Originally published May 17, 2016

Although it’s possible to implement a knowledge management program without the support of top leadership, it’s much more likely to succeed if you have it. This post provides details on the type of support to enlist from your executives.

From Implementing a Successful KM Program, the first four steps to follow for starting a KM program are:

  1. Create a Top 3 Objectives List of challenges and opportunities which your KM program will address. These objectives align business direction with program goals.
  2. Provide 9 Answers to questions about people, process, and technology. This information defines who will participate, which processes will be required, and how tools will support the people and processes.
  3. Define the KM Strategy. These are specific actions which will be taken to implement the program.
  4. Gain the sponsorship of your senior executive through The 10 Commitments. These commitments from the leader of your organization will enable the KM strategy to be implemented.

After defining the KM Strategy, the next step is to obtain the 10 Commitments from the senior executive. This will ensure that your organization thoroughly supports the KM program to be implemented.

You need to get the top leader of your organization to sponsor the program you intend to launch. The best way to do this is to create a springboard story to motivate the leadership team, using narrative to ignite action and implement your new ideas.

Look for a successful case of sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, or learning that can serve as a good example of what should become institutionalized. Start by looking within your organization, then to other organizations within your enterprise, and finally to other enterprises. What you need is a simple example of how a KM principle was applied to one of the challenges or opportunities in your Top 3 Objectives List with the desired results.

Tell this springboard story to the senior executive and the leadership team. If you get a positive response, then present a brief summary of the Top 3 Objectives, the 9 Answers, and the KM Strategy to prove that you have done your homework and are prepared to proceed upon approval.

Gain the sponsorship of your senior executive through The 10 Commitments. These commitments from the leader of your organization will enable the KM strategy to be implemented.

Ask the senior executive to agree to the following 10 Commitments.

  1. Approve a reasonable budget for people and other KM expenses. You will need money and staff to launch and run the program.
  2. 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. The KM team will need assurances that they will be allowed the time they need and the ability to get together to build trust.
  3. Learn how to give a KM program overview presentation. If the senior executive is familiar with the details of the program, this will reinforce its importance.
  4. Learn how to use KM tools and use them to lead by example. To offer more than lip service in support of the program, show everyone how easy it is to actually use the processes and technology.
  5. Communicate regularly about how the organization is doing in KM. It should be on the agenda for all meetings, con calls, and webcasts.
  6. Provide time during leadership team meetings and employee communication events for KM messages. The other leaders need to be reminded regularly of the importance of KM in achieving the organization’s goals.
  7. Ensure that KM goals are really set for all employees, and are enforced. It’s not sufficient to communicate goals in a high-level message. They need to actually be assigned, monitored, and achieved.
  8. Inspect compliance to KM goals with the same fervor as for other key performance indicators. If KM indicators are reviewed along with the usual business metrics, it will be clear that they are just as important.
  9. Reward employees who share, innovate, reuse, learn, and collaborate. Rewarding desired behaviors provides positive reinforcement, offers motivation, and communicates to everyone how such behaviors are valued.
  10. Ensure that time is allowed for sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning. Part of establishing a knowledge sharing culture is allowing time for the necessary activities.

The 10 Commitments require that your organization embody a culture with core values conducive to knowledge sharing. Identifying the current culture and values of your organization will help you take advantage of those elements conducive to knowledge sharing and address those which are not, with the help of the senior executive’s commitments.

Understanding how people interact with each other in your organization, typical styles of behavior, fundamental operating principles, and the code of conduct is a necessary prelude to introducing a knowledge management initiative. If the culture of the organization does not include sharing and collaboration, a significant management of change initiative will be needed to start changing the culture. If it does, the KM program will be adopted more readily.

If the culture of your organization includes primarily positive elements, a KM initiative will fit in well with the prevailing behavior modes. If it includes mostly negative attributes, you have your work cut out for you. Culture change will be a critical success factor to embracing the new ways of behaving needed to support knowledge management. If the culture is a mixture of positive and negative elements, you will want to use the positive ones to support your efforts, and use a change management process to address the impact of the negative ones.

People in your organization will support, ignore, or undermine a new initiative. Your goal is to attract as many supporters as possible, while watching out for and neutralizing detractors.

Search for supporters to embrace knowledge management, including connectors — those with wide social circles who connect people to each other; mavens — knowledgeable experts who connect people through sharing knowledge; and salesmen — charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills who use knowledge to engage and persuade.

Be vigilant for those who will oppose, delay, or stall the KM program, including naysayers — those who are negative, contrary, and pessimistic; whiners — those who complain about anything and point out defects, flaws, and obstacles; and snipers — those who attack new ideas, are threatened by others, and who actively oppose change. When detractors are identified, try to engage them constructively. If that fails, contact their leaders to coach them to improve their behavior. If all else fails, be prepared with responses to the most typical objections, criticisms, and complaints.

If you don’t get approval of The 10 Commitments, you will need to revisit the earlier steps. Return with a more compelling Top 3 Objectives list, a more relevant KM Strategy, or a better springboard story.

If you do gain the approval of the senior executive, you need to ensure that the commitments are kept. To do so, take the following actions:

  1. Submit a reasonable budget for people and other KM expenses.
  2. Submit a proposal for the first annual meeting.
  3. Schedule an event at which the senior executive will give the KM program overview presentation.
  4. Subscribe the senior executive to an appropriate threaded discussion, and ask them to post or reply to a question.
  5. Prepare a communication to be distributed to all members of the organization.
  6. Request time during a leadership team meeting and the next employee communication event for a KM message to be presented.
  7. Prepare a communication setting KM goals for all employees.
  8. Request that the organization’s balanced scorecard or equivalent performance indicator reporting be updated to include compliance to KM goals.
  9. Submit a proposal for a recognition program to reward employees who share, innovate, reuse, collaborate, and learn.
  10. Prepare a document defining how time is allowed and can be reported for sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning.

Then follow up periodically to update these actions as required.

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