ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL, Ill. –
Messages can be received by another person or group in a completely different manner than the originator intended. Not getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time hinders decision-making in the command. How a person transmits and receives information, be they a senior leader or a colleague working on a routine staffing action, depends on many factors. Those factors could be as diverse as life experience, age, prior standing practices, and many other dynamics. Effective communication between individuals and teams requires that both the “transmitter” and “receiver” both walk away from an interaction with a shared understanding of the conversation and the ability to act on the knowledge.
Between two individuals, an achievement of a shared understanding is difficult enough. But with 10 geographically dispersed brigades strategically placed across the United States, establishing procedures to create a shared understanding and facilitate decision-making for First Army mission is increasingly important. The method Army units use to achieve this is called knowledge management.
"Knowledge management enhances the shared understanding of an organization," said Lt. Gen. Thomas S. James, First Army commanding general. "It's particularly critical in a geographically dispersed unit like First Army because it creates a synergy of effort between commanders, staffs and subordinate commands that may be on opposite ends of the country."
Assuming that very important knowledge management mission for First Army is Lt. Col. Dale Coparanis, an Army Reserve Soldier and the First Army Headquarters knowledge manager. As he describes his position, Coparanis is an “internal consultant” to the command, reducing the “noise” from communication between the command team and the staff, transforming communication processes between senior leaders and staff into a more effective information-sharing system that focuses on “people, processes and tools.”
The people come first, as understanding the people drives the processes and tools that are produced.
“People get caught up in their own way of looking at things,” Coparanis said. This is especially true of the staff supporting a senior leader, who may present information from their own perspective. But the simple act of presentation of information does not guarantee effective reception of the message. Where one Senior Leader may be a visual learner, detail-oriented, and expect hundreds of visual aids in a presentation along with multiple follow-up meetings, another may just want a few high points and constrained meetings.
“We adjust how it looks, and how it’s communicated, not the facts themselves,” Coparanis said.
Once the leader decides how they want their information, the First Army staff adjusts their processes and tools to present their information in a way that best fits the style of the Senior Leader.
“Like any relationship, it’s a two-way street,” Coparanis said of the process. “But the leader sets the tone.”
After people and their needs are understood, developing understandable processes is the next step.
“Processes that get to the end result people need,” Coparanis said. “Process mapping allows us to build repeatable actions that have the ability to adjust in the future.”
This way, he said, people in the process know where they are and why their job is important. Doing so, Coparanis said, enables stakeholders to feel appreciated and to better anticipate future needs.
Only when the people and processes are understood, come the tools. These can be SharePoint, Microsoft Office programs or effectively run meetings, and email. Coparanis said the key is to find the right tools that will fix the issues found during process mapping. The end result, he added, must further the two principles of knowledge management – support the command’s decision-making process and ensure shared understanding across the staff. This sentiment is echoed by the First Army Chief of Staff Col. Keith Jarolimek.
"One of the key goals of our knowledge management program is to transfer the tacit knowledge that resides in so much of our experienced workforce and transfer it to explicit knowledge to share it throughout the command,” Jarolimek said. “We will also be able to find efficiencies in our staff processes without losing any effectiveness."