Friday 8 September 2017

The Personality Trap in KM implementation

It can be tempting to rely on the personality of a strong charismatic leader to drive Knowledge Management implementation, but this can become a trap. 

Image from Wikimedia Commons
To begin with, a strong passionate leader can be a real asset for an effective Knowledge Management implementation team. They can convey their message with conviction, power and authority, connecting both with senior managers and with potential "first followers" in the business.

The KM team leader should be a change agent, with a strong profile and good influencing skills, who has some hard-won experience in KM, who can translate KM into business terms. Often the strength of their drive and conviction is a real asset in the early stages of KM "evangelism".

But in the longer term there is a risk in relying on the personality of the leader to drive transformation. When the leader moves on and this strong personality is no longer present to drive things, transformation can easily falter or "tip back" to a pre-KM state.

Here is just such a story.

A project manager was working in a major project in the Far East. He was a KM Believer, one of the "first followers", eager to lead change in his part of the business. He set up a community of practice, or knowledge network, of project managers who would meet, exchange documents, and swap lessons learned for further re-use. 
And it worked - in his area he cut costs, shortened timelines and improved safety statistics. He acted as champion, thought leader, and role model for Knowledge Management within the wider business. 
Then he left - moving on to another part of the business.
The community stopped functioning. Knowledge capture ceased. Many people in the business claimed that they were unaware of what he had been doing. Knowledge management in the Far East Division dwindled away and died. The culture "tipped back" to where it had been before.

No matter how strong your personality, no matter how much you can get done by personally driving it, there comes a time when you have to pass over the reins. Not to another strong personality, but to an embedded Knowledge Management Framework that is going to function no matter who is driving it - a system of KM expectations, embedded processes, roles within the business, and governance.

Personality is great in the earliest stages, but unless it gives way to an embedded framework, reliance on personality becomes a trap.

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