Knowledge Management Needs a Facelift

When I’ve encountered knowledge management in my career, it’s reminded me a bit of fitness. I know fitness is important for my health and well-being. Sometimes it’s stimulating, but it’s also tedious and tiring, and it’s probably going to cost me a lot of money.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

At A Hundred Years, we’ve worked on knowledge management and intranets for organizations as diverse as Kaiser Permanente, World Wildlife Fund, The World Bank, The Rockefeller Foundation, and UCLA Health.

We’ve learned there’s a number of reasons why organizations struggle with KM. For example:

  • How many of your documents have titles like this: “June-Report-FINAL-FINAL-revision-JJG.doc”? Needless to say, organizations have huge issues around version control, access to files, and no way to easily search or find anything.
  • Teams know at the broadest level what their colleagues are working on, but beyond that not much, so there’s a ton of repeat work happening, and certainly no incentive to share.
  • Staff members are stretched for time, so they understandably take shortcuts to get around firewalls to make life easier, such as using their personal Gmail address or Dropbox account.
  • Staff are forced to use outdated, inflexible, and unintegrated business systems that put user experience last. Does your company have an intranet? Does it feel like it was developed in the early 1990’s? Have you experimented with Yammer? You are not alone.
  • The assumption that you can manage knowledge. We’re humans. It doesn’t work that way.

But organizations also know that knowledge management is linked to everything, like revenue, intellectual property, and employee morale.

The problem is, many (but certainly not all) organizations approach knowledge management from the technology angle, or start with a focus on the “knowledge” itself. Buying a gym membership doesn’t mean you’ll use it.

It’s time to take a human-centered approach to knowledge management. (And maybe stop calling it knowledge management.)

Organizations are made of people, at least until the robots take over. When you start with the human need, the technology solution will follow. Not the other way around. Replacing an outdated technology solution with a trendy technology solution will only lead you down an expensive road to ruin.

Instead, your knowledge initiative should address the specific human needs across the organization, from senior leadership to employees on the frontlines. Here are a few examples of employee pain points we typically hear:

  • “Search is terrible. I can never find what I’m looking for.”
  • “Our intranet isn’t mobile friendly, and why can’t I log-in from home?”
  • “I can’t even remember the system we’re supposed to be using because I never use it.”
  • “I don’t even try looking for files on our internal drive. Instead, I keep everything in my email inbox and search for it there.”
  • “How do I incentivize my team to share more? And what should they share, and who with?”

Sound familiar?

Introducing an off-the-shelf intranet solution may help with Search, but it won’t capture the wisdom currently trapped in email inboxes. Migrating your files to the cloud may help with version control, but it won’t tell help your staff understand what knowledge is worth sharing.

Like fitness, there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution for knowledge management, but where organizations stumble is squeezing their strategy into a tool they’ve purchased.

Focusing instead on the specific human needs of your team will take your knowledge or learning initiative out of its uninspiring silo, and will instead infuse it across the organization, adding value to every critical member of your team.

Now that’s inspiring.