Human-Centric KM

Astute knowledge managers often say that success in KM depends 10 per cent on technology, 20 per cent on processes and 70 per cent on people. Traditionally many KM initiatives have given undue attention to technological solutions. But as surveys and our expert interviews indicate there is now widespread recognition of the need to take a more holistic approach to KM. This means redressing the technology bias and giving due attention to human factors. This needs attention at several levels, from the organization as a whole, through teams and to the individual:

  • Enterprise - understanding how KM fits in with your organizational culture; also putting in place measures to engender a knowledge-enriching culture.
  • Managing organizational change - A KM programme is a change management programme; you will need to use the techniques, especially those of user engagement and communications, as applied in any other major organizational change.
  • Collaboration and networking - recognizing the social factors of the workplace (office); using these as a basis to encourage the flow of knowledge across organizational boundaries, such as through Communities of Practice (CoPs)
  • Tapping into individuals' tacit knowledge - this after all, is where your most important knowledge resides; this means identifying your real experts (know-who) and using more 'soft practices' (such as storytelling, After Action Reviews) to access thier knowledge.
  • Knowledge work - addressing the different types of work carried out by individuals and helping them be more effective through PKM (Personal Knowledge Management).

Three of these topics (PKM, tapping tacit knowledge and CoPs) are sufficiently important that they are themes in their own right. Belw we give a few general suggestions on ways of humanizing your KM programme.

Humanizing Your KM

There's no magic bullet. It's really a case of thinking people and their motivations in every aspect of KM.

Inspired leadership

Recruit to your cause from the senior management team a leader who can enthuse and encourage individuals to harness their knowledge, stretch their ambitions and achieve results, should be top of your list. It also helps to have knowledge champions across your organization - see the roadmap section on knowledge leadership for more on this.

Involve your HR department

A good HR department is not just about implementing personnel procedures (much of this may be outsourced anyway). I have found HR invaluable in at least five respects:

  • Employee induction - making KM visible during employee induction gets new recruits thinking in the right way. It also stresses how important KM is to the organization if it has a 'slot' on the induction programme. I know organizations who give their new employees a background 'research' task or project to carry out during their first month or so. This requires them to spend time in different parts of the organization to gather the required knowledge. This has two main benefits. First, it may actually get a task done that always seems to get relegated to the abck burner. Secondly, it gets the newcomer familiar with the whole organization and gets them into the culture of crossing boundaries and sharing knowledge. Induction is often an overlooked quick-win in a KM programme.
  • Employee survey - useful information about culture and communications patterns can come out of employee surveys. An example might be a question that asks the employee to what extent they agree or disagree wtih the quesiton "my boss encourages me to learn from my mistakes". Review past surveys and see if there are one or two questions that could be added to inform your KM programme.
  • Learning and personal development - as noted earlier KM is another facet of a 'learning organization'. Sometimes there is an over-emphasis on training per se rather on the development needs of an individual (of which training is just one solution alongside mentoring, participation in task forces, communities etc.) You will need to work with your HR 'personal development' people/trainers to slot in ways of improving the KM capabilities and skills across your organization.
  • Reward and recognition - if an individual does not have KM activities as an integral part of their personal objectives and annual performance review, then there is every chance that anything you want to happen in the KM arena will rely solely on thier personal interest. Organizations that are serious about KM will usually have one explicit main knowledge-related goal (out of perhaps 5-7) for their professional staff - they are, after all, knowledge workers. It may simply be recognition that they are a 'thought leader' and thereofre have a role in documenting their knowledge or mentoring more junior staff, or being involved in leading communities of practice or centres of excellence. Getting a KM dimension into a well established performance management programme is usually a 2-3 year task, but one that affects the ultimate KM maturity of the organization.
  • Finally, once you - and your enthusiasm for KM - get known within your HR community, you may well find some interesting people coming out of the woodwork who want to actively help. For example, I can recall finding excellent facilitators who get involved in senior management workshops; I've also found others who, once KM started getting underway, wanted to introduce more formal project management methods into their organization.

Motivation and Recognition

Perhaps the most important thing to remember is that with senior professionals in specliased fields, it is often recognition, rather than reward, that is their main motivator. There is a powerful argument for having a behavioural psychologist on your core KM team! Research into what motivates professionals (beyond financial reward) commonly comes up with other types of motivators:

  • Personal growth - therefore give opportunities for people to participate in challenging assignments; give them plenty of learning and development opportunities. Another option is to appoint star perfomers to represent the organization on external bodies.
  • Autonomy - therefore don't be too prescriptive on how things should be done; just give the 'why' and 'what' and provide people with access to knowledge resources and knowledgeable people.
  • Formal recognition - hence the growth of 'award ceremonies'; as well as attending a special event (which could be held in an exotic location), the prizes could be monetary, in kind, appearance in a 'wall of fame' etc.

So put in place awards such as "Knowledge sharer of the year award" or "I threw out the rule book and did it this way award". But the most important thing is to tailor recognition awards to the indivudal. While an award of the latest hi-tech netbook or iPad may appeal to some people, simply being allowed to attend a 5-day international conference in their speciality may have more appeal to others.

Make KM interesting and engaging

The problem with many organization change initiatives are that they are seen as just another set of chores added by top management and are boring. This is where you need the help of your marketing communications department and the creative types within it. There are several ways you can make KM more appealing and interesting:

  • Use visual imagery - after all a picture is worth a thousand words
  • Use multi-media - getting a real engineer speaking with passion about he or she solved a problem is a better way of sharing their knowledge than simply having a text-based description.
  • Run 'away days' - these get people out of the office; you can spread the KM message in subtle ways. Also have a strong social element that encourages networking.
  • Get the T-shirt - T-shirts, pens, pads, mouse matsetc.: all are ways to get you KM message across, and good give-aways at meetings or sepcial events.
  • Newsletters - not necessarily a KM/project newsletter, but get an interesting 'story' in your company's in-house employee managzine. I know one KM team who got a commitment to have a column in every monthly issue of their hose manazine.
  • Have a KM blog - keep it informal and interesting, perhaps observations of the world around you with a knowledge slant. Use it as a way of getting feedback. If your organization has an internal social networking facility like Facebook, this also gives an opportunity to add photos.

Last updated: 19th March 2011


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