ll find that your employees are engaged and will stick around a lot longer.

Creating an Effective Social Learning System

June 8th, 2012

The rise of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, wikis) has enabled us to easily reach out, connect and communicate with friends and acquaintances everywhere. We share aspects of our lives and seek advice on questions such as: “where can I go for…”, “who knows about…”, “where is the best deal on…” When Millennials come to work, they expect similar tools to network with their business colleagues.

Companies that provide these capabilities are seeing impressive results from the workplace learning enabled by these knowledge sharing tools. Suddenly “social learning”, developing knowledge, skills and attitudes while interacting with others in real-time or offline, has become a most popular buzzword in the learning and development (L&D) community.

Formal versus Informal Learning

Learning has always had formal and informal components. Formal learning offers courses, classrooms or workshops. It is official, scheduled, follows a curriculum and may result in diplomas or certificates. You don’t sign up for informal learning and there is no graduation, since learning never ends. Examples are: shadowing, trial-and-error, asking questions, reading a book or participating in an online group.

There is a growing realization that informal learning predominates1, 2. In leadership development for example, only 10% of learning is delivered by formal methods. Relationships, mentoring and networks account for another 20%. The remaining 70% is provided by challenging work assignments and on-the-job experience.

KM Processes for Social Learning

A KM team can help a L&D group jumpstart a social learning practice. Knowledge managers have pioneered effective learning and knowledge transfer processes and tools such as online communities, peer assists, expertise locators, wikis and virtual collaboration for many years. They also know about getting results by reinforcing knowledge-sharing behaviors.

A community of practice (CoP) is probably the best example of a social learning system. A well-designed CoP supports a question and answer process so that members can share and learn from each other. Answered questions and real-time events are valuable resources for employees just joining the group. Member profiles provide another way to find and connect with colleagues for a deeper conversation. When coupled with other captured knowledge collected by the community (e.g., standard practices, job aids, work processes), a CoP can act as both a performance support system (accessing knowledge while doing work) and a learning tool (adding new lessons as members gain new insights).

Social technology is clearly an important enabler. However effective knowledge transfer processes and reinforced seeking and sharing behaviors are also critical ingredients to deliver a learning experience that creates a competitive performance advantage for your organization.

  1. Jay Cross,
  2. Lombardo, M. M., Eichinger, R. W. (2000). The Career Architect Development Planner. 3rd Ed., Lominger Ltd

Book Review: Leading with Questions

March 16th, 2012

Leading With Questions”, by Michael Marquardt, Jossey-Bass (2005)

Asking good questions is a best practice for knowledge transfer. In this book, Marquardt describes “how leaders find the right solutions by knowing what to ask.” According to the Center for Creative Leadership, the ultimate key to a leader’s success is the ability to ask effective questions and to encourage others to do this. The author provides practical advice that teaches how to ask, listen effectively and create the environment where asking questions encourages thinking and improvement.

A questioning culture becomes “we” instead of “you versus me”. Responsibility, problems and ideas are more readily shared. Some signs include: willingness to admit “I don’t know” or, asking in a positive frame such as “what have you accomplished” rather than “why is the project behind”. This leads to increased motivation and job satisfaction.

Empowering questions tend to foster ideas and creative solutions rather than defensiveness and doubt. This helps to move issues off the leader’s plate and towards ownership by others. Examples include:

  • How do you feel about the project thus far?
  • What have you accomplished that you are most proud of?
  • How would you describe the way you want this project to turn out?
  • What key things need to happen to achieve objectives?
  • What kind of support do you need to assure success?

Probing questions should not include advice. The goal is to encourage others to come up with answers. It is also important to listen and show interest in the responses.

  • What is a viable alternative?
  • Can you more fully describe your concerns?
  • How would you describe the current reality?
  • What are a few options for improvement?
  • What will you commit to do by when?

How can leaders make their organization “question friendly?” How can they create a safe environment that promotes inquiry that challenges the current state in a way that promotes productive dialog? Some examples include asking your team to be prepared to present and defend a perspective on a current issue at your next meeting, or framing the agenda using critical questions that need to be addressed.

Marquardt offers a four step model to for effective coaching:

  1. Develop relationships through an attitude of reflection, honesty and learning. Asking “what was on your mind when you did this” or “what values caused these actions” helps connect with people who are struggling with issues.
  2. Analyze your conversations and relationships to understand differences in approach. For example if you sense that there are different assumptions, explain yours and encourage your colleague to do the same. These unstated assumptions tend to lead to more argument than satisfactory resolution.
  3. Listen carefully and ask questions if you aren’t sure of what the speaker is trying to say. Paraphrasing what you heard is an effective way to do this.
  4. Plan actions only after others have had the opportunity to think through their own problems. Ask for their recommendations instead of jumping in with your own quick solutions.

Three good questions that help build relationships are:

  • How can I help you?
  • What would you do?
  • What would someone else (e.g. a competitor) do?

These will help you work with your team to clarify needs, transfer responsibility and generate great ideas. These ideas can help you evolve from a leader of the past who tells to a leader of the future who asks.

Innovation: Critical Success Factors

March 16th, 2012

Is your organization well prepared to innovate? A recent study by PricewaterhouseCoopers1 describes some of the structure and organizational commitment that are important for moving ideas to market. They spotlight critical success factors such as: leadership, innovation processes, culture, customer involvement, measuring results and new skills.

Leadership has two important roles: defining growth targets and molding a culture that supports innovation and taking risks. Reinforcement of behaviors such as creativity, open-mindedness and learning from failure must be strong, consistent and cascaded through all levels of management. It may take a few years for employees to fully engage, especially in a formerly risk adverse environment.

Innovation does not often come from lucky accidents. It needs a formal process for moving ideas through incubation, testing and refining feasibility and marketability, selection and scale-up. The number of people involved will grow from small teams of 5-10 to large groups needed to support commercial operations and marketing.

Current customers must be the focus of discussions about desired improvements in core products. New methods are available to uncover unmet needs of potential customers who aren’t yet purchasing.

Measuring progress and the return on innovation investment is essential. A number of measures that can demonstrate the payoff such as: percent of revenue from products introduced in the last 3 years, time to market, new product growth or profitability rate, and customer satisfaction.

Perhaps the most important success factor is employee skills. A recent Deloitte report2 states that innovation success is not limited to the work of a small team. It touches many areas of the business such as services, processes, business models, operations and marketing. Skills such as out-of-the-box and critical thinking, problem solving, risk management, voice of the customer techniques, relationship management and collaboration will increase your success rate.

New roles such as visionary, idea generator, integrator, roadblock remover and ethnographer are being recognized. You’ll probably need all of these on your innovation team.

While innovation is the goal of this article, the efforts spent developing these critical success factors will have impact across your entire organization.

  1. 14th Annual CEO Survey, PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2011
  2. Human Capital Trends 2012, Deloitte LLC, 2012