posted 25 Jul 2006 in Volume 9 Issue 10
The knowledge: Mick Cope
If an organisation is to make the most of its knowledge, people have to make a choice. If they choose to learn and share, then knowledge management is easy, says Mick Cope.
Sandra Higgison finds out more about his philosophy.
As it is likely that you spend much of your time helping your organisation or clients improve the way they harness, share and use knowledge, you’ll be fully versed in the challenges: opening up silo-based organisations, creating opportunities for relationship building, mastering unhelpful technology, and transforming knowledge hoarders into sharers, among other things. But there is one issue that seems to get less discussion time and, if resolved, could unlock the floodgates: how can you help individuals recognise the power and potential of the knowledge they hold?
There is little point creating knowledge-sharing tools and opportunities if the individuals they are aimed at don’t choose to own their knowledge and do something with it. It is in this gap between knowledge management (KM) and organisational learning where personal KM has evolved. Mick Cope, founder of WizOz, a coaching, consulting and training firm, came across this disconnect while working on his MBA and has been examining it ever since in a bid to challenge the current ethos around training in organisations. “I was getting frustrated that you had the KM group in one camp, many of whom just wanted to sell IT, and the organisational learning group in the other who were very academic. I wanted to find the point of connection, which is where people release their potential.”
Cope faced this challenge many times during his own journey of discovery. Since then he has written seven books on learning, KM and consulting, and has coached and trained many individuals to help them realise the incredible value they hold in their knowledge and capabilities.
Looking back, he says, he worked as a corporate slave for a huge telecoms firm for 24 years in roles as varied as engineering, sales and change management before a combination of things made him decide to do something different. “I’d been a single parent for five years when the company went through a huge transition and I realised that it wasn’t a job for life. I got scared, went into a dip and became despondent, which is when I began to appreciate the capital I had – my personal knowledge – and that I had to do something different.”
Cope went back to college and completed a Higher National Diploma (HND), which he followed up with an MBA. “When I went to college the first time round I was awful; I failed one exam five times,” he says. “One thing this experience has taught me is that you have to choose to learn, which is why ‘sheep-dip’ training programmes in organisations typically fail.” The theme of choice features heavily in Cope’s work with clients and individuals, and is one he returns to regularly.
Finishing his MBA not only helped Cope validate his worth but also enabled him to build up the courage to leave the world of corporate slavery. He then embarked on a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA). While it remains unfinished and on his list of things to do, it has become a milestone for him as it opened the door to becoming an author.
Pearson had started turning ideas from the course into business books and Cope’s work caught the publishing giant’s eye. “My thesis focused on human potential and included organisational learning and knowledge management, which were emerging themes at the time. It became the subject for my first book, ‘Leading the Organisation to Learn’, a lot of which is based on the five-year journey I’d been on.”
Each of Cope’s books is based on his experiences with clients or his exploration of an area
he knows nothing about, which makes them something of a documentary of how he has developed his own personal KM. In this way, Cope fully understands that learning is a personal undertaking. “For training to be effective, it has to be personalised. But that ramps up the cost, which makes it untenable for most knowledge management and training departments as they are driven by cost reductions. My gut feel, however, is that 80% of management development spend is wasted. The trouble is, when I say this to training managers and clients, they agree with me. I keep waiting for somebody to shout me down and tell me I’m wrong, but nobody does. If they agree, why has nothing changed?”
When Cope talks to clients about his work, he tells them that as their people grow, so will their businesses. The problem he sees in many companies is that they like the idea of developing their employees, but most go about it in the wrong way. “They think that the solution is simply to install a training programme,” he says. “But unless they work at the level of the individual and help them make choices about how they want to function in the organisation, they just won’t work.”
So, while most companies claim that their staff are free-minded individuals and say that they are dedicated to releasing their employees’ potential, Cope finds that it is nevertheless the organisations that prevent people from capitalising on their capabilities.
“When the personal knowledge management book first came out, corporates wouldn’t buy it. They were more interested in short-term solutions, whereas personal knowledge management is a long-term investment into a relationship with individuals.” He describes a two-day course he ran for one company, which the client loved – but said he could never run again. “He told me that if I helped people realise they were talented and had valuable knowledge, they would start to ask for more money or leave, which is why organisations tend to keep people ignorant about their capabilities.”
While some may say that Cope’s views are unnecessarily negative, he suggests that they are simply realistic and based on his own experiences. Emerging trends in ‘talent management’ support this stance. As, he says, there are two ways to define talent management: the classical human resources (HR) definition that focuses on succession planning, and an alternate view that is being discussed by management scholar and thought leader Charles Handy and leadership guru Rosabeth Moss Kanter. “At a recent conference they made the analogy that organisations are like operas as all the focus is on the performance and not anyone back stage. You have to recognise that talent resides in the whole organisation, not just in the top 10 per cent.”
