Is the term “Knowledge Management” misleading?

May 10, 2007

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The term “Knowledge Management” can be misleading at times. When i first got into this field a couple of years ago i was a little wary of what i was supposed to accomplish. The very idea of Managing Knowledge was something i just couldn’t wrap my head around.

Today, after having practiced KM in the real world and studied it, i’ve come to understand that true KM is more environment management than actual managing of knowledge.

So what is environment management? Well, simply put, it’s creating an enviroment that fosters knowledge sharing. Attempting to actually manage knowledge is a hopeless task. This is because the very nature of KM frowns upon the use of strict guidelines and processes that most other functions require.

I’ve seen and heard the way KM is practiced in a large number of organizations, from both the private and public sectors, small, medium and large companies and the one principle that has ensured the success of KM is the fact that its been driven by a change in the cultural and perception of its employees.

Another common mistake that a surprisingly large number of corporates make is “re-defining” their existing information management processes by calling them Knowledge Management processes. While content management and information management do constitute part of the KM initiative they do not define it. This only serves to further confuse end users to the meaning of knowledge management.

The situation has gotten so bad in some instances that employees associate KM with the process of uploading a couple of documents every year to fulfill their “KM” contribution quota. It is practices like these that give Knowledge Management a bad name.

In a previous post i’ve tried to address the issue of why knowledge sharing is so different in the corporate world. However, there have been many instances where these hurdles have been overcome. This is only when there is solid support from the management and when the initiative is viewed as a means to improve the way employees work and not just a way of increasing margins.

Tying all of this together is a framework that includes a rewards and recognition program, branding and a very robust communication strategy. Communication is a large part of knowledge management and i have a few thoughts on this subject that i shall put down in my next post.

So, for the rest of you out there…… Does the term Knowledge Management acurately convey what you actually accomplish?


Why is Knowledge Sharing so different in the corporate world?

April 17, 2007

This article has been moved here…..

Users spend over a hundred hours every month on collaborative sites like Wikipedia. While it seems cruel to call this Knowledge “Management”, it does describe the very foundation of KM. Get people to share their knowledge.

More importantly, this cultural phenomenon has shown long term sustainability of such initiatives without traditional drivers like Rewards and Recognition. ( Read Here ). Which addresses the basic question this post raises : Why is Knowledge Sharing so different in the corporate world? For a lot of you the answer might seem obvious, but with the trend of KM adoption in corporates rising there is a serious need to understand what can be done about this.

There are many instances where KM seems to flourish outside the corporate sphere. Now the question is, why does this happen? In most cases these are the same people doing the sharing. What makes it so different within an organization?

True, there are certain pre-concieved notions about corporates. The biggest of which is that you always seem to have someone looking over your shoulder. Add to that the fact that you need to be extremely careful about the things you say or do and you have a system designed to cut off free information sharing at its knees.

Wikipedia is a prime example of Knowledge Sharing, here thousands of strangers help put together an amazing collection of information without any percievable reward. You might say the reward here is recognition. However, if you take a closer look, a large portion of these contributors are annonymous.

So why do they do it? What drives this need to share knowledge , when everything we’ve learnt so far tells us that we shouldn’t. Would you spend that much time contributing?

The answer i feel lies in the fundemental issue of competitiveness. It exists in the corporate world, it does not outside it. When you remove an individual from those restrains you get to see the true “sharing” potential of a person.

As always, please feel free to put down your thoughts on this subject…….

Rewards OR Recognition ?

April 16, 2007

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One of the biggest challenges in Knowledge Management these days is getting people involved in the process. Unlike other initiatives which use a mix of the carrot and stick approach, KM can only be promoted using the carrot.

Now the challenge is, what motivates the average users to contribute towards the system? Is it the rewards or the recognition? From what i’ve seen its a balance between both.

However, for the long term sustainability of any KM initative there has to a be focused move from a rewards based system to one of recognition. For one, its cheaper , second and more importantly, studies done in corporates have shown that the single largest motivator amongst employees is recognition by their peers and superiors.

Knowledge Management is that perfect platform that enables even the youngest of employees’ to show case their ideas and talents on a corporate platform. It ensures that if you are good at what you do, your voice isn’t lost in the crowd. This, i feel is the biggest selling point of KM to the average employee.

