Making Knowledge Work

May 15, 2018

People and Tools: Encouraging Rewarding Interaction in the Workplace

Filed under: Change Management, Collaboration, Communication, Knowledge Management — virginiahenry @ 8:07 pm


An article I wrote for Business Information Review:

The Humane Factor

As a knowledge manager, responsible for supporting others to use technology to ‘work smarter’ by sharing information and knowledge, and collaborating effectively, I have a lot of helpful advice and models to draw on.

From Harold Leavitt’s 1960s Diamond Model featuring People, Task, Structure and Technology through to the 21st century specialised knowledge management assessment tools, maturity models, frameworks and implementation processes – there is a wealth of knowledgeable reference resource.

Most of these incredibly helpful tools, models, guides and studies will, in one way or another, emphasise the importance of three factors: people, process and technology.
In many cases, these three “ingredients for success” are awarded equal emphasis.  I don’t disagree with the analysis – successful organisations obviously must take their people, their processes and their technology into account.  But I believe greater focus should be placed on the people than on the processes and technologies they use, and I’m convinced that investing care, thought and effort in them as the primary “ingredients for success” is a more reliable way to achieve genuine success.  Over the years, I’ve come to regard this as paying attention not so much the human factor, but the humane factor.

In this article, I want to explore the powerful effect of the humane factor.  I’ll explain why I think it is sometimes overlooked and often underrated, and examine the subtle, but important, contrast between theories and the realities of working life.   And I’d like to begin with the most difficult aspect of adopting the humane factor – being honest with yourself.  Time for some introspection……

Not them, but we

If I’m claiming this: That in order to encourage rewarding interaction between people and their workplace technology, it is vital to invest care, thought and effort in working with people. Then there is an obvious admission I have to make:  that I am one of them.
Laughably obvious, you might think.  So apparent that it goes without saying?  On the contrary, I think it is worth examining the implications of acknowledging that I am one of them.
Most profoundly, there is no longer a them, only we.

How many workplace conversations have you been party to, or overheard, in which “I’ve given them the tool/software/application, but they won’t use it”?  I’ve heard it many times: when an IT manager has iintroduced SharePoint in an organisation, but staff insist on ignoring it in favour of their shared drive folders; when a director has “told them” they must use the new CRM system, but rebellious teams are using spreadsheets instead and claiming the CRM is “not fit for purpose”; when a communications team or knowledge manager has launched an intranet only to find their colleagues determinedly stick to sharing updates on email.
Perhaps you have also worked in organisations where there are multiple (usually incompatible) solutions, fulfilling the same business purpose, being used by different teams or departments?  Invariably, there are as many reasons for this as there are software solutions, but I’ve found a recurring theme is the persistence of “them” (“we are different to them, so a different system suits us better”).

Another implication of liberating oneself from the notion of them, is the need to accept (however reluctantly) that we all, in one way or another, have trouble with tools.  Sometimes it’s because we lack personal discipline: as a knowledge manager, managing my electronic documents and files should be second nature – but I tell myself I’m too busy to be rigorous in sorting them sensibly.  Sometimes it is caused by reluctance to let go of the familiar: I’ve encountered numerous instances in which teams are using software that is several releases out of date.

With estimates varying from fifty to seventy percent of business IT projects failing, there is strong motivation for understanding how to succeed with technology adoption in the workplace.  Much business consulting and academic thought had been devoted to investigating our behaviour in relation to technology.

Some interesting work was published in the Journal of European Psychology Students.  Called “Understanding adoption of new technologies: Technology readiness and technology acceptance as an integrated concept”, the research paper analysed data employing two paradigms.

The Technology Acceptance Model – which is used to determine:

  • perceived usefulness (how much someone believes using a particular system would enhance their job performance)
  • perceived ease of use (to what extent a person believes using a particular system would be free of effort)

and the Technology Readiness Index – which looks at people’s inclination to embrace and use new technologies using the categories:

  • Optimism “a positive view of technology and a belief that it offers people increased control, flexibility and efficiency in their lives”
  • Innovativeness “a tendency to be a technology pioneer and thought leader”
  • Discomfort “a perceived lack of control over technology and a feeling of being overwhelmed by it”
  • Insecurity “a distrust of technology and scepticism about its ability to work properly”

The researchers concluded that it was important to take into account users’ general attitudes toward technology when introducing new systems. But that even in organisations where people are generally optimistic towards technology some systems are rejected because perceived usefulness and ease of use may be low.

Interesting, and certainly worth bearing in mind.  On the other hand, I think it’s equally helpful to refer to practical experience: perceptions of usefulness can change with use (we might all know somebody who couldn’t see the point of smart phones, but will not be parted from the one they now own), and our “technology readiness” can shift markedly over time.  Where we once felt discomfort, we may now feel optimistic about certain technologies.
Knowing about the factors that feed failure is useful, but it’s up to us to figure out how to even up the odds.

Where’s Your Conviction?

