Tuesday, 2 September 2014

5 principles of the KM Communication Strategy

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change process, and change involves communication.

Your KM Communication strategy should be drafted at the same time as your KM strategy, and should rest on 5 principles

  1. Develop a simple message 
  2. Communicate value 
  3. Communicate Internally 
  4. Communicate Externally 
  5. Tell success stories

Develop a simple message

Knowledge Management is a vague and complex field, yet you need to communicate it in a simple, easy to understand way until it sinks in.

This simple message could easily be a Vision Statement such as "the goal of KM will to have the knowledge of the whole organisation in support of every business decision" - or "what we learn somewhere we will deploy everywhere". You can find 27 example vision statements in a collection on this blog. Some of them are far from simple.

You may need to repeat your simple message very many times.  According to the 151 rule, the first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of (KM), nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it. Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress.

Communicate value

The most important thing to communicate is the value of KM. However you need to communicate two aspects to the value - the value KM will give to the organisation and its customers, and the value that KM will give to the individual knowledge worker.

Siemens identified two traps when implementing Knowledge Management, one of which (the "customer trap") is the need to balance the expectation of the business, in terms of delivery of the KM program, with the expectations of the user. These two customers may have different expectations and requirements that need to be taken into consideration, and they certainly have two value propositions.

By all means communicate a simple message about the value to the business, but also don't forget to communicate the "What's in it for me" for the knowledge workers.

Communicate internally

Map out the stakeholder groupings within the organisation, and tailor your communication strategy to each of these, identifying (for each one) what's in it for them. The groupings might be

  • Senior management
  • Middle management such as project leaders and departmental managers
  • Team leaders and supervisors
  • Knowledge workers
  • Support functions, such as IT, HR, PMO etc
  • Different business streams, such as R&D, product development, Sales, Support and so on
  • People involved in pilot projects

Communicate externally

One particular trick we have seen work extremely well, is to communicate your KM successes to the outside world, so that the messages can trickle back in.

 People within the company see these messages, and think "Hey, we seem to be recognised as being good at KM, Perhaps I had better take it seriously. Here are a couple of quotes from Knowledge Managers who have taken this approach

 "As a company, we tend to learn more from people outside the company than from inside so we were deliberately trying to create a reputation that would come back into our company"
"My recommendation to anybody in any organisation, is to identify who the key players are in other organisations in your sector or area, and talk to them as well, so that you are planting various seeds not only in your own organisation, but across the sector. After a while, because all these key players talk to each other, you find that you have started to connect them up and they are talking to each other".

Tell success stories

The best way you can communicate the value of KM to people, is to let them hear success stories told by people as similar to them as possible. This is what we call "Social Proof".

 The similarity will be greatest when you can show people in your own organisation, at the same sort of level, trying KM and gaining benefit. Do this as follows;

  • begin conducting trials and "proof of concept" studies of KM in-house, with your most willing advocates 
  • when (if) the trial is a success, ask the advocate to tell their story on camera. record a short you-tube-style video story, along these lines - "this was my problem, I tried KM as a solution, this was the benefit I got". 
  • use these videos widely as part of your communication strategy -  embedded in PowerPoint, on the company Intranet, in your KM introductions etc. 

You know exactly the sort of story - you see it in TV commercials all the time; a plausible person saying "I used to be ashamed to go out, then I tried Miracle Acne Cream and now I am the centre of attention".

The reason the advertisers use these stories is because they work. On a deep subconscious level, people uncertain about the product will use the "person in the street" as an indication that people "just like them" get value from the product. The difference is that the TV companies often use actors reading a script, and you will use real people telling a real story, but the principle is the same.

 Use the principle by showing people from your own company, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from KM.

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