Cope uses personal knowledge management as a way of releasing an organisation’s talent. For it to work, however, it needs commitment from both the company in the long term and the individual. “One of the first things I say to people who come on the courses is that if they don’t think they’re going to get a personal return out of it or that they can better apply their knowledge elsewhere then they should leave and not waste their time,” he says.
“I would love somebody to get up and walk out, but we’re almost conditioned to go on these courses, sit there for two days and then return to the office as if we were sleepwalking. There’s no translation from what’s been learnt into behaviour. Our current training processes simply aren’t working and we’ve yet to take the first step towards finding a solution by recognising there is a problem.”
In an attempt to stir up discussion about current corporate training models among his peers, Cope has written a paper that he hopes will encourage further research into how firms can achieve long-term, sustainable learning. He describes the ratio he has devised that he hopes will help training managers allocate their annual budget and resources more effectively.
“Eighty per cent of today’s management-development spend is on classroom-based learning. The ratio says that 10 per cent should fund the choice process that ensures the right people are on the right course at the right time, 20 per cent should be on face-to-face training, 30 per cent on post-event coaching and 40 per cent on work-based learning, such as coaching, e-learning and work shadowing. This would stop people going on courses where the only evidence they attended is another folder gathering dust on the shelf,” he suggests.
Adding further complexity to the learning conundrum is the question of whether companies can cope with the free-minded individuals that these approaches could release. “If you look at the systematic nature of the psychological contract between organisations and individuals, you have to ask whether a typical organisation can deal with liberated people who value their knowledge. Those that cannot, embed complex systems to prevent people from taking power. It’s not a criticism; the nature of the system in which we function is complex and based around a power structure that often resists giving people freedom.”
It is only the companies that truly wish to develop their employees that interest Cope. One of his personal goals is not to succumb to the demands of others and he is achieving this is by never taking on a contract he doesn’t think will add value. “I aim to walk away from more clients than I take on,” he says.
“Clients have to be serious about people, and I measure ethos and intent by how they spend their time and money. If a director is too busy to talk to you about the company’s learning needs then he doesn’t take it seriously.” He highlights car-maker Honda as a shining example of a firm that values its talent. “Everyone at the company goes through a half-day Honda philosophy session run by the directors who do so not because they have to, but because they want to. This type of company is awesome to work with.”
But the challenges of helping individuals realise their potential do not rest solely with organisations. “The one thing everybody has is choice,” he says. “Most of the problems I face when coaching, teaching or training are people who abdicate their responsibility for choice. There is no point to personal knowledge management if people do not choose to grow themselves. Knowledge management in a business can be easy if people choose to acquire, share and socialise their knowledge to release the value from it. An organisation can’t manage a person’s knowledge if they haven’t decided to own it and do something with it.”
Cope found many of his theories come to life when he learnt to ride his motorbike. He confesses that his purchase of a Harley Davidson was driven by a male menopausal desire to do something new. However it was during this event that he discovered how much of an individual’s learning process is about dealing with fear. “Our tutors thought they were just teaching us how to ride a motorbike, but there was explicit and tacit knowledge transfer and an emotional connection as they pushed us to go beyond what we believed we could do. This is exactly what organisations should be doing with knowledge management.”
While he doesn’t necessarily recommend buying a motorbike to learn this lesson, he does encourage trainers and knowledge managers to realise that learning is about helping people overcome their limited beliefs.
One person who understands the relationship between choice and consequence only too well is Lucy, Cope’s 19-year-old daughter. With this knowledge, Cope says she has opportunities he didn’t get until he was 40. With an outlook befitting someone twice her age she describes how she would rather forgo a Friday night drinking binge – the typical way many young Britons start their weekends these days – for a hangover-free Saturday that she can make the most of.
Having discovered an early appreciation and flair for sales, she is currently trying to decide where she would like her career to go next, but not without her father’s advice. “He’s helping me set myself goals to establish what I want to do. Not just long-term ones, but ones for the next week or month that will help me get there quicker.”
As most of us realise, these are messages we would do well to take on board ourselves. Cope adds a quote from Mahatma Ghandi. “He said, ‘Be the change you want to see in others’, which is something that drives my work by being authentic in the way I teach and how I write my books.” Cope is living the end game he is helping others reach, and shows what can be achieved if an individual chooses to make the most of their personal knowledge. With revisions of his books and new ideas up his sleeves, we have the choice to explore his lessons further to enhance our knowledge, or carry on as we are, adding folders to dusty shelves. n
Mick Cope can be contacted at email@example.com or www.wizoz.com
Name: Mick Cope
Place of birth:
Education: Crap early years and late bloomer
Employment history: BT for 24 years then head of WizOz Ltd for 7 years
Personal strengths: Making the complex simple
Must improve: Stop always trying to make the complex simple
Biggest inspiration(s): People who have the courage to leap into the abyss and start new directions in their life
What I do to relax: Ride my Harley in