Thursday, 14 July 2011

KM - going beyond the old boy network

There comes a time in any growing company, when Knowledge Management starts to need to be treated seriously.

In a small company, everyone knows everyone, and knowledge can be shared easily, between friends. The whole company is one single social network, and all knowledge sharing is informal, and based on relationships.

But companies grow, new people come in, new companies are acquired, and there comes a time when the existing personal networks are no longer sufficient for KM. By now these are "old boy networks" (see definition) , and the new people can be excluded and cut off from these informal sources of knowledge.

We see this a lot when we are running our KM assessments.

  • "How do you find knowledge you need?" we ask.
  • "I just ask," they say. "Its easy, I just give the right person a call".
  • "And how do you know the right person?"
  • "We all know each other, we have worked together for a long time".
  • "And how do new people know who to call? Or your colleagues in company X, which you have just merged with? How do they find the right people?"
  • .................long silence..............

Now the problem with this situation, is that the people who are making the decisions about KM are already part of the old-boy network. As far as they are concerned, there is no problem with knowledge-seeking or knowledge sharing - everybody they know already does it. They don't see the problems that the new staff, the young staff or the merged staff, are encountering when they try to find knowledge.
So what's to be done?

  • Step one is to map out the problem. Run a detailed diagnostic assessment. Maybe do some social network analysis.
  • Step two is to put some simple structure into the knowledge sharing and seeking. Instead of relying on a-hoc informality between friends, introduce after action reviews, peer assists, knowledge-sharing round-tables.
  • Step three is to get some supporting technology; in the first instance a yellow-pages system, then a simple Q&A forum.

When the company has outgrown the old-boys network, that's where a simple KM framework can step in and keep the knowledge flowing.

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