Practice what you preach

“Practice what you preach”.

I’m sure we all know this saying.

It’s an important one for getting people onside and building trust. If you can’t practice something yourself, you shouldn’t be preaching it to others.

But what about preaching what you practice too?

You need to lead by demonstrating the importance of a work practice (such as curiosity about negative events or taking time for knowledge sharing) but you also need to ensure that people *hear* about this practice too.

This isn’t about excessive pride or crowing about your successes, it is about sharing best practices, making sure that everyone understands how to achieve the most that they can in their work and helping your organisation to deliver on its strategy.

If you want to improve how you make your work more visible, start here:


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Knowledge rests …

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Virtual collaborations – making them work

Virtual collaborations are necessary now, but how can you make them work?

I’ve been gathering some thoughts from practitioners and advisors about how to make virtual collaborations work well in these difficult times.

These are some of our conclusions, but what are your experiences? What tips do you have to share?

  1. Be upfront and honest about the challenges and try to understand other people’s difficulties
  2. Make expectations clear and leave no room for politics
  3. Limit video conferences to occasions when they really add value and make it clear which tool is for what task
  4. Ensure there is plenty of training available so everyone can make best use of the available tools
  5. Use champions to reinforce behaviours
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Fantastic value webinars

At the Knowledge and Information Management group at CILIP (of which I’m Chair) we’ve got some fantastic value webinars coming up which might be of interest to you, whether you are a CILIP person or not.

The theme for the Autumn/October series is “Career success in difficult times” and covers the following topics:

  • Resilience
  • Making a success of hybrid (home-office) teams
  • Perfectionism and procrastination

The whole series (all three hour-long events) is only £25+VAT for CILIP members and £50+VAT for non-members. Given the usual cost of resilience workshops alone, this is fantastic value.

They will be delivered via Zoom and the focus is on the challenges of information and knowledge managers, but they could be of interest to anyone.

For more information and bookings, click here – Autumn webinar series.

Ticket money is shared between speakers and the K&IM group.

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Change …

Most knowledge projects require change.

If you are interested in change management training, you can find details of all my up-coming workshops here.

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Layer cakes and legal content writing

A guest article from Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing.

A sponge cake is a cake, but it is not quite the same as a Victoria sandwich (with its cream filling), or a Sachertorte with its rich chocolate coating, or a carrot cake with its cream cheese frosting.  These extra ingredients transform a mundane sponge cake into something special, something altogether more enticing.

And, so it is with legal content writing.  A legal article is a legal article.  But one set of 800 words is not always as enticing as another.  Would you have been reading this article, if it was called “The problems with legal content writing”?  Probably not.

If you are the Knowledge Lawyer or PSL charged with producing a newsletter and have to source articles from a number of solicitors around your firm, then you may have to cope with varying quality of material which comes into your inbox.

Some legal articles will be witty, engaging, in plain English and right on the button.  Others will be incomprehensible, full of jargon, tortuous or tedious. Regardless of the quality, very few articles will be written in a way which is designed to maximise the chance of being found in an internet search.

Many solicitors will recognise that drafting an article for marketing purposes is not the same as drafting a contract or pleadings.  If they also acknowledge that they are not a search engine expert, then they are likely to be grateful for you to add some frosting in the way of journalistic flair.

But others will be less enthusiastic and may present an article as “signed off and ready to send out” as a firm signal not to “mess about” with it.  This is often a signal that they do not understand the role that content plays in a digital marketing strategy.

In either case there are a few things that you might consider including in your baking kit to make life easier:

Planning – check the recipe first

Occasionally you might receive an article and wonder why on earth the topic was chosen.  Before someone puts pen to paper, if possible, encourage them to prepare a short synopsis first to outline:

  • Why is this important now?
  • Who is it relevant to?
  • How might the firm benefit (ie win more work on this topic)?