The driving force behind KM implementation for an organization is a little different. Numbers speak volumes, and unless corporates see a monetary benefit towards implementing a KM initiative, chances are they’d rather invest the money somewhere else.

So, the method with which you decide to promote Knowledge Management in your organziation depends entirely on your people. Rewards will only get you so far.

Knowledge Management and Technology

April 9, 2007

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When i started this blog the underlying reason was that there was a huge disparity between what i’ve read about knowledge management and the way its actually implemented in most organizations.

If you ask any KM expert about whether there is a standard method of implementing KM chances are he/she would probably say there isn’t one. It entirely depends on what your goals are and how these processes are received by your audience. At the end of the day, that is what really matters. The greatest KM Framework would still flounder if there isn’t buy-in from the grass roots level.

It has always been stated that Knowledge Management is not about technology. However from what i’ve seen in most companies (these are relatively large corporates which have their people spread all over the globe) technology seems to be the backbone of the KM initiative. Unless you have a platform that allows people to extract the information they want and allow them to contribute to the system, chances are your KM strategy will not work.

This is because the average employee in the organization is so focused on his job that anything above and beyond is considered an effort. Though, dont expect people to come running just because you have built a system. There has to be a benefit to the employee, this can either be in the form of making his job easier to do, or providing an incentive for him to contribute to the system.

There are exceptions however, the whole open source community is built on a knowledge management model. The initiatives here aren’t driven by incentives – and while there were skeptics, at the end of the day these have showed us that knowledge management can sustain itself in the long run.

I’ve tried to put down the basics of KM in the form of strategies that you might want to use to create an underlying framework to tackle an initiative like this. You can read those articles here.

The bottom line is, regardless of what technology you use, at the end of the day you need to get your people the right information at the right time, with as little effort as possible.

Leadership Expectations…

March 16, 2007

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For any initiative to succeed and be accepted across an organization it requires some serious leadership buy-in. This is more so in the case of Knowledge Management. There are certain things that leaders can do to promote the sharing of knowledge in the organization.

Tie your initiatives to your vision: Create and publish an integrated mission, vision, and values statement that endorses and sustains learning and transfer. It’s very important to showcase success stories at each executive meeting. Unless there is a clear indication of progress the executive backing for an initiative like this will quickly die out.

There has to be an emphasis on re-enforcing management commitment to identifying new ideas and removing barriers to progress. This has to be built on top of a robust rewards and recognition program, and most importantly, make sure you have the right people working on this.

The management as a rule is always looked up to for direction, and its the same with knowledge management, lead by example and show commitment to learning through action. Tell employee groups that the most important thing is to share and use best practices.

Once this has been accomplished start rolling out these initiatives across the rest of the organization.

Addressing Cultural Issues

March 15, 2007

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“Go the distance alone” – competitiveness is one of the biggest challenges to a Knowledge sharing culture. Unless you’ve been raised by Marxists, chances are competing with your classmates and colleagues has become a full time job for you. Schools and colleges stress individuality and competition, not collaboration and sharing, and so does the corporate world.

Knowledge Management is based on the foundation of selflessly sharing information. Now as naive as that sounds, it does work. There are certain challenges that need to be overcome however, that goes without saying. The biggest of these, as you probably guessed, is getting employees to part with their knowledge and share it with their peers.

The question i’m always asked when i propose this is ” Why should i share what makes me unique and valuable to the organization?”. A very serious concern that needs to be addressed. Unless the senior management changes their outlook on what makes an employee valuable, the culture of knowledge hoarding will continue to thrive.

So what makes an employee valuable, really valuable, to an organization? Well, if he manages to teach his colleagues to replicate this methods for success. Unlike most other initiatives Knowledge Management isn’t something that can be driven using a carrot and stick approach. Threatening or forcing KM down your employees throats would be the most counter productive move you could ever make. This will virtually guarantee that any future KM endeavors are regarded with scorn and dread.

While rewards are a direct means of getting a KM initiative off the ground, recognition and benefit are the actual factors that sustain KM in the long run.

What can you as managers and leaders do to facilitate a knowledge sharing culture in your organizations? Simple though it sounds, the best way is to recognize knowledge sharing and reward it.