The Importance of Practical Focus for Real Change

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:

  1. Teachers using different approaches to teach geometry
  2. 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.

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5 thoughts on “The Importance of Practical Focus for Real Change

  1. Sonia it was good to meet you at KM Mid East and share the platform with you. My takeaways were similar; the issue of time and of KM and sharing being seen as real work by bosses a hurdle to be overcome. I also wrote a blog which is on the site the KM Mid East organisers are using http://www.facebook.com/KMMiddleEast?sk=photos#!/KMMiddleEast

    This comment I think worth replaying here:
    The event was a reminder to me of how there is no one size fits all for a KM initative (KM ‘Project’ was fiercely debated and dismissed by the delegates). It was vividly illustrated a day later in a conversation I had in the offices of a government agency when it emerged that it is not uncommon for an employee to be called half a dozen times a day by his or her boss. Contrast that to Western cultures where interactions usually take place via email or instant messaging. And the option of spending a day working at home to focus uninterrupted on a challenging issue is not one that seems to have permeated practices in the Gulf

  2. Pingback: The Importance of Practical Focus for Real Change | EduEval Thoughts | For Omina Quries

  3. An excerpt from my blog:

    I am sure many of us belonging to the KM fraternity were inspired and initiated into this field of work by strategists, leaders and expert speakers who triggered that thought process in us. We may have attended their presentations or heard their talks, in-person or over the Internet that made us think “KM is worth a shot”.

    I keep thinking, what triggers the Mac enthusiasts into lining up at the Apple stores to get their hand on the latest offering? I believe a lot of that has to do with Steve Jobs’ 20 min. straight talk. Even though the product may fall short of expectations, those 20 minutes surely drive people to the stores.
    Probably that’s what we need!

    How about thinking on the same terms for our enterprises? Find these evangelists, strategists, excited bunch of speakers who can trigger that thought -“KM is worth a shot”. If you can’t find them within the organization, don’t shy away from exploring outside options.
    Treat this effort like any sales (project bidding) project. Present the best examples and scenarios to the users. Find the best presenters who believe in the KM effort. A sales presentation is not everybody’s cup of tea.
    Follow it up with CoPs, mailers, blogs, banners, posters, case studies etc. and see the difference!

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