Getting help with knowledge creation

I am frequently asked for (or I seek) feedback on created knowledge with friends and colleagues. Thinking more about the Knowledge Creation phases of Develop Knowledge and Produce Knowledge described in recent blogs, what kind of contribution is sought and needed?

Scenario 1:  CV writing

My friend Mary needed to update her CV. She knew it didn’t contain the words, content or structure that she thought it should have to be effective and get her a new job. She was stuck on what changes to make. She asked me to look at her CV and suggest changes to the document.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe she really needed was in the Develop Knowledge phase. She didn’t know what she wanted to say about herself; forget what words we’d use on the page! It was not the best use of our time or efforts to sit with the MS Word document and edit it.

She is, of course, the source of much of the knowledge (history of her work experience, her description of her skill, and her aspirations for the future, etc.) that could be communicated through the CV but it was raw knowledge, half-baked and forming. She was having trouble getting it out of her head and making sense of it before we could shape it into words that could be used to help her get a new job. Words that might make it into the CV, but also to her LinkedIn profile; what she would say in a cover letter; or at the interview; or in general conversation with people about the work she was seeking.

Scenario 2: Proposal development

Charles was a post-grad student who wanted to become a consultant. I was his business mentor and we had started a journey because he had a good idea for a strategy piece of work for potential clients. I was going to help him find his first client to get himself work experience. He had drafted a Business Proposal for a piece of work with a potential client and asked for my feedback to finalise it.

Was my contribution sought in Develop or Produce Knowledge phase?

Answer: Produce Knowledge phase.

The help I believe he really needed was in the Develop Knowledge Phase. Never having been a consultant before, he had been struggling to keep the content of the Strategy he would produce, out of a Proposal to be engaged to produce the Strategy.

He had lots he wanted to say, and he wanted to show he knew lots of useful stuff but it was not relevant to product nor purpose of the Business *Proposal*. The content may be relevant to later activity, perhaps for an analysis or report.

I chose to treat his draft as a Developed document. I didn’t think the content was fundamentally right, so I focused on the ideas for (re)Development and ignored doing any Producing critique.

Scenario 3: Memorandum of Understanding collaboration

I was asked by the CEO to prepare a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between our organisation and an external organisation, as a pre-Joint Venture document. Having never written one like this before, I asked the company lawyer for guidance. He provided a couple of templates, plus an example of a finished one. I took the finished one and deleted text that wasn’t relevant, and inserted rough notes for additional content. This was really rough – and not in legalese which he said he would fix once we got input from the other organisation about what they wanted in the Memo.

I sent the document with a mix of rough and finished text to external organisation, with the intent of being collaborative and simply putting in indicative text to get a collective sense of what the content of the document needed to be. I did this purposefully as I wanted them to have a sense that they were equally contributing to the nature of the content. (Side note: There is an argument that the Lower the Fidelity of a piece of work, the more others will take ownership, plus be prepared to revise and delete aspects rather than simply refine what is there, particularly when deleting is more valid than compromising.)

Was I asking them to contribute in Develop or Produce phases?

Answer: Develop Knowledge phase.

I was seeking feedback on a Developed document. However the external organization gave it to their legal counsel who treated it like Producing phase. They refined all my rough notes into legalese and added their own polished content. While they acted graciously, I sensed judgement that we hadn’t been ‘serious’ in the quality of the content we sent. It was clear we were operating with different intent in the review process. I wondered what kind of quality of collaboration we might have had if we both had a sense of different phases in the knowledge creation process.

The Emerging Role of Synthesiser

As I reflect on these experiences, I see the potential of a role and skill set for people who can bridge the gap between the Develop and Produce phases. Someone who can take half-baked content and shape it into a workable draft. A Synthesiser: A mix of a ghost-writer, investigator, interviewer, critic, editor.

