I detest Knowledge Management. There, I’ve said it.
I have a PhD in Knowledge Management. I work with organisations, literally across the globe, on Knowledge Management challenges. Yet Knowledge Management is one of the most misunderstood management concepts ever created and I am sad to say, I detest “Knowledge Management” and I am deeply saddened by much of the “established” practice created under the auspices of Knowledge Management. Why I hear you ask or perhaps such a statement even makes you angry.
Knowledge Management has fundamentally failed to progress over the last two decades. Organisations operate in a talent-driven knowledge economy, Knowledge loss (ageing workforce redundancies/retirement) is a critical concern for organisations impacted by STIQCE (Safety, Time, Innovation, Quality, Cost, Environmental) challenges.
Yet Knowledge Management, the function that should be best placed to respond, is walking in the graveyard of past management fads. But it hasn’t and these are my top 10 reasons for why:
Top 10 reasons to detest Knowledge Management:
- 1. People (even some Knowledge Managers) don’t understand what Knowledge Management should do. Knowledge Management is only ever about four things: acquiring knowledge, using knowledge, sharing knowledge and developing new knowledge (e.g. invention) and yet many many Knowledge Management programs do not understand this fundamental concept. A lack of such understanding has a profound impact on all Knowledge Management actions and outputs (transformational processes) – see point 7.
- 2. Knowledge Management is more than just capturing knowledge! Knowledge (the four functions of KM in point 1) is a human phenomenon and yet the hunger for technology driven knowledge extraction tools leads to blind ignorance that misleads leaders and taints the field. Technology, as it stands today, is a tool; it is not the solution to knowledge-driven needs in an organisation.
- 3. Knowledge Managers who don’t get learning. Knowledge and learning (human dynamics of knowledge acquisition, use, sharing and development) are inextricably linked (see point 4). So, why do the vast majority of Knowledge Management programs ignore adult learning principles (using cognitive, associative, situative perspectives) within the structures, processes and behaviours (see point 10) they create/develop/influence? Surely, common sense dictates that a function focused on the management of knowledge (point 1) has to employ people with a background (knowledge, skills, experience) in learning?
- 4. The quest for “best practice”. KM is not a field of “best practice” – to be clear, there are no “best” practices (universally agreed frameworks, methods, concepts, theories with predictable outcomes) – and yet people who have been in the field since the 1990s keep trying to constrain practice to Communities of Practice and Lessons Learned (we seriously have to move on from the basic concepts of the learning organisation and the erroneous SECI model).
- 5. Certified Knowledge Management programs. KM qualifications from private companies that claim to be the licensing body for a profession – take a janitor, put them on a one-week course and hey presto, they are “certified” to be a Knowledge Manager. What does that say about the credibility of the profession? How many “certified” knowledge management courses, with postnominals no less, are college/university accredited, quality assured or acting responsibly when it comes to gatekeepers of universal Knowledge Management governance (see point 4)?
- 6. The Knowledge Management silo. Successful (e.g. programs that influence an entire system or are program-based, as opposed to project-based, over time) Knowledge Management requires integration across Human Resources, Information Technology, Operations, Senior Leadership Teams etc. Yet, Knowledge Management, in the main, is owned by IT (see points 1, 2, 3 and 4).
- 7. Knowledge Management outputs that are beyond measurement. The measurement of KM outputs is all too often, quite frankly, rubbish (mired in fuzziness) – some of the reasons for why are set out in points 2, 3, 4 and 5. Many Knowledge Management practitioners/consultants struggle to clearly articulate how Knowledge Management projects/programs create value. Quite simply, you are in trouble if you have a Knowledge Management function/consultant that cannot clearly and succinctly articulate the value creation process and a method for reporting financial outputs.
- 8. A lack of anticipation and therefore value. The function has not moved on in twenty years! Human Capital is working under RAID (Robotics & Artificial Intelligence Development) conditions. People in LOT (Lower Order Thinking) positions (high levels of explicit routine – this applies to people in manufacturing through to accountants and doctors) are under threat of redundancy. Fewer LOT positions mean fewer entry level positions through which to gain founding knowledge, skills and understanding through which to progress to HOT (Higher Order Thinking – higher levels of judgement/inference). Yet organisations are losing their most experienced talent (issue of an ageing global population). What is the Knowledge Management field doing to lead, in terms of reacting and anticipating, the needs of such challenges? Outside of technology solutions, not very much.
- 9. Snake oil sale claims from technology companies. There are unscrupulous technology providers out there that are selling snake oil: “we can capture 90% of your people’s knowledge!” Rubbish! Can you tell me 100% of everything you know about management? Why only 90%, what about the other 10%? Is the 10% more important than the 90%? Why can’t you capture this elusive 10%? It’s just snake oil.
- 10. The constant obsession with a knowledge-sharing culture. My final point is saved for “culture”. Knowledge Management spends far too much time complaining about/attempting to change knowledge sharing cultures. This is a phenomenal waste of resource. People talk about culture when they have failed to isolate the operational/strategic problem (STIQCE) and the behaviours, process and structures that need to be adjusted to resolve the problem.