I had the opportunity to participate and present at KM Middle East in Abu Dhabi last week. It was interesting and engaging to hear the speakers. It was even more interesting – for me – to listen to the kinds of questions the audience were asking to the presenters and one another. At the end of the day, I understood that there were two issues that were deeply connected that topped the minds of KM people in organizations and business in this region:
1. Promoting, supporting and motivating people in the organization to engage in KM
2. Making KM practical for the realities of business and services in the organization
This is about – as David Gurteen stated – DON’T DO KM! If you set off to implement KM activities for the sake of implementing KM activities, then indeed – you will run into a wall with the staff. It usually looks like the leadership financing IT to implement a new software that is to be populated with key documents, data, and information from different departments. Then, the leadership informing staff that they will use it and voila! Knowledge Management is done.
And the very unfortunate individual in the organization who is charged with the KM role (Let’s call him Samir) is called into the VP’s office 3 months later only to be asked the question:
Why is it that the staff is not using the IT and doing KM?
So Samir answers: I have been trying, but my colleagues, they do not listen. They tell me that they are working and ok ok, we will go to the site someday! But I cannot make them do KM.
And Samir can’t! And even a directive from the president won’t work because at the end of the day, people are individuals with a breadth of knowledge who will share their knowledge with others in the organization when they are internally motivated. If they do indeed “stop their work” to engage in knowledge sharing, it will be because they will gain something that will be practical and important to their own work. It will not be because their manager told them they have to do it.
In other words, it will be because it contributes to their work.
This is especially true in education. Think about it, have you been to a staff meeting with a well-meaning vice-principal who informs the teachers that the school will now share knowledge because they introduced a sharing software? Doesn’t really work! Teachers are too busy teaching, planning, assessing, considering parents, student needs, and the list continues.
So when does it work?
It works when there is a focus and it is practical for the people involved.
For example: When a Math Department Head groups the math teachers together and they agree to share innovative lessons in geometry because they noticed the geometry scores were low over the last 3 years on the final exams in Grades 6-9. This shared focus motivates the teachers to use the IT available and populate the database full of lessons that were successful that are mapped to the geometry curriculum learning outcomes. This approach is suddenly more attractive because the mathematics teachers will benefit from having these “good” innovative lessons at their fingertips. [“Good” as decided by their peers who they respect]. So they will contribute and take away from the database. More importantly, they will have something to talk about when they try someone else’s lesson in their classroom. So that they can refine the lesson to different needs. And that is real knowledge management in practice. Focused, practical, and with measureable outcomes:
- Teachers using different approaches to teach geometry
- Students achievement in geometry
So it is about focus and practical benefits. If we keep it theoretical and hosted in IT, then we will just be spending out time and efforts on saying “We DO KM”
Very different than “we learned, innovated, and improved because we engaged in knowledge sharing and creation.” I work towards this version of KM – the one that makes a real difference in supporting faculty and staff in improving their work and reaching the organization’s collective goals.