Here’s my wish list of the skills and qualities of a Synthesiser:

  • Listening and asking questions
  • Reading
  • Thinking critically
  • Collecting the fragments
  • Processing
  • Digesting, musing and reflecting
  • Validating – with others; against a brief
  • Structuring thoughts; writing outlines
  • Researching for extra details
  • Organising, sorting and ordering
  • Connecting and linking
  • Presenting in synthesised organised form(s)
  • Having, using, and understanding a notation system that differentiates editorial review vs. content review.
  • Abducting – thinking about what is possible and may not be naturally indicated by the existing thought provided

In the three scenarios outlined above, the role of a Synthesiser would have helped shape all the pieces of content, such that they could be ready for the Produce phase. A Synthesiser could have bridged the gap between Develop and Produce phases by asking questions to elicit fresh thought, thinking critically, digest and ultimately offering a structured response to elevate the initial piece of work into something better and richer.

Learnings from reflection

When I am asked to review material now, I have a quick scoping conversation to gauge and set expectations about the nature of my contribution. I seek to best serve the person requesting help, so the framework of the two phases of knowledge creation is a useful reference for both to use to reach a mutually satisfying agreement.

 

Helen Palmer is Founder of RHX Group, a boutique agency that partners with people who want to make change in how they work with information and knowledge.  She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in making small changes that disrupt the way people think and what they do.

The way of kindness

Can knowledge work be influenced by the mindset of kindness?  Why not a kindful quality of knowledge and knowledge-sharing!

I’ve recently been introduced to the World Kindness Movement (WKM). It’s based on the idea that our world will be more compassionate and peaceful if a critical mass of acts of kindness is ignited.

I had an recent inspirational and energetic conversation with Michael Lloyd-White, General Secretary to WKM and Chairman/Founding Director of World Kindness Australia who passionately shared stories of what was happening with the movement. The conversation stimulated my thinking about ways I could be a useful ‘broker’ to keep this knowledge and energy flowing. I thought of …

  • Hand ReachingThose among my contacts who would embrace such an idea and how I would approach them;
  • Meaningful messages I could share with key people;
  • Using my interest in origami to package the idea and capture an audience’s attention; and
  • Forums I could use or start, to inspire more people to act with generosity, and to recognise it in others.

Fellow travellers

The very next day an opportunity arose to actively show kindness. I was standing on Platform 2 awaiting my train to the city. I saw a guy on Platform 1 opposite dragging a large suitcase, looking perplexed. He was glancing from the train tracks to our platform filled with people, to his platform with only him, to the train schedule board. I yelled out, “Do you want the train to Melbourne?” He replied eagerly, “Yes!” I told him he needed to quickly change platforms, as the train he wanted was due any minute.

I shared relevant knowledge with someone who lacked it at a time of pressing need, and avoided an upset. (He would have had to wait an hour for another train.)

A fellow passenger, another stranger, commented on my kind act. So I told her about my recent introduction to WKM, and thanked her for recognising what I did. We then parted ways as we caught our train.

That night, I ran into the same woman again on the train home. She said she had thought of me that day. She shared her own story of how she helped out a fellow traveller with timely information they needed.

My actions in the morning had resulted in a knowledge transfer on multiple levels, and led to two pleasant encounters in Melbourne that day.

Good business: generosity at work

As a Change Facilitator, I can see ample opportunities for empathy when dealing with people in the midst of organisational change. How great to discover a group that aims to spread the idea of compassion in the workplace – so often the arena for self-advancement and competitiveness.

In an organisation, kind actions provide a more conducive environment for us to create and share helpful knowledge. It’s like a ‘good virus’ that spreads the possibility of further altruism. I am more likely to be an agent for good if I am liked, and people like the way they feel in how I treat them.

Play the Kindness Card

kindness_card_frontpageWKM has created a great initiative to capture acts of kindness – the Kindness Card. Michael gave me a card (has the appearance of a credit card) which I’ve activated on the Kindness card website and will physically pass on next time I see and can acknowledge an act of kindness. And each time it’s passed on, a story can be posted to add to other stories on the website. How much better will the world be for sharing these heart-warming moments?

How exciting to take a simple, instinctive concept like kindness, integrate it into a professional domain like knowledge management, and see what positive effects can be had. My knowledge ‘engine’ is fuelled with a warm emotional energy that I hope in turn infuses the knowledge I create and pass on.