Again, a good starting point is with oneself.  Before implementing a new system in an organisation, you and/or your team will have done the groundwork.  For example, you will have:

  • a clear understanding of the strategic business case
  • analysed users’ needs
  • identified all the stakeholders
  • carefully chosen the appropriate software
  • classified the risks and benefits
  • have a dazzlingly thorough implementation strategy!

Your knowledge of the new software and its capabilities, your trust in the implementation plan and your understanding of the ways in which adoption will be of benefit to people, are crucial components of the Humane Factor.  It is from these practical understandings that you draw your conviction that the technology is right for the organisation.  It is important not to underestimate the confidence you feel, because it can be genuinely influential.  This isn’t simply a ‘rose-tinted spectacle’ belief of my own, there has been a lot of research into the influence of confidence.

A detailed study published in the Journal of Neuroscience entitled “Independent neural computation of value from other people’s confidence” looked at the ways in which another person’s confidence can influence our own.  In the authors’ own words:

“This study finds that using cues of the reliability of other peoples’ knowledge to enhance expectation of personal success generates value correlates that are anatomically distinct from those concurrently computed from direct, personal experience”.

The team used Neuroimaging to track effects in the brain during experiments such as the way participants predicted the colour of marbles being randomly drawn from an urn, based on their observations of the apparent confidence of other observers.  The study is illustrated with colourful fMRI images and the team concluded: “our findings provide new neurobiological insight into the transmission of value information between individuals and the mechanism by which confidence expressed by others assures or discourages us in our decisions.”

So, there are very good reasons to show how confident you are in the benefits of the new software you are implementing.

Do as I Do

Frankly, the best way to demonstrate your confidence in the value of a software application is to use it yourself.

Remember my example of the director who told staff that they must use the CRM?  The demand had most likely been accompanied by missives or PowerPoint illustrations of the business value, the benefits to be gained in customer or relationship management, even screenshots of the impressive reports that could be run from the new system.   The advocacy might not have included an admission that the system was somewhat unwieldly and would demand dedicated commitment of time and effort to use.  There almost certainly wouldn’t have been a confession that the director disliked using the interface just as much as the staff, and had rarely accessed it since having an initial training session!

Perhaps the director has mitigating reasons for asking staff to do as they say, rather than as they do.  After all, they are very busy and might see it as less crucial that they adopt the new technology, but vital that the staff do.  Those of us whose job descriptions include responsibility for supporting others to use our workplace technology don’t have any excuse.  We must master the technology if we are to have a hope of inspiring others to do the same.

In order to become confident in using the technology, it’s important to set aside sufficient time to learn how to use it.  I don’t mean that you should spend some time becoming familiar with the system’s main features and functions.  I mean you need to really learn how to use it: explore it, find out what it does and what it can do for you.  If your experience of vendor or supplier manuals is like mine, you will already know that in many cases these documents offer scant assistance.  I’ve often wondered who writes these things, and what kind of audience they think they are speaking to……
Even in those cases that the out-of-the-box documentation is compiled to be helpful, your organisation’s customisations might make large parts of the manual redundant, and the rest of it is unlikely to align well with your organisation’s priorities or culture.

The humane factor takes careful account of the need to inspire confidence in others by preparing well yourself.  The time you invest in getting to know as much as you can about the technology you are implementing will pay dividends for everyone.

Means of Support

By becoming a confident user of the new technology, you will have equipped yourself well to support your colleagues through the critical stages of launch, adoption and embedding into business as usual.


There are a number of dos and don’ts to bear in mind when launching a new software application in an organisation:

Do Not


  •   Make your colleagues’ first experience of the new system a “big bang” launch day of banners, presentations, demonstrations from vendors and general disruption orchestrated by the internal communications team or the marketing department.

Enthusiasm is likely to fizzle out long before your branded launch balloons become deflated.

  • Lead up to launch with regular short and informative briefings, and bite-sized familiarisation sessions delivered by early adopters across the organisation.

    This should help set realistic expectations, and show that real users are confident that the system works for them.

  • Launch the system by ensuring it suddenly appears on everyone’s desktop or laptop without explanation.

How would you feel if that happened to you? 

The software could become the totem focus for a range of negative emotions – about the organisation’s attitude to its employees, the cold indifference of management, the unreasonable demands made on overworked staff…..  You really don’t want to engender “hate at first sight”.

  •  Consult with staff, well in advance, about the options available for accessing the new system.
  •   Listen carefully to their responses, you will learn from those who have reservations and misgivings as well as from the enthusiasts.

 Even if, for sound business reasons, you decide to deliver access in a way a number of people do not desire – explain the reasoning and reassure colleagues that you have not ignored their concerns.

  •  Launch with a “show and tell” demonstration for users, then reassure them that there is a video on YouTube if they want to learn more.


It is unreasonable to expect everyone to dash back to their desks and immediately start using the system with the knowledge they’ve gleaned from your overview session.
Sure, some people will pick it up with ease – but they would be just as likely to figure out how to use the software without sitting through your demo.
Also, the usefulness of videos, unless they are produced in thirty-second segments showing specific interactions, is much over-rated.

