Working in a wired world

The BBCis adapting its practices and management style to reflect the nature of broadcasting as a knowledge-based industry. Euan Semple reports. Plus guide to Softworld events

Most of us are working in an ever faster changing world of increased complexity and unpredictability where organisational charts and job titles have less and less relevance and offer little comfort.

Old established lines of communication and reporting procedures are creaking at the seams trying to keep up with accelerated change, leaving managers exposed as the range of issues they need to keep up with get harder to grasp with confidence.

Yet despite the complaints about the number of e-mails arriving daily in our in-box, the Internet and increasingly intranets are making it possible for people to have access to all sorts of information quickly. New tools hold out the promise of helping us to find and connect with people who have the right experience to help sort problems or develop initiatives wherever they are within the organisation or indeed around the world.

There are some interesting challenges posed by this speedy and universal access to information.

Some on-line communities allow peer groups to exercise control over members activities (such as the Feedback Forum on eBay.co.uk where users can post comments about the trading behaviour of other users). What would be the impact on the way organisations regulate behaviour if such a system existed in your business?

On-line skills markets and “knowledge trading” sites such as elance.com are becoming more popular, with skilled people selling their talents and their effort on-line. What would happen if this way of buying and selling skills and effort became common inside organisations?


Challenging developments


Many in “expert” positions are finding some of these developments challenging. University professors used to spend large parts of their working days dispensing facts, but nowadays facts are becoming easily accessible to all. As one academic put it, “What do the professors do nowadays to add value?”

Traditionally, many managers would spend their days engaged in bureaucratic activities making the most efficient use of expensive resources such as capital, labour and space.

As organisations change and develop highly mobile workers with access to all sorts of information, less need for fixed desk space, and easier connections with communities that can help them get their job done – how will the role of the manager add value in the future?

What will be increasingly necessary are people who can make sense of all the information swashing around organisations and derive meaning from it. We need people who can tell stories and see patterns in the chaos and create order through leadership.

To make the most of our knowledge, we need to involve people in telling stories about their experiences, the commonsense, current stuff about what works and what doesn’t. If people are too busy working and have no common spaces then communication and learning suffer. We need to give people the time to think and talk.

At the BBC, we are turning our journalistic skills inwards in an activity we call “Live and Learn”. Once a group has done something innovative or particularly challenging, we run a group session and ask basic questions such as,

• Who did you need to talk to get this project done?

• What do you wish you had known before you started the project?

• What worked and what didn’t?

These events will provide learning for the teams themselves, but if they are comfortable with wider access we will make the stories available on our intranet and through other means such as peer review sessions.

Powerful search tools and profiling agents will then make it easy for someone embarking on a similar project to quickly get to the guts of what has happened before and to learn from it.

In an increasingly interdependent world, decisions are becoming more complex and involve a diverse group of people to arrive at the right answer.

Organisations need to be moving away from departmental divisions and hierarchies to networks of groups of individuals who have crucial knowledge and are willing to share it.

Traditionally, organisations have tacitly condoned the hoarding of knowledge and other assets believing that scarcity creates value.


Target


When discussing or writing about knowledge management, words like trust, integrity, collaboration, and sharing come up regularly and it is no surprise that by raising such issues one easily becomes a target for those who see work as much simpler and more pragmatic.

The ideal of Taylorist efficiency, which relied on measurement and control, still dominates the world of work for many.

But for those of us working in companies where knowledge, ideas, and information are the primary resources of your company the following quote from economist and management guru Peter Drucker may serve as a reminder: “In a knowledge economy there are no such things as conscripts, there are only volunteers – sadly, managers have mostly been trained to manage conscripts”.


• Euan Semple is head of knowledge management for the BBC. He will be presenting Maximising the potential of your HR Intranet to provide long term knowledge management at Softworld HR & Payroll, the Annual Forum.

• All pre-registered delegates attending Softworld will receive a free copy of the Softworld Forum Buyers’ Guide (RRP £25) containing the latest market information and a detailed guide to the suppliers in this market.

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