March 26, 2015

Don't Just "Do It"

I have had many conversations with senior management which focused on their desire just to “Do It”, with “It” being knowledge management.

The most frequent step that they wanted to skip was the assessment.  To me, after very many years of implementing sustainable knowledge management solutions, it is difficult to imagine a successful knowledge management solution which wasn’t based on an assessment.

The assessment is the foundation for all future work.  It gives you tremendous insights into;

  • What is working in the organisation and why
  • What doesn’t work and why not
  • What’s missing, the gap between what you want and the current reality
  • The key knowledge that the organisation really needs and not what senior management think they might need

The later point is particularly important.  It is not unusual to find that senior management don’t have a full picture of the key knowledge that the organisation needs in order to successfully operate in the short, medium and longer term.  I am not suggesting that senior management is wrong or derelict in its corporate duties, far from it, just that sometimes they don’t have access or full understanding of the knowledge required.

Let me give you a case study to try to illustrate the point.

The main board director had decided that his organisation would do knowledge management.  We were instructed to review their procedure manual and mark up the changes necessary to embed knowledge management in the organisation.  The director was very, very clear that his organisation operated by the manual that we had been given and this was the approach that he wanted to take.

The procedure manual was probably the very best I have seen anywhere.  The text was precise and detailed, the process flow diagrams illustrating all aspects of the business.  It was a work of art.

We duly worked our way through the manual highlighting the text where words such as AAR, Peer Assist, Knowledge Manager, Community of Practice, Lesson Learn Meeting etc could be inserted.  We were doing as we were told.

We were given an office on the Executive Floor in which to do our work but as is normal with those things, as we spent time in the organisation people started to recognise us and speak with us.  An interesting though started to emerge about the culture of the organisation and it was that it was driven from the top and it wasn’t too important how you achieved success as long as you achieved it; failure wasn’t an option.

We completed the work and duly met with the main board director and showed him how we had, as requested, marked up the procedure manual to illustrate how knowledge management could be embedded in the organisation.  He was very pleased, we had done as requested.  He then asked that we meet with his direct reports to design how it should be rolled out.

We arranged one on one meetings with the direct reports.  During those meetings we found out that nobody and I mean nobody used the procedure manual.  It was considered as a document for the auditors and to keep the main board director happy as he was very fond of ‘process’.  The organisation rewarded success, how it was achieved wasn’t relevant.

What did we do next?; well that is another blog post.

While the above is an extreme example and retold to illustrate the point, it is not unusual to find that senior management don’t have a full picture of the knowledge their organisation requires.  I was recently discussing with the senior management team of an organisation, a knowledge retention and transfer strategy and suggested to those around the table that perhaps the knowledge they had outlined as needing to be retained wasn’t the whole picture.  After a brief silence, they agreed.