  •  Make sure you have organised training sessions tailored to users’ needs, and their capacity to absorb the new information.
  •   Use your knowledge and experience of the system to create a set of user guides – with screenshots and step-by-step instructions – so that colleagues can refer to them as they need them.


Just-in-time learning is often more useful to people than intense training room sessions.

  •  Make the mistake of believing that launch day signals the end of your project or your responsibilities.
  •  Remember that although you have been living with this system for long enough for its features and functions to be very familiar to you, that is not the case for your colleagues.


When the implementation of new technology is a case of replacing an existing resource, such as introducing higher-spec multi-function copiers, launch and adoption may run relatively smoothly.  Although it can take time for users to become familiar with the new features, and they are likely to need those user guides you prepared for a while.

However, in most instances people will not only be adopting a new technology but new processes, and new ways of working and collaborating.  The change brought about by new software systems is cultural as well as functional.  The humane factor is a powerful resource at such a time.

The humane factor will ensure that the cultural impact of implementing the new technology was recognised in your business case, identified during risk/benefit analysis and carefully planned for in the implementation strategy.  It is during the adoption period that the full implications of that cultural change will become apparent.

If you have prepared well, you will have:

  • created training materials that incorporate strategic aims and behavioural change with the “how to” learning
  • made sure there are enough early adopters and “local experts” for team members across the organisation to turn to when they need guidance and support
  • planned for the regular communication of success stories

What may have been overlooked (and it’s easy to do so) is preparation for the unexpected.  But when people come together with new processes and technology, the unexpected is likely to occur.
When you think about it, this is inevitable:  People are curious and inventive, so if we are given a tool we are likely to experiment with it and explore what it can do.

Your organisation may have a post room, where incoming mail is sorted and distributed by hand.  Before email, that was also the method by which internal mail – memos, agendas, minutes, reports etc – was transferred person-to-person.  I doubt that anyone foresaw the profound reality-shift that would occur once internal mail had been replaced by corporate email.  People found ways of employing email that could never have been envisaged, and the dominant role it now plays in our working lives is far more intrusive and demanding than internal mail ever was.

Perhaps you remember a time you discovered a function in Excel and realised that a world of possibility had opened up at the click of a mouse?  You might now work in a very different way than you did before you got to grips with such a formidable software application.

What I’m saying is that for each individual in an organisation, adoption of a new system will be an individual experience, and it is important that you support, and learn from, all of them.
If we go back to the perceptions described by the Technology Acceptance Model – there will be people who see the system as useful to them and easy to use, and others who don’t feel that the rewards for them and their work are worth the effort of mastering the system.  Where one individual will need greater support, and help to realise the benefits of adoption, another will embrace it and look for additional benefits to those you initially envisaged.
There will also be individuals who share characteristics with the types described in the Technology Readiness Index:

  • The Optimist might be included in your group of early adopters. They can help overcome glitches with the system, as well as demonstrating the benefits they experience from using it.
  • The Innovator will also be on the scene early. They might discover unforeseen advantages of the system and, as a consequence, its impact on the way the organisation works.
  • The person who feels Discomfort is not likely to be an early adopter. They can, however, help you to develop robust training and support resources.  If the materials enable them to feel in control of the technology and more confident about using it, you can be assured of their quality.
  • The individual whose Insecurity is demonstrated by scepticism and distrust of the technology might also be the person who asks the most challenging questions. Your confidence (and, sometimes, your patience) may be tested, but providing clear and reasoned answered to the difficult questions will help you strengthen your business case, and sharpen your communication skills.

All of these features of the humane factor mean that the adoption process across the organisation can be a lengthy process.  It is iterative, rather than linear and finite.  It may continue at the same time as you move to the phase of absorption into business as usual.

Business as Usual – the way we work here

Encouraging rewarding interactions with technology in the workplace is not the role of a single individual or discipline.  It may, though, be your responsibility to help everybody – from the Board and the CEO to the newest intern – to understand that it is the organisation’s culture and values that set the expectation of interaction.

This might sound like a tall order.  However, because the humane factor doesn’t recognise them and us, but only we, it is very helpful in dealing with this issue of the way we work.   It is the people that express an organisation’s values and bring its culture to life.  The use of adopted technology is an integral part of the life of the organisation (business as usual), therefore it should be reflected in how the organisation talks about itself and how it behaves.  This means that the expectation of interaction with the organisation’s essential tools and technology needs to have a presence in:

  • Recruitment advertisements
  • Job specifications
  • Induction and onboarding processes
  • Appraisals and objectives
  • Corporate websites
  • Annual reports

By acknowledging that the way we work, and the technology we rely on, sits at the heart of our organisation’s life and culture we weave it into our organisational narrative and make a collective commitment.  The latest “IT project” is no longer an irritating disruption or an irrelevant distraction.  Getting the best from the software we have is not simply the domain of the geeky optimists and innovators.  We are all invested in using technology successfully, and our expectations of ourselves and our colleagues are that we will collaborate and support one another in the way we work here.


