Month: May 2014

Knowledge Management and the Energy Sector: Part One

km-logo(This blog, written for Interliance Consulting, previously appeared on the PennEnergy.com web site.)

Over the past 20-plus years, Knowledge Management and Knowledge Transfer have become essential components necessary to achieve organizational excellence.  Utilized across multiple industries, Knowledge Management comprises the strategy, processes, practices, methods and technology that enable an organization to create, maintain and leverage its individual and collective knowledge to achieve its goals.

Stated most simply: The goal is to get the right information to the right people at the right time.  If done properly, business success likely follows.  Barriers are broken down.  Safety goals are met.  New workers become productive more quickly.  Financial performance improves.

Change, of course, threatens success.  And no area of the economy currently is undergoing more striking change than the energy sector.  A significant percentage of the workforce is aging, and experienced workers are retiring.  They are being replaced by a different generation, in many cases inexperienced first-timers drawn to the multitude of new opportunities available in the sector.

Compounding the challenges are the operational and technological changes buffeting the sector – as well as increasing regulatory and compliance requirements.  Technologies used across the energy sector have changed and evolved at a rapid rate.  New sources of supply have emerged, potentially changing the entire nature of the industry.

Successful Knowledge Management – and Transfer – is essential.  To be fair, the energy sector has not been sitting on its hands.  Kenneth T. Derr, former chairman and chief executive officer of Chevron, is one executive who was an early supporter.  “Of all the initiatives we’ve undertaken at Chevron during the 1990s,” he said at the 1999 San Francisco Annual Knowledge Management World Summit, “few have been as important or rewarding as our efforts to build a learning organization by sharing and managing knowledge throughout our company.”

Clearly, progress is being made.  Nonetheless, management teams worry that the changing environment could cause energy companies to be stung by significant knowledge loss.

The fact is, Knowledge Management and Transfer is no easy task, and for the energy sector to achieve optimal results, companies need to successfully address the following challenges.

Focus
Knowledge Management is an enabler; it’s one of the tools in the toolkit.  Problems develop when management teams forget this fact and, instead, treat it as the goal or objective.  It isn’t.  Knowledge Management is a tool that, when implemented properly by management, helps a company to achieve its actual business goals and strategies.

Executive Sponsorship
A Knowledge Management program is a C-Suite-level initiative and, as such, demands executive sponsorship to succeed.  Irrespective of whether the original idea began in the CEO’s office or in lower levels of management, C-Suite support and active involvement is required from start to finish. The sponsor wears the program as a badge on his or her chest, provides strong advocacy and helps the implementation team navigate and break down barriers.  Appropriate executive sponsorship also helps address a related challenge: funding. An inadequately funded rollout of a new Knowledge Management initiative is doomed – and likely will fail.

Accountability
Day-to-day program “ownership” also is essential, and it needs to be clear to everyone in the organization that someone – in fact, the “right someone” – is in charge.  Without this clear leader, approval and/or implementation of key initiatives may be delayed or not achieved at all.  In the energy sector, lines of authority can sometimes be blurred because of the heavy use of outside contractors, and because of language issues across geographies, so it is important that program “ownership” is clearly established at the outset.

Tools
Each organization has its own needs, personality and values.  This is especially true in the energy sector, which comprises distinct industries and technologies, and spans multiple borders and cultures.  Therefore, the specifics of the implementation plan – and each of the tools utilized – are critical to ensuring success.  Boilerplate will not work.  Each plan must recognize – it its objectives, strategies and tactics – the unique circumstances and characteristics of the company, its sector, its people and its geography.

People
Human factors, of course, affect every organization, and employee behavior can exert significant impact on a Knowledge Management initiative.  Employees can be reluctant to share information for any number of reasons.  They may be hesitant because they believe it makes them personally less valuable to the organization.  Or they may be afraid to share mistakes they have made.  Or they may simply not trust others in the organization, including the person with whom they are instructed to share.

