Tuesday, 21 January 2020

NASA's "5 most common KM mistakes"

In a 2015 video reprise from Edward Rogers, CKO of NASA Goddard, he explains what he sees as the 5 most common mistakes in implementing KM.

All of these stem from one reason, which is that KM people too often fail to learn from the experience of the past. Edward's 5 reasons for failure are these;
  1. Attempting to implement a KM system in a hurry, by "buying a KM program". KM at NASA has been a 10 year proposition.
  2. "Gaming" KM; trying to manipulate people though tricks and incentives
  3. Applying a KM framework "off the shelf" rather than tailoring it to your own context
  4. Selling KM with an unrealistic revenue target (but also see his video on quantifying the value of KM pilot projects)
  5. Letting IT and the CIO handle KM, which ends up with a data and information system, not a KM system

Compare these with our list of the most common reasons KM programs fail

Monday, 20 January 2020

Knowledge Management in a hierarchical culture

The best definition of a Knowledge Worker is "someone who knows (or learns) more about their job than their boss does".  So how does this work in a hierarchy?

Percentage of people in each country who agreed with the statement
"It is important for a manager to have precise answers to most of the
questions their subordinates may raise about their work".
The definition I use above means that the Knowledge Worker uses knowledge for their daily tasks. They do not blindly follow orders;  they use knowledge to develop approaches and strategies for delivering their objectives.  They are hired not just to do work, but to think as well. They make decisions for a living.

Knowledge Management aids the knowledge worker by providing them with the knowledge they need to do their job well and to make the correct decisions; this knowledge often having been developed through the collective experience of all the knowledge workers in the firm.

Managing a knowledge worker therefore is a different proposition from managing a manual worker. You cannot micromanage, you do not need to supervise; instead you need to give clear objectives and empower the knowledge worker to deliver the best solution.  Part of that empowerment is developing Knowledge Management Attitudes, Habits and supporting Framework, so the knowledge worker can always find the best knowledge to help them make the best decisions.

However if KM really is in support of "knowing more than the boss", and the Knowledge Management framework becomes the source of knowledge, rather than the boss being the source of knowledge,  then this can be really difficult in hierarchical cultures. 

The graph shown above is taken from the book "The culture map", and is based on work by Andre Laurent at INSEAD. Andre asked hundreds of European managers about leadership issues, and one of the questions he asked was  "Is it important for a manager to have precise answers to most of the questions their subordinates may raise about their work". In other words, "should a manager know more than their subordinates".

We can see the results above. Less than 10% of Swedes agreed with this statement, compared to nearly 60% of Spaniards.  I suspect that in some of the more hierarchical non-European cultures, such as China, Russia, the Middle East, Japan and India, the proportions supporting this statement would be even higher. In these hierarchical cultures, "being the boss" equates with "having the answers".  This is of course crazy in a world of knowledge work, where the experience and knowledge lies in the community rather than the leadership.

It would can be tough to be a knowledge worker in these cultures. Although you need to "add knowledge" to do your job well, your manager is convinced (or nearly 60% convinced in the case of Spain) that he or she should know best. Conflict is likely to arise between the knowledge worker's higher knowledge level and the managers perceived need to be the knowledge holder.

So how do we address this conflict? I would suggest five approaches;

  1. Openly discuss the cultural issue, and the barrier this may cause to Knowledge Management, and therefore to the success of the knowledge-based business.
  2. Discuss the new role of the manager, which is to set the expectations and goals rather than to provide the answers. 
  3. Develop the Knowledge Management Framework which allows the knowledge workers to find the answers they need.
  4. Educate the managers on the value of the KM Framework. Show them some examples and stories of the value it brings. Suggest to them that if a subordinate comes to them looking for an answer, their first response should be to ask "Have you used the KM system? What answers did you get?"
  5. Make sure the KM Framework supports the managers as well as their subordinates. Managers are knowledge workers too; they also make decisions based on knowledge. If the KM system provides them with better knowledge, and if they can see the advantages this brings, then they are more likely to promote this for their subordinates as well. 

