The theatre of Knowledge management: Are you making this ‘best practice’ mistake?

The theatre of Knowledge management: Are you making this ‘best practice’ mistake?

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The theatre of knowledge managementImagine a scenario where an organisation is about to shed 5% of is workforce with 120 days. Voluntary redundancy packages have been offered. People near to retirement, people with the most knowledge, skills and experience, embrace the package. Knowledge Management is called to the fore to ‘capture’ as much knowledge as possible before these people leave the organisation.

Knowledge Management responds to the challenge by implementing ‘best practice’ exit interviews: for example,  three x 1-hour interviews between the person leaving and a subject matter expert. Knowledge will be surfaced, captured and recycled back to the organisation.

This response is the theatre of Knowledge Management. A facade of action. A process to justify the existence of a function, where the process has little if any meaning – where the founding principles of the process are rarely if ever questioned. Such practice generally exists as an artefact of Knowledge Management ‘worst practice’; where KM ‘best practice’ doctrine has been handed down from organisation to organisation through books, conferences and questionable professional development courses for decades, without question.

Think of yourself and the job you do. How much ‘critical’ knowledge could you ‘give up’ in 3 x 1-hour interviews? What would influence your decision to engage with this process (e.g. motivation, according to the circumstances of your exit from the organisation, or the questions being asked by the subject matter expert)? This type of ineffective process is an example of the theatre of action, a reaction to a situation, where impact and results are obtained by luck over design.

What is a better response – considering that by ‘responding’, Knowledge Management has not anticipated the problem in the first place, which is a whole other challenge for the function? How about working with the people who are staying in the organisation (the power of the crowd), to surface and embed knowledge for you by changing the nature of conversations? Instead of three one-on-one conversations with a single subject matter expert, how about using the power of the crowd, creating knowledge wildfires ignited by the thousands of people who are staying with the organisation?

The question becomes, what can you do to ignite knowledge wildfires? How about influencing the nature of conversations by getting people to move from asking standard questions to powerful knowledge seeking questions?

To help your thinking, here’s an example of how a simple shift from ‘how’ to ‘what’ could accelerate knowledge flows and change the face of Knowledge Management:

  • Standard question: “how did the meeting go today”? – high potential for automatic, system one, cognitive response (e.g. “yeah, fine”).
  • Powerful knowledge seeking question: “what was the most important thing to come out of the meeting this morning and how will it impact us in the short term?” – do you see the difference?

The point here is that Knowledge Management doesn’t have to be about the theatre of action. A simple change to the way people ask questions can ignite knowledge wildfires and get everyone in the organisation practising Knowledge Management.

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