Misalignment
The question that is top of mind for every employee is “what’s in it for me?”  Just as they ask it in merger-and-acquisition or change-of-strategy situations, the five-word sentence is the first thing they think when asked to share knowledge.  The fact is, Knowledge Management and Transfer is extremely difficult in organizations that have not aligned their employee’s individual goals with those of the overall organization; are competitive or confrontational; discourage interpersonal communication, or overtly or covertly encourage individuals to seek power for personal gain.

If not addressed properly, these challenges can derail a program and prevent a company from achieving desired results.  Our next column will focus on the tools thant can be used to overcome these obstacles.

15 Enduring Keys for PR Success

ImageWithout question, the practice of public relations has been changed significantly by technology. Stakeholder targeting has become more specific, new channels have emerged, and conversations have replaced simple news delivery.

It has been transformative.

But maybe not entirely.

What is interesting is the fact that the keys to being an effective communicator remain the same. Analytical, writing and counseling success have remained the same irrespective of whether a writer is pecking away at a typewriter and pulling copy paper and carbons from the carriage, or devising a digital strategy in a remote site thousands of miles away from the client.

They are:

1.  Be curious.

Successful PR professionals want to know why – and all the other Ws. And when they do, they consider and apply the PR skills they learned in school and on the job. In the process, they are curious once again – wondering about outcomes and scenarios.

2.  Clarity.

Insist upon it – in your thinking, in your writing, in understanding your role.

3.  Active voice.

S-V-O: subject-verb-object. The subject is acting vs. the subject is the object of the action. Remember? It conveys thoughts, recommendations and ideas better than alternatives. It works.

4.  Messages, messages, messages.

Messages are not boilerplate. They are not slogans. They are not bumper stickers. Instead, they are the key themes that enable you to touch your audiences in a way that resonates personally with them. Develop them carefully. And employ them consistently.

5.  Learn what words actually mean.

While/although. Above/more than. Lists of common mistakes are available. Get one and learn from it.

6.  You own it.

Every document you write – including early drafts – has your name on it. Your professional brand is being created or altered. An artist doesn’t sign a painting until it is as good as he or she believes it can be. You need to apply the same standards to any piece of work that has your name on it.

7.  Audiences/stakeholders.

Shape your communications for your intended audiences. You are attempting to achieve a desired interpretation or action – not to show off your ability to construct grandiose sentences. Manage your instincts.

8.  Alignment.

Understand the business/commercial objective. And then develop a communications strategy that aligns with it. Communication for communication sake doesn’t deliver any value. And, therefore, it doesn’t work.

9.  Bullet points.

Think in bullet points. Talk in bullet points. Write your bullet points first – even though they may belong in the middle of the document. And you can listen in bullet points, too. Teach yourself to translate the talk around the room into bullet points before your process it.

10. Timeline and sequencing.

Statement, truths, assertions, denials – they all can have a very short shelf life. So, consider carefully what you are saying today. Best practice? Stick with “real-time truths” that aren’t dependent upon gimmicks. Stay away from “snapshot true,” “de facto true” or “prospectively true.

11. Tell, explain, tell.

Readers, listeners – and especially clients – are not patient. A linear writing structure makes them wait. Don’t make them wait. Tell. Explain. And then tell again.

12. See it before you write it.

Fact is, at some point in your career you should be able to visualize in your mind’s eye sentences, paragraphs – and even document structure. Work at it. When you get there, your job will be easier – and you will be a lot better at it. Don’t write it to see it. See it first.

13. Learn and unlearn.

Essays? Creative writing? From time to time – yes. For the most part, however, strategic communications writing is different. It requires some new learning.

14. Windows, not mirrors.

An effective public relations program communicates “through a window” – that’s where there audiences are. “Mirror communications,” which is practiced far too frequently, means you are speaking to yourself. You may get off on it, but it doesn’t work.

15. Start over, if necessary.

Your supervisor or your client won’t remember if you are late, but they will remember if it is bad. If you need more time, alert them, let them know you believe you can make it as good as possible with a little more time, and then deliver the best possible document.

The business has changed in a multitude of ways, and the successful practitioner needs to embrace the new environment. But it is important not to lose the essential keys to success.