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Knowledge management as 4 pillars of strategy

Often, when the term knowledge management is mentioned, the next part of the conversation is followed either by

“what do you mean?”

or “do you mean the data base system?”.

The mistake will be to spend time trying to explain it. Too often, explaining about knowledge management only end up labelling it ultimately as a cost initiative.

In a service industry, I like to start with people, the employees who sell and provide services. When a recruitment company sell their services, they are implying a worth in the people who will be performing the services. They deliver services at the best of their knowledge and they way they perform is packaging that adds to a customer experience. If we continue with this train of thought, knowledge is integral to a service industry, it goes straight to top line sales and bottom line profits.

For many knowledge management practioners, initiatives in knowledge management often turned into a cost versus profit discussion. Often it ends up on the losing end of the battle along with other cost centres such as training and development, human resources with funds redirected to systems upgrade and even marketing. Here’s what I will propose as the pillars of success in a recruitment company using knowledge.

Succession Planning
In recruitment, each consultant often holds his/her own list of clients. Leaders in the industry will be familiar with this story, lose a good person and lose a list of clients and it is straight to the bottom line. Whether it is a sudden departure of staff or through retirement, to build a sustainable business that can survive the change in personnel, succession planning is important. And knowledge management has a key role to play.

Creating programs that encourages sharing of knowledge from seniors to juniors or peers will mean continuity and retention of knowledge in the company. The knowledge that is shared will allow other member staff to step up when there is a staff departure. It also gives confidence to clients to continue work with the company.

Upstart new starters or junior staff
While training is the most basic form of initiating new staff, it oftens lack the depth and practicality of daily operations. It is common for a new starter irregardless of seniority to take 3-6 months before creating profits. Knowledge management can provide a new starter with the essential knowledge to kick start their performance.

Programs such as mentoring, seminars will bring similar subject matter experts in contact with new starters. Through sharing of experience and working knowledge of the company, the culture and politics will help a new starter settle in quicker and focus on performance. Such program’s can also benefit new starters.

Commercial Positioning
Recruitment is one of the most fragmented industry full of companies in various sizes. A client has a wide selection of companies to work with and often, the client can ony rely on past experiences to decide. Often, it is simple as how comfortable or confident they feel about the recruiter. It can be hard to qualify how to increase such a confidence.

Knowledge is by far a much better argument to raise confidence. To industrialise the recognition of a company’s knowledge and thus expertise, it will require a recruitment to use expertise as a forefront of their positioning. There are other positioning elements such as size, geographical reach for example that are commonly used. However, if you ask a person who has a severe headache who they prefer to see, it will be a head specialist than a generalist.

Client Intimacy
A client is not just the company a recruitment firm is working with. In the people business, it is the individual hiring managers and decision makers. Whilst they may not have working knowledge of recruitment, they have working knowledge of their industry and function for the role a recruitment firm is asked to recruit.

Creating client intimacy requires a few tactics. One way will be to speak their “language”. This can be easily achieved if a recruiter has knowledge of their client’s area of work. Knowledge management programs that provide a recruiter with such knowledge or enable them to be more knowledgeable will help. Also, don’t forget, your client has knowledge you can tap into and it is often free.

The next time the subject of knowledge management comes up, it should be a topic of necessary investment and not optional cost.

Cultural differences in training

A friend exclaimed one day, why do the French need all these meetings? For which I respond, why are the Americans so agreeable?

I used to say, generalisation is the basis of all jokes. So it is with much tongue in cheek and humour that I use the following examples to explain cultural differences. In my past life, I had the opportunity to conduct the same training in over 10 countries in Europe. In all the sessions, I find myself adapting each training workshop to the nationality of people I’m training. This is how I explained to my friends the cultural differences in the simplest way I can.

The French

With the French, a meeting is only to confirm what has been discussed and agreed over coffee, walkways, phone conversations and individual meetings. In fact, before the training, the material has been circulated, discussed and explained so many times in resume that I knew when they come for the final session, it is merely to reinforce and not to impart knowledge.

The key: the battle is already won before meeting in the field.

The Italians

During the training, I would find excuses after each 20-25 min session to leave the room, it could be coffee breaks for all, toilet breaks, smoke break etc. The Italians need to fight it out, discuss, dispute and argue. Since I don’t understand Italian, it works in my favour to leave the room and let them fight it out rather than implicating myself in the discussion. I would return to answer questions which had been filtered out by internal discussions.

The key: give them time to talk / fight it out. Freedom to express with passion is a way to their heart.

The Dutch

If you haven’t worked with the Dutch, your first encounter will be brutal. They are painfully honest and they mean no harm of disrespect. I usually allow for a 5 min question and answer after ever 45 mins for them to voice their thoughts. And then, I will address them logically and if it is a matter of policy, I would explain it as such. They will understand that some decisions may not appeal to them or seem to make sense but needed to be implemented. And we would be able to move to integrating that into their work life.

The key: accept what they have to say and react calmly. Respect their indivualism and you will be equally accepted.

The Spanish

I had the most fun with Spanish training sessions. They are warm and open people and welcome you with open arms and a great deal of jamon. If you return with the same passion, the rapport is immediately built. Having said that, their enthusiasm is also a reason for easy oversight. They will receive what you have to say quickly and with enthusiasm especially in a training environment. With the Spanish, I would devise difficult questions intent on testing their understanding and agreement. And maybe, I’ll add controversy to see how they would apply the understanding and force them to tell me exactly what they think. And of course, always with a pinch of humour to keep the mood light.

The key: always ask a second time to ensure understanding. Team enthusiasm with curiosity for the best results.

Central Eastern Europe

Every country in this block is different but I have found similar strategies in these countries: Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary. While I’m training these countries, I cannot help but observe the impact of communism in the cultural. The importance of hierarchy and authority in getting agreement cannot be overstated. Once I had arrived in a training without the endorsement of figure of authority because the manager had left and a replacement had not been found. To my greatest distress, I had a walk out. After a coffee break, only 50% of the attendees returned. The rest had found reasons not to return. The next day, I had to assumed a figure of authority instead of the friendly trainer. When I said that if they leave, they can never return to the next sessions, I found attendance improve dramatically.

In the CEE block, I also find the best use of instant feedback. After each session, I would hand out colourd post-its for participant to comment what they liked, disliked, want to see more of. Each evenings I would adjust the next day’s training according to these feedbacks. This typically improves attendance and participation dramatically when they see that efforts had been taken to consider their feedback.

The key: always arrive after endorsement from a figurehead. If you have something to say, say it with authority.

Nothing written above is meant to harm, I have come to respect and love (in some way) the people I had met on the road. In general, I think it always work when I have no assumptions before I arrive. Work with the situation and adapt accordingly is my best philosophy thus far.

In Asia, I had a vastly different experience but that is a story for another time.

Tell me about your experiences, did you encounter the same or vastly different?

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