Godoe, P. & Johansen, T.S., (2012). Understanding adoption of new technologies: Technology readiness and technology acceptance as an integrated concept. Journal of European Psychology Students. 3(1), pp.38–52. DOI:

Independent Neural Computation of Value from Other People’s Confidence
Daniel Campbell-Meiklejohn, Arndis Simonsen, Chris D. Frith and Nathaniel D. Daw
Journal of Neuroscience 9 December 2016, 37 (3) 673-684;


July 1, 2017

The Benefits of Collaboration

Filed under: Collaboration, Communication, Work environment — virginiahenry @ 2:42 pm

I wrote an article for the Jinfo  team on an issue that takes up much of my thought and time.  Here is a shortened version of the piece:

The Way We Were

Last century (but not a lifetime ago), when the only electronic device on your desk was the typewriter, and computing was carried out by big machines owned by large, wealthy, institutions such as banks – your experience of communication and collaboration was very different.  To fix meetings or ask questions, you would use the internal phone system.  To communicate with several people at once, you would type a memo with a number of carbon copies, drop them into the internal mail and wait for the responses.

You would leave your office and go to the print room to use the photocopier, or run off some Gestetner or Roneo copies, and encounter colleagues from different disciplines and functions.  You’d meet them in the corridor, on the stairs, in the tea bar or by the notice board (where much of the organisation’s shared information was pinned).
In today’s offices, it might feel strange to phone someone a few desks away to ask if they have a moment to speak.  But before open plan, it was the norm to phone or pop your head around an office door to talk to a colleague.   The constraints of old tech and outdated architecture didn’t get in the way of getting to know others.

Today: Coping Strategies

The move to large open office spaces, in which people share islands of desks, was expected to deliver greater opportunities for communication and collaboration.  The walls, literally, came down.  Interestingly, in many offices, the opposite effect has been observed.  It’s not uncommon for people to send emails to colleagues just a few feet away – rather than speak directly to them.

Do you work in an open-plan office?  If you look up, how many of your fellows do you see with earbuds firmly in place?  How many are scowling at the person opposite them indulging in an amplified and animated call?  A number of recent reports  (for example, Rachel Morrison’s “Get out of my face!” published in The Conversation and Oxford Economics’ “When the walls come down“) have highlighted the disadvantages of close-proximity work spaces.   Noise levels and intrusive distractions rate highly as problems for employees and, rather than increasing opportunities for communications and collaboration, these “in your face” environments can make people much less receptive to interaction.

 Opening the Doors to Empathy

Another common feature of contemporary office working is the project team: often multi-disciplinary, formed to deliver a tangible product or result, time-bound and target-focused.

A project team can include members from across the business who know little about each other.  People from Management, IT, HR, Sales and Marketing, Finance and other areas may never have spoken to one another (except, perhaps, via email). Their perceptions could be formed from a negative experience “IT took three hours to get back to me when my laptop died, and when they did they couldn’t retrieve the document I was working on”,  or borrowed judgements “I’ve heard that Sales promised a client we would deliver services we don’t even have!” simple ignorance “I have no idea what those folk in HR do all day”, even aggregated prejudice  “I’ve never had a manager who knew the first thing about managing”.  Yet it’s within project teams that the hidden benefits of collaboration can be uncovered.
When people come together with a shared purpose, confident that their skills and experience will contribute to the team’s success, they are primed to collaborate.

The Collaboration Climate

Much depends on the project leader, perhaps with support from their sponsor, creating the collaboration ‘climate’.  A thoughtful project leader will ensure the ‘rules of engagement’ are clear and explicit.  For example, not only notifying relevant team and sub-team members of the frequency and focus of meetings, but demonstrating respect for them with consistently unambiguous agendas, defined start and finish times, agreed actions and follow-ups.  Overt demonstrations of respect for peoples’ time, and understanding of their workloads are effective ways of encouraging empathy.

Equally enabling behaviours the insightful project leader will exhibit are –

  • Learning about team members’ skills and interests: reading the profiles they’ve created on the internal system, looking them up on LinkedIn, getting to know what their role in the organisation entails
  • Using that knowledge to draw on experience: if someone’s been engaged in a similar project before, what they learned is worth knowing about
  • Identifying and explaining complementary strengths within the team: without getting bogged down in Belbin (or any of the other type-defining tools), it’s worth explaining to team members why their unique perspectives are of value to the project and of benefit to one another
  • Asking for assent, rather than assuming compliance: silence may indicate confusion rather than agreement
  • Enjoying, rather than enduring, debate: making time to talk demonstrates that peoples’ views are valued

 You don’t have to like me………

Making new friends can, of course, be a hidden benefit of collaboration – many of us enjoy friendships that extend beyond project deadlines, or survive long after we’ve moved away from an organisation.   But friendships are added bonuses to the hidden benefits.
More common, but very valuable to us as individuals, is our increased understanding of the varied approaches and perspectives of colleagues from different parts of the business.
This empathic attunement can help free us of misperceptions that might cause tension and conflict – allowing us to move away from assumptions and toward deductive reasoning.
For instance, you might now realise that when Colin seizes some marker pens and starts to sketch a flow chart on the whiteboard illustrating the simple process you just, very clearly, explained, he’s not obliquely criticising your communication skills.  He simply needs to see the information, rather than hear it.  Or when Sue closes her eyes, she’s probably not signalling boredom but more likely fitting pieces of the project puzzle together in her own mind map.

