40 KM Pitfalls to Avoid: Part 2

Stan Garfield
6 min readJul 9, 2020

Originally posted 09-Jul-20

When starting a KM initiative, knowledge management practitioners often fall into traps that may limit the effectiveness of the program. This is the second in a five-part series on pitfalls to recognize and avoid.

  1. Part 1
  2. Part 3
  3. Part 4
  4. Part 5

The recording of my webinar discussing all 40 KM pitfalls is available here.

9. Frequently reorganizing, including moving KM from one organization to another

KM struggles to find a home in organizations and is often moved around and added to groups which don’t understand or appreciate it. Each time it is moved, a new boss who may be unfamiliar with KM takes over, and selling that person on the program has to start over.

In some professional services firms, KM is a home for those weary of constantly being on the road. So rather than employing people who actually care about the field, an uninterested team gets built.

When seeking representatives from each organization to join the KM extended virtual team, candidates are volunteered whose primary skill appears to be availability. They are offered up due to being idle, rather than having appropriate interest, background, or skills.

Where does KM belong? Not under IT, HR, or some other stovepipe. If there is no independent Chief Knowledge Officer who reports to the CEO, then some neutral organization such as Operations is the best place.

10. Relying on maturity models and benchmarking

Each environment is unique. I recommend using frameworks, models, and benchmarking as sources of ideas, not as precise prescriptions to be slavishly followed. Seth Godin wrote: “Benchmarking against the universe actually encourages us to be mediocre, to be average, to just do what everyone else is doing.”

People believe they need to benchmark competitors in order to do what they’re doing. It’s valid to find out what other organizations are doing. That’s the value of going to a conference like KMWorld. We hear from each other. We can learn and we can innovate on what we hear from other people, but if you only want to do exactly what other people are doing, then you’re really just leaving it to someone else. You’re not thinking about what’s good for your organization. You’re saying, “We’ll do just exactly what someone else does,” and that’s not really going to be very innovative or may not even be relevant to the problems that you face.

11. Using the term “best practices”

The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved. It’s better to learn about and adapt proven practices which fit your environment, whether or not they are the “best.”

Proven practices are methods which have been demonstrated to be effective and lend themselves to replication to other groups, organizations, and contexts. Using them involves selecting, documenting, and replicating processes that have proven to improve business results so that others in similar environments or with similar needs can benefit from proven successes.

12. Reporting metrics for the sake of metrics

Avoid collecting every random thing, sliced and diced every possible way, which someone might want to know once. They probably have no intent to do anything with this data, other than to say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

The main reasons to collect metrics are to:

  • Take action based on what the numbers indicate. For example, if you are leading a communities initiative, report on the health of each community every month, and retire the inactive ones using a health report.
  • Track and communicate progress against goals. For example, if you are leading a knowledge management initiative, identify the top 3 objectives, track and report on how the organization is doing in a monthly report, and inspect and discuss progress (or the lack thereof) in management team meetings.
  • Persuade others, answer typical questions, and refute baseless assertions. For example, I sometimes received comments such as “no one uses our enterprise social network (ESN).” I refuted these by pointing out that the ESN actually had more than 100,000 members, more than 1,000,000 messages, and more than 150,000 files.

13. Becoming certified in KM

Taking a one-week class in knowledge management and then being anointed CKM is not meaningful, and is generally not respected. Focus on learning, not on certification.

The field of knowledge management spans over 100 KM specialties. It is too broad to be certified in as a whole. Doctors get board certified in a specialty, not in the broad field of medicine.

14. Rolling out tools and driving adoption

Don’t fixate on rolling out tools, and then trying to drive adoption, which is a losing proposition. Start with the needs of the organization, not with finding a use for a tool which you have already bought.

We hear a lot of talk about rolling out a tool or driving adoption. Rolling out a tool implies a tool that’s in search of a solution. We don’t know why we’re rolling it out; we just are. In the early days of SharePoint, for example, people would say, “We want to roll out SharePoint.” They wouldn’t explain why or what it was going to be used for. It just existed for its own sake.

Today, we hear about that with enterprise social networks. The wish for everyone to start using the enterprise social network leads to vague terminology like, “We want everyone to start collaborating globally. We want everyone to make connections. We want everybody to interact.” If you don’t get more specific than that, that’s not a very appealing use case. If you say, “Will you please start collaborating globally?” it doesn’t mean anything.

If instead you say that you want people to share, ask, find, answer, recognize, inform, and suggest, and then you go into a little more detail about each one of those use cases, people can better relate. You could have a conversation with them; ask them, “The last time you wanted to share something, what did you do? Did you share with an email? How did that work? The last time you had a question, what did you do? Did you ask the person sitting next to you? How did that work?” You can interact on the specific use cases, and then you can talk about how the tool that you’re wanting them to actually use does that better.

15. Using buzzwords and corporate speak

Don’t use buzzwords, insider jargon, or corporate lingo. Use words and expressions that are widely understood. Touting vague concepts like “increase engagement,” “add value,” or “drive transformational change” will not go over well with your audience.

Use obvious terminology rather than arcane, esoteric, or exclusive expressions known only to a clique, the in-crowd, or a single organization. If there is a widely-known expression, industry-standard term, or well-defined abbreviation, use that instead of one known only to those previously initiated. This is especially important to avoid making newcomers to a group feel ignorant, left out, and isolated.

16. Telling others to do as I say, not as I do

Not practicing what you preach sets a bad example. People will closely observe the actions of leaders, and mimic them. So lead by example and model the desired behaviors.

This starts with leaders who initiate a KM program and then will leave it to others and say, “Okay, you take it from here and I’ll do something else.” Or people who work in knowledge management, but who don’t lead by example. They want everyone in the organization to use a particular tool or to follow a particular process, but then they don’t do that themselves. They figure someone else will do that.

They might say that we should use an enterprise social network, but then they continue sending email or they say, “You should fill in your profile,” but then they have someone else fill in their own profile. You’ll run into this kind of thing when you’re encouraging a leader to interact in an enterprise social network or to do something using one of the tools and they’ll delegate that to someone else. They’ll say, “You fill in my profile or you post for me” or “you ghost write it for me,” and things of that sort.

We can all sense that when it’s happening. You can’t really get away with that. If you really want someone to do something, one of the very best ways to do is to do it yourself and then, not only will you learn about how it works and the pros and cons of it, but other people will also see you doing that and they’ll do it as well.



Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/