Achieving Actual Change in KM Implementation

Many of us have seen Change Initiatives, in KM or other topics, that produce nice slides or documents but don’t actually change anything. It almost seems that the more beautiful the slides the less tangible the actual change achieved.

Buzzwords and phrases come and go, and there may be some interesting conversations at the conceptual level, but the change doesn’t happen – it was just a passing fad. This “assumed change by osmosis” doesn’t work…even if it is safer because it doesn’t rock the boat.

When I came to starting to work in change for KM implementation, I was aware of this and realised I would need to think about this and not fall into the trap.

Simply stated, implementing KM authentically, with actual practical difference to the way the organisation works, is quite simple but not at all easy.

Sometimes change management means coming to forks in the road where you have the choice to either go the easy route or the harder one. Which one to take?

Sometimes the organisation can say to the KM leader:

“We have been trying to make this happen for 7 years, it’s never really worked, can you help us?”

And at the same time say:

“We don’t work that way, we never have, why would you want us to try this?”

Politically this can be challenging – but sometimes you need to speak truth to power while also trying to show you are genuinely meeting the organisation’s needs.

I recall my first presentation to a Board just after joining an engineering company. An individual there suggested I should be able to create a learning organisation in 3 months?

I replied, “Actually, if we are to do this properly, it’s going to take 3 years minimum.” There was an uncomfortable short silence but I was confident in what I was saying which obviously helps.

I was able to follow up by saying, “This should make you feel comfortable because this is not just about creating some nice slides or launching an IT system, this is about deep culture change which takes time. The fact that I am not promising to do this in an impossible timeframe should tell you something about authenticity.”

This worked - the guy smiled and nodded. There was then a discussion about how serious “proper” KM is, what it meant in day to day delivery, and the need from the leadership team to support it. By the end of the meeting, that moment of discomfort had become one of energy, excitement and positivity – someone was brave enough to make this happen and people like to be led.

Of course, there was then the small matter of actually delivering the culture change which means taking on epic levels of responsibility - which actually I like if I have at least some empowerment.

I have been told in one organisation that implementing full KM is “impossible” – but it really isn’t if you:

a/. Have a compelling KM vision that excites people

b/. Have practical & pragmatic things for individuals, teams, projects & functions to do and talk about to their colleagues – people need to experience practical KM activities and see / touch the benefit.

c/. Communicate, communicate, communicate – up, across and down the organisation so that people get involved – they need to help you build the new KM system. A principle here is, “People support what they create.”

If you involve people in building the new KM world, testing it and making it real and also introducing it to others then they become change leaders themselves. People really like this I have found.

d/. Regularly show the organisation what is changing (new roles, processes, tech & governance) and how far things have come since you started

e/. Get at least some in senior management to support you. Usually this is the CEO or a deputy I have found – they tend to become quite positive about strategic KM.

f/. Are prepared to take some measured risks.

There will be times when you come across those forks in the road and you need to take the correct, if politically harder, direction at least most of the time – otherwise it all fades away and you get the blame for KM failing anyway.

Ironically, the greater risk then comes from professional jealousy when a few see KM making progress, but this is a better risk to manage…

But determination and persistence pay off. After I had been at an organisation three years a Director asked for a chat. He told me, “I have been watching you light a small KM fire here, and set some sparks going there – and now the whole office is full of the smoke of KM, everybody is doing it.”

All of a sudden, KM was seen as this great new thing and the question was asked, “Why haven’t we always worked this way?”

One last story to end with. I joined another Engineering Company and I had only been there a few days when a Director from the Parent company phoned me. He was angry and frustrated because they had just fired their own KM leader “for going on and on about Taxonomies and not making any difference to the business.” I have had more positive welcomes to organisations!

Anyway, when he had finished shouting, I calmly said to him my KM approach is a full system and, above all, practical & pragmatic. I invited him to come and see me in a couple of years for a chat. He did this and he saw an organisation that was making an authentic change to applied KM across the business - he really liked it!

Comments welcome on any of this, thank you…