Along with increased empathy, or enhanced emotional intelligence, can come improvements in negotiation skills.  An experienced and much-admired negotiator, Chris Voss, founder and CEO of The Black Swan Group emphasises the powerful role of empathy in successful negotiations.  He believes that “emotions aren’t the obstacles to a successful negotiation, they are the means.”

Tuning in to others’ language and communication styles also sharpen listening skills.  If your day-to-day colleagues are in the same department or discipline, you might share a common language and have established communication routines.  If you’ve been immersed in a collective or corporate style of communication, you may feel it’s entirely normal – until you are exposed to the equally normal, but very different, approaches of members of your multi-disciplinary project team.

As a project team member, you can uncover these benefits for yourself.  But, as is the case in many work situations, the tone of team dynamics is inevitably set by the leader.  In a small study involving business students, researchers found their satisfaction levels in collaborative assignments were heavily influenced by the listening, negotiating, collaborating and assertiveness behaviours demonstrated by the group leader.  The study’s title: “You Don’t Have to Like Me, But You Have to Respect Me” .


November 24, 2016

Personal Learning Networks

Filed under: Knowledge Networking, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 3:00 pm


We sit by the banks of a limitless stream of information.  At any moment, you or I can dip our virtual hands in and grasp insights and learning we never dreamt we’d have access to.
If you don’t know what you’re doing, of course, you can repeatedly retrieve fistfuls of weed and dross – so some guidance on how to fish and filter is useful.

Our panel for #LIKE69 at The Green in Clerkenwell helped us navigate the channels of Personal Learning Networks:  we wanted to learn from their experiences of creating and maintaining learning networks and pick up some tips on selecting sources of trusted information.

Elizabeth Charles,  our host for the evening, is in charge of e-Services and Systems at Birkbeck, University of London.  She’s hooked on lifelong learning and found the discussion forums attached to the various MOOCs  she’s completed to be rich sources of personal learning.  In common with the panel members, she’s a big fan of Twitter as a Personal Learning Network resource.

Her colleague, and Birkbeck’s resident Learning Technologist, Leo Havemann,   relies heavily on Twitter and follows a range of people who are his filters of useful information.  He advised us to be smart in our use of Twitter – for example by making use of hashtags to filter and find what’s useful.

Kate Arnold, Information Services Development Manager at The Francis Crick Institute, has been nurturing Professional Learning Networks for decades.  She started by subscribing to professional Listserv services and, when she was at the BBC, making exchange visits with fellow media librarians at The Times, CNN and other organisations to learn about their ways of working.  As well as professional networks and associations (such as LIKE and SLA ), she learns from others on Twitter.  She told us it takes discipline and perseverance to create Personal Learning Networks.  Her advice was to schedule time during the day to “indulge” in personal learning – Kate uses the journeys to and from work, and her lunchtime breaks to check in with her Personal Learning Network.  And, she said, follow people from outside of your sector as well as those with similar interests.

Adjoa Boateng,  Head of Reference Services at The British Library, is another active Twitter user – one of her friends described her as a “professional lurker” – as she determinedly focuses on specific topics, follows and learns from proponents on Twitter and uses the gained knowledge as a springboard for further learning.
She’s also active in person-to-person learning networks and started developing them when she first graduated and kept in touch with a small group of fellow graduates so they could continue to support one another.  Adjoa draws on the practical advice of a Leadership Foundation  learning set and casts her net even wider to pursue knowledge.  Even when she can’t attend conferences, she’ll check out the programmes to glean what she can and, as a member of IFLA she took herself off to a conference in Puerto Rica where she learned about the networks of people she met and tapped in to an even wider Personal Learning Network.

Adjoa reminded us of the importance of generosity – that to maintain successful learning networks you need to give as well as seek information.  And, like Kate, she said it was essential to follow Twitter users from other sectors.  She also advised us to follow some people we don’t agree with:  you can learn a lot from discordant perspectives.

Sarah Parry   had been listening closely to the panel of speakers and told us that much of what they’d described aligned with the practice defined by John Stepper as Working Out Loud.

In his Tedx talk, John Stepper described the evolution of STEMettes,  an inspiring social enterprise that started with a straightforward ambition: to help combat the lack of women in STEM.  It’s a great success story, and illustrates how much can be achieved when you put an idea into action that engages others.

LIKE was just an idea a few years ago, and now it’s one of my most valued Personal Learning Networks.  It’s a lot of fun too!


October 22, 2016

Achieving the balance between bashful and brash

Filed under: LIKE, Reputation Management — virginiahenry @ 11:47 am

How do you see yourself?  Do you find it easy to explain your achievements, tell others what you’ve done and what you want to do?

