Tuesday, 2 September 2014

5 principles of the KM Communication Strategy

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change process, and change involves communication.

Your KM Communication strategy should be drafted at the same time as your KM strategy, and should rest on 5 principles

  1. Develop a simple message 
  2. Communicate value 
  3. Communicate Internally 
  4. Communicate Externally 
  5. Tell success stories

Develop a simple message

Knowledge Management is a vague and complex field, yet you need to communicate it in a simple, easy to understand way until it sinks in.

This simple message could easily be a Vision Statement such as "the goal of KM will to have the knowledge of the whole organisation in support of every business decision" - or "what we learn somewhere we will deploy everywhere". You can find 27 example vision statements in a collection on this blog. Some of them are far from simple.

You may need to repeat your simple message very many times.  According to the 151 rule, the first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of (KM), nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it. Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress.

Communicate value

The most important thing to communicate is the value of KM. However you need to communicate two aspects to the value - the value KM will give to the organisation and its customers, and the value that KM will give to the individual knowledge worker.

Siemens identified two traps when implementing Knowledge Management, one of which (the "customer trap") is the need to balance the expectation of the business, in terms of delivery of the KM program, with the expectations of the user. These two customers may have diļ¬€erent expectations and requirements that need to be taken into consideration, and they certainly have two value propositions.

By all means communicate a simple message about the value to the business, but also don't forget to communicate the "What's in it for me" for the knowledge workers.

Communicate internally

Map out the stakeholder groupings within the organisation, and tailor your communication strategy to each of these, identifying (for each one) what's in it for them. The groupings might be

  • Senior management
  • Middle management such as project leaders and departmental managers
  • Team leaders and supervisors
  • Knowledge workers
  • Support functions, such as IT, HR, PMO etc
  • Different business streams, such as R&D, product development, Sales, Support and so on
  • People involved in pilot projects

Communicate externally

One particular trick we have seen work extremely well, is to communicate your KM successes to the outside world, so that the messages can trickle back in.

 People within the company see these messages, and think "Hey, we seem to be recognised as being good at KM, Perhaps I had better take it seriously. Here are a couple of quotes from Knowledge Managers who have taken this approach

 "As a company, we tend to learn more from people outside the company than from inside so we were deliberately trying to create a reputation that would come back into our company"
"My recommendation to anybody in any organisation, is to identify who the key players are in other organisations in your sector or area, and talk to them as well, so that you are planting various seeds not only in your own organisation, but across the sector. After a while, because all these key players talk to each other, you find that you have started to connect them up and they are talking to each other".

Tell success stories

The best way you can communicate the value of KM to people, is to let them hear success stories told by people as similar to them as possible. This is what we call "Social Proof".

 The similarity will be greatest when you can show people in your own organisation, at the same sort of level, trying KM and gaining benefit. Do this as follows;

  • begin conducting trials and "proof of concept" studies of KM in-house, with your most willing advocates 
  • when (if) the trial is a success, ask the advocate to tell their story on camera. record a short you-tube-style video story, along these lines - "this was my problem, I tried KM as a solution, this was the benefit I got". 
  • use these videos widely as part of your communication strategy -  embedded in PowerPoint, on the company Intranet, in your KM introductions etc. 

You know exactly the sort of story - you see it in TV commercials all the time; a plausible person saying "I used to be ashamed to go out, then I tried Miracle Acne Cream and now I am the centre of attention".

The reason the advertisers use these stories is because they work. On a deep subconscious level, people uncertain about the product will use the "person in the street" as an indication that people "just like them" get value from the product. The difference is that the TV companies often use actors reading a script, and you will use real people telling a real story, but the principle is the same.

 Use the principle by showing people from your own company, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from KM.

Monday, 1 September 2014

KM in two legal departments - a comparison and lessons

In the late 1990s Schlumberger and BP - two oil-industry giants -  launched Knowledge Management programs in their legal departments, hoping to transform the “lone ranger” culture of both organizations. 

