Tuesday, 25 January 2011

No new tricks please!

Knowledge management is hard enough to implement, without asking people to radically change their work habits as well. You will find the KM implementation journey easier if you can (at least at first) work with the habits and tools that people already have and already use.

Take Communities of Practice – one of the core tools within Knowledge Management. There are a number of technologies that communities can use to collaborate and communicate, but any new tool that requires new work habits may well be a step too far. For example, if people need to regularly log onto a community website to interact with their peers, this is a new habit, and people forget, or don’t bother, or get busy and distracted, and the community dies.

Better to link the community to established work habits such as email. Everyone has the email habit. Everyone checks their email several times a day, often in the evening and at weekends, or on their Blackberries and iPhones. If every community query comes through your email, you will be aware of them all. If every important community announcement or new Best Practice announcement comes via email, you won’t miss it. (Obviously, don’t overdo this! An email or two a day from the community is OK. 20 or 30 is too many!).

Here are the words of a pioneer in community building from the 90s

"I did not want people to have to acquire a new habit. I knew this would most likely kill the network! So I wanted to build on a habit they already had in their daily routine; the e-mail habit. At the time, the only thing our mail system could offer was a static mailing list, so I set up a Listserv. Once we had it rolling in October 1996 it took off, and there was plenty of e-mail traffic. People got the hang of being able to reach over 40 technical professionals reliably, and get messages back”

Another example comes from a colleague who set up a Knowledge Sharing hub within a Legal Department. He built a lovely knowledge repository to handle shared documents, supported and built by legal communities. Unfortunately he let his enthusiasm run away with him.

“I underestimated how unfamiliar the lawyers are with technology. I thought it was a simple system, but it was too complex for them. The learning curve was tiny, but still too much for the lawyers. We had to strip it right back to its simplest elements before it would work”

You need to reduce the barrier to entry to KM whenever you introduce new tools and new processes. Make them as simple as you can, and then simplify them again. Build them into existing work habits, such as email.

Don’t expect people to learn new tricks, or make new clicks.

Keep it simple!

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