At LIKE68, with the expert guidance of Simon Burton,  we explored ways of creating CVs that did justice to our careers and discussed the importance of managing our digital reputations.  Most of us started by acknowledging how challenging we found the construction of our personal narratives.

There were lots of reasons:  some spent their working days just doing the job rather than reflecting on the skills and experience they deployed, others hadn’t revisited their CV for years and were daunted by the prospect of revising and reworking it, and a few people with longer and more varied careers weren’t sure how to shoehorn all they’d done into a couple of pages!
And then there’s the problem of taking ownership of achievements.  How do you do that without coming across as an arrogant braggart?   Simon explained this was a very British dilemma – he reassured us that even the most experienced and most senior professionals he meets find it difficult not to stumble over the STAR technique.   But so many interviews are competency-based, and to get as far as interview your CV will usually have had to pass through relentless screens and filters that focus on keywords and key achievements.  Being ready with answers that specify a situation, a task, your actions and the positive results won’t come across as bragging – you’ll simply sound articulate and confident.

As we were all thinking about putting time and effort into laying out our clear, concise, achievement-led, spell-checked, jargon-free compelling CVs….. Simon mentioned another important personal responsibility: “make sure what you say in your CV matches what you’re telling the world about yourself on LinkedIn”.  He said most prospective employers will check out your online persona.  Of course they will, why wouldn’t they?


That straightforward statement, however, opened a discussion of some seriously profound questions such as “who are you?”, “how are you perceived?”, “what would you like people to think of you?”, “how are you coming across online?”.   Sobering stuff.  And then there’s the relationship between your professional profile on LinkedIn and how you project yourself on, for example, Facebook and Twitter.

There are plenty of good reasons to actively manage your digital presence.  The near certainty that your current or next employer will look you up online is a pretty compelling one.

By the end of the session everyone seemed more determined to actively manage their professional profiles and online interactions.  As each person took a turn to speak about themselves, it was inspiring to listen to thoughtful professionals – neither bashful or bragging – clearly explaining their STAR qualities.

September 29, 2016

Serene Serendipity

Filed under: Serendipity — virginiahenry @ 1:54 pm

As luck would have it, I’ve been celebrating serendipity

At New Scientist Live at the weekend, there was so much to see and hear – it was impossible to experience everything in a couple of days.
Fortunately, it was difficult to miss Ray Lee’s  ethereal sound installation.


It was an unexpected sonic oasis amid the chaotic crush of the science crowds.

On Saturday evening at the Barbican, the theme of mesmerising minimalism continued with a Terry Riley concert. A different line-up and arrangement of In C to this one:  – but equally engaging.

Then, later in the week, I happened to hear an interview with Steve Reich on Radio 4.


A round of applause for serendipity!

September 9, 2016

LIKE and the value of knowledge

Filed under: Knowledge Networking, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 12:10 pm

When I worked in broadcasting I’d often find myself surprised by colleagues that had a high regard for opinion.  Even the most hard-nosed Harrys would look grave, nod sagely and start “it’s a fact that……” then go on to state an opinion: either theirs or some borrowed wisdom.

Running training courses, I was constantly asking hapless journalists or producers to “tell me what you know, not what you think”.  And sometimes they didn’t seem to realise there was a difference.

As we moved into a new century, I moved into the online world.  I found that people who spent their days in the orderly universe of the algorithm could be equally entranced by opinion.  Sometimes, familiarity with an inadequate software product would influence opinion, and make someone argue in its favour despite its evident shortcomings.

A few months ago, at LIKE 65, Stephen Dale guided us through workshop sessions on evidence-based decision making.  Steve put us into groups of four or five and set scenarios for us to work through.
The room was full of analytical brains – knowledge professionals, information scientists, business researchers, education specialists, even an ombudsman. Yet each group jumped to conclusions, misread details, surrendered to cognitive biases.  As we retraced our steps through the maze of our misconceptions we were feeling pretty sheepish.  But, and this is what I love about LIKE, instead of arguing the toss or trying to justify our conclusions we got engrossed in a fascinating discussion about cognitive bias and the weighting of evidence.

A knowledge network LIKE no other

A small group of us started LIKE (the London Information and Knowledge Exchange) in 2009.  We wanted regular, informal, get-togethers for knowledge professionals.  Seven years and nearly seventy events on, we’ve covered an astonishing range of topics including:

Storytelling and knowledge sharing, the ROI of KM, Information behaviour and cultural change,Taxonomies and Folksonomies, Reimagining records, Transliteracy, Civil rights in the digital world,  Making the leap to open source, Organising terrabytes of information, The evolution of mobile information access, Information literacy, Future of history: digital preservation, Copyright, Hargreaves and the Digital Economy Act, The business of social media, The UK web archive, Coaching, Open data and Open economics,  Big data and little apps, Gamification, Data Protection in Europe and The business case for collaboration.

To lead most of the events we’ve been able to draw on the knowledge of our members because many are experts in their fields.  Who needs opinion when you can access real experience and first-hand knowledge?

