Friday, 24 October 2014

The two questions you can use to drive a KM culture

If you are a leader who want's to help develop a Knowledge Management and Organisational Learning culture in their organisation, you can do this simply, by asking two questions. 

The two questions are
Who have you learned from?
Who have you shared this with?

If you are a leader, then every time someone comes to you with a proposed solution to a problem, or a proposed course of action, you ask “Who have you learned from”? Through this question, you are implying that they should have learned from others before proposing a solution – that they should have “learned before doing”.

Also, every time someone comes to you to report a problem solved or a process improved, or a new pitfall or challenged addressed, you ask “Who have you shared this with”? Through this question, you are implying that they should share any new learnings with others.

The great thing about leaders’ questions, is they drive behaviour. People start to anticipate them, and to do the learning before, and the sharing afterwards. People hate to be asked these two questions, and having to answer “umm, well, nobody actually”.

They would much rather say “we have learned from X and Y, and have a Peer Assist planned with Z”, “We have shared with the A community, and are holding a Knowledge Handover next week with B project”.

And once you drive the behaviours, the transfer of knowledge will happen, the value will be delivered, and the system will reinforce itself.

But the moment you stop asking the questions, people realise that you, as a leader, are no longer interested in KM, so they will stop bothering.

There’s an old saying – “What interests my manager fascinates me”, so make sure you are interested, and ask the questions.

(Incidentally, I discovered yesterday that two similar questions - "Show me that you have shared knowledge" and "Show me how you have re-used knowledge" - are embedded into staff appraisals at Microsoft, as a way of driving the right Knowledge-friendly behaviours).

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Available for pre-order - "Designing an effective KM strategy"

Advanced copies of my new book - "Designing an Effective KM Strategy - A Guide for the Professional Knowledge Manager" by Nick Milton and Stephanie Barnes, are now available for pre-order from Information Today; 3 months before the final release date January 2015 and at a 40% price reduction.

"Undoubtedly one of the best books available for anyone undertaking to do something interesting and useful with knowledge in their organization." —Larry Prusak, KM guru and author

When a firm’s Knowledge Management program isn't aligned with organizational strategy, its success can be no more than a happy accident—if it succeeds at all.

In this practical, step-by-step guide to crafting an effective Knowledge Management strategy, Stephanie Barnes and I prepare Knowledge Management professionals to:
  • Connect KM strategy to business strategy 
  • Identify the business drivers KM will support 
  • Survey your strategic knowledge areas 
  • Define your program scope and vision 
  • Obtain stakeholder input and buy-in 
  • Select pilots that kick-start successful rollouts 
  • Apply change management principles 
  • Build a sound KM framework 
  • Manage content and technology 
  • Assemble and lead effective KM teams 
Whether you are looking to reinvigorate your current Knowledge Management program or build an effective program from the ground up, Designing a Successful KM Strategy is the comprehensive, no-nonsense guide that will help you get it right.

Designing a Successful KM Strategy will be launched at KM World, and Stephanie will be present in the morning of November 4th to host a workshop and book signing.

Read more here

Connect and Collect in Knowledge Management - useful table

In yesterday's blog I talked about charts and pilots, explicit and tacit, and briefly touched on Connect and Collect. Here is some more detail about these two approaches, and what is distinct about each one.

These two approaches to knowledge transfer are the connect approach, where knowledge is transferred by connecting people, and the collect approach, where knowledge is transferred by collecting, storing, organising and retrieving it). Each method has advantages and disadvantages, as summarised in the table below. Effective Knowledge Management strategies need to address both these methods of knowledge transfer. Each has its place, each complements the other.



