Tuesday, 26 June 2012


The 5 most common objections to Knowledge Management, and how to answer them


Objection!! We included a session on "marketing Knowledge Management in your organisation" at a knowledge management training session I led last week. One of the exercises was to look at the common objections to KM, and how they may be answered.

 I thought I would share these common objections with you. These are all objections you may meet when explaining KM to senior and middle managers, and it's best to be prepared for them.

Objection 1. "We do this already"
"We already have a training program", "All of this is covered by staff induction", "We have a library that takes care of this", "we have SharePoint". These are the objections of someone who wasn't listening when you explained that Knowledge Management is a system, not a single tool. You need to explain again how Knowledge Management is a framework of people, processes and technologies, with a governance layer on the top. It's not training (because it deals with organisational learning, not individual learning), it's not staff induction (because learning is for all staff, not new staff, and knowledge is needed to make effective decisions at all levels), it's not a library (because it is as much about Connection as Collection, and as much about Tacit as it is about Explicit), and it certainly isn't SharePoint.

Objection 2. "We tried Knowledge Management. It didn't work"
This is a common objection in a company that has already attempted KM, and its a valid objection. Why try again? What's different this time?. You need to firstly understand why it failed last time (usually because it wasn't introduced as a change program, or it was led by a single technology tool, or one of the other top 7 reasons for KM failure), and then you need to be able to explain that you have learned from the failure, that you have learned from successful implementations in other companies, and that it will be different this time.

Objection 3. "It won't work here; we are different".
"It may work in Western Engineering companies, but we are different. We are lawyers/non-profit/Venezuelan/Taiwanese/whatever." Firstly it is very useful if you have a case study of KM working in a similar context, so you can say "It works at organisation X, and they are lawyers/venezuelans/whatever". However at it's heart, Knowledge Management is about how people interact with people, and all organisations are made up of people. Unless they can argue that their people are really not like other people, then the argument doesn't really stand.

Objection 4. "Our people are too busy for this. It will take too much time"
Too busy to learn, but not too busy to reinvent wheels, rework solutions, and revisit old problems? You need to explain that KM is a time-saver, that it cut project times by up to 16%, that it's the lazy person's way to work. As one of my colleagues said "You work surrounded by the knowledge of others, Why on earth would you not use it? It will save money and time, it will make your life easier, and you will do a better job". Basically, if people are so busy, there is not argument NOT to introduce KM.

Objection 5. "It's simple - lets just do it".
This isn't really an objection, it's more of a misunderstanding. Sure, KM is simple, but it's not easy, Getting people to change the way they prioritise things, and to move from seeing Knowledge as a personal property to seeing it as collective property, requires a significant culture shift, and culture change is never easy. So you need to recognise the enthusiasm of this person, and then explain why you can't just "tell people" to do KM - it requires a hearts-and-minds change.

Recognise these objections, and prepare your rebuttal. If you do it well, then hopefully you will get the verdict -

Objection Overruled




4 comments:

  1. Many of these objections may also be indications that the organization is not ready to let go of the control of knowledge. Management teams may not be able to bring themselves to trust that individuals will do the best they can for the organization even if it is not what management would have done.

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  2. Interesting collection and yes, we need to be prepared for these objections. I would like to add some thoughts about objections 3, which makes this point a bit more complicated than just "we are all people". In my eyes, the big benefit of implementing knowledge management is that information and knowledge flows outside of traditional hierarchical paths; it makes the lived organisation more flat. And it makes holes into the silos. Command-and-control managers might simply be afraid of this process of dismantling the power structures. In some countries / companies, hierarchy is a very strong cultural element. Therefore, we might need to explain the benefits of flat, transparent organisations when implementing KM initiatives. In this sense, as mentioned, Change Management is very important. I think marymcnabb is going in a similar direction with her comment.

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  3. Hi Tim

    I agree that change management is vital, and I also agree that different company and country cultures have a big effect on the ease of implementation of Knowledge Management. However you need an argument to counter the "We're different" objection, which is a very common one which you will herre from most clients at some point or another.

    The best way is to show that Knowledge Management actually has worked, in a very similar organisation, in the same country, or whatever. Don;t forget that some of the biggest KM successes, and some of the most sophisticated KM deployment, has been in the military setting, which is pretty Command and Control. And if they still think that they are completely unique, then askk permission for a pilot - to "see if it CAN work here".

    Mary, I think all of these objections are a variation on "I dont understand what you are trying to sell to me, nor the benefit it will bring compared to what we have in place already"

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  4. Hi Nick
    Sure, I agree that 'we are different' is a very common excuse of not wanting to try something new. I have been working in many countries that have used this argument just too often. And yes, in the end we are all people and react to similar stimulus and can benefit in the same way from faster information sharing and better decision making.

    The fear that KM is circumventing the classic hierarchy (which is a valid one) is an element that comes in addition to that and we should be aware of this. Military is a good example especially because KM is often applied in life-critical environments where we need to be fast and transparent.

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