At Fluor, one of our favorite sayings about knowledge management is that “KM is not about the tool!” We aren’t Luddites by any means. Ineffective tools can inhibit the success of KM, just as woodworker would struggle with a dull blade.
Conversing with our colleagues at other companies, participating in best practice studies with APQC, through industry KM groups and informal discussions with other KM professionals — both inside our industry and beyond — have reaffirmed this point.
Technology is not a critical factor to successful knowledge management.
Today on Nick Milton’s Knoco stories blog, he poses the question: What was KM like, before IT? How did we manage knowledge in medieval times? A provocative concept, since so many people immediately jump to technology when thinking of KM.
Overwhelmingly, the organizations that struggle to achieve success with KM do so because of this inappropriate focus on technology. The theory goes, “if only we had SharePoint (or Yammer, or Wikis, or fill-in-the-blank), sharing knowledge would be easy.”
And it’s true, to a point. Today, we have an abundance of tools that do indeed make it easier to share our knowledge, and many of them are excellent. We don’t have a technology problem.
It’s the difficult part that people either overlook or give inadequate emphasis; the soft part… people.
For KM to deliver value to an organization, the people who possess the knowledge and the people that need the knowledge need to connect. The right behaviors, motivators and a culture of collaboration and knowledge sharing needs to be nurtured. Leaders must determine how they can weave these principles into their work process, or transform those processes completely in ways that deliver value and ultimately supports the organization’s strategic vision.
This has implications that reach far beyond knowledge management. If you examine the success of Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, you’ll find that the people who get the most out of them are not necessarily the most sophisticated techno-geeks, nor the ones with the most “friends.” They are the ones who use technology to help them build and strengthen relationships — be they personal or professional. Once again, “it’s the people.”
I share this to remind myself, as well as stimulating one or two you. Tomorrow I’ll be training four, bright new knowledge managers. On this, their third day of training, we will be looking at (you guessed it) the tool.
Personally, I love tools. They can be a godsend, and enable global collaboration in a way that wasn’t possible when I began my career. But just as it’s not possession of the tools that makes a master craftsman, success in KM has far more to do with people and process.
Photo credit: Hans Splinter