Repeat after Me: “I Cannot Capture Everything!”

When people hear the term knowledge management, I immediately get two questions asked of me.

1) What do you do exactly? The answer to this can be completely different based on your organization and I won’t go into that here (maybe in later entry…check back in a few weeks); and
2) Since you’re in knowledge management, we need to capture all the knowledge of our people retiring; can you do that?

Too often, leaders expect knowledge managers to do just that…manage all of the knowledge within a team, project or person’s head even. The debate over whether or not the “management” in “knowledge management” is the right term has lasted ever since its inception in the 90’s. The word “management” conjures immediate thinking, and therefore skepticism, that I will capture and manage all of the knowledge in people’s heads.

In theory, I guess that’s the general idea but I usually answer this question with a question. Don’t you love it when people do that? Internal consultants are famous for answering questions with questions. Instead of saying “yes” or “no”, which I am always tempted to say “no” and would be right in doing so, I ask the question: “What is it you really need to know?”

It is impossible to capture everything a person’s knows! Heck, most people don’t know what they know let alone are able to articulate it without specific questions and prompting. This is why organizations need knowledge managers, among other reasons which I blog about.

I’ll never forget the time when I was with a training professional conducting a “knowledge transfer” session with a soon-to-be retiree, and she began by asking: “If someone were to do your job, what would they need to know?” I highly recommend against this approach. You’re asking the person to do the knowledge management work for you. Tell me “everything” you know. If you believe Dave Snowden’s approach, and I do, people only need to know what they know when they need to know it. And, in a interview with a training professional is not when they need to know it but rather when they are on the job.

A better approach is something I saw in May’s Inside Knowledge Magazine….the Knowledge Prioritization Matrix (put forth by Tom Young of Knoco). A conversation with leadership to determine what knowledge is high risk of leaving and is irreplaceable should be what you focus on. Once that is determined, then you can target your questions to the expert in more detailed and concrete terms that will generate real answers usable by someone else. This coupled with actual job observation and on-the-spot questions will get you valuable knowledge capture, which is the real purpose behind knowledge management.

Want True Collaboration? Wikify!

The most common question I get about web 2.0 tools is when should we use a wiki? I find this question most interesting. Even though Twitter has been around a lot less time than wikis, it seems like companies have figured out Twitter’s place in their tool box but wikis are still a head-scratcher.

We are so document-centric that it is difficult to understand how wikis could or should fit into the content management – collaboration puzzle. With most wiki software, you can attach files to a page within a wiki but I would not recommend using a wiki as a primary document storage vehicle. Instead, wikis are the ultimate collaboration tool, in my opinion.

When we think of the word “collaboration”, we think of working together, co-creation, teams and even innovation. Wikis are the perfect tool to enable the process of collaboration but require TRUST. To change others’ content, the users of a wiki need to trust each other that if something he or she wrote is deleted or edited, that the person making the change knows better. We also need to have thick skin to accept those changes. Most of us have come a long way from getting deflated at the sight of intimidating red ink our school papers, but one needs to foster a culture that can handle true co-creation just in case!

There can be no ego when using a wiki. Titles are checked at the door when you log in and every person’s opinion counts. If your culture does not accept this then wikis will be difficult to implement but not impossible. Sometimes, it takes new tools like this to prove efficiency and creativity to actually change a culture from being overly hierarchical to more collaborative.

The process requires commitment; the satisfaction is realized in the end result of a great piece of work co-created by many qualified minds. Below are some great applications for wikis:

  • Company Policies: collaboration on a small team (usually Legal and/or HR)
  • Training Guide: collaboration among a specific discipline or management level
  • Lessons Learned Repository: collaboration among one or more project teams
  • Best-Practice Language: collaboration among a project team (document assembly on the cheap)
  • Knowledge Capture/Transfer: collaboration among retiring / exiting population and future population
  • Institutional Knowledge Base: collaboration across the enterprise (great for acronyms, definitions and resource sharing)