Wednesday 30 September 2009

KM supporters - don't just preach to the choir

Happy Devils Fans
Originally uploaded by C.P.Storm
Here's an observation from eighteen years of working KM

Only about one in five people instinctively "get" KM.

Only about 20% of staff are supporters of the idea from the beginning. When you talk to a room full of people about KM, the "KM Light Bulb" will switch on over the heads of about a fifth of your audience.

Now this is a good thing, as that 20% will become your allies, your supporters and the early adopters.
However, about 3 in 5 people don't care about KM

They don't get it instinctively, the light bulb doesn't switch on. They will do it if they have to, if it's part of the job, but if they don't have to do it, they won't. If KM is voluntary, or "encouraged", they won't bother. They have better things to do. They just want to get on with their job. Now in a way, this is also a good thing, because if we make KM part of "doing a good job", they will do it.
The remaining 1 in 5 really don't like KM at all

They think it a waste of time, or a personal threat, or a way of "stealing their ideas". These people will resist KM, unless it is made unavoidable and fully embedded into performance management so that their job prospects suffer if they refuse to share.

There are a few implications of these demographics.

Firstly, if you introduce KM from the bottom up, you only reach 20% of the people.

There is still a strong movement in KM who beleive that what you need to do is allow people the time and space, provide them with the tools, and KM behaviours will emerge. Well yes, they will emerge, but only among the 20% of supporters. You will get a lot of Buzz, you will find some exciting projects, but you are preaching to the choir. The KM fans will create a KM bubble, but you won't penetrate the rest of the organisation, so 80% of the knowledge remains untapped and unmanaged. This is a pattern we have seen many times. If you go back to the initial KM launch in BP in 1997, the mood of the meeting was "Management just need to allow us the time and space to do KM". This was because the meeting was attended by enthusiasts, who just wanted to be allowed to share knowledge. Ten years later we realise that to reach the other 80%, management need to move beyond Allowing, and move beyond Encouraging, in order to get to Expecting or Requiring. Management Expectation will reach the next 60%, Management Requirement will reach the remaining 20%.
Secondly, you can use the 20% of enthusiasts to make the case to management

Management are not going to set the expectation or the requirement, unless they believe KM really adds value. So use the 20% who are your supporters and early adopters to conduct the pilots, deliver the benefits and write the case studies that will convince management to set KM as a corporate expectation. Use this resource as a stepping stone to the next step. This is the thinking behind our staged implementation model which we will cover in the next newsletter. To continue the ecclesiastical metaphor, its OK to preach to the choir, if you then use the choir to produce the required miracles that will convince management.
Finally, you won't complete the journey until KM becomes inescapable

If the company is committed to KM, then the last 20%, who really don't like it, need to know that their future is at risk if they continue to avoid or sabotage the KM efforts. As Bob Buckman said, "we incentivise KM. If you share your knowledge, we incentivise you by letting you keep your job". OK, this is hard-nosed stuff, but if you let KM remain optional - if you let people avoid it with no sanction and no follow-up, then the word gets round, the 60% stop doing it (as they have other things to get on with), and soon there's nobody in the church except the choir see blog post about "the tipping back point")

Now the figures may vary from company to company, and from culture to culture, and may not always be 20%, 60%, 20%. In a truly progressive company, it may be 40%, 55%, 5%. In a cynical old-style firm, or a public sector department riddled with politics, it might be 5%, 50%, 45%

However the demographic groupings will be there, and your KM implementation program needs to recognise this. Its fun to preach to the choir - you get lots of positive feedback - but it won't get you very far in the long run.


Atul said...

Interesting thought, Nick. Question is, you make it mandatory, do you get the valuable stuff, or does it just get submerged in a whole lot of stuff which may not even be relevant?

Probably, getting KM to be relevant to the work of people mayb be useful?

Nick Milton said...

Yes, relevance is vital (I guess I sort of took that for granted) but as far as mandating is concerned, it all depends WHAT you mandate.

Take for example what BP did in the 90s, namely mandating that all capital projects over a certain sum should hold at least one peer assist. Peer assists are fantastic, and once you get the right people in the room, the transfer of valuable knowledge is and was immense. There was no irrelevant stuff to submerge the good stuff, it was all good, becuase it was a conversation between peers about work. But if Peer Assist had not been mandated, how many projects would have taken the time to do it? How many would have held those conversations? Pretty few I suspect. Thanks to the mandating, Peer Assist is now a "no brainer" for BP projects - its become part of the culture.

What is being mandated now, for big capital projects, is the creation of a KM plan. Every project must take time out at the start to map out what knowledge they need, and what knowledge they create. Then they define the systems they will put in place to acquire and capture this knowledge. The KM plan then becomes the governance document for the project. And what you mandate is process rather than content.

It's like risk management, safety management, financial management. Unless you mandate a certain base level of activity, it wont get done. However you cannot mandate until you have demonstrated the value, and tested the KM system which you intend to mandate. This is where the earlier stages of KM implementation come in, and where the 20% of enthusiasts can help you

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