Winning at Knowledge Management: People and Culture

3 min read
02-Jul-2020 15:38:57

A successful Knowledge Management initiative relies on knowledge sharing.

Knowledge sharing relies on employee mindset (willingness to share their knowledge) and behavior (remembering to capture it at an appropriate moment). Both aspects must be driven by organizational change management, with a particular focus on culture.

Knowledge management isn't just about owning a Knowledge Management Database (KMDB)—people need to populate this with functional knowledge which empowers other people to solve issues and get tasks done. It can't be done without getting knowledge out of people's heads and into the KMDB. And that can't happen without motivating people to capture and share what they know.

Often people don't want to share what they know because the think that their unique knowledge gives them job security (especially in organizations where fear and competition are large parts of the corporate cultural).

This may be true to an extent, but, putting culture aside for one moment, the value of an employee is the value that employee brings to the company. When one person knows how to do something, they create value when they use that knowledge to execute that task. When that person shares this knowledge, they create exponentially more value for the organization because others can now also perform that task.

And when you have a good Knowledge Management solution in place—one which tracks both the source and usage of knowledge, the value generated from knowledge can be tracked back to the original Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). This means that the value that they bring, in terms of knowledge sharing, is more widespread and visible. Essentially, knowledge management shifts the definition of a valuable SME. Someone who knows a lot is useful. Someone who knows a lot and shares a lot is even more useful.

Clearly, people are at the heart of a successful knowledge management initiative. Knowledge Management tools provide a facilitating and supporting role.

The biggest challenge here is to get the people who have the knowledge involved; to get what they know out of their heads and into the KMDB (in a way which is consumable for others). This is where some organizational change management techniques must come in to play: using a mix of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators.

Communicate What's in it for Me

When people are asked to write down and share what they know, a common response may be: "I don't have time. And why should I anyway? There's no benefit to me."

Knowledge management is an area where the network effect applies. The more people who contribute knowledge, the more valuable it is to everyone. If just one person is contributing knowledge, the knowledge base is useful to everyone but that person

People can be cynical. Nobody wants to be that person. They may think that they will have to put in a lot of work and see little return themselves. Maybe the whole initiative will fail and their time will be 100% wasted. The answer to this is to reassure people that knowledge management is something which is being taken very seriously, has executive sponsorship, and is now part of everyone's job.

To support this, some knowledge management KPIs need to be folded into management reports and dashboards. Typical metrics might include:

  • The number of knowledge artefacts in the KMDB and how quickly this is growing.
  • How many times knowledge artefacts have been used each month.
  • The average quality rating of knowledge artefacts (e.g. a five-star rating).

Reward People for the Capture of High Quality Knowledge

A successful knowledge management program can have a transformative impact on an organization and is worthy of investment. 

Extrinsic motivation means people do what they get rewarded for. When you reward people for capturing and sharing their knowledge, that's what they will do. However, you must be clear about expectations and communicate some guidelines and policies to govern behavior.

In any situation where money is involved, you must guard against people trying to game the system. They may create large volumes of low-quality knowledge artefacts simply to hit bonus targets.

The answer here is to use knowledge quality as a tension metric. When you measure volume against quality you will be able to spot the "outliers"; the indicators that there a problem. Individuals who contribute inordinately large volumes of knowledge, yet with a low average quality score should be investigated. They may be trying to game the system. Or they may simply require some coaching on how to produce high quality knowledge articles.


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