Commissioning – check the ingredients

It can be useful to have two things in your store cupboard:

  • Prepare some model precedents for different types of articles, such as for a deal, a case report, top tips, new legislation.
  • Provide a crib sheet, highlighting the information which you need:  Who? What? When? Where? Why? How did we add value? How can we help?

Editing – check it is baked correctly

Consistency of style is really important, especially if your newsletter comprises articles from several contributors.

Editing – adding the filling & frosting

Even the best drafted legal articles will benefit from some editing for a number of reasons:

  • A fresh perspective will highlight jargon or acronyms which may mean different things outside of this legal practice area – for example, LPA means very different things to a private client lawyer and a planning lawyer.
  • The marketing team will be familiar with the structure of the website, and they will know which hyperlinks are required and the best wording for those links – the best words are absolutely not “click here”.
  • They will also know which keywords are being targeted and which social media hashtags should be used.
  • If an article has already been published on one website, then it will benefit from some tweaking before it is added to your firm’s website.  For example, a journalistic headline is great for print media, but not so effective for internet search purposes.

Update your recipe book

It is worth having a content policy which pulls all this together in order to ensure high quality and consistent content, and highlights that the content is part of your digital strategy so needs to confirm to a few digital protocols. 

Whether or not you enjoy baking, wouldn’t we prefer to offer our clients a Sachertorte rather than a plain sponge?

Sue Bramall of Berners Marketing is a colleague of mine from the Law Consultancy Network and has more than 25 years of experience marketing professional services.


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5 top tips to encourage brave knowledge sharing

“I’m not pro-failure, I’m pro-learning.” Astro Teller, Google X.

“Failure is not a bug of learning, it’s a feature.” Rachel Simmons, Smith College.

“The greatest enemy of learning is knowing.” saying/proverb

Sometimes it can be incredibly difficult to persuade people to discuss near misses and mistakes, even though we all appreciate how these provide fantastic learning opportunities.

How can you, whether you are a senior leader or a KMer, encourage the braver kinds of knowledge sharing?

  1. Frame discussions of errors as learning opportunities. Most modern work is complex, time-bound, and error-prone. Near misses and errors usually occur as a result of this, rather than due to simple incompetence. Ensuring employees understand this framing will help to encourage open discussion. A single near-miss can be reframed as a “great catch” and identifying the contributory factors behind a near miss or mistake offers the opportunity to improve the system of service delivery as a whole.
  2. Invite people to think in an aspirational way and speak up. Be curious about how they think improvements could be made. Ask them to investigate whether the delivery of all their work was as high quality as they would wish, and if not, what changes would help them.
  3. Respond to potential problems in an appreciative, respectful and helpful/problem-solving way. Remember that the best returns for organisations come from improving their systems, rather than writing off incidents as caused by a one-off screw-up. Early information about shortcomings nearly always mitigates the size and impact of future large-scale failures. Ensure your staff understand that avoiding these larger scale problems is your motivation.
  4. Remind people of the motivation and purpose behind their work. Working on improving complex systems in order to deliver a larger “good” can feel more valuable than trawling through depressing mistakes, whether they’re your own or other people’s. This can be easier in some businesses than others, but most firms and individuals can identify some higher purpose if given time.
  5. Don’t just accept “fail fast”. Failure has little intrinsic value unless there is also time and opportunity for reflection and learning from that failure. Encourage reflective learning both by individuals and by groups, through techniques such as the After Action Review.

If you are interested in psychological safety in knowledge sharing, I highly recommend “The Fearless Organization” by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business School, which was the inspiration for this post.

Her book is our current K&L book club choice. If you are interested in getting a carefully curated selection of books to support your learning, read more about the book club here.

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Learning, unlearning and new learning

Whilst we think a lot about creation of new knowledge in KM – learning from experiences, learning from databases, learning from each other – one thing we talk less about is the need for unlearning as well.

