Poor Knowledge Management Doesn’t Announce Itself

3 minute read

Problems for an organization that seem on the surface that they are related to management, communications, engagement, empowerment are all too often problems of poor KM masquerading as something else.

Every organization addresses knowledge management in a variety of ways — some that look similar across groups (SharePoint for a company Intranet), and some that are organic to the orgs history/landscape (organization of shared network folders).

Knowledge management isn’t just about the configuration of folders and org charts, nor is it solely about trying to convert employees tacit and experienced knowledge into something formal and accessible for others to learn from — though, to be sure, it is these things too.

But it’s more — it’s about all of the various processes surrounding information flows as it is created, retained, shared, and coordinated. It’s the force in Star Wars, it’s the spice in Dune, it’s the matrix in…the Matrix.

It’s hidden ubiquity is one of the more challenging aspects about addressing it within an organization — you end up sounding more like a high-priest for the Mystical Arts of KM than a data-driven Tableau jockey. It’s simply not recommended for individuals steeped in systems thinking and KM strategy to lean back, stroke our chins and sagely intone “what it sounds like we have here is a knowledge management problem…”

And yet — that’s exactly what is needed.

Because the impact of poor KM is not easy to see. For example, if you have an organizational practice that makes it difficult to track (or even locate) a shared document for editing, then you’re going to not only find it takes longer to get input on that document, but also that you might be getting fewer voices than you’d prefer (and more nudges required along the way). This is particularly true if you’re just passing around “Jeff Proposal Final Final -3.docx” without leaving a foothold for more junior staff to know if they’re even supposed to weigh in. Most organizations might incorrectly diagnose this as an empowerment challenge, or a “convey to junior staff what their responsibilities are for proposals…” — nope, it’s a KM problem.

And it’s not just folders and files.

The global pandemic has shifted everyone to working online, and with it, many more video conferenced meetings. Now, I’m on the record as not liking face-to-face meetings very much even in the before days, so I really have to bite my lip in this era. But personal preferences aside, meetings themselves, particularly the rudderless non-agenda ones can also be the result of poor KM, even though we tell ourselves that we have to meet in order to get everyone on the same page, to solicit feedback, to work through a document, etc. See the theme here? Many of these issues can be addressed (and asynchronously!) through simple and accessible project workspaces (SharePoint, even!), collaboration platforms (Slack, Teams, Jira, Miro), and collaborative documents (Office, Google Docs, etc.)

To be clear, I’m not saying that all meetings should be banned (or am I), but rather that when you have poor KM in the first place, you’ll often find that proximate explanations rush to fill the void and you’ll hear things like “we just have a culture of meeting” or “our topic is so complex…” or “if it’s not on my calendar with a meeting then I won’t do it.”

There are counters to all of these that organizations have gone through as they’ve streamlined and transformed their systems, their information, and their knowledge management.

It’s not always about culture, or seniority, or preferences — it’s often just poor KM, whether you know it or not yet.