Wednesday 12 June 2019

Can you do KM where you can't measure performance?

If you are in a line of work where you can't measure performance, then you are going to find it difficult to introduce effective Knowledge Management.

Knowledge Management is a systematic approach to organisational learning; but learning to do what? Learning to perform, is the answer. Learning to perform means the identification of better ways to do things, and then sharing and replicating those better ways, and embedding them into the processes and structures of the organisation. We can measure the result of this learning in learning curves.

But "identifying the better ways" requires metrics so that you can measure what is better, and effective performance metrics can sometimes be challenging to find. But without being able to measure improvement, how do you know you are learning?

You might be getting worse, the new knowledge might not be helping you at all, but you don't know.  Without metrics of some sort, you cant tell good knowledge from bad, or true knowledge from false, or better practices from worse practices.

Let's take the case of a national health service.

We know that metrics has been a very difficult topic in nationalised health services - that many metrics that have historically been applied by government were at best arbitrary and that some may have led to gaming-style behaviours. As a result there has been a suspicion of metrics.

A friend of mine was involved in an attempt to set up a community of practice for hospital head nurses. They had a few meetings, exchanged interesting stories about how they did things in their own hospital, and then went back home and carried on doing things they way they always had.

What was the incentive for them to change their ways of working?  Why would they go through all the upheaval of change, unless they were convinced that there was a better way of doing things? Those other stories were interesting, but "we do things differently here".

That's where metrics come in. They help prove that there *is* a better way to do things that you never thought of, and therefore give you the incentive to learn. And they tell you who to learn from as well.

The key, in a situation such as this, is to choose one simple metric that everyone agrees is important, and to apply KM to that.  You can see how this works from the stories about how surgical check-lists reduce infection rates; how something as simple as an ICU checklist, accompanied by some changes in behaviour, can cut infection rates by 66%, saving missions of dollars and saving thousands of lives.

Once you have a metric,  knowledge management can flourish; facilitating the learning, knowledge sharing, and knowledge re-use; trying and learning, and seeing the metrics improve.

If you find yourself in a context where metrics are not easy, then find something - something at all - that you can measure that is important, and apply knowledge management to that as your first step.

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