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Meet Keith De La Rue

Today I was fortunate enough to attend the morning session of the knowledge management roundtable (KMRT), a regular event facilitated by the vivacious Michelle Lambert. I’m always armed with my natural level of comms skepticism when attending such events, but it was very quickly obvious how the affinity we have with social media tools like wikis are a natural link to our cousins in knowledge management.

The timing was impeccable, having recently just been in touch with IABC Vic member Keith De La Rue, one of the best KM guys in the business.

So Keith, tell us what a KM guy like you is doing in a comms group like the IABC?

Keith De La RueI joined the IABC a few years ago while working at Telstra. The work I was doing there at the time was in Knowledge Management. So why did I join the IABC?

It started when I bumped into another Australian while speaking at a conference in Singapore – on communications. You may have heard of this man – his name is Adrian Cropley. (Oh? You’ve heard of him?)

Adrian and I had both been on the speaker list at the conference, and just happened to bump into each other again at the Qantas Club on the way home. We got chatting about the IABC (probably over a gin and tonic, so far as I can remember), and a little while later I joined up. I convinced my employer that it was worth paying for my membership. (Later, Telstra managed to get corporate membership, reducing the fee somewhat.)

What’s KM got to do with it?

Knowledge Management is a term that can mean many things. In my role at the time, I was working on the transfer of product knowledge from a team of Product Managers to an Enterprise Sales Force. For some people, KM is about document storage and management, and, while this was an important element of what we were doing, there was a lot more to it than this.

In order to transfer knowledge effectively, access to documents – even online – is only one piece of the puzzle. Other elements of the toolkit we used would more traditionally be regarded as comms (a weekly online, web-based newsletter with an email alert, and a range of recorded audio and video programs) and learning (face-to-face and e-learning techniques).

Some of the tools we used didn’t really fit any of these categories. For sales people travelling by car between customers, we produced a professional-quality CD in the style of a radio program. This featured news updates on the product set and interviews with senior staff and customers. We also ran an online quiz, with a range of prizes on offer. Later, we replaced the CDs with podcasts. Also, our document library operated on a strong principle of open access for both contributors and audience, and offered subscription services for updates.

The Big Picture

Are these comms, learning, social media or KM techniques? We didn’t ever stop to make these distinctions – our sole aim was an informed audience, equipped to meet their own business objectives. All our material was targeted at the audience – providing the information they needed, in a format and language that made it easier for them to pass on the right information to their customers. (I have recently written a detailed book chapter on this program – go here for more information.)

In this line of business, we also worked closely with marketing staff and other general comms and learning teams in the organisation, and we helped each other to build a broader skill base.

The inclusion of communications tools and practices in the KM work appealed to me for another reason. Some years earlier, I was required to study a range of humanities electives in my otherwise fairly technical Applied Science degree at RMIT. To my surprise at the time, I greatly enjoyed these units – particularly Human Communication. (I wrote a major project comparing the public speaking style of Winston Churchill and Adolph Hitler.)

Joining the IABC gave me an opportunity to meet with other people interested in communications, and to further my learning of the craft. I have particularly enjoyed the chance to attend some interesting presentations face-to-face in Melbourne, but I have also appreciated the access to rich global online resources. It has also provided me with another opportunity to write, having contributed a couple of short pieces to CW.

You are here

I parted ways with Telstra nearly three years ago, and I now work in my own business. When I left, my IABC membership was the only paid subscription that I took over personally and continued to pay from my own income. While my main focus now is still on KM, I am also continuing to undertake both comms and learning activities. In fact, I am finding that the thing I enjoy most – and I believe is my main strength – is both presenting and writing about the broad field of my work in KM, comms and the related disciplines. One recent project has seen me developing post-graduate training material on communications for a client. I have found a number of useful resources for this work via the IABC web site. (All used with appropriate copyright permissions, of course.)

Being a member of an organisation like IABC is also itself part of practicing Knowledge Management. A key KM technique for sharing knowledge is the Community of Practice (CoP). In a CoP, people working in a common discipline meet together on a regular basis to share knowledge, offer mutual support and jointly develop and enhance their field of endeavour. The IABC certainly provides all of this in the comms field! (So did you know that as an IABC member you are actually practicing Knowledge Management?)

Conversation and connection

I enjoy the time I spend with IABC members – either at chapter meetings or individually – as we can all learn something from each other. The membership includes people working in a range of different aspects of comms. Like KM, the definition is not always precise.

One key element in innovation and creativity (also subjects that interest me) is to bring together as many disparate ideas as possible. I like to think that the IABC is one forum where we can do this quite effectively. One of the best ways to do this is through conversation.

Steven Johnson, the author of Where good ideas come from, wrote: “It’s not that creative individuals don’t matter; it’s that connectedness makes us more creative”. So I see the IABC as a place where we can all use our connections to help us to become more individually effective in what we do. And I would be happy to talk about it over a gin and tonic any time.

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