People, especially experienced professionals, are not clean slates or empty vessels into which new learning pours. They are complex individuals with complex frames of reference, biases and a huge network of intertwined experiential learning, and unlearning old patterns of behaviour is as important as learning new ones.

Old knowledge is not overwritten like a computer programme. In the early stages of many people’s careers unlearning can be a fairly straightforward process, but later on, it can be more difficult for experts to wrap their heads around the changes necessary to unlearn existing processes or best practices, and adapt to new ones.

And when our organisations are not obviously failing, there can seem to be little imperative to change.

How are KM practitioners to help with this process inside their organisations?

Firstly, we need to understand that unlearning is not about forgetting.

If you’ve ever tried to “not think” about something, you’ll know how impossible “forgetting on demand” would be. Instead, unlearning is about questioning the existing mental models that we’ve been working with, discarding those that no longer provide value, and moving towards working with new ones.

Simple? As with other situations involving change by humans, it is a process rather than a discrete event … and it is tougher than it sounds.

Firstly, we need to encourage those involved to understand the reasoning behind the change. Why is the existing mental model no longer working? This can be a difficult change to support, as our mental models are often unconscious and, even once conscious, letting go of them can feel like an admission of failure. The subject matter experts that KMers support may have built their reputations and whole careers on their mastery of a particular field within a particular delivery process, so an admission that new models are needed can feel like a real loss.

Secondly, we need to support those involved in finding a new mental model that will work better for them.

Thirdly, everyone will need to practice, practice, practice, until the new mental habits are embedded.

What can KMers do to help with this process?

The exciting news is that unlearning and relearning appears (although there isn’t a huge amount of research) to be a process that gets easier each time, so once you get the ball rolling, things should get easier.

The skills needed to question, let go and learn, will be best learned through experience and reflection upon that experience, and will be encouraged by a strong culture of non-judgmental curiosity (not that I pretend that such a culture is easy to create). KMers can help those that they support by discussing the value of new knowledge as part of a wide tapestry of learning, and encouraging reflection on relevant experiences.

KMers can also help those they support, but in particular their subject matter experts, to understand that new knowledge doesn’t need to create dissonance with existing knowledge. Each moment of unlearning and new learning is in fact part of the creation of a wider expertise. Observation, experimentation and creation of new ways of working and understanding are essential to successful organisations, and experts’ wide levels of experience help them to adapt in novel situations, where simple best practices do not apply.


What are your experiences of unlearning in your organisation?

How do you support your subject matter experts in handling their natural resistance to change?

I’d love to hear from you below.


And if you have found this post interesting, follow the blog using the button at the top right, or sign up for the busy person’s roughly monthly summary of interesting stuff, or have me along to one of your knowledge sharing/learning meetings to start the conversation!

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KM teams – the post-pandemic landscape

We (in Knowledge Network) just had such an interesting discussion led by Simon Burton of CB Resourcing, looking at

  • how KM teams have stepped up to help their organisation adapt to new ways of delivering client services during the lockdown,
  • how they’re planning to help with changes to the business landscape, including areas anticipating expansion and areas that will remain depressed, as we emerge into the next phase, and
  • what skills they can learn and adapt now, to offer greater value for the future.

It was particularly interesting to me to hear how KM teams are trying to fill the informal knowledge sharing gap and new routes to relationship and network building when everyone is working from home.

How are you dealing with these issues?

Although I’d never say it was easy to create a user-friendly online knowledge database, I’d say it is even harder to create a trusting network when everyone is at home, coping with their own personal difficulties, which could include loneliness, caring responsibilities, health worries or difficult domestic circumstances.

Have you any bright ideas to share? Comment below.

And if you want to join KN-UK for similar interesting talks, get in touch for more info.

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Exciting news!

I’ve started another book.

It’s one I’ve been wanting to write for a while now and the silver lining to lockdown has been the time it has given me to write.

Will be a while until it’s out, but keep your eyes open for sneak-peaks and requests for help!

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