I was discussing the role and value of LIKE recently with members of the Association for Project Managers Knowledge group.  To prepare for the discussion I reviewed the professions and roles of more than 1,350 LIKE members.  The top ten (i.e. job titles held by the largest number of members) are:

  1. Knowledge Manager
  2. Consultant
  3. Researcher
  4. Learning Resources Manager
  5. Digital Manager
  6. Business/Research/Insight Analyst
  7. Data Analyst
  8. Sales Director
  9. Project Manager
  10. Marketing Manager

That’s just the top ten.  There are so many more.  I’m not certain that some of the job titles existed when we started the network (and I’m still not sure what a Creativitor does!)  It was fascinating to visualise the brilliant range of brains that make the LIKE network:


In my opinion it’s a privilege to be part of LIKE.

May 25, 2014

Ingredients for success – or at least the avoidance of disaster…..

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — virginiahenry @ 3:45 pm

You’re cooking a meal you’ve never made before. What do you do?

  • Read carefully through the recipe?
  • Think about similar culinary techniques you’ve used in the past?
  • Get some advice from an old hand in the kitchen?
  • Plan extra time in the preparation and cooking, just in case it’s more difficult than it looks?
  • Have a standby set of ingredients that you know you can turn into a meal if everything goes awry?

Or do you just throw yourself into the process, reading the recipe one line at a time, and ad-libbing when you hit snags? Confident that your determination will “make it happen”.

You might get lucky, and rescue something edible out of the chaos you’ve created, but it’s unlikely to be what you set out to make. Or you may find yourself transforming the best of ingredients into the worst kind of mess.

I’ve seen this approach applied in the organisational “kitchen”.   With projects and teams suffering because the person in charge believes they alone must make the decisions. Listening, and taking notice of advice, would be a sign of weakness. Consulting with colleagues might appear indecisive. Leaders don’t do that kind of thing. They lead.

To these individuals leadership is synonymous with being in control, brooking no argument…… even micro-managing. Just to be sure their imperfect interpretation of the recipe for success is carried out to the last inadequate letter.

And I’ve seen, when the half-baked results fail to please, the same misguided confidence applied to the cause of disaster – the team were at fault or inadequate, the ingredients (software, tools or processes) were wrong. When faced with the shame of failure, we’re all inclined to take refuge in blame. But if we allow ourselves to believe that leadership equates to infallibility, we’re bound not to reflect on the consequences of our decisions or learn from things that go wrong.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with some excellent leaders too. So good that the team didn’t notice it was being led – each felt they were achieving success together. When things went right (which was more often than not) the leader made sure the team members were the focus of praise and appreciation. But when things went wrong the leader took for themselves all the blame and criticism.

Attempting a new recipe, learning new techniques, seeking advice – none of these things are particularly easy. But they can be really enjoyable, and a lot less nerve-wracking than cooking up disaster out of what could have been success 🙂

March 7, 2014

The Culture of Knowledge

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — virginiahenry @ 6:33 pm

My job seems to have been keeping me away from lots of things, such as my blog and the wonderful LIKE programme of events (although I’m not going to miss the evening of crossword compilation on Wednesday 26 March)…….  So Adapta’s invitation to a workshop on “Knowledge mobilisation, collaboration tools and cake” gave me the chance to set work aside for an afternoon and learn something about how people in other organisations are working.

The most engaging presentation was Adam Pope’s.  He’s Senior Digital Librarian at Arup.  He’s lucky – it’s an impressive organisation, and its founder Ove Arup  was deeply committed to collaboration and team-working.  So committed that he used to sit in on interviews with all new candidates in the early days of Arup Group to make sure prospective Arup team members were the “right” kind of people.  He knew what he was looking for – not just proven talent and flair but an eagerness to collaborate, share knowledge and learn from others.

Such a leader has a profound impact on the culture of an organisation.  Arup, like the rest of us, need to use incentives and rewards to make sure knowledge is consistently shared and teams support, rather than compete, with one another.  But Adam and his colleagues have strong foundations to build on, thanks to Ove Arup.

It was interesting to hear, in the brief discussion period, some of the knowledge management (or ‘knowledge mobilisation’, as an Adapta Consultant called it) challenges people had:  from trying to find the best and most cost-effective IT solutions to support collaboration, to trying to persuade colleagues that consultation didn’t mean everyone should have direct influence over every organisational decision.  And from the difficulty of convincing front-line staff to engage with shared processes, to the challenge of asking people to discuss their failures as well as their successes.  None of them are new issues and, in my experience, none can be resolved without a culture of knowledge pervading the entire organisation.  Without the explicit requirement for everyone – from the CEO to the newest recruit – to see collaboration and knowledge-sharing as important elements of their role, effective KM can be subverted.

So if you want to nurture a culture of knowledge in your organisation next time you’re writing a job specification, or setting objectives or KPIs, or preparing for a performance review – make sure you include the essential elements: practical demonstrations of collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

March 3, 2013

LIKE 43 – Coaching without the Why

Filed under: Communication, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 3:27 pm

It’s been my experience that only the most expert of practitioners can explain the basics of their discipline in simple terms.
Where those who are less-than-expert blather and quote theory at you, the expert converses with you, sharing their personal knowledge in accessible language.

