It’s interesting how knowledge management is one of those topics that periodically re-emerges as a “must-do” program. It seems to happen after an organization struggles with a complex problem that it fails to solve and things get really, really bad. This sparks a renewed interest in a way to capture knowledge “before it walks out the door.” Hence, the knowledge management program is revived.
The clients asking Gartner about knowledge management usually start by asking about tools – which as I’ve commented before – should be the last question to be answered. The starting point should be to establish a common viewpoint on the value that knowledge sharing will provide to workers. It’s essential that influential leaders have a crystal clear idea of the the benefits they think the knowledge program will achieve. It is also important to seek out and obtain buy-in from influential leaders who may not be part of the formal organizational structure and, therefore, not as obvious. Even a cursory examination of the social network will help identify who those people are.
Notice I shifted terminology from knowledge “management” to knowledge “sharing” because the focus needs to be on reuse, not just knowledge capture. Capturing facts is easy but doesn’t net much value. That kind of knowledge can be managed. However, the reusable insight of experienced employees is what’s most valuable and the most challenging to record. What’s needed are alternative approaches to ferreting out insight, techniques like contextual inquiry, observational analysis and storytelling. And there is no point in putting any effort into logging knowledge that doesn’t have a shelf life.
It’s also critical to make sure the organization has a climate that is conducive to knowledge sharing. Too many organizations actually have disincentives to knowledge sharing. Leaders say they want collaboration and cooperation among employees but then managers grouse when a person helps out a fellow employee on a different team. The manager complains that the people working for them should focus on their own work – period. And what about the implied standard of behavior when members of the senior leadership team constantly squabble instead of acting as a unified team. That type of behavior sends a much louder message than any corporate communique ever can.
There are many more steps in a knowledge program change plan, things like clearly defining the changes people will have to make, getting buy-in from stakeholders and identifying critical first steps. However, the foundation for a successful knowledge sharing program starts with clarity on how work will be improved. It also needs the right organizational climate to thrive. Without these, it’s back to the proverbial drawing board.
Best of luck with your digital workplace initiatives. I hope to see you at the Digital Workplace Summit later this month.
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