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Why KM initiatives fail!

Posted to Gurteen Knowledge-Log by David Gurteen on 3 January 2007



Why KM initiatives fail!
WeblogGurteen Knowledge Log
Posted DateWednesday 3 January 2007 14:37 GMT
Posted ByDavid Gurteen

I recently spent an hour or so with several senior managers of a large organization in Dubai talking about their new KM initiative. After the session I emailed the knowledge manager some advise. Its quite generic but sums up my thoughts on why so many KM initiatives fail and so I thought I'd share them with you here.
I really enjoyed meeting you the other day and wish we had had more time to discuss your KM initiative. In my experience eight out ten initiatives are killed off by their senior management sponsor after a year or so when they fail to deliver on their expectations.

I think however there are a few fundamentals that you need to get right to ensure that your KM is initiative is not only sustained but has a marked impact on organizational performance.

Here are my thoughts:

Focus on business outcomes
The biggest piece of advise I give all organizations embarking on KM is to focus on the specific business outcomes they wish to see from KM. These outcomes should be the ones set by the senior management sponsor of the initiative. If the sponsor has not been sufficiently specific then you need to look at the business strategy of the organization; the goals and aspirations; the challenges and the pressing problems and propose and agree with your sponsor what the those outcomes should be. Your sponsor must see short term tangible business results else your KM initiative will not be sustained.

Get specific
Asking questions like "How do we get people to share?" "How do we change people's mindsets?" "How do we capture people's knowledge?" "How do we get people to store their documents in the document management system?" or "How do we get people to use the intranet?" are good questions but they are a bit like asking "How do we improve the world?" or "How do we create better people?" - the questions are too abstract - too conceptual and are not sufficiently focused or specific enough and are thus impossible to answer.

For each of the questions above, you need to ask "WHY do we want to do this - what is the specific business outcome we are looking to achieve?" The solution will be different for every organization or department or project team for how you apply KM tools is extremely contextually sensitive. What will work in R&D will not work in Sales. What will work in an Engineering company will not work in a Media company. What will work in London will not work in Dubai. And what will work for John Smith will not work for Mahmoud Moradi. And what worked last year, won't work today!

Good questions would be something like: "How do we ensure that the major mistake made on project X is not repeated on project Y? or "How do we ensure that our induction process gets people more rapidly up to speed?"

But get as specific as you can and think hard about the business outcomes. Even this second question above is far too vague. Ask "Why do you wish to get people up to speed more quickly? Which people? And what specific skills do they need that they are missing today? Just what is the real problem you are trying to solve? And is the effort you plan to invest worth the outcome?

Use business language
Don't use KM language or theory when talking to staff or senor management - there is no surer way of turning them off or worse still getting into a philosophical debate on "what is knowledge". Don't talk in conceptual terms or in terms of say "KM frameworks". Again focus and talk in terms of real business problems and illustrate everything with real specific business examples. Make it relevant to the business.

Engage staff
You get senior management buy-in by focusing on business outcomes but for staff you need to focus on "what is in it for them". People are not going to use an intranet or deposit documents in a document t management system unless first of all they see to some degree the business benefit but more importantly how its going to make their jobs easier or make them more effective in their work.

Again there is no single answer. You have to look at who you wish, for example, to use the document management system and what will motivate them to use it.

But often at this stage it is too late. You need to involve and engage people before the document management system is ever conceived never mind deployed. You need to have involved the staff in what ever business problem the document management system was selected to solve and they need to be part of the decision process that says "a document management system is the appropriate solution to this problem". Imposing " KM stuff" on people and then trying to motivate them to use it - rarely works and tends to breed resistance, anger and resentment.

OK - just a few thoughts :-) I hope you find them useful and all the best with your KM endeavors.

If you are interested in Knowledge Management, the Knowledge Café or the role of conversation in organizational life then you my be interested in this online book I am writing on Conversational Leadership
David Gurteen

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