Organisations tackling knowledge management often focus on seeking an IT solution. Surely, in our digital age, it's easy to buy some software and it’s sorted, right? Unsurprisingly, that isn’t the reality.
Not unsurprisingly, organisations interested in solving their knowledge management (KM) challenges often default to focusing on looking for a technology solution. Surely, in our highly automated, digital age, it should be very easy by now to buy and install some software and it’s sorted, right? Equally unsurprisingly, that isn’t the reality and the main reason is that any effective enterprise KM solution has to be a balance between People & Technology (or the wetware and software, if you prefer!). Whilst technology is the great enabler in any successful KM programme, addressing the ‘people challenge’ is fundamental. Without the right mindsets and behaviours in place, KM programmes seldom deliver the benefits organisations seek.
So what does it take to create a knowledge sharing culture?
There are plenty of studies from the likes of McKinsey, IBM, Forrester, Accenture etc that highlight the importance of KM so we have moved a long way from the early days when people were often highly suspicious and reluctant when asked to freely share their knowledge.
The starting point should always be with any organisation’s Leadership team – good leaders set the organisational “climate” and need to actively and visibly demonstrate the behaviours they wish to see across the enterprise. The concept of ‘Social identity’ is valuable here as the more people identify with the organisation/team/community of specialism, the more likely they are to remain with the organisation, be motivated to succeed, be supportive of their colleagues and the more likely their sharing behaviours will be affected positively.
By making knowledge sharing a clear organisational expectation, it establishes the behaviour as an expected norm and, generally, when someone sees most people sharing knowledge freely and willingly, then they are likely to do the same. A combination of peer pressure and what people see others doing can be very powerful.
Another key success factor is recognition – if knowledge sharing leads to developing one’s reputation within the organisation then this will definitely encourage the behaviour. And experts typically share more of their knowledge so it becomes a virtuous circle.
Most organisations will have internal communities, often organised around specialisms – these form obvious areas to focus KM initiatives on in the early stages as people are typically passionate about their area of expertise and therefore highly likely to actively share knowledge.
An often overlooked issue is people not realising how useful their knowledge is to others – they may have knowledge used in one situation but be unaware that others at different times might face similar challenges. Additionally, knowledge derived for one need may be helpful in totally different contexts; or it may be a trigger for innovation – many eureka moments come from making knowledge connections across different disciplines and organisational boundaries.
Barriers to finding and sharing knowledge need to be as low as possible. This is where the technology element comes to the fore. Ideally, you are looking for intuitive technology, clear design for accessing content, and helpful discovery that highlights people and content the user was previously unaware of – these are exactly the principles that our Apex solution is built upon.
People are some of the best knowledge repositories and also some of the worst because they are complex and emotional. Capturing hearts and minds is vital as any organisation always wants “volunteers” rather than “conscripts” when it comes to KM. The journey to a successful KM programme is usually a bit of a roller-coaster and does take time but the benefits in terms of greater innovation, smarter decision-making and improved client satisfaction are outcomes worth striving for.