An alternative approach to dealing with volatility, uncertainty, complexity ambiguity in the new world
Unleashing the powers of the mind has been one of the more enduring and yet elusive goals of mankind. As we embark on a perilous voyage into the realm of ambiguity, the need for seeking solace through introspection has never been so acute as it is now. Despite a plethora of suggestions on how to addresss complex, ill structured and ambiguous challenges, little has been done to demonstrate how this can occur in practice.
Anyone responsible for managing knowledge in an organization needs to develop a game plan or strategy for doing so. This provide guidance on what needs to be done and why it is necessary. Without a business strategy, a business cannot grow as intended. Likewise, without a knowledge management strategy, attempts to optimize knowledge cannot proceed as intended.
We may be clear of what a business strategy entails. However, a lot of uncertainty surrounds the development of a knowledge management strategy. What should such a strategy comprise of? How do we begin developing one? Who should be involved in its development?
How can we get funding for such a strategy? These are very pertinent questions that need to be addressed.
Answering these questions maybe done systematically through the adoption of a simple three step approach that involves;
The 4th Industrial Revolution has revolutionized the way society functions and the nature of work itself. We witness staggering changes it has brought and are left wondering how to deal with this new phenomena. This article provides a glimpse of what has transpired and how to navigate around this bewildering episode called the 4th Industrial Revolution.
This revolution has brought in its wake, a blistering array of new technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation, Big Data, and the Internet of Things (IoT). These technologies have indeed to a large extent improved the quality, speed, or price at which value is produced. We have new discoveries made in the field of genetics and a huge vista of business opportunities opened to people who have ventured to capitalize on the new value propositions available.
9 May 2018 will do down in history as one in which the landscape of politics of Malaysia has been changed forever, with the dawn of a “New Malaysia”. All Malaysians witnessed what they could not have fathomed before that date, the demise of the ruling party that has helmed the government for well over 62 years.
This unprecedented upheaval in the political landscape was orchestrated by a 93-year-old veteran of Malaysian politics, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad who, despite all odds, ousted Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak. Being in power since independence, the ruling party helmed by Najib Razak was deemed as being “too big to fall”. However, it did fall, despite overwhelming odds. Many factors contributed to this.
One of them is the leadership style of Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad that differs significantly from Datuk Seri Najib Razak. Here, we analyze the styles adopted by both leaders to understand better how one style outshines the other.
The key leadership attributes that have directly contributed to superior leadership of Tun Dr Mahathir as compared to Datuk Seri Najib Razak may be summarized as having integral vision, capitalizing on insight and adopting a servant leadership approach and emphasizing the need for accountability.
Communication is the process of sharing knowledge. Effective communication requires an understanding of how knowledge should be shared across various knowledge boundaries that exist when silo-based mentalities manifest.
Essentially, three knowledge boundaries exist in any organisation: syntactic, semantic and pragmatic. These three boundaries are explained through increasing magnitude of difference, dependence and novelty. Understanding these concepts allows an organisation to better manage knowledge sharing specifically in the new product development process and, arguably, in any circumstance. This saves time and money while ensuring accuracy and satisfaction.
At each boundary, there is some level of difference, dependence and novelty. The 'difference' here refers to a difference in the amount of knowledge and/or type of knowledge. Dependence is the connection of different knowledge to accomplish a task. Novelty is how different the knowledge is from what is currently known. For example, a front-end and back-end engineer will have a difference in what programming languages they know, their knowledge is dependent on each other to create a website and there will be some novelty as they move between different projects that have different requirements. These three parameters would change in magnitude were we looking at a back-end engineer and marketer.
The first major boundary is syntactic. In short, this is the language (defined broadly) that each person speaks. Every role in an organisation has its own jargon and common lexicon, even more if cultural differences are
involved. Syntactic boundaries make knowledge transfer difficult as there is no common lexicon. Thus, to solve syntactic boundaries, a common lexicon must be developed. This is not to be underestimated; it may take more effort than it initially may seem. For our engineer and marketer, they need to develop a common set of words to communicate with each other.
