Thursday 27 August 2020

How to sustain Knowledge Management in the long term

Many Knowledge Management initiatives fail to get going. Others succeed initially, yet fail once the KM implementation team is removed. And yet some are sustained for the long term, with KM becoming "part of the way we work". What do these organisations do differently?

Chart from the Knoco KM survey, showing how KM, as it matures,
progressively becomes part of normal activity.

KM is a major culture change, and culture change is very difficult to do. Organisations will reject anything that is counter cultural - anything that is "at odds with traditional management". Great KM programs often fail when they are not treated as culture change programs, or not given the required time to make the change.

However there are many sustained successes in KM; in Shell, Mars, IBM, Siemens, Buckman Labs, Fluor, Schlumberger and many more, not to mention the entire military sector. In these cases KM has succeeded and been sustained and matured over a period of many years. The difference in these cases is that KM has become embedded - both in the structures of the organisation, and in the culture - and has become part of normal activity or operations, as shown in the plot above.

Many KM programs are delivered by a strong team and a charismatic leader but delivered as something separate - not fully rooted in the work structure and management framework of the company. When the strong team is removed, the organisation tips back to it's pre-KM state. KM has not "put down roots" into the fabric of the business itself, so is easy to discard.  The KM team has been growing KM as if it were a plant in a pot, rather than growing it within the business itself.

If an organisation wants Knowledge Management to be sustained, then KM needs to become part of the normal business process. It needs to be "planted out" into the business. It needs to be listed together with other project deliverables, it needs to be defined as part of the "minimum conditions of satisfaction" for management. It has to affect salaries and promotions; if you habitually don't learn and share knowledge, you have to see your career prospects suffer. There should be a KM policy along with the other company policies. KM should be up there as part of the strategic objectives.

I published a post recently that shows how KM becomes embedded as it matures, including a graph of how KM roles are embedded in the organigram, KM processes in the higher level process suite, KM technologies in the technology suite, and KM governance elements in the governance system.

So my advice to the knowledge manager who wants to sustain Knowledge Management would be as follows

Once you have demonstrated some value from KM, don't rest on your laurels. You need to go to senior management, show them what you've delivered, sell them on the benefits, and work with them to embed Knowledge Management deep into the normal fabric of the organisation.

  • Write the KM policy and rank it alongside the other organisational policies.
  • Change the project requirements, to include KM. 
  • Change the minimum conditions of satisfaction for project delivery, to include effective lessons identification. 
  • Change the rules for project sanction, so a project gets no money if it hasn't done any "learning before doing". 
  • Change the high level workflows and processes to include mandatory KM steps.
  • Change the job descriptions for the company experts, so they are held accountable for stewardship of the company knowledge. 
  • Make sure KM technologies are linked with the other working tools of the organisation.
  • Change the HR appraisal mechanism, and change the incentive scheme to reward collaboration and discourage competition. 
  • Change the rules on time writing

Notice the use of the word "change" there? Every such change is another KM root going down.

You, as KM leader, need to be able to let go of the KM program that you have been nurturing for so long, and watch it become embedded into the business. That is KM's only chance of long term survival.

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