Interview with KM Leaders: Stan Garfield

I am currently interviewing an eclectic group of knowledge management leaders on their experiences. These interviews will appear in my new book on knowledge management. Here is an excerpt from my interview with Stan Garfield. I first met Stan Garfield at the APQC Conference in St. Louis in 2005. I was immediately impressed with his depth of knowledge and experience. He invited me to give a talk to his knowledge management community of practice soon after. Through the years, I have kept abreast of his work in the knowledge management field. Through this interview, I am hoping that you will gain an appreciation of what it takes to be a KM leader.

Current Title and Organization: Community Evangelist, Global Consulting Knowledge Management, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited

Biography: Mr. Garfield began as a computer programmer, research assistant, and manager at Washington University School of Medicine and St. Louis University from 1975-1983. He then moved to Digital Equipment Corporation (later, Compaq and HP) and held a wide variety of field and headquarters management roles in presales, consulting and system integration. Among his many achievements, he launched DEC’s first knowledge management program in 1996, helped develop the corporate KM strategy for Compaq in 2000, and led the Worldwide Consulting & Integration Knowledge Management Program for Hewlett-Packard, 2004-2008. After leaving HP, he briefly served as Retail & Consumer Knowledge Domain Manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, before joining Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu Limited as Community Evangelist in Global Consulting Knowledge Management. He lives in Northville, Michigan.

How do you define knowledge management?

Knowledge Management (KM) is the art of transforming information and intellectual assets into enduring value for an organization’s clients and its people.  The purpose of knowledge management is to foster the reuse of intellectual capital, enable better decision making, and create the conditions for innovation. KM provides people, processes, and technology to help knowledge flow to the right people at the right time so they can act more efficiently and effectively.  To practice knowledge management, share what you have learned, created, and proved; innovate to be more creative, inventive, and imaginative; reuse what others have already learned, created, and proved; collaborate with others to take advantage of what they know; and learn by doing, from others, and from existing information.

Can you tell us a bit about your first job as a knowledge manager and how did you get this role (i.e., how did you make the transition to a knowledge manager, if it was not your first job)?

In 1996 I was asked by the senior vice president of systems integration at Digital Equipment Corporation to start a knowledge management program after we visited Ernst & Young's Center for Business Knowledge in Cleveland, Ohio.  When he heard that Ernst & Young had a Chief Knowledge Officer, he turned to me and said, "I want you to be our CKO."  I had been doing knowledge management for many years in addition to my official duties in professional services management, but we didn't call it that.  It has been referred to as something like "resource management" or "capability development" or "information."

My job was to launch the first KM program at DEC.  I had to define the strategy and approach we would use, and start the process of implementing changes incorporating people, process, and technology elements. Along the way, I had to endure many ups and downs, enlist allies in the cause to join my virtual team, get executive sponsorship from a succession of leaders, increase investment and commitment to the program, deal with constant organizational change, adjust to changing technology, migrate from and integrate with legacy software, exercise diplomacy with many other groups, and cope with two large-scale corporate mergers.

Thanks. What did you learn from this experience? What were three of the major challenges you faced? How did you overcome these challenges?

I learned:

  1. Put a strong KM leader in place, and ensure that the KM team has only strong members.
  2. Balance people, process, and technology components, with a project leader for each category.
  3. Establish a governance and collaboration process to engage all groups within the organization (e.g., business units, regions, functions), and to formally manage and communicate on all projects – appoint KM leaders in each major group.
  4. Hold annual worldwide face-to-face meetings to get all KM leaders informed, energized, and collaborating.
  5. Communicate regularly through newsletters, training, web sites, and local events.
  6. Get the senior executive to actively support the program.
  7. Engage with other KM programs, both internal and external, to learn, share ideas, and practice what you preach.
  8. Focus on delivering tangible business benefits that match the overall objectives of the organization.
  9. Deliver regular improvements to make the KM environment effective and easy to use.
  10. Set three basic goals for employees and stick to them for at least a year.

