Lucidea’s Lens: Knowledge Management Thought Leaders Part 40 – Alice MacGillivray (2 of 2)

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

September 14, 2023

Alice MacGillivray is a systems thinker who enjoys helping groups and organizations work through challenging problems and opportunities. Last week (Part 1 of 2), we looked at her interview with APQC on Why Leaders Matter in a Culture of Collaboration.

This week, in Part 2 of 2, we offer her work A Business Lens on Business Intelligence — Twelve Tips for Success, co-authored with Andrew Faulkner.

Tips for Success

Business champions and leaders can avoid many traditional BI pitfalls by adapting the following approaches to their organizations’ unique cultures:

1. Reflect Before You Act

As a leader, think long and hard about your personal values and the values of your organization. If you share a willingness to look outwards beyond the traditional boundaries within and around the organization, a strong belief in people, diversity, teams and synergy, and are interested in pursuing the potential of business intelligence tools, the rewards can be tremendous. If you and the organization are more comfortable with traditional hierarchies and silos, and reward practices that maintain those boundaries, this technology will not be an easy fit. This stage of reflection is particularly important if you do not have formal management authority. Although top managers can rarely effect significant change in isolation, a lack of formal authority adds to the types of work and amount of energy needed to generate discussion, explore options, make solid decisions, and move forward.

2. Base Your Plans on Urgent Business Needs

In you are with the private sector, assess these tools in the context of customer service, efficiencies, business planning, competitiveness and sustainability. If you are with the public sector, assess these tools in the context of public good, budget transparency, accountability, the interdisciplinary nature of public sector benefits, and the public’s desire to have easy access to information about government programs, services and facts.

3. Become an Amateur Anthropologist

Assess not only the business needs these tools must address but also the culture in which they will be addressed. Consider how your organization treats information. Choose tools supporting that approach and that can expand as your business and culture evolve. Analyze your unique strengths and challenges, and identify the challenges that might be turned into strengths.

4. Plan for Success

Assess how the organization is apt to judge success. Will those measures work for you, or do you also need to build support for new forms of success? Manage expectations in that context, planning for incremental successes, which are recognized and celebrated.

5. Be Curious

Whatever your background, you have a lot to learn, and everything you learn will add value to the project. Become a three-year-old again; ask “why” on a regular basis. Senge (1990) and Kouzes and Posner ((1997) are among leadership authors who emphasize challenging assumptions and fostering a spirit of inquiry. Is proportionally too much effort being put into collection and storage? Why? Are people using lots of jargon? Why? If people pretend to understand (which is often the norm in boardrooms, especially when there are different corporate sub-cultures at play), important questions will go unasked.

6. Treat Your Project as a Fundamental Change Initiative

Architecture, standards and other technical factors are important. But cultural or business issues such as good metacontent (Kucera & Faulkner 1998), collaboration amongst work units, senior management support and the willingness to share information, can be just as important and much more challenging. Plan for, and actively address, these and other potential challenges common in BI initiatives. Business challenges will typically need the most, and the most sustained, attention. A CBC Newsworld item (April 8 2000) explored the apparently revolutionary changes SAP (Sapphire) technology has brought to some companies. A man interviewed spoke of SAP as a Trojan horse, and about what a shock it can be to realize that the purchase was not simply of software, but of approaches to decision-making, culture and philosophy as well. The interviewer said “but it’s a philosophy driven by software.” The reply was “It is a philosophy enabled by software.” If you are trying to achieve a philosophy enabled by software, treat it as such. Move ahead thoughtfully, and with respect for the persons who may find the changes difficult, or even threatening.

7. Dialogue, Dialogue, and More Dialogue

If you embark on a business intelligence project, place particular emphasis on high quality communication, particularly where [potential] overlaps between information technology and business communities exist. Model and encourage whatever is required for dialogue to build between these communities, regardless of whether this seems time consuming, frustrating, or beyond the traditional roles of the players involved. Discourage elitism, one-upmanship, passive resistance or apathy. A Hewlett-Packard knowledge project manager words this as aiming for “egolessness.”. Businesspersons need to gain understanding that information management is vital in an information age. They also need some basic information technology knowledge and skills, just as the technology persons need business knowledge. As people recognize they are all learning from each other, they build a common language. If you already have staff members who speak both languages and understand both worlds, recognize their extraordinary value. We use the word dialogue, which includes authentic openness, focused listening, and potential synergy: much more than what most persons think of as communication, education or training.

8. Let Networkers Help You Build the Leadership Web

Actively recognize the importance of networking leadership. Executive and line leadership are critical for successes, but networking leadership skills are particularly important for integrative projects, and often under-recognized and undersupported. Watch for “first contact specialists,” a term we use to describe the IT counterparts to business champions, and celebrate their successes. IT specialists who interact well with businesspeople, and help them understand what the tools can do to further organizational goals, are critical.

9. Be Proactive; White Knights are Obsolete, even in BI

Anticipate resistance to change and the resulting limits to growth. Prevent the need for “heroic business intelligence interventions.” The best technology and specialists cannot fully compensate for poor data management practices and awkward links between data sets. Moreover, if BI professionals are seen as obstructionist, critical, or as forcing businesspersons to “re-do perfectly good work,” the knights won’t be white, and they will need armor. If you have the luxury (and labor) of building a new organization, make the effort to plan so that structures, functions and data fit together as seamlessly and flexibly as possible.

10. With Big Enough Levers, You Can (Almost) Move the World

Look for innovative ways to leverage strengths and resources. Sometimes a lot can be done with little, especially if the core systems are well-designed and integrated from the start. Learn from others. Many experts are willing to share information through publications, online or in person.

11. Assess Costs of Not Using Business Intelligence Tools

There may be direct costs such as data entered in many places, and parts of the organization having to repackage the same data in time-consuming ways for other parts of the organization. There may also be indirect costs. Knowledge may not be reused effectively. Traditional, professional programming often hides data entry and definition issues from business staff, which BI tools can uncover for discussion and correction. The sense of team and direction that comes with collaboration and use of collaborative tools can boost morale, and build a culture that is cohesive, decisive, visionary and flexible.

12. Consider the Big Picture

Finally, realize how important BI is in your organization’s evolution. Museums are great places to see the significant artifacts of the past: stone scrapers, arrowheads, ploughs, sawmills, and printing presses. What are the emerging cultural artifacts of the twenty-first century? Would you expect their development and application to be easy? If you are working with business intelligence, you are a knowledge economy pioneer, and pioneering is always hard work. Find ways of sustaining your energy and commitment. The results make it well worthwhile.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Please enjoy Stan’s blog posts offering advice, analysis, and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may want to download a free copy of his book, Lucidea’s Lens; Special Librarians & Information Specialists: The Five Cs of KM from Lucidea Press, and its precursor, Proven Practices for Implementing a Knowledge Management Program. Learn about Lucidea’s Presto, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus software with unrivaled KM capabilities that enable successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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