 In a 2003 paper in KM review, my colleagues Vince Polley, Walt Palen and I summarised the approaches taken by the two companies, and drew out some lessons, which I summarise here.

Overall, both organizations took a technology-led portal-focused approach, with varying degrees of success. Schlumberger technology was the LawHub, BPs portal was lexpertise.

Technology alone did not provide the answer in either case, and both organizations made the mistake of over-complicating the software. High-level support was important in both cases.

Schlumberger differed from BP in developing a structure of practice groups to provide content management and local ownership, and had this structure been more aligned with the needs of the business, it could have been a powerful mechanism for promoting knowledge sharing.

The two approaches are summarised in the table below



Getting startedPilot began in 1997 with management support and two enthusiastic champions.Started KM after company-wide efforts began because it took time to gain leadership support. Turning point was visit to the Schlumberger legal team.
Initial challengesEmployees were technologically proficient, but biggest challenge was culture of independence.Merger with Amoco meant lawyers needed to work collaboratively. Launched portal and document management technology first, and intended to introduce knowledge sharing culture later.
TechnologyWanted to make LawHub a one-stop shop for its legal function. Results have been mixed.BP's Lexpertise is a portal, a knowledge base and as a collaboration space.
MotivationReward is through recognition of collaboration although in 2000 the performance review was changed to reward contributions to LawHub.Some of the legal teams had a salary component a team in Houston committed to a “post one, retrieve one” system. However no systematic incentive was rolled out.

Initiative launch

Schlumberger’s well-planned LawHub launch succeeded very well. BP’s “launch by e-mail” approach, without formal user training, was not as successful.

Schlumberger launched LawHub worldwide in December 1999. Designers believed junior lawyers would be the most active content users, and senior lawyers would be the most likely content contributors. Shculmberger held a series of eleven “live fire” exercises – one for each of the practice groups – to encourage buy-in from both groups. In each exercise, a simulated problem, such as “provide a best-practice Letter of Intent for use in Scotland,” was posed to small teams of junior lawyers, working in breakout rooms with live access to the LawHub. Senior lawyers had already populated the LawHub with relevant, responsive content, and they participated in the exercises as observers.)

The exercises were a terrific success. In one breakout group, a mid-level lawyer with eight years of experience and who had been recognized as a highflier, said, “If I had known this material was here three weeks ago, it would have saved me four days work.” The senior lawyers were taken aback by the enthusiasm, particularly from people like the highly-respected junior lawyer.

BP’s Lexpertise had two launches to progressively larger groups, then launched to the entire legal community in August 2001.

BP had intended to introduce Lexpertise at a worldwide legal conference in Budapest; unfortunately this conference was cancelled during a round of cost cutting. Instead, it was rolled out through e-mail, including a context-setting video recorded by BP’s chief counsel. All lawyers in the BP group were sent this email, and told that they had been enrolled into Lexpertise.

While the initial intention had been to provide training, an unintended and perhaps mistaken feeling developed that “this is so simple they will not need to be trained.” This wasn’t the case, and the lack of an accompanying training package delayed users getting up to speed, and also meant that users skill sets varied widely at any given time). Training was eventually provided either through Microsoft Netmeeting or by local champions at each of the main legal offices.

Lessons from the two implementations

  • Focusing on technology can be dangerous, but ignoring it can be fatal. 
  • Culture is key, especially where the key aptitudes for KM (e.g. team based structure and explicit performance measurement) are weak, difficult to employ, or simply lacking. Both BP and Schlumberger have terrific technological solutions and highly adept employees. Nevertheless they were only just beginning to develop a knowledge-sharing culture more than two years after deployment
  • Keep the technology simple for users who are not technologists, such as lawyers. 
  • Success requires support from the highest levels in the company. 
  • Burn some bridges. Part of Schlumberger’s success in making the LawHub a daily tool came from discarding e-mail bulletin boards and distributing all department announcements through threaded discussion. The LawHub became the only place to go for departmental management issues. 
  • Align the knowledge sharing with company structures. BP was somewhat successful, but the Schlumberger practice groups were not aligned with the business units, and business managers saw involvement in the practice groups as not directly related to “real work.”