Three keys to the success of a KM program:

  1. Set three simple goals and stick with them for the long term.  Communicate them regularly.  Incorporate the goals and metrics into as many parts of the organization as possible (e.g., employee goals, incentive and rewards programs, and newsletters).
  2. Keep the people, process, and technology components of the KM program in balance.  Don't allow one element (e.g., technology) to dominate the other two.
  3. Lead by example.  Model the collaboration and knowledge sharing behaviors you want the organization to adopt in how you run the KM program.

Five pitfalls to avoid:

  1. Trying to take on too much.
  2. Focusing on technology.
  3. Not engaging the constituents.
  4. Doing too much studying and planning and not enough prototyping and piloting.
  5. Not reusing what others have already learned and implemented.

Can you say a bit more about the pitfalls, especially how did you manage not to take on too much. I have heard from a lot of KM leaders that the number one reason they fail is that they over promise and under deliver. What strategies do you recommend for budding managers?

Pick one focus area which addresses a widely-perceived need, where you can achieve positive results relatively quickly, and which can be implemented without the need for extensive approvals, expenditures, or custom development.  Direct most of your energy and resources behind this effort, and when it succeeds, pick the next focus area using the same criteria.

Find out if the senior executive has a hot button, pet project, or wish list.  Respond to these by implementing something for them, getting their endorsement and participation, and then widely communicating how everyone else in the organization can emulate the leader.

Pick the three goals and repeat them in all communications until everyone knows them.  Relentlessly stick to achieving these goals until you can declare success on one or more of them.  Then pick new ones and repeat the process.

Harness the efforts of others and connect their people, processes, and tools into your program.  For example, if another group has implemented a blog platform that your program can use, embrace that as your blog platform rather than launching your own.  If yet another group has an innovation process, adopt it as yours.  And invite people outside your group to participate in your activities as virtual or extended team members.

Thanks. Can you please also say a bit about the importance of prototyping and piloting approaches and solutions to KM?

Classic software development projects included lengthy time allocations for analysis, design, and development before users ever had a chance to try out the results.  Given that it is difficult to know exactly what features users want and how they should actually work before using a new program, the "finished product" would often be unsatisfactory to the users for which it was developed, despite the fact that it met their specifications.

Knowledge management programs and intranet systems often make the same mistakes as software development projects.  Lengthy designs or redesigns are followed by big launches and then by users disliking or ignoring the touted offerings.  I call this the "big bang" approach, such as when a new or revised web site is unveiled after six months of development, only to miss the mark as judged by its intended audience.  What are the users supposed to do during the time prior to launch?  It's much better to quickly launch a simple site serving up the most important content (as defined by the users) and then continue to improve the site and add more content on an ongoing basis.  This results in a site which is both immediately useful and which is also perceived as being continuously improved.

Whenever you have a potentially good idea for a people, process, or technology innovation, try it out as soon as possible.  Start by discussing it with a group of trusted colleagues, fellow members of a community of practice, or insightful friends and family.  Mock up a simple picture, screen shot, or process flow.  Encourage candid comments and suggestions, and incorporate as much of this feedback as possible in your initial design.

Implement your idea directly, through a colleague, or through a team good at development.  Do this sooner, rather than later.  Publicize your initial implementation through a relevant community of practice, your social network, and your work team.  Solicit feedback for improving functionality, usability, and effectiveness.  Then quickly make improvements and repeat the cycle.  Continue this process indefinitely, with longer cycle times as functionality better aligns with user requirements.

Over the years, can you describe what has changed in your approach to leading knowledge management programs in organizations?

My approach has evolved as opposed to changed.  I emphasize understanding the needs of the organization and responding to those needs, rather than trying to roll out a system and try to get it adopted.

Here are 13 insights I have drawn from my 14 years in KM:

  1. Collect content; connect people
  2. Try things out; improve and iterate
  3. Lead by example; model behaviors
  4. Set goals; recognize and reward
  5. Tell your stories; get others to tell theirs
  6. Use the right tool for the job; build good examples
  7. Enable innovation; support integration
  8. Include openly; span boundaries
  9. Prime the pump; ask and answer questions
  10. Network; pay it forward
  11. Let go of control; encourage and monitor
  12. Just say yes; be responsive
  13. Meet less; deliver more

To read more about the interview, stay tuned for the book…

To be interviewed or recommend renowned KM leaders and managers for interviews, please send me an email.

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