Kindness is ‘heart’ knowledge. And we tend to focus on head knowledge. It’s time to expand our focus more holistically.

Research indicates kindness is literally in our DNA. How’s that for original tacit knowledge?

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning, so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credits: ‘Reaching hand’ from Microsoft Online Clipart; ‘Kindness card’ from World Kindness Australia

Fourth dimension of networking – Making it happen (Part 3)

I have shared knowledge about the ‘What’ of my 4D networking practice. This post outlines the details of ‘How’ by answering the question: What enables a savvy 4D networker?

Below is a set of three lists: Practices I do, Tools I use, Mindsets I hold. I encourage you to reflect on these and prepare your own lists.

Practices

This is a list of things I do with my ‘Networking’ time.

  • Connect only with 3D or 4D contacts in visible online databases (i.e. LinkedIn)
  • 3D & 4D networking, based on my own 4D criteria
  • Act thoughtfully and purposefully
  • Ask individuals: How can I help you? What is your passion or interest?
  • Think proactively: How can I help this person? (Do 4D activities); Who can I connect this person with? (e.g. Utilise my trusted contacts)
  • Endorse or recommend people without prompting
  • Ask for assistance to meet new people
  • Treasure chestFollow-up after meetings to give something meaningful, show appreciation, or spread the word/tell others
  • Catalyse discussions (online or in person) with interesting questions
  • Being active participant in an Professional Association or Community of Practice
  • Schedule and honour regular networking time/activity
  • Use digital calendar to manage availability and issue shared calendar entries for meetings
  • Keep a record of my contacts and my engagement with them (contact details, personal details, my reflections on initial meeting with them, suggestions for how I can assist them or connect more meaningfully, email correspondence).
  • Keep current records so I can do summary reports/analysis about breadth & depth of my activity over time, e.g. who I saw, how many people I meet, number of contacts in my databases, and evaluate performance
  • Adapt: Review what’s working or not working and do something again or differently
  • Learn from others lessons-learnt, e.g. Mistakes not to make using LinkedIn.
  • Consider: What presence will I show up with when meeting with someone?
  • Implement 4C’s filter: give varying degrees of attention to interact with individuals or groups
  • Observe or imagine what others might value; scan/seek for items and opportunities to share with others
  • Write on back of business cards and noting person’s interests & preferences immediately after meeting someone. (This later gets transferred to digital records.)
  • Tagging/classifying people into meaningful groups for interaction – makes it easier to execute contact with collections of people.
  • Capture valuable information so I can act quickly to share something of value (see Notebook lists under Tools below)
  • Prepare or acquire micro-blog (i.e. Twitter, LinkedIn update) content I can publish quickly and constantly
  • Do regular micro-blogging to share and mobilise useful or inspiring knowledge

Tools

This is the set of tool I use that enables the practices listed above.

  • Contacts database (online = e.g. LinkedIn; offline = e.g. Outlook Contacts – I have both because approx 10% of my contacts are not LinkedIn members)
  • Tagging schema to organise contacts in my databases
  • Linking micro-blog posting across online platforms, i.e. LinkedIn feeds to Twitter feeds to Facebook
  • Sample text for replying to various message correspondence scenarios, e.g. LinkedIn member who I don’t know (i.e. not 3D or 4D contact) invites me to connect with them
  • Social media professional profiles with connections so others can learn about me and my network (e.g. LinkedIn – Basic is sufficient, Basic is free; Twitter; Facebook)
  • Bio copy prepared for various audiences
  • High quality professional colour digital photograph
  • Links in email signature of available methods to contact me
  • List of my interests, specialities and passions that I can share
  • Notebook entries of useful lists: Quotes, recommendations, insights, suggestions, humour, random acts of kindness to do
  • Notebook entries with potential & finalised micro-blog content I can publish
  • Artefacts/methods to send a surprising delightful message: Quality cards, or notepaper. I also use origami paper made into objects, and handwritten emails using inking on tablet laptop.

Mindsets

These ideas I hold to guide my networking and professional practice. They underpin the practices listed above.