Friday, 29 August 2014

Connecting KM Theory and Practice

Published today is a special issue of the Journal of Entrepreneurship Innovation and Management (JEMI) on the connections between KM theory and practice, edited by Patrick Lambe.

It’s freely available as a download, and contains a chapter by me, entitled "Findings from International Surveys Providing a Snapshot of the State of KM from a Practitioner Point of View"


KM - changing hearts and minds one at a time

It's an old saying; How do you change hearts and minds? One at a time!

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change process - we all recognise this. Implementation involves changing behaviours and attitudes as well as changing workflows and toolkits.

You are tying to change attitudes towards knowledge; from people seeing it as a personal attribute to seeing it as a collective resource, from seeing it as a source of personal power to seeing it as a source of company power, and from seeing it as something acquired in the classrooom to seeing it as something acquired every day through work (see more details on the KM culture shift).

If people can understand this with their heads and grasp in in their hearts, then we have made the culture shift.

KM professionals, helping the organisation make the culture shift, need to recognise that these hearts-and-minds shifts cannot be made wholesale. You need to plan a campaign of culture change.

There are three weapons in your arsenal here - stakeholder mapping, communications planning, and a compelling case.

The compelling case

Taking these in reverse order, the compelling case needs to be a case for the individual as well as a case for the company, and ideally should be presented in such a way that the individual can "feel" the benefit, or "experience" the value of shared knowledge. We like to do this through exercises, such as our millionaire game, or (the King of all KM experiences) Bird island.

The compelling case can be made intellectually or emotionally, and the case can be made at organisational level or at individual level. The intellectual organisational case ("we will increase profit by x% through re-use of knowledge") needs to be there in order to change the minds. However it is the personal emotional case that will win over the hearts ("If we give you access to the best knowledge we can find, your life will be simpler, easier and less risky. Listen to this story from one of your colleagues ....").

The Communications plan and strategy

Communication is key to a change campaign, and we believe that communications planning needs to be one core component of a Knowledge Management strategy. To help you with this, we have produced a Communications Plan Template, which is available free of charge from our Downloads page. This template is one we use ourselves, and will allow you to
  • define which message needs to be given to which audience
  • define the medium for delivery of the message, the frequency of delivery, the owner and the sign-off for each message 
  • change the communication style and message as Knowledge Management implementation proceeds through it's four stages.

Stakeholder mapping

The final weapon in the KM managers (or CKOs) arsenal is Stakeholder Mapping.

There are many methods of Stakeholder mapping, most of which rely on defining relationships of power and influence (or power and impact). That's not what you need.

You need to map stakeholders in terms of buy-in and influence, and then you need to map, for the most influential stakeholders, how you need their level of buy-in to change over time. No one person buys into KM in a single step - there are several levels of buy-in maturity. We use an old Amoco model which recognises a ladder of 8 levels of buy-in to an idea, where people seldom move more than 1 or 2 steps at a time.

So once you have listed your stakeholders, look at your Knowledge Management implementation plan, identify the critical decisions, define the level of engagement needed from the critical stakeholders, and map out carefully how you will help them climb the ladder, step by step, reach that level.

That way, when the critical implementation decisions are reached, the hearts and the minds will be in the right place to make the right decision.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

What sort of KM training do you need?

Knowledge management Training is part of any KM implementation, but there is no one-size-fits-all KM Training program. Instead there are a number of potential training events which will change as your KM implementation progresses.

In the early stages, when your organisation is investigating Knowledge Management - what it means, what it delivers, what it might cost - there are two types of training needed.

Once the organisation enters the stage of piloting and proofs-of-concept, there is an additional training need.
  • Skills training for the KM team and the early KM champions, to develop specific tactical skills, such as process facilitation, community launch, knowledge capture etc. 

