posted 12 Jun 2002 in Volume 5 Issue 9
The knowledge: Dan Holtshouse
Simon Lelic talks to Dan Holtshouse, director of corporate strategy at Xerox Knowledge Initiatives and one of six keynote speakers at KM Europe 2002.
Since joining Xerox, Dan Holtshouse has seen knowledge management grow from being a fringe, ill-defined management concept to its current status as the driving force behind some of the world’s largest and most successful corporations. “I can remember in the mid-1990s when there were just a couple of books, no journals, no market analysis reports and only a handful of KM champions who were doing early pioneering work in the field,” he recalls. “Now I can’t keep up with all the information available about KM.”
Currently director of corporate strategy at Xerox Knowledge Initiatives, Holtshouse believes his experiences working with the American Productivity and Quality Center on various benchmarking initiatives has, over the years, formed something of a roadmap as to the growth of the discipline. “For example, as the knowledge movement began to build momentum in the US, study sponsors first wanted to learn how to implement KM successfully, and then they wanted to know how to build communities,” he says. “This was followed by interest in how to manage and leverage the growing content and knowledge being generated through these KM initiatives, and finally they wanted to learn how to use all of this capacity to capture and retain valuable expertise. Because these benchmarking studies represent areas of high interest, their themes are a good barometer of how the movement evolved.”
Today, though, Holtshouse believes the systematic capture, re-use and retention of organisational knowledge through voluntary sharing remains the primary challenge, even after all these years. In order to overcome the human resistance to sharing that Holtshouse maintains still exists in most organisations, he urges companies to focus on creating a work environment with a culture and incentives that are conducive to sharing, and to support that environment with improved work processes and strong technology. “In a knowledge economy, regardless of tenure or experience, people who are contributors will have worth in a knowledge-driven company,” he says. “Those who are seen as hoarders will be left out.”
Holtshouse goes on to outline a recent research study carried out in Xerox’s customer service organisation, which serves as a case in point. The company surveyed 200 customer engineers in order to analyse their perceptions of work, their interaction with co-workers and their attitudes towards sharing. By a significant margin, the best performers were proactive sharers, while the lowest performers were non-active sharers (or hoarders), who equated the sharing of knowledge with the loss of power. The use of language among the engineers was also revealing. While the high performers used the term ‘knowledge’ when talking about their work, lower performers spoke primarily in terms of ‘information’. As Holtshouse says, the correlation between effective knowledge sharing and high performance couldn’t be clearer.
Tying in with this idea, Holtshouse is hopeful that the work currently underway in the field of ‘making the intangible more visible’ will yield new insights and results in the next few years. “If we could figure out how to make knowledge more visible, I think we could make tremendous strides towards knowing how to truly manage for knowledge in the 21st century,” he says. By way of analogy, Holtshouse describes how electricity, which cannot be seen directly, is made visible through its effects on, for example, a light bulb, a television or a motor. He feels that if the flow of knowledge could be demonstrated in a similar way by developing KM ‘transducers’ and viewing instruments that could bring to life the knowledge assets held by an organisation, knowledge could be more easily directed to the areas that most needed it, resulting in big pay-offs for businesses.
Another area Holtshouse is keen to explore in greater depth is the link between changes in technology, culture, organisation and profession, and the effectiveness of the knowledge worker. In fact, this is a theme Holtshouse will be developing when he makes one of six keynote presentations at KM Europe 2002 this November. “The current thinking is to discuss some emerging ideas around the concept of using knowledge to raise the value of work,” he says. “This would include, but not be limited to: finding novel work outcome indicators to demonstrate value creation; discovering the underlying perceptions and interdependencies of knowledge, power and performance; breaking through barriers to institutionalise knowledge sharing; and, consciously seeding community formation as a source of new knowledge generation.” It is through building and integrating some of these core capabilities that Holtshouse believes the foundations can be built to support a truly knowledge-enabled workplace.
For more information on KM Europe 2002, and for details on how to register your attendance, visit www.kmeurope.com or call Henry Anson on +44 (0)20 8785 2700.