AdvantagesVery effective
Allows transfer of non-codifiable knowledge
Allows socialization
Allows the knowledge user to gauge how much they trust the supplier
Easy and cheap
Very efficient.
Allows systematic capture
Creates a secure store for knowledge
Knowledge can be captured once and accessed many times
DisadvantagesRisky. Human memory is an unreliable knowledge store
Inefficient. People can only be in one place at one time
People often don’t realize what they know until its captured
Ineffective. Much knowledge cannot be effectively captured and codified.
Capturing requires skill and resource
Captured knowledge can become impersonal
Captured knowledge cannot be interrogated
Types of knowledge suitable for this form of transferEphemeral rapidly changing knowledge, which would be out of date as soon as its written down
 Knowledge of continual operations, where there is a large constant community
Knowledge needed only by a few

Stable mature knowledge
Knowledge of intermittent or rare events
High-value knowledge
Knowledge with a large user-base
Organisational demographics which suit this approach A largely experienced workforceA largely inexperienced workforce
CommentsOne traditional approach to Knowledge Management is to leave knowledge in the heads of experts. This is a risky and inefficient strategy. A strategy based only on capture will miss out on the socialization that is needed for culture change, and may fail to address some of the less codifiable knowledge.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

KM's biggest barriers and enablers - new evidence

This blog, like many others, has provided guidance in the past about the biggest barriers to Knowledge Management (here for example, and here),  and the most powerful enablers

Barriers to the carpark of the Estonia Opera House

Now our global Knowledge Management Survey provides some more data to illuminate the issue.

As part of the survey (answered by nearly 400 KM professionals), we asked respondents to rank a number of barriers in order of the impact they had had on their KM program, ranking them from 1 to 8.

The resulting figures are shown in the table below, with high numbers being high ranking.


Average ranking

Lack of prioritisation and support from leadership6.0
Cultural issues5.8
Lack of KM roles and accountabilities4.9
Lack of KM incentives4.7
Lack of a defined KM approach4.6
Incentives for the wrong behaviours (inability to time-write KM, rewards for internal competition etc)4.2
Lack of support from departments such as IT, HR etc4.1
Insufficient technology3.8

They were then asked to prioritise the main enablers for KM which had proved powerful, ranking them from 1 to 9. The resulting figures are shown in the table below (high numbers being high ranking).


Average ranking

Support from senior management7.8
Evidence of value from KM6.8
Championship and support from KM team/champions6.5
Effective KM processes5.9
Personal benefit for staff from KM5.5
Easy to use technology5
A supportive company culture4.7
Clear KM accountabilities and roles3.7
Incentive systems for KM3

So what does this tell us?

  • The number one barrier/enabler is support from senior management. Without this, you will struggle. With this, you will succeed. This blog contains much advice about gaining senior management support (see here for example), and if you need more help, we will be happy to advise. Get this support, all else will be much easier.
  • Although culture, roles and incentives are seen as major barriers, they are at the bottom of the enablers table. These are perhaps not the barriers that they might seem to be, even though they are a key part of your Knowledge Management Framework. 
  • The second and fifth biggest enabler is Value. Evidence of value from KM is crucial (and incidentally is also crucial in delivering support from senior management). Your KM Proof of Concept projects, and your two pronged strategy delivering long term value and quick wins, are both vital here. This also needs to address value to the individual knowledge worker as well as value to the organisation - a principle pointed out in this study from Siemens
  • Technology is seldom a barrier, nor is it near the top of the enabler list. Anyone thinking that the solution to effective KM is technology alone, is ignoring the lessons from the past 2 decades of successful KM.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Why knowledge transfer through discussion is 14 times more effective than writing

Knowledge can be transferred in two ways - by Connecting people so that they can discuss, and Collecting knowledge in written (explicit) form so others can find and read it (see blog posts on Connect and Collect). 

Connecting people is far less efficient than Collecting while being far more effective - but how much more effective?

We can never be sure about the effectiveness of knowledge transfer without some good empirical studies, but there are 2 pointers towards the relative effectiveness of these two methods. These pointers are as follows;

The often repeated (and sometimes challenged) quote that “We Learn . .
  • 10% of what we read 
  • 20% of what we hear 
  • 30% of what we see 
  • 50% of what we see and hear 
  • 70% of what we discuss 
  • 80% of what we experience 
  • 95% of what we teach others.”

