The conversations that get the most traction amongst KMers in online KM forums are often existential: what do we call ourselves, to whom do we report, how do we talk about the value, how do we define knowledge management? It’s not self-interest that drives these discussions, but a desire to benchmark, learn from other KM programs and evolve in a business world in which knowledge is the primary currency. But let’s defer the existential questions and start with some advice for leveraging knowledge management, however you define it.
1. Recognize that technology as a key enabler is accelerating, not just for KM but for every facet of business execution, and KM practitioners can be deployed to help drive adoption and engagement.
2. Although tools are important, never forget that the most important factors are people and culture.
Connecting new technologies and features to existing activities, behaviors and ultimately, culture, is a critical success factor in ensuring user adoption, not just for KM platforms, but for all technologies
“It’s not about the tool!” is the rallying cry in a discussion I often have with KM peers from around the world. We all agree that KM processes and strategies must be centered on people, behaviors and culture, and that tools should never drive decisions on how to capture and share knowledge (else it is the proverbial “tail wagging the dog”). However, technology is an incredibly important enabler. It’s no accident that the growth of the young KM discipline in the mid-1990s corresponds with the explosion of the internet into the mainstream. From the outset, new technology innovations spurred by the internet have dovetailed nicely into an ever-improving KM tech portfolio: intranets, content management, taxonomy-driven search, expertise location, wikis, social tools, ideation platforms, prediction engines, chatbots and AIin general (to name a few).So, while it isn’t about the tool, KM practitioners must be tech-savvy.
According to futurist, inventor and Google director of engineering Ray Kurzweil, “Technology goes beyond mere tool making; it is a process of creating ever more powerful technology using the tools from the previous round of innovation.” Kurzweil’s "Law of Accelerating Returns" says that the rate of change in evolutionary systems (including technologies) increases exponentially. Simply put, as each generation of technology improves upon the previous one, the rate of progress from version to version speeds up.
You don’t need to see Kurzweil’s charts or those from the earlier, related Moore’s Law to be convinced of this phenomenon – it is everywhere. The pace and plethora of ever-changing technology options can be dizzying.
This poses a huge challenge for IT in any company, and the knowledge management team can be one component in a multifaceted IT strategy to keep an organization humming and minimize disruption as new features and platforms are introduced. In my nearly two decades in KM, I’ve benefitted from excellent relationships with IT departments, relationships focused not only on the knowledge management platforms and what KM needs from IT, but rather partnerships with a much broader scope.
Connecting new technologies and features to existing activities, behaviors and ultimately, culture, is a critical success factor in ensuring user adoption, not just for KM platforms, but for all technologies. Because any successful knowledge management group is directly and intimately connected to other business functions via efforts to support “connecting and collecting” (one simple definition of KM), the KM team can be instrumental in launch, rollout and change management efforts. Communities of practice, which are bedrock for KM initiatives, are a direct line into the daily work of an organization and an excellent avenue for driving adoption.
How does this work in practice? Here’s an example from more than a dozen years ago, when my small KM team reported to the CIO. A new web conferencing system had been implemented, and, as often happens, adoption was low and resistance to change was high. This delayed retirement of the existing, expensive system. Calling us his “launch team,” the CIO brought us in to lead change management, holding us accountable for adoption.
Activating our KM community of practice to connect and engage with the rest of the business, we treated the rollout like a KM project and started out by defining knowledge needs. Then we established a relationship with the vendor to understand the platform inside and out, defined best practices, trained a group of early adopters, communicated like crazy, built a help site for how-to documentation, provided live and recorded awareness sessions, enabled feedback processes to give employees a voice, recognized and rewarded champions, and monitored progress continuously to identify and implement improvements.
We also had some fun with lighthearted engagement strategies that hit the resistance to change head-on. We knew we had truly connected with the culture when the sales team, the loudest resisters and last adopters, made a humorous video about the platform, asked us to star in it and played it on the main stage at the annual sales conference.
The overall results? Adoption increased, the old system was retired, the CIO was happy, and the vendor company even augmented their help site with many of our materials.
This partnership playbook has been repeated many times in many successful projects since then, and not just with IT. Working closely with other back-office disciplines such as Communications, Learning, Talent Management, HSE and Quality to support their big initiatives leverages the synergies between knowledge management strategies and the basic objectives of each of these groups. Every business unit has a need to “connect and collect”, and these knowledge-based needs are never more acute than when a big change is being implemented.
Through these partnerships supporting the deployment of enterprise-wide platforms and new business processes, I’ve come to believe that the best way to position and deploy a KM team is via a two-pronged strategy:
• Capturing and leveraging collective knowledge and empowering employees to share what they know and learn from each other.
• Acting as internal consultants and partners, providing agile KM and change management services and solutions that fit the organizational culture.
If these objectives can be accomplished, none of the other existential questions matter and the value is evident.