  • It’s better to give than to receive.
  • Pay it forward.
  • For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
  • Be prudent and purposeful with resources
  • Don’t enable the waste or potential of talent.
  • Its okay to say No. It’s okay to stop.
  • Its okay to ask.
  • Respect others time and energy.
  • Honour my own boundaries and limits.
  • Aim for effective not efficient activity.
  • Leave something better than you found it.
  • Its not what I do or say but how I make people feel.
  • Make the first approach, take the first step.
  • Show up.
  • Mean what I say, say what I mean.
  • Honour my word and commitments.

May you find meaningful ways to perform better in professional networking.
Please share with me your ways and means!

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX GroupHelen likes to experiment and create conceptual frameworks to use in making sense of human activity. She thinks critically about knowledge work and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change, learning and knowing so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Image credit: iStockphoto

Organising your time honestly and flexibly (with a digital diary)

Our work time is regulated by hours, weeks, and months. Organising our work activity temporally (that is, by time) is a challenge that can be conquered with a diary (of the datebook kind, not the daily record of experiences). With a digital diary, it becomes easier to manage an emerging or changing schedule, such is the nature of modern work practice that attempts to include inherently changing acts of creativity and innovation.

When I was an employee in a large organisation, our digital calendars were visible (with some concessions for privacy) to other staff members. As a dedicated user of the calendar, I often found others commenting that according to my calendar, ‘You are so busy’. I was bemused and wondered: Were people with empty calendars considered to be ‘not-busy’?

Tom Peters (in his “Mother of all Presentations”) says: ‘You ARE your calendar. You ARE how you spend your time. Calendars NEVER LIE.’

The technique explained in this blog is about making visible how-you-spend-your-time, and enabling flexibility to better manage what, where and when factors of your activity.

Managing your temporal space

From Shutterstock

My diary is my temporal space made visible. It enables me to map my intentions about time. I create and shuffle around blocks of time to firm up what my schedule will look like, while also experimenting with what it could look like. With a digital diary it’s particularly easy to drag and drop entries; and to append extra information to capture the meaning I have given certain entries, for example: Tentative, (In) CBD. Then my diary appears clean, and (re)organised – no whiteout or erased pencil lines in sight!

Putting entries in my diary gives me a schedule to follow for the day. While my days might not have a regular routine, I am assured a degree of order as important things needing my attention are factored in.

Many of my entries are not appointments with others, but simply an entry for me to work on a specific activity. Rather than work from a general To-do list during the day, I work from my calendar schedule of activity. Many of these activities have an associated and specific To-do or next-action list which is my exclusive focus during the allotted time.

Entries in my diary are an agreement with myself about what I am going to focus on, and help me to focus on one thing at a time. I’m not a fan of multi-tasking, but on occasion my thoughts are scattered and I free them from the leash, within a boundary of ‘Planning’ time or ‘Admin’ time – simultaneous chaos and order!

Making diary entries also enables me to more accurately forecast how much time activities will need, particularly those that are spread over multiple days, and to ensure sufficient time is reserved. In addition, I can better evaluate when to sequence individual activities in context of other things, e.g. other activities, my location, and my anticipated energy level or attention capacity.

While not an Activity per se, I’ll often add entries to my calendar for deadlines or time-sensitive milestones. Because I am following my schedule for the day, it’s handy to have time-sensitive things co-located with my actions, in case I need to re-evaluate action priorities.

If you are following an Activity-Time Budget, you could assign colours to each Budget category and apply these colours to the items you have in your diary. With a quick glance you’ll be able to see how well your projected budget matches your actual budget. (See Calendar 2 below.)

Being honest about your time

Every day we have activities that use time (and attention and energy) but are not typically accounted for in our calendars. Some examples of ‘invisible’ use of time: travel (on foot, by train, parking the car); general administration (filing, processing correspondence/incoming email, paying bills, etc); reading (correspondence, articles); preparation for meetings; processing note; preparing task-lists; lunch breaks; etc. (Hopefully you’ve created your own Activity-Time Budget that allows for such time.)

Start to put this time in your calendar. Particularly when entering linked activities. For example, after creating a Meeting entry, add Travel time to either side of the Meeting entry. Or, when creating a Meeting entry, add entries for Prep/Reading time and Note Processing time in close proximity to the meeting entry. See examples in Calendar 2 below.