David Snowden's principle that

  • We always know more than we can say, and 
  • We will always say more than we can write down

Let's make two assumptions here, firstly that the percentages in the first list are correct, and secondly that we equate the "more than" in Snowden's principle to "twice as much as" (OK, this is entirely arbitrary, but I want to see what the consequences are).

With these assumptions, the effectiveness of the Connect route is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I say (50%) 
  • You learn through discussion (50% x 70% = 35%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 35%.

The effectiveness of the Collect route is as follows
  • I know (100%)
  • I write (50% x 50% = 25%)
  • You learn through reading (25% x 10% = 2.5%)
The effectiveness of transmission of knowledge through Connecting is therefore 2.5%.

Therefore transferring knowledge through Collecting is 14 times less effective than transferring knowledge through Connecting people.

If we change the proportions in Snowden's principle then we change this conclusion. If for example 
we always know 3 times more than we can say, and we will always say 3 times more than we can write down, Collecting becomes 21 times less effective, and so on.

I know all these figures are arbitrary and inexact, but what we are looking at here is some sort of estimate of relative efficiencies.

Note that this does not mean that Collecting knowledge has no place in Knowledge Management - quite the opposite. Despite being very ineffective, it is very efficient. Knowledge has only to be documented once, to be re-used one thousand times. Efficiency can trump effectiveness. However we can conclude the following
  • Because of these relative efficiencies, Knowledge should shared in explicit form (the Collect route) only when it is relatively simple and when it can be codified with minimum loss of context. 
  • Where knowledge is more complex or more contextual, it should be shared through discussion (the Connect route) - for example through conversational processes such as Peer Assist
  • Where efficiency is more important than effectiveness (i.e. broadcasting relatively straightforward knowledge to a large number of users), the Collect route is ideal.
  • The Collect route is also necessary when a Learner (a recipient for the knowledge) cannot be immediately identified, so no Connection is possible (see "speaking to the unknown user").
  • Even then, it is worth "keeping the names with the knowledge" so that readers who need to know more detail can call the originator of the knowledge and have a discussion. 

Monday, 20 October 2014

Charts and Pilots - the two types of Knowledge

If you are a competent ship's master, what types of knowledge do you need to be able to navigate on a new voyage to an unknown port?  You need two types - explicit and tacit, charts and pilots.

The charts, and the associated tide tables and weather forecasts are the explicit knowledge, or could even be classed as Information. They record the unchanging features of coastlines, currents, buoys and lighthouses. With a good set of charts, any competent mariner can navigate any sea anywhere in the world, provided they have their own set of tacit knowledge - how to read a chart, how to determine position, how to plot a course allowing for wind and tide.

But when it comes to entering the narrow congested waters of an unfamiliar foreign port, the ship master's tacit knowledge is not enough, even bolstered by the explicit knowledge in the charts and manuals. Here you need a Pilot.

The economic and environmental risk from today's large cargo ships makes the role of the pilot essential. Pilots possess detailed knowledge of local waterways, and most ports have compulsory pilotage for bog ships. Pilotage is one of the oldest professions, as old as sea travel, and it is one of the most important in maritime safety. The complexities and risks of close navigation make pilotage essential.

Pilotage is an example of deep tacit knowledge which cannot safely be codified, and the master and pilot work together, combining their knowledge of the ship and knowledge of the harbour, to finally berth the ship and end the voyage.

Similarly your knowledge workers need access to two types of knowledge. They need the documented guidance of the "broad areas" of their work, so they can be guided through most of the job. Then they need access (through communities of practice, or subject matter experts) to the deep knowledge of the most risky or complex tasks that can never be made explicit.

Once again, this takes us back to the dual nature of KM - Connect and Collect, Tacit and Explicit. These both need to be components of your Knowledge Management Framework,so that you can take your knowledge workers to the mouth of the harbour, and then to safe anchorage.

Blog Archive