This leads us to the next boundary: semantic. Having a common lexicon is a great first step but now there must be a common, shared understanding to avoid misinterpretation. Semantic boundaries focus on translating knowledge. Here it is crucial to make implicit knowledge explicit. “It is not just a matter of translating different meanings, but of negotiating interests and making trade-offs between actors”. To solve semantic boundaries, common meanings and interpretations must be developed. The engineer and marketer must develop a common understanding of their lexicon – this can require making new agreements. Essentially, this is exploring meaning. Boundary spanners can act to mediate people in conflict here – spanners can be people, activities, or processes.
Lastly, the pragmatic boundary. Sometimes a common lexicon and understanding are still not enough because of conflicting interests between people. Pragmatic boundaries look at how shared meaning is transformed into the actual product/service. To solve pragmatic boundaries practical and political effort is needed. Here the engineer and marketer must work through their specific interests in the project to create a common interest. Boundary objects such as prototypes, drawings and wikis can be helpful because they are malleable enough to change but solid enough to define a direction.
Any activity in an organisation with more than one person has these knowledge boundaries. A clear understanding of and attempts to minimize syntactic, semantic and pragmatic knowledge boundaries allows for effective knowledge sharing, correct outcomes and satisfied people; this is an iterative process that will get better the more a team works together.
In our previous article, we explored how optimizing knowledge processes enables organizational transformation from a culture of blaming towards a culture of accountability. A key lesson learned was that only with active involvement of all parties involved, facilitated through knowledge management practices, can such a situation come to fruition.
Recently, we have been discussing an idea suggested by Forbes that Knowledge Management facilitates decision making, enables the building of a learning organization, as well as creates a culture of knowledge sharing and innovation. In this segment, we focus on the intimate relationship between better decision making by leaders and knowledge management at a personal level.
In order to make high-quality better decisions in volatile and highly uncertain and complex business environments, three requirements need to be fulfilled. The first is the ability to undertake assumptions analysis. The second is the ability to suspend unilateral perspectives in favour of multiple perspectives when attempting to understand the situation and complication being faced. The third is the ability to make a decision that meets the short-term, as well as long-term, aspirations of all stakeholders involved.
In highly complex and uncertain business environments, leaders have to rely on their gut feel and intuition to decide on the best way forward. They are forced to decide based on limited, changing information and make assumptions on what other issues impact their proposed decisions. This was an acceptable practice in the past but is not the case anymore. Today, the volatility and extremely complex interrelationship between different elements of the business environment renders the tendency to assume a very risky option to undertake.
To minimize the risks associated with making incorrect assumptions, leaders need to identify and acquire critical information either through the association of people who have relevant experience or be able to intelligently analyze data to guide and assess the assumptions they make. As a result, the knowledge acquisition process needs to be optimized through enhancing the ability to connect with people who have the necessary expertise at short notice and the expertise to analyze information intelligently.
Rapid and significant changes have become commonplace occurrences these days. There have been cases where what appeared to be the “obvious” decision to make from a leadership standpoint, led to a nightmarish outcome. A case in point is the decision by Nokia to downplay the advent of Apple’s iPhone. According to Nokia leaders at that time “such a phone will not go far” in 2007, led to the demise of Nokia’s leading position as a cell phone retailer.
With the complexity and interdependency of technological start-ups, including the advent of artificial intelligence and advanced robotics, boundaries of technological developments are becoming increasingly blurred. Under these circumstances, where leaders are limited to their current level of superficial understanding, within the confines of a limited point-of-view, when making critical decisions. Given their limited comprehension of the unprecedented evolution of technology that is unfolding before them, we clearly need a more effective means of making such critical decisions.
The only way to make better decisions in such situations is through the production of knowledge that broadens the understanding of the emerging business environment. This requires the involvement of all stakeholders in terms of sharing and producing knowledge on a regular basis. This will over time, enable development of a more holistic and multi-perspective view of issues. These perspectives shared and discussed amicably through dialogue using Knowledge Management techniques such as the Knowledge Café will go a long way in extending options available to leaders in dealing with issues that are ambiguous in nature.
Balancing short and long-term needs of stakeholders
In general, the thinking process of people involves perceiving what is happening, and from that perception, developing an understanding of how what is happening, affects the well-being of the person, followed by making a decision on what to do, based on the level of understanding the individual has achieved.
