A number of years ago, I was privy to a rather uncomfortable conversation between two very senior managers. Their organization was several years deep into a knowledge management program and yet both felt they were floundering. The conversation went something like this:

Senior 1: Look, I just want a proper knowledge management program.

Senior 2: Great! But since we have one and you are telling me we need one, I’m concerned. What is your definition of a proper KM program?

Senior 1: Well, what can we have?

Senior 2: We’ve defined and implemented what we think is a proper program – so you tell me what makes a proper KM program, and we’ll take it from there.

Senior 1: Fine. I’ll send you several bullets on it Monday.

No bullet points outlining what constitutes a “proper knowledge management program,” even at a very high level, ever materialized for this very senior manager.

We all know we need knowledge management, but we very often lack the ability to articulate what that means and the primary business objectives we expect KM to achieve. This new Klever Blog Series is for you if:

  • You hold executive management responsibilities
  • You know you should be more conversant about knowledge management principles, but haven’t had the time to really focus on it

· You want to understand the most critical factors to success, realistic milestones achievable and avoidable, common stumbling blocks related to the exchange of information across a team or the enterprise

· You prefer straight talk – not hype – no matter how challenging it might be

The need for sharing knowledge is usually quite simple, straightforward and keen. Yet, the approach most enterprises take is to simply create a central place where people can put in what they know so that everyone else who needs that same information can find and use it.

It can sound so simple and, yet, this is notoriously difficult. We often quote John Ragsdale, senior VP of technology research with TSIA, in our material, citing his findings on how often knowledge management initiatives fail or struggle to deliver on the promises. Some will tell you that knowledge management is easy. We agree that the steps to successful knowledge sharing are simple, but success in knowledge management can be (and usually is) difficult.

In order to succeed, we need to get out front of a number of challenges. This first in the “Get Out Front” series enables you to get out front of the conversation – perhaps put you on a level playing field with your KM proponents – about knowledge management in your organization.

By the end of this entry, you will have a vocabulary and the key concepts you need to engage confidently and with purpose and begin to move the dial in favor of the tremendous benefits available through better information exchange within and without your organization.

Before we talk solutions, let’s synchronize on the problem.

What Is the Fundamental Problem?

Having spoken to thousands of people all over the globe, two issues consistently emerge regarding the information required to do their jobs. First, they struggle to find the information they need when they need it. The research bears this out. Employees report they spend 20% of their work week searching for information they know exists. The Consortium for Service Innovation relays that 60-90% of the issues we solve in our support centers have been solved already by someone else in our organization.

Second, they worry about how accurate the information is – or will be – when they find it.

Defining Knowledge Management

The objective of knowledge management is simply: available knowledge when you need it. Regardless of who “you” are, where in the organization you sit, or what you do, the goal of knowledge management is to deliver knowledge when you need it.

Knowledge management is the program within your organization to make information flow efficiently for the target population.

And if knowledge management is the program, what components are required to achieve success?

The 2 Core Components

In the course of planning and implementing your knowledge management program, your team will need to address many components in order to reap the benefits. But, there are TWO, absolutely-required components that you must address: technology and methodology.

We won’t go down the long path of technology at this point because you likely already have multiple tools in place for sharing information – wikis, SharePoint, email, and a number of point solutions. The most important concept that many find difficult to grasp is this: technology is ONLY an enabler. It is NOT capability. Repeat after me: technology is not the solution to knowledge management effectiveness or success.

It isn’t enough to roll out a new tool and expect better information exchange. People have to use the technology, and it is best if they follow some tried and true rules of thumb or a set of defined practices. Without getting into specific methodologies or practices such as Knowledge Centered Support (KCSsm) here, suffice to say that in order to succeed with your KM program, your people need to know what to do (behavior) and need a tool to enable easy enactment of the methodology.

Getting Out Front

There is one more thing: people have to actually share what they know. Each staff member has to literally, actually engage and share information. You need to join them using the tool(s) and leading by example by sharing information and utilizing what others have contributed.

Until you get out front and acknowledge to yourself first and then press the rest of the organization with the reality that no matter how expensive and slick your technology is and no matter how much you believe in any set of practices, the rubber hits the road when – and only when – you and the rest of the organization share what you know. In words. In videos. In links. Share in whatever media your culture espouses and accepts.

In Summary

Knowledge management is a program you sponsor or execute in your organization, the goal of which is to make knowledge available to people when they need it in a manner that is easy for them to consume. While governance and other components may play a part in the program, there are two inputs you must address. You must define a set of practices for individuals in the organization to follow, and you need technology tools to enable those practices to make information flow efficiently.

Once you have a program, the rules to follow and the tools to make it work, you have the most important aspect left: you have to actually, physically, literally share what you know and learn with your colleagues.

Do you personally use the knowledge base in your organization? If so, what do you like most? If not, what deters you from it?

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