Karen Drury  is an expert Executive Coach, and at last week’s LIKE she provided us with an impressive and accessible introduction to Coaching.


Karen started by getting us to listen to her explanation of four levels of listening we engage in:

Cosmetic Listening: Familiar territory for nearly all of us!  The kind of listening that engages your face and body (so the speakers feels you might be listening) while leaving the mind free to roam from shopping lists to planning the next hour or the next holiday.
Engaged Listening: During which you actually listen, but with maybe half an ear – whilst preparing what you’re going to say when the speaker draws breath.

Active Listening: These conversations progress quite slowly, because the listener is really listening and, when they speak, asks relevant questions – rather than making statements or offering unsolicited advice.

Deep Listening:  The intense level of focused listening that professional Coaches are capable of.  This deep level of listening entails noticing not just what is said but the way it is expressed, the accompanying non-verbal signals and the thoughts behind the words.
it’s skilled and difficult work, because the Coach is not simply a sounding-board, but a trusted guide – helping the person they’re coaching to investigate issues, examine options, decide on courses of action and find the resolution to act on those decisions.

So the questions asked by a Coach must be carefully chosen and worded.  Karen told us it was important to ask open questions (those which begin, for example, with ‘What’ or ‘How’), and very important to ask only one question at a time .  And, she explained, a Coach should avoid beginning a question with “Why…..?”.  “Why” questions are likely to throw those questioned onto the defensive – implying they should justify a decision or action.




Karen then got us to examine the balance in our Life Wheels (similar to this one) where the outer rim was 10 out of 10 and the inner scores decreased to zero in the centre.

When we’d all completed our wheels, Karen pointed out that it was as much an exercise in identifying how blessed one was, as it was in noting areas for attention.  And she was right – we all had a number of high-scoring spokes near our wheel rims.  But if we’d taken any of the wheels on the road, they’d have made juddering progress, as specific spokes, such as Self-image and Recreation/Fun, dipped toward the hub.



So we paired up and, using our new awareness of active/deep listening, discussed with each other what could be done about these neglected areas of our lives.

As Karen had predicted, being listened to in such a focused way was enough for some of us to diagnose the problem, examine optional actions and come to a resolution – while the listener barely uttered a word.

It’s amazing what you can get done in the hour before dinner.  Especially with the help of an empathic ear and an expert guide.


Before we settled to dinner and further discussion Karen gave us lots of tips on free online resources to follow up on – but those notes are lost………I’m still working on the “organise your note-taking” resolution!  Just don’t ask me “why is it taking you so long?” – you might undermine my resolve 🙂

October 28, 2012

LIKE 39 – Archiving the Web

Filed under: Archiving, Information Management, LIKE — virginiahenry @ 3:31 pm

In a professional landscape increasingly populated by vendor cheerleaders, one-trick product ponies and garrulous ‘gurus’, it’s refreshing to spend some time with LIKE professionals.

It was great to gather at our new home for dining and learning, the upstairs room of The Castle (just by Farringdon station), and explore the monumental task of creating a web archive.

The debate was timely – a recent Economist article drew attention to the danger of cultural amnesia as contemporary record, in the form of web content, disappears in cyberspace.

Dr Peter Webster is the British Library’s Engagement and Liaison Officer for the Web Archive.  LIKE’s new dinner venue has the great luxury of a projection screen, so Peter was able to show us slides of some of the sites his team are capturing for posterity.  These included the late Robin Cook’s website, and David Cameron’s 2005 election site.

He told us about the “lost web” – sites that become victim of the disorderly disappearance of organisations and campaigns, and the “orphaned web” – sites that have served their purpose, and are abandoned.  There was a nice example of a formerly lovingly-tended site dedicated to Charles Darwin’s house, not updated since 2006 because English Heritage had taken custody of the house and, in turn, its online representation.

Since 2004 the Web Archive team have fulfilled their brief, of archiving websites of cultural and scholarly importance from the UK domain, by capturing 11,000 sites (16 terrabytes worth).  They are collaborating with other libraries, archives and collectors to get the job done, but it’s still a daunting task.  Automated domain harvesting helps, and there are collections we can all agree future historians will be glad to have: the Credit Crunch, the Jubilee, the Olympics……..    However, at this stage, predicting the exponential growth of the archive, and how easy it will be to browse is challenging to say the least.

Some questions are very hard to answer: how do you decide what is published in the UK?  The URL doesn’t necessarily give you a clue.  How do you find the owners of content to verify copyright?   What are the full implications of the non-print Legal Deposit Regulations?

 As the discussion continued, I was very glad not to have Peter Webster’s job!  But I was delighted he’s doing it, and that he and other historians and archivists are on the case.  It would be horrendous if our collective neglect caused late 20th and early 21st Century culture to become a growing black historical hole.

I say collective neglect because Peter made it clear that the content our organisations are generating now will be of importance to historians in the future.  So his message, to all of us, was plan your digital archiving strategy.  And if you want to nominate a website for inclusion in the archive – do it.

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