Once the piloting stage is over and the roll-out of the Knowledge Management Framework begins, then a whole suite of training will be needed, including

  • Specific training for the Community of Practice leaders and facilitators
  • Facilitation training and skills training for others with specific Knowledge Management roles (local knowledge managers, 
  • Awareness training for managers, so they understand their role in influencing knowledge management behaviours
  • Specific training for Knowledge workers, introducing them to the new expectations, new processes and new technologies. 
In short, as your Knowledge Management program develops, so will your need for KM training. 

Contact us if you want advice developing your own KM Training strategy.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

How long does KM really take to bed in?

One of the things we were interested in learning about through our Global Knowledge Management Survey was how long KM takes to embed within an organisation.

We asked survey participants to describe the level of maturity of KM in the organisations in two ways, firstly an estimate of the number of years that KM had been a focus for them, and secondly a verbal description of maturity, choosing whether KM was "in the early stages", "well under way" or "fully embedded".

You can see the distribution of maturity levels in the graph here - more organisations surveyed are in the early stages than at any other stage.

However it also proved very informative to look at the average number of years spent on KM by the organisations which were at each of these maturity levels. The figures were quite surprising.

  • Organisations which were "in the early stages of introducing KM" had been doing KM, on average, for 3.5 years.
  • Organisations which were "well in progress with KM" had been doing KM, on average, for 8.2 years.
  • Organisations where "KM is embedded in the way we work" had been doing KM, on average, for 11.8 years.
These are quite large numbers of years. If the early stage leasts more than 3.5 years, and embedding takes place somewhere after 8 years and before 12 years, then Knowledge Management is a long term affair.

But does it have to take so long?  There are some indications from the survey that the length of time KM takes depends on how you introduce it, with change-management and pilot-led approaches being the quickest (exactly the implementation approaches we recommend at Knoco). Such approaches to implementation can shave 2 years off the time of your Knowledge Management program.

However the basic message from the survey is that Knowledge Management implementation is a marathon and not a sprint, and the culture change needed to fully embed Knowledge Management can take up to a decade to mature.

Monday, 25 August 2014

Recruiting the experts to your KM initiative

Remember the ancient approach to Knowledge Management, of Master and Apprentice? Throughout the middle ages, and into the early industrial age, the Masters were the knowledge holders, and Apprenticeship was the system of transferring that knowledge to a new generation of practitioners of a skill. The Masters saw themselves not just as doers, but also as Teachers.

Has that ancient model survived to the knowledge age?

Many clients we speak to are having real problems recruiting the knowledge holders to the concept of Knowledge Management. Even in those companies where knowledge holders are few, and knowledge seekers are many, the experienced subject matter experts are often reluctant to become involved with KM.

The reason is, that because knowledge is scarce, they are busy "doing the job", and have no time to teach or to share their knowledge. The fewer experienced practitioners the company has, the busier they are in actually performing the work.

Many experienced staff enjoy their expertise, and they see KM as a distraction or an added burden. They often feel that KM "is not my job".

"I am an experienced boiler-maker/salesman/brewer/application designer" they say; "my skills are in huge demand. Why should I take time out to share my knowledge? That's not my job"

Make KM "the job of the expert"

The answer to this, of course, is to make Knowledge Management (or at least a component of knowledge management) the expert's job.

You can't expect busy people, in demand from all over the organisation, to add to their burdens with work that isn't in their job description. But if their knowledge is vital to company performance, then acting as a steward of the knowledge of the organisation needs to be in their job description. It needs to be recognised as part of their job, and they need to be given the space, the resources, the assistance, and (if necessary) the training to allow them to share their knowledge with the next generation - the apprentice generation.

The old career progression was Apprentice - Journeyman - Master.

Knowledge Companies need to rediscover this progression, so that the Masters (of both sexes) - the Subject Matter Experts - can see their role as Teaching as well as Doing, and as passing on their skills to those who need them, through the tools of KM (wikis, community forums, peer assists etc) as well as through the traditional tools of apprenticeship (coaching, mentoring, training).

The New Role of the expert is two-fold - to be the Practice Owner for their domain of practice, and to play a coaching role in the relevant Community of Practice.

We need to rediscover this Mastership role, so we can fully reinstate the experts in their rightful place.

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