“I’m so frustrated. We’ve spent significant time and money on knowledge management tools and processes. We’ve even integrated these into a platform to enable knowledge sharing for everyone. But nobody uses it.”
Sound familiar? You could point to many likely reasons.
(You might even be asking yourself, “what is knowledge management?” A mini-primer here to level set: knowledge management is a program within your organization through which you enable better, faster, easier information sharing. Knowledge management involves tools, frameworks, methodologies, and governance that make the act of sharing what we know easy so that others can find that information when they need it.)
First off, you’re not alone. Actually, 50% of knowledge management technology implementations fail in the first year, and 75% of organizations abandon their tools within three years, according to John Ragsdale, VP of technology research at TSIA. This reality is so pervasive, that people have just accepted it.
So, why should you try? Because the benefits of effective knowledge management programs are so compelling, that leaders are driven to try. Increases of 35-50% higher productivity. Time to competency for new employees up to 70% faster. Lower cost of support. Higher customer satisfaction. Greater job satisfaction.
Still wondering about these outcomes? According to TSIA research, most teams waste at least 20% of their time seeking out experts and looking for information that they know they have seen before. Imagine what you could accomplish if everyone had another day in their week. And, 60-90% of all issues addressed by people in one part of an organization have already been solved by someone in another part of that organization.
Imagine no longer feeling frustrated when you discover that the four hours you just spent researching a problem was a waste of time! Priceless.
So, how to get moving: embrace these five truths to make knowledge sharing stick, turn them into your practices, and write a different history for your organization.
Truth 1. People have to want to share and know what’s in it for them.
Drawing on the writings and research from BJ Fogg, behavior is the result of motivation + ability + trigger. In context of knowledge sharing, motivation is all about the team understanding the benefits of the practices reinforced by the right incentives (performance measures, recognition, rewards) for that behavior. Ability is whether or not the team can find, enhance and author knowledge when they need to, without unreasonable effort. The trigger is all about making sure that the team uses knowledge when the need arises – that knowledge sharing is part of how team members do their work every day.
Truth into practice: Understand and document the “what’s in it for me.” Ideally, you should be able to tell the story of the benefits from the perspective of team members, the entire organization and your customers. Provide training that shows both why they should share knowledge and how to do it.
Truth 2. Knowledge management is not a tool.
Having a tool does not make you effective at sharing information any more than having a pen makes you a great writer. And if you have any doubt that focusing on the tool alone is a road to nowhere, check out this fact from TSIA’s State of Knowledge Management: 2014 report shows that tools alone often fail: 48% of employee-facing knowledge implementations and 39% of customer-facing knowledge implementations are on their 3rd, 4th, 5th or more solution in recent memory. “Rip and replace” continues to be the most common approach to fix what is almost always a process problem. And guess what? We struggle to learn from our own experience and that of others.
Truth into practice: You need – and probably already have – a tool for sharing information across the enterprise. Simply put the tool into proper perspective. The tool makes it easier to find, use, reuse, and create knowledge. But the tool is not a substitute for practices and behaviors.
Truth 3. Everyone is accountable to “use it, fix it, or flag it.”
People complain of two universal problems regarding the information they need to be effective in their jobs: accessibility and accuracy. People don’t have easy access to information they need, and when they do stumble across what they need, it is often out of date, stale, incomplete, or obsolete. Knowledge management, a set of processes and operational practices that you implement within and across your organization, addresses these two problems. The goal is accurate and accessible knowledge when you need it, regardless of who you are, where you are, or what you do in the organization. That goal is made possible only through knowledge-sharing behaviors practiced by everyone in your ecosystem.
Truth into practice: You’re certain to spark a debate when you apply and follow this fundamental Knowledge-Centered Supportsm (www.serviceinnovation.org) best practice: use it, fix it, or flag it. And stick to your guns.
Truth 4. Knowledge sharing is a behavior. It’s what people do as part of their work every day.
Knowledge sharing is a set of organizational practices and individual behaviors that allow any team to leverage the experiences and information of every member. This knowledge might be answers to questions, procedures for specific activities, or details about customers or company documents. When your organization is truly sharing knowledge, the practices and behaviors – sharing, (re)using, improving and creating knowledge — become an integral part of the team’s work.
Truth into practice: Start from where you are today, regardless of your success rate to date, and move forward with the people and resources you already have.
Train on how to learn, not what to remember. Classroom training isn’t required, but the team needs to know both how and why their day-to-day work will change. They also need to learn how to create content people can access and use. Document the way that the team does its work. Then recognize and reward the behavior when team members find, reuse and share knowledge.
Truth 5. Knowledge management doesn’t have to fail.
Here is the crux of the matter: Your knowledge management program will fail – no matter how good the tool, no matter how well-defined the processes and the methodologies – unless people, unless you, actually share knowledge. Tools are easy to understand and get funded. Methodologies are easy in theory, and the individual steps are simple. But, in order to make information instantly available to the people who need it, when they need, in a way that is easy to consume and with confidence that it is accurate, people have to actually change their habits.
Truth into practice: Like the nursery rhyme says: “You can’t go under it. You can’t go over it. You can’t go around it. You have to go through it.” Pinpoint the bottlenecks to knowledge sharing across each group in your organization. Simply rolling out your knowledge implementation with a one size fits all approach (peanut butter spread) or throwing as many resources as you can afford at the problem (spray and pray) will result in wasted effort and energies solving the wrong problems.
Measure outcomes, not activities. Understand whether your current measures will support knowledge-sharing behaviors or undermine them. Eliminate any measures that don’t support knowledge sharing.
Tell us about your experience. What challenges have you faced and how did you address them?