A  hierarchy is a good way to assign authority and accountability, but should not be assumed to represent the way knowledge is distributed.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Forget knowledge sharing, let's encourage knowledge seeking instead

People often ask us "how do we incentivise  knowledge sharing?" I often answer "don't bother. Incentivise knowledge seeking and re-use instead".

I give this answer, because knowledge sharing in itself achieves nothing. Knowledge needs to be sought and re-used before any value has been added, and re-use is often a far bigger barrier than knowledge sharing. The Not Invented Here syndrome is far more prevalent than Knowledge Hoarding.

As an analogue, think of a driver in a car in a strange city, looking for a building which is not on the satnav.  They need knowledge, people on the sidewalk have the knowledge, but why doesn't the knowledge reach the driver? It's usually not because people won't share, but because the driver doesn't ask.

Knowledge needs supply and demand - sharing is the supply, seeking and re-use is the demand. Supply without demand devalues a commodity. Demand without supply increases a commodities value. Supply and demand need to be in balance, but the best way to kick off a market is to stimulate demand. 

Without an appetite for knowledge re-use, knowledge sharing can actually be counter-productive, resulting in the feeling of the "knowledge firehose".  Better to incentivise knowledge seeking first then knowledge sharing later, create the appetite for knowledge before you create the access, and create the demand before you create the supply.

There will naturally be SOME supply already, as there are people who naturally like to publish. They like to share, they like to write, they were given two ears, one mouth and ten fingers and use them in that proportion.  If you create the demand and create the channel, the supply will follow. As David Snowden pointed out,
"In the context of real need few people will withhold their knowledge. A genuine request for help is not often refused unless there is literally no time or a previous history of distrust. On the other hand ask people to codify all that they know in advance of a contextual enquiry and it will be refused (in practice its impossible anyway). Linking and connecting people is more important than storing their artifacts".
Create the need, connect the people, and the sharing will follow.

And how do you create the need for knowledge?  There are a number of ways;

So don't incentivise knowledge sharing - incentivise knowledge seeking first. The sharing will follow.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

12 ways to develop trust in your KM Framework

We all know that trust is a key factor in the success of Knowledge Management, but trust in what, and how do we build that trust?

Image from wikimedia commons
Trusting a Knowledge Management Framework is like trusting a vending machine - you put money in, you get chocolate out every time, and it's good chocolate, so you trust it to deliver next time.

The trust is in the system itself, rather than in the individuals involved. In a large organisation, knowledge can come from so many people that it is impossible to trust them all individually  (see my blog post on why people trust crowds). Instead you trust the KM Framework itself. If you engage with the Framework and it works - you gain value - and it does this reliably and repeatedly, then you trust it as if it were a Knowledge vending machine.

I think we can look at the issue of trust from two points of view - the trust held by the knowledge seeker and the trust held by the knowledge supplier.  The elements of trust described below are independent of the system used to share, store and/or find knowledge, and independent of the relative balance between Connecting and Collecting. They are generic.

Trust and the Knowledge Seeker

The knowledge seeker needs to be able to trust that seeking for knowledge will not be a waste of time, nor will it bring negative consequences. For example

  1. They need to to be able to trust that use of a search engine will bring useful results without too much effort
  2. They need to to be able to trust that any knowledge they find on knowledge bases is trustworthy and reliable and current
  3. They need to to be able to trust that asking a question of a community of practice will bring valuable knowledge
  4. They need to to be able to trust that they will not be ridiculed for asking, nor drawn into unproductive discussions
  5. They need to to be able to trust that attending a Knowledge management process such as a Peer Assist will deliver more value than the time and effort it will cost
  6. They need to to be able to trust that spending time searching Knowledge Management systems will not have negative consequences such as management disapproval

