40 KM Pitfalls to Avoid: Part 3

Stan Garfield
6 min readJul 16, 2020

Originally posted 16-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 third of a five-part series on pitfalls to recognize and avoid.

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

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

17. Being secretive

Don’t give lip service to transparency while continuing to operate in a closed manner. Communicate frequently, truthfully, and openly.

18. Making it difficult to find information and resources

People struggle to find information, resources, or experts they need to do their job. They perceive that search doesn’t work, and even when it does, the content is incomplete, obsolete, or irrelevant.

Recognize that this problem exists and do everything possible to make it easy for people to find what they need. For suggestions on how to do so, see

19. Lacking trust

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.

Here are five ways to increase trust in organizations:

  1. Facilitate conversations between people so that they get to know each other.
  2. Encourage storytelling, allowing people to tell their personal stories to help others understand their backgrounds and perspectives.
  3. Hold periodic face-to-face meetings to establish trust between attendees.
  4. Encourage people to post in communities and enterprise social networks and get together informally to build trusting relationships.
  5. Make it safe for people to express their individual personalities.

20. Pushing content

Organizations want to push information out to audiences, rather than making it attractive to pull content for themselves or enabling interaction with leaders. Use the power of pull in these ways.

  1. Allow people to choose which ESN groups or communities to join and how they wish to be notified of new communications, instead of sending out email messages to large distribution lists.
  2. Use an ESN or threaded discussion board to enable two-way communications; solicit feedback, questions, and suggestions for each communication. This is especially valuable for leadership communications.
  3. Allow users to opt in and out of distribution and membership lists using tools and services that allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe easily.
  4. Don’t send messages to people unless they want to receive them from you.
  5. Make your content so desirable and valuable that people will ask you to provide it to them, eagerly await updates, and be disappointed if updates are not frequent enough.

21. Expecting that someone else will do it

Some people don’t want to get their hands dirty by learning by doing. Sometimes, when a new tool comes along, the people who are trying to promote it have to be the first ones to jump in and try it. That can be messy and it may not work right. It might be hard. The point is, if you don’t do that and then you’re turning around and talking about it, that’s not a good thing.

We see this a lot when it comes to getting people to use knowledge management tools by asking them to post in an enterprise social network or contribute documents or anything that requires them to sort of take a risk, but we think someone else will do it. We’re all familiar with the general rule of thumb that says about 90% of any community will tend to read or be more passive in a community and there is about 10% that are more active. If the 90% never post anything at all, if they never contribute anything at all, then obviously, our knowledge sharing programs aren’t going to work.

If we do a search and we don’t find what we’re searching for, we can blame the search engine, but more often than not, it may be that the thing you’re searching for isn’t there. Someone didn’t contribute it. I hope to just search and find it, or someone else will ask the question that I was thinking of asking, but I’m afraid to ask, and then I’ll benefit from that. But if that doesn’t happen, then no one ever learns. We’ve got to be willing to do it ourselves as opposed to expecting someone else to do it.

22. Believing that KM is dead

This keeps coming back to life: the assertion that KM is dead, it’s on life support, or it’s irrelevant. We’ve been hearing this for the last 20 years. Not only was KM sort of born in 1995, but a year later, people were asking if it was dead. Along the way, so was everything else that we used. We hear that email is dead, but it doesn’t seem like it is. We still get lots of it. Some proclaim that social business is dead. Whatever it is, saying that it’s dead just seems like a way to generate interest in a point of view or sell a product or sell a service. You can make a claim like that and it’ll be provocative and people will tend to pay attention to you, but that doesn’t mean it’s accurate.

It’s not like everything is 100% perfect, but there are more positive indicators than negative indicators. Something is going on that continues to sustain it. It may not be rapidly growing in size, but knowledge management is not dead. The need for knowledge management will endure, whether we continue to call it knowledge management or start calling it something else. We will continue to need to share and innovate and reuse and collaborate and learn.

23. Believing that incentives don’t work

As long as I have been in the field of KM, I have heard that incentives don’t work. I developed incentive systems that worked quite well and have been adopted by other companies. But there is a belief that people will game the system.

I developed a system when I was at Hewlett-Packard that awarded points for knowledge-sharing behaviors and, theoretically, it could have been gamed. It would have been easy to do so because you got a point for every time you posted in the threaded discussion board. We had one person who would tend to post in the discussion board with some trivial comment like “great, thanks,” just to run up the score, and eventually, I approached that person about it. After that, he was never seen in the forums again. It’s self-correcting. If people do this in the open, in enterprise social networks, everyone else is going to see that and they’re not going to appreciate it and you’ll hear back. In my experience, people gaming the system hasn’t been a problem.

Another part of the incentive issue is that people aren’t really motivated. Intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic motivation; rewards wear out. There is some truth to that. But there was actually great response when we added an incentive component to our point system. It’s not only because participants could earn some money, which everyone likes to do, but it also signaled the importance of the effort. When people saw that the senior executive was backing up the program financially they said, “This must be important. Therefore, I probably should be doing it.”

24. Saying that social is frivolous

We’ve all heard the claim that social media is frivolous, social is not serious, or it’s a waste of time. You shouldn’t call your enterprise social network “Facebook for the enterprise,” because a lot of people will conjure up something different from work if you talk about social in that sense. Some people even say to avoid the word “social” altogether, giving the example, “I don’t care what you ate for breakfast.”

I don’t actually see a lot of posts about what people ate for breakfast. I don’t think that’s the primary use of social media, but that’s a common lament. You have to cite your use cases and say, “No, we’re not really talking about sharing what you ate for breakfast. We’re really talking about these other uses that are valid and which social tools do better than other previous tools.”

There is also the assumption that using social media means wasting time. People have told me, “I was chastised for using the social network to post something and was told to stop doing that and go back to work.” You can turn that around and say, “What were you supposed to do instead?” The time that people spend on social networks, if it is for sharing useful information for the rest of the organization, or asking and answering questions, should be celebrated. We should not make people think that it is a waste of time.



Stan Garfield

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