Archive for July, 2012


Knowledge Management: Avoiding the Rumor Mill

Knowledge Management in New Terms

We think of knowledge management in these terms:  how to manage data, how to maintain information in categories that can be easily accessed by employees.  But consider another type of knowledge management:  how to manage vital information with their employees about bad news.  Although the content of this vital information may be strikingly simple, its access to employees can be incredibly complex, leading to a distortion of the facts, and breaking trust that is hard to repair.  Even if the information is correct, complete and accessed by all, if it is not dispersed in a timely manner, management has served up a stale meal to its employees.  In other words, when managers hesitate, procrastinate, and can’t decide, they have in fact made a decision:  they release the uncontrolled power of the rumor mill.  

The rumor mill is not the process that good leaders want to employ for managing knowledge for their employees, yet they use it more often than they would care to admit.  Leaders are less and less inclined to take risks.  If the rumor mill is allowed to operate, no one has to take responsibility for the information.  No one has to take responsibility if the information turns out to be wrong.  And no one has to take responsibility if the information is bad news.

If the information is bad news, employees might be disturbed, full of questions, and want to vent their comments at someone.  For some team leaders, their worst nightmare would be to moderate a meeting with these employees.  Some are not skilled in handling such a situation.  For many others, fear and insecurity leave them paralyzed behind their desks in their offices, hiding the yellow streak down their backs.

What do they fear? They are afraid that they won’t have the correct answers to questions.  And even if they do have the answers, they fear the employees won’t find them justifiable.  They fear that if they don’t handle the meeting effectively, then productivity will plummet.  In the pit of their stomachs, they fear for their own jobs. Perhaps they made the mistake that led to the bad news.

These are all justifiable fears, but these are challenges that leaders should be trained to master.  There are a number of ways that a good leader can quell such fears and be able to have a meeting.

  1. Plan and prepare beforehand.  Don’t wait until there is a crisis to communicate with your employees at large on sensitive issues.  Communicate with them regularly on issues that matter to them.  You will build up trust and credibility.  
  2. Be honest with your employees about small problems by having real communication at meetings where there is a give and take dialogue.  Don’t lecture and leave.  Together, if you have learned to work out the small problems, you will have the foundation you need to tackle the more serious ones.
  3. If you are communicating with your employees regularly, if a crisis starts to brew, they will have been apprised of the early stages and will not be caught off-guard.  
  4. Show your employees respect.  When employees don’t think you respect them, you have broken the bridge of communication and any genuine truth you give them won’t reach them.  Employees don’t feel respected when they are not told the truth in a timely manner.  
  5. Learn how to say, “I’m sorry.  I was wrong.  Here is where I made a mistake…”  Employees always know more than you think.  They might not have all the facts, but they have some pieces to the puzzle.  Sometimes all they want to hear is for you to admit that you were wrong.  Never estimate the power of an apology.  
  6. Be down-to-earth.   When some managers become nervous, they wear their authority as a mask to hide their feelings.  Take off the mask.  You’ll be surprised.  Employees will be more sympathetic to what you have to say if they can identify with you.  
  7. You don’t have to have all the answers.  Learn how to say, “I don’t know.  I’ll try to find out for you,” then write down their question and follow through.
  8. If there are a few employees who are emotional and vocal, you can offer to speak with them alone.  
  9. Let your employees vent; listen, and don’t interrupt unless necessary.  If they can communicate to you what they’ve been going through, how frustrated they’ve been, you would have met one of their needs:  management gave them an ear, treating them with respect.  You might actually learn something by what they say.  
  10. Be ready to be the scapegoat.  Be steeled to take the impact of unwarranted verbal blows after the announcement of bad news.  A good boss knows that these immediate responses are not necessarily personal.  Employees may have received news that will change their lives and the lives of their families.  


Yes the manager could have been a wimp and avoided all this.  He or she could have let the information leaks fuel the rumor mill, causing an avalanche of misinformation, but instead, this manager took a risk as a genuine leader.


A Key to Unlock Writing

You have a report due on Friday.  It is Thursday night.  You have procrastinated as much as you could.  In fact, you really didn’t have the time.  More likely, you are mentally exhausted by a myriad of responsibilities.  Your brain feels like a motor that just can’t get started.  What if there was a key that could kick-start that motor so that you could write this report quickly yet accurately?  It would help you focus and to discard unrelated information behind you, like a lawn mower blowing out the cut grass.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could steer your readers through your report so they don’t misinterpret what you are trying to say? Even if your readers are not familiar with your subject matter, they can navigate through a long report and not get lost.  Even if they don’t understand everything in the report, because you have used this key, they will be able to get the gist.  Test  dissuade

As with all great things, it’s simple.  Use key terms.  For instance, I chose to use the word report in the previous paragraphs.  I used it five times.  If I were writing a novel, I could be creative and use words like document, paper, or prose.  But I would rather make it easier for you to follow what I am saying.  I probably don’t have your full attention.  Since you have started reading this blog, you might have had a telephone call, a text, or an interruption of some kind.  Two coworkers may be talking right over your monitor about last night’s football game as you try to read this.

If I talk about your prose, you may be thinking I’m no longer talking about your report, even though your prose is in your report.  I could be justified and use the words memos or emails instead of reports, because they are business correspondence that need key terms too.  But it could be confusing.  

You can use key terms in a more complex context in your specialty.  Make a glossary of the key terms of your subject matter.  Have that glossary available to your general reader.  Be consistent.  Decide what key term you are going to use to represent a certain concept and stick to it; this exercise will make writing easier. They key terms act as stepping stones. You may think it is boring to use the same key term over and over, but remember, you are not writing the next great novel, you are guiding your reader into new knowledge.  


Microsoft Goes Macrohard–the New IBM

There was a time when IBM was the latest and greatest–the cutting edge before there was the term cutting edge. You could recognize a man from IBM from a mile away–they all wore black ties and white shirts. It was their proud uniform. But eventually, IBM was the household word for stodgy business–autocratic, no room for growth. It was something that Microsoft could make fun of. Then Microsoft got the middle-aged blubber. The innovative ideas faded away with the pizza and coke diet. Microsoft was no longer pliable and humble. It became Macrohard–hardened in its management style, big-headed in the industry.

This month in Forbes magazine, Fredrick E. Allen describes one of these antiquated management styles: stack-ranking–something that Rankinfiles would never use. Stack-ranking is ranking the staff within a team. As one employee said, “ walked in the first day knowing that, no matter how good everyone was, 2 people were going to get a great review, 7 were going to get mediocre reviews, and 1 was going to get a terrible review,” Not surprisingly he said, “It leads to employees focusing on competing with each other rather than competing with other companies.” Microsoft used to be the fun place to work–where employees had the freedom to bounce ideas off of one another as easily as they played basketball during work hours. Now that would be an anathema. Employees are back in the 1950’s timeclock. We are not back to the future, but back to the past. But somewhere, in some windowless back bedroom, there is another scrawny man-kid whose creativity isn’t thwarted by threats of profitability, and he will be our next hero. Have you looked upstairs in your son’s bedroom lately? And yes, it could be your daughter.

It’s the 4th of July.  It’s a day when the blue and red Americans come together and make the flag.  Let’s remember our fore-fathers who were crazy enough to go against one of the leading world powers and made it work.  Their accountants would have told them that they didn’t have enough hardware to win.  But they had team spirit, innovation, and had enough of the stodgy ways of the Old World.  The revolutionaries all weren’t young and without responsibility.  They were mature family men who took risks.  They valued freedom.  And we need to keep our freedom of creativity in the workplace and not be cowering.