10 tips for successful knowledge flow management

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I’ve been reading Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Make Knowledge Sharing Work by Frank Leistner, Chief Knowledge Officer for SAS Global Professional Services. It was written for Cheif Knowledge Officers and knowledge managers, but I also found some interesting truths for any area of an organization that is trying to motivate knowledge sharing.

Organizations begin a knowledge management flow initiative for various reasons, including:

  • Stemming knowledge loss that results from attrition and retirement.
  • Sharing knowledge across business units.
  • Sparking innovation through shared experience.
  • Deploying expert resources organizationwide.

According to Leistner, knowledge management (KM), the premise underlying knowledge flow management, is about 70 percent people, 20 percent process and 10 percent technology. In his experience, technology is often the easy part. He writes that organizations that think they’ve failed in their KM initiatives have most likely dropped the ball in the people or process area instead. So, he says to take a holistic approach but keep in mind that “the hard stuff (the people issues)” is the most important part.

“It is the knowledge in people’s heads that needs to be shared. So it is essential that you make participation in the initiative as attractive as possible and remove any potential barriers,” writes Leistner.

Here are 10 tips for removing barriers to participation and ensuring a successful initiative:

  1. Concentrate on people. Don’t get carried away with the technology and forget that the knowledge is stored in the human element of the equation.
  2. Market for success. Your organization’s experts may need to be persuaded, guided and motivated to share their most valuable knowledge. It will be up to you and your team to understand their drivers and barriers.
  3. Start iteratively. Include a small number of participants in the early stages so that most major issues are resolved by the time the initiative is well underway. These early adopters will be your most vocal evangelizers.
  4. Be patient. It might take years rather than months to get an initiative fully embedded in the organization so that it is part of normal business processes.
  5. Maintain a consistent strategy. Fluctuation in your support team is OK - and can often infuse fresh ideas - but try to keep the core team consistent for a long-term focus.
  6. Focus on a manageable number of initiatives. With fewer, more deliberate choices, you can devote full attention for an extended time to shift from initiative to a standard business process.
  7. Define ownership. Within a large initiative, ownership is usually shared so widely that an individual can’t really see his or her effect. This may reduce the feeling of ownership and responsibility – a key ingredient in maintaining the passion to sustain the initiative.
  8. Respond quickly. It is essential to modify systems and processes quickly if there is a conflict. For example, in the early stages, participants may fear reducing their value to the organization if they share knowledge. A quick response creates a positive attitude and helps the participants feel that the initiative adapts to their needs.
  9. Don’t assume. One of the dangers is complacency. As you move from the small group to larger numbers, the tenets you learned may change. Remain flexible and responsive.
  10. Report early and often. Successes are the building blocks you’ll use to ensure continued executive buy-in and user participation.

Leistner consistently coaches his readers to remain flexible. His SAS examples help him show that the initiative can hold true to the strategy while still adapting to long-term environment changes and short-term situations. Finally, he writes that a technical understanding is important to a knowledge flow management initiative, but “it is the deep understanding of human behavior and how it relates to knowledge that will make the flow work in the end.”

You can pre-order Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Make Knowledge Sharing Work by Frank Leistner from Wiley Publishing. The book is scheduled for release in late March 2010.

For one-on-one contact with Frank Leistner, follow him on Twitter. His tweets (140-character status updates) are a great dive into knowledge management. Your first question should be, “Why is your Twitter handle @kmjuggler?”

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About Author

Waynette Tubbs

Editor, Marketing Editorial

+Waynette Tubbs is the Editor of the Risk Management Knowledge Exchange at SAS, Managing Editor of sascom Magazine and Editor of the SAS Tech Report. Tubbs has developed a comprehensive portfolio of strategic business and marketing communications during her career spanning 15 years of magazine, marketing and agency work.

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