posted 10 May 2011 in Volume 14 Issue 6
Cora Newell reports from the Henley KM Forum’s 11th annual conference, where discussion focused on inspiring people to achieve better results
Reflecting these times of austerity, the overarching theme of the conference was on improving results and inspiring thought about how knowledge works. In a departure from the conference format of previous years, the programme enabled speakers to apply a broad knowledge lens to the gamut of business activities, which covered strategy and leadership, HR, IT, creativity and physical assets such as buildings and workspaces. The need for entities to grow and innovate, while operating leanly and efficiently, was acknowledged.
The expectations that the collective intelligence gained from this eclectic mix would be greater than the sum of the constituent parts was, on balance, largely successful.
Professor Eddie Obeng’s lively opener on creative connections and collaborative working was followed with an academic talk on organisational ambidexterity – a way of describing the capability of an organisation to reconcile internal tensions and conflicting demands. In other words, the ability to both exploit existing competencies and explore new opportunities. Although we are generally good at using what we already know (as well as trying out new things) when individuals come together within organisations, this becomes more challenging.
Well organised processes, systems and people management techniques, which are designed to exploit existing knowledge, can often stifle creativity and block new knowledge creation. The extent of the positive association between organisational ambidexterity and firm performance was analysed and discussed.
Rosemary Nunn’s presentation on ‘unlocking the value of you’ showed what knowledge managers could achieve in a corporate context and the first day ended with a bang with an entertaining talk by Steve Martin on ‘the science of yes and the ability to influence and change others’. Six universal shortcuts to achieving social influence were presented: reciprocity; scarcity; authority; consistency; liking, and consensus.
On the second day, Anand Pillai energetically inspired delegates to put their employees first and customers second in a presentation on differentiation and adding value, which took a refreshing approach to the staid concept of employee engagement and HR surveys. The identification and analysis of employees’ top and bottom five passion indicators was his suggested way forward, together with true 360-degree appraisals. However, organisations needed to take meaningful action on this information and make it genuinely open and transparent.
Professor Ginny Gibson gave a grounded presentation on creating an effective ‘dance floor’ for the business and how workspace influences people and organisational performance. It was enlightening to discover how few of us believe that our best ideas come to us while sitting at our desks.
A gentle workshop followed on personal values as critical knowledge. Dr Paul Aitken explored how leaders can create a climate for productive knowledge work and encouraged us to assess our own personal brand values and our likely propensity to be good knowledge sharers and leaders as a result.And Victoria Ward’s breathing space covered how the storytelling technique could be used in even the most unusual circumstances.
The conference drew to a conclusion bordering on the lyrical with Professor Robert Chia’s fascinating talk on making sense out of nonsense: problems, paradigms and strategic sense-making in dynamic business environments. The challenge for all of us was how we could, in a non-linear disruptive world, become amenable to unexpected change.
To think the unthinkable was not just a case of thinking outside the box but questioning where the box came from in the first place. The difficulty of learning how to master our circumstances lies not in developing new ideas but in escaping the old ones.
We were encouraged to grasp by letting go, recognising that to break paradigms – the normal, the expected, the thinkable – you need to think the unthought. The virtue of obliqueness would help us to minimise the creation of targets for resistance and avoid the trap of believing that single-minded concentration on the bottom line brings results. In fact, the opposite appears to be true. The more deliberately you pursue a single strategic goal the less successful you will be.
Cora Newell is a knowledge and change management consultant, lawyer, and director at KM Insight Consulting. She can be contacted at email@example.com