There are two screenshots of my sample Calendar here. Calendar 1 is the typical calendar of most people, and reflects the events or appointments I have that involve other people – often because the appointment is linked to their calendar, or because it’s important to be ‘on-time’ for these. Calendar 2 extends Calendar 1 showing the activity of ‘invisible’ time, as well as colour coding to align with an Activity-Time budget (and no, I haven’t explained my colour coding – it’s meaningful only to me.)

Calendar 1 (Partial)

Calendar 2 (Complete)

Scheduling serendipity (or Planning for the unplanned)

While I am advocating filling a digital diary with entries, I am not advocating filling every waking moment with scheduled activity. Leave space for the unexpected that might better deserve your attention, or for spill-over when you’ve underestimated the amount of time needed or things have emerged with unanticipated complexity.

You might need to schedule ‘contingency’ or ‘open’ space in your calendar, simply so you (or others if you are sharing a calendar) don’t mistake it for Free-to-schedule-any-Activity time.

Dov Frohman (with Robert Howard) in the book, “Leadership The Hard Way: Why Leadership Can’t Be Taught—And How You Can Learn It Anyway“, advocates scheduling ‘day-dreaming time’ where you engage in “loose, unstructured thinking with no particular goal in mind”. An approach they recommend for dealing with complexity and ‘fuzzy’ problems.

One of my students shared this technique: she schedules a calendar entry called ‘Lucky Dip’ – the time is reserved but the activity is unknown. She has a bag in which various activities, both delightful and necessary, are written on strips of paper. When the appointed time arrives, she dips into the bag without looking, selects what she will do, and does it.

Another type of time you might consider scheduling is disconnected time, i.e. time when you don’t access the internet, read your email, look at Twitter or other social media sites. A practical way to support day-dreaming time!

Organising your temporal affairs effectively means you can utilise your time wisely and for greatest benefit. Effective use of time requires knowing what you spend your time doing, as well what you don’t spend your time doing. Hopefully the suggestions in this blog can help you better align your reality with your intentions.

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Planning and guiding Professional Enrichment

To plan how I might develop into a more satisfied and effective knowledge worker, I asked: What would enrich my professional life?

My first responses were predictable: knowledge, skill, experience, and resources. With deeper reflection, I also saw the role of relationships, collaborations, energy (mental and emotional), attention, awareness, perspectives, and discipline. These all contribute to my value and viability as a knowledge worker.

Traditionally, purposeful action to develop oneself professionally starts with a Professional Development Plan. I already had one of those, but the traditional content didn’t strike the right chord for my values of knowledge work, and valuing knowledge work and knowledge workers.

So in the tradition of reusing knowledge, I did a conceptual Save As, and made some changes to transcend the concept. Enter, the ‘Professional Enrichment Plan’.

Planning for Professional Enrichment (PE)

The purpose of actively enriching one’s Professional life is to
– have a positive affirming work experience
– improve the quality and quantity of knowledge work
– nurture the person (the ‘engine’) that does knowledge work
– enhance an individual’s professional value and practice

What’s Professional Enrichment about?

In addition to traditional content like Attending training courses, or Being mentored, PE is:

  • Activities that have no inherent professional productive value, or no clear goal or specific destination. e.g. Exploratory, experimental activities like tinkering; Social activities like chairing social club.
  • Meaning! Activities about making meaning, having meaning, and sharing meaning in the professional space. Meaning is the source of our beliefs and actions.
  • Conditions and opportunities to generate serendipitous encounters and discoveries.
  • Creative activities that replenish mojo and energy as part of my professional schedule, e.g. Attending art or music exhibitions; Decorating my workspace; Playing golf
  • Mental rest, and change of scenery within the professional schedule.  e.g. Honouring digital and professional Sabbaths; Working from surprising locations like  art gallery or park.
  • Activity and schedules that best honour own temperament and strengths, e.g. Planning in morning, executing at beginning of the week; Partnering up to draw upon other’s expertise
  • Nurturing self holistically in all aspects (body, mind, soul and spirit), e.g. Meditation before and after challenging meetings
  • Activities that are difficult or not possible to measure yet have intangible value , e.g. Cultivating meaningful relationships; Mentoring colleagues
  • Accessing a diversity of resources for inspiration, insights and information, e.g. Blogs, social media, podcasts, seminars, books, newspapers

Professional Enrichment Method

The objective of developing and executing the Plan is to enrich work with purposeful activity in acquiring, cultivating and sharing knowledge, experience and perspectives.