When this is done by one person, such as a leader who has to decide on the next course of action, his or her perception may be clouded by inaccurate or incomplete information that could lead to a superficial understanding of the situation and complication inherent within it. Consequently, the decision made may be suboptimal and at times disastrous. This is by virtue of the fact that all stakeholder considerations were not made and the decision most often is based on good short-term returns without considering long-term implications of these decisions.
To mitigate the negative outcomes of a wrong decision and to minimize the possibility that sub-optimal decisions are made, leaders need to develop a knowledge management capability that optimises the process of acquiring the correct knowledge from the right stakeholders at the right time, producing a holistic, shared understanding of the situations and complications involved from all relevant stakeholders and based on such an understanding be in a better position to make better decisions.
Making a reasoned, well thought out decision that can affect stakeholders wellbeing is dependent to a large extent on minimizing the consideration of unverified assumptions and adopting a unilateral, superficial understanding of issues. Such a decision has to be premised on the need for internalizing concerns and welfare of stakeholders involved both in the short and long term.
If this is done as a matter of routine, then such an approach to decision-making is deemed to have been integrated into the decision-making process adopted by leaders in the organization. Developing and maintaining a well-oiled and thought out knowledge management approach as a catalyst for making the right decisions is certainly a step in the right direction.
I recently conducted a Leadership Challenge workshop for twenty senior leaders & board members. We discussed Extreme Ownership (click here to see the video) and how we can use it to lead our teams to victory in today's VUCA environment.
The central message in the video is that imbuing a strong sense of total ownership and accountability within the psyche of employees is crucial. This takes time. It requires the change to occur gradually, evolving from a change that is primarily developmental to one that is transitional and finally to one that transforms the organization in its entirety.
This transformation is contingent on the level of readiness of acquiring new knowledge regarding the importance of total ownership, producing knowledge relating to the belief systems that are appropriate within the context organization and integrating this belief throughout the organization. It depends on how well the organization in question is able to optimize its knowledge management processes of knowledge acquisition, knowledge production, and knowledge integration in order to imbibe new insights and beliefs that essentially form organizational knowledge.
Developmental change involves employees focusing on their shortcomings in leading themselves towards becoming better at what they do. This requires guidance by way of feedback and work on that feedback to initiate and sustain changes that develop them as better leaders. Such developmental change is temporary and the tendency to revert back to their default leadership approach is strong unless these efforts are sustained through the acquisition of feedback on a regular basis.
As the developmental change is sustained, transitioning towards a different belief system altogether attuned towards being accountable for action taken and taking ownership of results obtained becomes possible. This transitional change is only possible through the reinforcement by real-life experiences at work, leadership by example and a joint commitment by peers to adhere to this belief under all circumstances. Efforts to support this transition through constant engagement through knowledge sharing is crucial at this stage.
When this transition occurs and the sense of total ownership and accountability permeates the entire spectrum of activities undertaken by all employees, transformational change will emerge in the people in terms of how they act, think and emote. This change will require a reassessment of the overall structure and systems to be in line with the cultural shift that occurs. This will mark the emergence of a culture of accountability.
Organizational knowledge management capability is one of the key requirements that drive such an organizational transformation. The availability of knowledge management expertise required to engage stakeholders to build on their cumulative knowledge and belief systems regarding accountability and total ownership is necessary. This requires the development and adoption of practices that encourage sharing of knowledge and beliefs about the importance of total ownership through storytelling, promotion of activities that encourage like-minded people to connect and collect tacit knowledge about how to develop new norms that promote total ownership within the organization in question.
The integration of these new norms into the fabric of organizational practices has to be very closely monitored. This calls for everyone concerned to regularly own up to one’s mistakes and seek avenues for improvement at every available opportunity by sharing knowledge. This practice has to be regularized to a point where it becomes routine. Only then will the transformation from a culture of blame to a culture of accountability will begin to emerge.
To manage means to be in control. We need to be in control of these aspects in order for us to achieve our desired outcome. Most existing literature in management tend to dwell on how to manage these aspects on a daily basis. Articles and books on management today predominantly provide “to do” lists to guide behavior.
In a recent post issued by Vocational Education and Training (VET) in Australia, there was a discussion on the need to “collaborate, diversify, niche or die” insofar as revamping corporate training in Australia. I believe this holds through for all countries in this region. This articles explores how this could be done on a practical level for training programs offered by training providers for corporations in multiple industries.