Trust and the Knowledge Supplier

The knowledge supplier or sharer needs to be able to trust that supplying or sharing knowledge will not be a waste of time, nor will it bring negative consequences. For example
  1. They need to to be able to trust that any knowledge they supply to knowledge bases will be reviewed and used
  2. They need to to be able to trust that answering a question in a community of practice will make a difference to someone
  3. They need to to be able to trust that the knowledge they offer will not be ridiculed, nor will they drawn into unproductive discussions
  4. They need to to be able to trust that attending a Knowledge management process such as a Retrospect is a valuable use of time
  5. They need to to be able to trust that Knowledge offered during a KM process such as a Retrospect will not be ridiculed, and they will not be made to look bad by offering it (especially when learning from mistakes, or from failed projects)
  6. They need to to be able to trust that spending time providing or sharing Knowledge  will not have negative consequences such as management disapproval

Developing the trust

People develop trust for themselves, by trial and error. If they try a community of practice, for example, and find that they get no answer to their question, and that their time had been wasted, they lose trust and don't return (see my blog post on "losing trust in a community").

So we have to make the Framework trustworthy.

For each of the trust issues above, this is how you deal with them

  1. Make sure you have good search, and well owned and curated knowledge bases
  2. Make sure the knowledge bases are owned, updated  and validated
  3. Make sure that CoPs are well led and facilitated
  4. Make sure that CoPs have a good Charter, which is enforced
  5. Use experienced trained facilitators for KM processes. Ensure that KM processes are applied only to important business issues
  6. Make sure that managers understand their role in supporting an appropriate level of KM activity
  7. Make sure there is a demand for knowledge, and that knowledge seeking gets as much attention as knowledge sharing
  8. Make sure that CoP discussions are focused on problem solving, and addressing business issues
  9. Make sure that CoPs have a good Charter, which is enforced
  10. Ensure that the lessons system is complete and managed, so that lessons are carried through to action
  11. Use experienced trained facilitators for KM processes, especially when learning from failure.  Use a no-blame process. 
  12. Make sure that managers understand their role in supporting an appropriate level of KM activity

That's how you build trust in the KM Framework as a trusted and reliable vending machine for Knowledge

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

How to choose KPIs for a KM team

How do you measure the performance of your Knowledge Management team? What sort of KPIs should you choose?

Image from wikipedia
The answer to this question depends on the stage that KM implementation has reached. I suggest some KPIs below, for each of the different stages of KM implementation.

During the early strategy and planning phase

KPIs are difficult during the strategy and planning phase, as the KM team have not yet delivered anything - they are still planning. At this stage there is probably only one objective; "Deliver a well-researched Knowledge Management strategy and implementation plan that has the support of the key business stakeholders". This will be easier to accomplish if your key business stakeholders are acting as a steering team for the KM program. The KPI will be the level of support for the strategy.

During the piloting phase

 Part of the purpose of the Knowledge Management pilots is to deliver tangible business value through operation of KM within the pilot areas, with a secondary purpose of refining the Knowledge Management Framework prior to roll-out. The primary objective during the piloting stage is therefore the amount of value delivered through pilots, and the target value should be determined through discussion with your steering team, and should be set at a level where, if you deliver this value, the steering team will commit to the next phase. 

This was the primary KPI for the BP KM team during piloting in 1998, when we were charged with delivering $100m of value to the organisation through KM pilots. 

The secondary KPI for the KM team at this stage should be the number of elements of the Knowledge Management Framework which have been tested in action within the business, with improvements made as required. The target should be 100%.

During KM roll-out and transformation

During the roll-out phase, purpose of the KM team is to spread the KM transformation across the entire organisation, while continuing to add business value. The team therefore has three primary KPIs,

  • The percentage of the organisation which has reached a defined KM level, 
  • Activity metrics such as number and value of lessons, maturity of CoPs, and
  • The value added by KM to the business.
You can also add activity metrics such as the number of training courses run, the number of communities launched and so on.