1. Create – Reflect what enrichment and growth you want; Define some activities to achieve this; Document these in the Plan

The Plan is emergent and dynamic. Entries to the document are made pre and post activity as they are a mix of the ‘planned’ and ‘serendipitous’.

2. Use – Draw on the Plan to determine regular and ad hoc activity to schedule; Do the Activity; Reorient self to the Plan, when professional life seems to be chaotic and without order.

Treat the plan as a declaration of intention to act.  For me, scheduling PE activities happens on a weekly or monthly basis, when planning how to spend the PE time allotted in my Activity-Time budget.

3. Update – Review the content of the Plan and make updates (change the purpose or activity; Add to the activity; Refine the measures);  Record progress in the Plan

Professional Enrichment Plan – Template

The main content of the plan is formatted as a table with the headings: Purpose (WHY), Content (WHAT), Activity (HOW), Measures/Evidence (HOW MUCH) and Status (HOW FAR).

Purpose
The reason for some purposeful action; the outcome of acting.
Verbs to describe purpose include Gain, Lose, Enhance, Be, Experience, Sustain, Create, Extend, Produce, Contribute, Prepare, etc

Content
A short description of the content area for which you seek enrichment.

Activity
Actions that will achieve the purpose.
Examples include watching podcasts, attending seminars, writing blogs, following blogs/tweets, corresponding, reflecting, playing, meeting others, experimenting, attending meetings/seminars/courses, reading books, establishing and building relationships

Measures/evidence
Whatever is meaningful evidence to track and evaluate progress.
General measures might include:
Quantity – Count of the number of knowledge products created, knowledge events completed, etc.
Quality – Estimate of the degree of fitness for purpose
Impact – Estimate of the degree of difference achieved (gap between before and after)

Status
Whatever is meaningful comment about your progress to date.

Sample Content
Here’s a extract from my real plan: Professional Enrichment Plan Extract.

May you have a more enriching professional life!

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.

Making and applying an Activity-Time budget

I manage work with a knowledge focus [1].  I manage teams with a knowledge focus because I value the knowledge members create, acquire, share and cultivate.  Therefore I value the activities that are knowledge generating. Here’s a technique I use in management to better support and promote knowledge activity: activity-time budget system.

The concept – overview

Promoting and endorsing particular knowledge cultivation activities, while  quantifying and qualifying the time expended on activities per week. A systematic method to maintain new mindsets and behaviours in professional practice of managing knowledge.

Why the technique came into being

As a Team Leader,  I wanted empowered team members who had effective personal knowledge work practices. Specifically, I wanted:

  • To address work-life balance: Setting realistic expectations and reasonable conditions so knowledge workers could do good work, then truly and deeply rest their knowledge engines switching off from work.
  • To address the tendency to overlook and under-do important but ‘boring’ or ‘passive’ knowledge activities like  record keeping, organising, planning, reporting and reflecting;  to treat these items as necessary, not discretionary work.
  • To reign in the tendency to over-do some work achieving a quality not valued, or to drain resources for little return: To invoke the principle of ‘good enough’ given the available resources and time constraints.
  • Better decision-making about work priorities and energy expenditure with definitive yet flexible guidelines that would continue to be useful in professional practice.
  • A culture of autonomous creative action and approaches that didn’t require my specific input or endorsement; to enable opportunities to make a personal mark on work, or develop lateral professional interests. Staff could do what they believed was vital work without my permission as long as they could justify it against expectations.

