Knowledge Management: For Maximum ROI, Focus on Your Expertise MVPs

October 25, 2016 Brian M. Moon

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Professional sports teams recognize certain athletes who are not only the best players on their teams but also serve as the lynchpin around which the team can build their "franchise" for years to come. They designate these athletes as “franchise players”. High performance organizations include similar performers, “franchise experts”, around whom innovation swirls and on whom profits depend. Over the course of my career developing and implementing knowledge management programs for leading companies and brands, I’ve found that maximum ROI is achieved when special attention is focused on these Franchise Experts.

Find Your Franchise Experts

Cognitive and organizational scientists have studied Franchise Experts for decades and have identified a common set of characteristics. Franchise Experts recognize that to achieve the mission, work needs to be done at the edge of the familiar. They recognize the uncommon or irregular. They know how and when to improvise, particularly when situations go beyond the typical. Franchise Experts anticipate not only consequences throughout a system, but also the collateral consequences to other systems. They demonstrate a willingness to improvise, and are often called on to be an ad hoc solution provider. They develop and use memory artifacts that are unique organizing schemes and reinforce the structure of their knowledge – their “mental models” about how the world really works.

Franchise Experts are also continuous learners. They are students of their craft and practice it with zeal. While others may wish to forget about their last fault, Franchise Experts think about their past mistakes, which both gall and intrigue them. Unlike the expert who may become engrossed in the problem at hand, Franchise Experts have the ability to consider the perspectives of others involved in the situation.

While franchise athletes are placed front and center of the team, Franchise Experts may shun the spotlight. Case in point: I once had the immense pleasure of working with a nuclear engineer who, well into his 70's, still came to work every day, but worked in his office with the door mostly shut. This humble Franchise Expert had developed some of the nuclear industry’s most important technologies, but was content to let his work speak for itself.

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Extract Your Franchise Experts’ Knowledge

Just as franchise players receive special treatment by their teams, Franchise Experts deserve special attention for their expertise, even if they don’t seek it out. In particular, it’s important to capture how they articulate their expertise so it can be shared with others. As Dr. Morgan discussed in last week’s blog, knowledge elicitation is a set of interviewing practices that hone in on the cognitive elements of expert performance and the socio-technical context of their workplaces. These techniques go well beyond what is typically captured in exit interviews. They dig deeper to help understand the "why, when, where and how" of performance, not just the "what" that comes from task and position descriptions. While we know that an expert's tacit knowledge can be elicited when they are given proper structure and prompting using knowledge-elicitation strategies, the challenges of knowledge elicitation from Franchise Experts seem to push the edge of what is feasible.

Two tried-and-true methods for revealing franchise expertise are Applied Concept Mapping (ACM) and the Critical Decision Method (CDM). ACM is a method for organizing expert thought into a set of propositions about the world. Concept Maps can be created collaboratively with the expert, using the emergent map to externalize and further articulate expert thinking. Or they can be created after interviews with experts, to reflect back to the expert what they shared. With either approach, the resulting Concept Maps can provide access to a Franchise Expert’s complex mental models. I have used these maps to represent models that explain expertise as diverse as diaper production and intelligence analysis.

CDM is a structured storytelling technique that dives deep into the expert’s experience, and is often focused on the most complex problems they have tackled. The interviewing method takes multiple passes through a lived experience, capturing decision points, assessments, key cues and factors, and the challenging contexts that introduce complexity. In doing so, CDM interviews help the expert articulate why the problems are so difficult, their unique strategies for dealing with them, and ideas for change that could lead to even more efficient performance and innovation. As with ACM, CDM has been applied to many diverse domains. I have captured incidents ranging from commanding firefights in battle to restoring power to the electrical grid to the complex transfer of a stroke patient. Each case revealed how Franchise Experts drew on their immense experience to rapidly make key decisions, make sense of complex situations, and mentally simulate courses of action – all hallmarks of franchise expertise.

Put Your Franchise Expertise Back to Work

There is an expectation that the value of franchise players will be realized by the team for years after their individual career ends. To realize the long-term value of Franchise Experts, organizations must find deliberate opportunities to reintroduce the experts’ cognitive skills. For example, scenario-based training, drawing on the incidents captured using CDM, can provide access to the decision strategies and judgments Franchise Experts use. The rich mental models they use, as captured in Concept Maps, can serve as both assessment and learning tools to help others enrich their own understanding of complex problems and innovation option sets. We are currently developing such maps for a major program training the next generation of cybersecurity analysts.

By focusing knowledge management on “expertise management,” organizations can reap the rewards of their MVP performances for years to come. Need help getting started? Let’s talk about protecting your Franchise Experts.

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About Brian M. Moon.:  Brian Moon is a recognized expert in the areas of Knowledge Elicitation and Expertise Management and author of the book Applied Concept Mapping: Capturing, Analyzing, and Organizing Knowledge. Mr. Moon’s portfolio of work includes the implementation of large-scale expertise management programs at Westinghouse Electric Company, the New York Power Authority, and J.M. Smucker for Big Heart Pet Brands, as well as redesign of the White House Situation Room.

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