During KM operation

After the roll-out and transformation phase, Knowledge Management becomes part of normal business, defined by a set of expectations within a Knowledge Management policy. At this stage, the role of the KM team is to support the business in compliance with the policy, and hence deliver value to the business.  Suitable KPIs for the KM team would be the following;
  • The level of business compliance with the expectations in the KM policy
  • Support activity metrics (such as training courses run, KM role-holders coached etc)
  • Activity metrics such as number and value of lessons, percentage of embedded lessons, completeness currency of knowledge bases,  maturity of CoPs, etc
  • The value added by KM to the business

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Tom Davenport on why improved access to knowledge can be a "red herring"

One of my favourite common-sense KM articles of all time is Tom Davenport's 1997 article on the 7 deadly syndromes of Knowledge Management - still as relevant today as it ever was. 

Dating from the earliest days of KM, Tom points out seven Knowledge management pitfalls, all of which still plague Knowledge Management implementations today.

Here is what he says about people who think KM is all about "better access to Knowledge"

 Restricted Access 
"We're trying to create better access to our knowledge." 
"Red lights flash before my eyes, sirens go off in my head, my blood pressure skyrockets. Access is oversold, overblown, overdone. Do you really think the reason no one ever looked at the market research reports was because they had to walk up a flight of stairs to get to them? That the sales force didn't consult white papers on product performance because they had to make a phone call to get a copy? OK, I admit that it's amazing how lazy we all can be and that easy access to knowledge sources does increase the likelihood that they will be consulted. But it's just the first step and often the easiest one.  
"The next time someone on your project team uses the A-word, speak up with some substitutes. How about "attention"-as in how do we get anybody to pay any of it to what we're doing? How about "appetite"-is anyone really hungry for our knowledge? Why not "affiliation"-a bit of a circumlocution, but how can we get people to feel loyal and trusting enough to share their knowledge with co-workers?" 

Tom's differentiation of "Access and "Appetite" is similar to our "Knowledge Supply and Demand". There's no point in having the former, if you don't have the latter. So instead of starting with Access, try looking at Knowledge flow from the Pull end of the cycle, developing the behaviors of asking, and favouring seeking above sharing.

If there is no appetite for knowledge, then the best access in the world will make no difference. Start by developing the appetite, then access can follow.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Selling KM - how to appeal to head, heart, hands and feet

An effective Knowledge management communication message needs to appeal to the head, to the heart, to the hands, and to the feet of the audience. Here's how.

Communication is one of the 5 tools of KM culture change. Imagine preparing an internal presentation on Knowledge Management to one of your stakeholder groups.  Your aim is to move the group further up the ladder of engagement; ideally to get them into action.

How then do you structure your presentation?

You can use the mantra of head, heart, hands and feet as a checklist to make sure you cover the following 4 areas.


Your KM message must appeal to the head - it must be logical and clear. The head want to understand, and it wants to see a logical case made for KM. There needs to be a business case, based on a logical business driver for knowledge management, and this needs to be explained in a very simple way. It can be really helpful if you get your CEO or another senior person to give you a sound bite in which they “make the logical case”.


Your KM message must appeal to the heart - it must be something that people can connect with emotionally.  A good success story, told on video by the people involved, can begin to convey the emotional impact of knowledge management. The person in the story can tell how much KM helped them, how knowledge management solved a problem, or reduced a risk, or added value, and how they felt about it. Through these stories, you can begin to project a human face onto knowledge management that goes beyond the logical business case. You can make it personal. (See also "selling KM on the emotional case").


Your KM message must be practical.  It cannot be theoretical - it much be something that people can "get their hands around". You must show KM as something doable, and very practical. Explain how it works, what people will do when KM is in place, and how KM fits within the work cycle of the organisation. Explain KM in words that are business-centred, so that people see that KM is a hands-on activity. 


Your KM message must appeal to the feet - it must move people into action.  Make sure that you end the message by providing people with "next steps" they can take. reinforce the idea that KM is not just a theory, but something that will move the organisation forward. Let them know how they can start to "walk the KM walk" as well.

If you address head, heart, hands and feet, your communication will be a major force in changing the KM culture. 

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