Originally posted 21-Jan-21

Implementing knowledge management can be challenging. In this first post of a two-part series, I describe eight challenges with possible solutions for each.

1. Getting senior leaders to provide funding, demonstrate support, and lead by example.

  • Challenges: Leaders give lip service to KM. For example, they may advocate usage of an enterprise social network, but then continue sending email. They say, “You should fill in your own profile,” but they have someone else fill in theirs. Instead using a KM tool, they delegate it to someone else. They want a KM program but fail to allocate budget and resources for it.
  • Solution: Ask the senior executive to agree to the following: Approve a reasonable budget for people and other KM expenses. Ensure that all KM leaders have the time to do a good job in the role and are allowed to meet in person once a year. Learn how to give a KM program overview presentation. Learn how to use KM tools and use them to lead by example. Communicate regularly about how the organization is doing in KM. Provide time during leadership team meetings and employee communication events for KM messages. Ensure that KM goals are really set for all employees, and are enforced. Inspect compliance to KM goals with the same fervor as for other key performance indicators. Reward employees who share, innovate, reuse, learn, and collaborate. Ensure that time is allowed for sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning.

2. Balancing people, process, and technology components.

  • Challenges: Immediately diving into choosing and implementing technology. Fixating on rolling out tools and driving adoption.
  • Solution: Don’t let any one category dominate the other two. Technology is important, but it must support people and processes, not be an end in itself. Start with the needs of the organization, not with finding a use for a tool you have already bought.

3. Delivering tangible business benefits that support organizational objectives and priorities.

  • Challenges: Knowledge management is disconnected from the overall goals of the business. It is not viewed as delivering value to the business.
  • Solution: Directly align KM goals with business goals. Communicate the value of KM using the 15 Benefits of Knowledge Management.

4. Motivating people to share, innovate, reuse, collaborate, and learn.

  • Challenges: People say that they don’t have time, don’t know what is expected of them, or that leaders don’t expect them to actually perform KM tasks.
  • Solution: Motivate people through goals and measurements, recognition and rewards, gamification and badging, and positive and negative incentives. Leaders should set and communicate goals, report on progress, inspect and enforce compliance, and deliver rewards and recognition for those who set the example.

5. Establishing a vision for how knowledge management should work, and relentlessly working towards making that vision a reality.

  • Challenges: The end state is not defined, not compelling, or poorly communicated. It’s not clear to people why KM is needed or how it is supposed to work.
  • Solution: Communicate a clear vision for how KM will work. Then continuously implement, improve, and iterate people, process, and technology components to achieve the vision.

6. Defining compelling use cases clearly showing the advantages over existing alternatives, and answering the question “what’s in it for me?”

  • Challenges: The wish for everyone to participate in KM leads to vague requests like, “We want everyone to start connecting and sharing.” If you don’t get more specific than that, you don’t have a very appealing use case. If you say, “Will you please start collaborating globally?” it doesn’t mean anything.
  • Solution: Ask people to use KM for specific tasks for which it is best suited, such as share, ask, find, answer, recognize, inform, and suggest. Interact on specific use cases, and talk about how the tool that you’re recommending actually achieves better results.

7. Getting people to openly ask for help.

  • Challenges: People are reluctant to ask for help in public, contact people in other organizations, or say the wrong thing. They would rather suffer in silence than expose their ignorance to the world, or to be criticized, blamed, or ridiculed.
  • Solution: Facilitate ways for people to establish trusting relationships in communities so that they will better know those whom they will be asking for help. Make it easy to figure out where to post a question by having a list of communities, easy-to-use search, and a single obvious community for each important topic. Provide ways to ask questions on behalf of others, including anonymous ask-the-expert tools. Redirect queries you receive, and ask others who frequently receive queries to do the same.

8. Making useful information easily findable.

  • Challenges: People can’t find information, resources, or experts they need to do their job. Search doesn’t work, and even when it does, the content is incomplete, obsolete, or irrelevant.
  • Solution: Add a “I found this useful” button, similar to a “Like” button, but more specific, to all content; encourage users to click on this button for content they were able to reuse. Allow content to be tagged with “proven practice” by an authoritative source. Allow searching by date, tag attribute, most-liked by users, etc., and make content with the most tags, “I found this useful” clicks, tagged with “proven practice” by an authoritative source rise to the top of search results. Determine the topics of greatest importance to the organization, curate a list which can be searched and filtered, and feed these as enterprise search best bets with links to the content deemed to be the best for each of these key topics. Take steps to improve search results.

The next post will cover the remaining seven common challenges plus proven practices for addressing them.

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