So I mused about ways to address the underlying issue of finite resources (time) and expenditure of resources (energy and time). This triggered childhood memories of the personal power and discipline that came from receiving and spending pocket money; from there the concept of activity-time budget system seemed obvious …

How it works

The normal number of employed hours per week is the 100% activity-time allowance.  Percentages for 5-6 categories of activity expenditure  are assigned, with explanation about the kinds of activity each category represents. Individuals then autonomously allocate their activities and time to meet budget.

It is important to monitor expenditure against allowance. If there is significant variance (it’s an accounting thing!)over a 2-4 week period then a closer look is warranted, with adjustments made. Maybe the budget breakdown isn’t right, or the employee has insufficient skill or resources to be effective, or there is simply too great a volume of work expected.  A key reason for setting the allowance and the budget, is to ensure that an activity-time debt doesn’t mount up, for then you risk the quality of the person, and the quality of the work.

Specific steps to get started

1.  Decide how many hours a week you allow for ‘work’.[2] This becomes your 100% of work allowance.
2.  Define a list of activity categories against which work allowance will be assigned.  Define examples. Check that examples don’t overlap into other categories.
3.  Define how much work allowance (%) you want to assign to each activity category.
4.  Schedule time in calendar for each allotment of work activity (either individual or group of activities). Break into multiple allotments as is most useful.
5.  Monitor your expenditure against allowance, and adjust as necessary.[3]

Examples

Below are examples of the categories and assigned percentages for two work-place scenarios where I have applied the method.

Scenario 1: Team of fixed-term employees assigned to internal development project
Budget
10%    Administration
10%    Project planning and reporting
5%      Professional development
10%    Internal/team participation
65%    Project and client work

Administration
Opening and processing correspondence (including email)
Maintaining business records, including filing
Keeping desk and work space in order
Weekly or fortnightly 1-1 meeting with team leader

Project planning and reporting
NB: Not for a Project Manager but for personnel on project team
Reviewing and updating plan of work for coming week and coming 1-2 months
Reviewing progress and composing reporting content (for verbal or written delivery)
Contributing to project documentation, e.g. Risk and Issues log, Project Plan

Professional development
Attending courses and professional association meetings
Reflecting after attending courses, etc (including note taking or journaling)
Reading books, blogs, tweets
Networking with professional contacts outside organisation (including using social media)
Participating in mentoring or coaching activities
Preparing and maintaining personal Performance Management documentation

Internal/team participation
Attending and contributing to team meetings
Organising and leading team meetings when it’s your turn
Contributing to team well being (organising ad hoc social events, checking in with people)
Maintaining relationships with team colleagues
Contributing to team collective knowledge, participating in briefs and debriefs

Project and client work
Stakeholder engagement work (including discretionary coffee meetings)
Designing, organising and executing activities listed in project plan

Scenario 2: Single person self-employed
Budget
10% Admin
10% Professional enrichment
20% Business development
60% Project/Client work

Administration
Doing filing, invoicing, expense claims
Internal business meetings and discussions
Managing computing tools including backups and configurations

Professional enrichment
Activities that replenish my mojo
Reading professional books, blogs
Attending seminars, courses and conferences
Networking with professional contacts

Business Development
Networking with strategic contacts
Developing products and services for business
Developing and managing proposals for work
Developing and maintaining prospective client relationships

Project and client work (typically income generating)
Maintaining customer relationships
Project management for client projects
Providing services to clients

 

[1] I can’t take credit for the brilliant phrase “Management with a  knowledge focus” that goes to www.knoco.com
[2] You could also apply the time budget system to your life, with 100% being the total number of hours in a week (n=168), then allotting how you want to apportion  where you spend your time.
[3] Consider allocating and monitoring your activity-time expenditure using an electronic calendar. For future time, make entries of how you intend to expend the time. Ensure your forecast is within budget constraints. For past time, make entries of how you actually expended the time. Compare the actual time against the budget, to determine the amount of variance.

 

Helen Palmer is Principal Consultant at RHX Group. She thinks critically about knowledge work, and how to ensure knowledge isn’t wasted. She revels in tackling the big processes of change and learning so that ideas become impact. With her colleagues at RHX Group, Helen helps teams make better use of their people, knowledge and information.