KM Implementation : Asking for Help - and Providing It

We know that cultural aspects are critical to enabling or hindering the implementation of Knowledge Management – a good example being around asking for, and offering, help. This matter is right at the heart of making KM work (or not).

I recall being at an organisation where there was a strong focus on technical knowledge, mastery of this was vital to success both individually and collectively. A senior expert was recognised as possessing a lot of knowledge after many years in the company, but was also known to be quite hard for younger people to approach.

I was asked by a group of the youngsters to speak to the expert and ask him if he would be prepared to help them, perhaps through some workshops or by other means he may think helpful. I gave it a go. His response was, “It’s taken me 30 years to build up my knowledge base, why should I make it easier for the next generation?”Years later, this response is still striking to me!

His response didn’t entirely surprise me as I had been forewarned, but it illustrated the problem.

I’ve also seen cases where experts are prepared to help, but only quite late on when a problem has emerged and they can be seen to ride to the rescue on a kind of metaphorical white horse. Better late than never I suppose!

The best experts seem to be those that don’t just know how to collect and hoard knowledge but how to share it with others too in a way that is both helpful and timely. Technical anticipation mixed with people engagement skills is a powerful combination – I have met some people like this over the years, they are impressive in what they do and well respected.

Asking for help can also be difficult. I learned not to do this too much in my early career as, offshore on an oil exploration ship somewhere, a response to my asking for help was, “You should know that, didn’t you study hard enough at University?” Being the first graduate in that area in the company’s history, probably didn’t help (this is going back quite a few years!). Anyway, perhaps I had indeed fallen asleep in that particular lecture.

I had to unlearn this attitude later on of course, asking for help is generally easier these days – but not always.

Some of the best exchanges I have seen at work have been where an individual has the strength of character to say something like, “I just don’t get this, can you help me understand what this is about and the hows and whys?” and the response has been along the lines of, “No problem, it took me some time to properly understand it too, let’s have a chat about it over a coffee.”

It’s the same with the Peer Assist which is a meeting designed to help a project team ask for help from others with relevant experience before getting into activity. The project team need to be open and non-defensive while the visitors need to be constructive and non-judgmental. It’s hard to overstate the value of such a process when the outlooks are like that – I have seen it work brilliantly!

So easy in theory, but nevertheless being human can sometimes make all this harder than it needs to be. Implementing KM is about helping individuals and teams in all this by driving the right culture and behaviours so that the knowledge flows as and where it needs to support the organisation.

Leaders, young & old, senior & junior, can make quite a difference here by demonstrating good behaviours in this area.