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16 Knowledge Management Myths Debunked: Misconceptions of KM

KM Myth 3: KM is Dead

 
Here's one we all have heard and recently came back to life again: the notion that KM is dead, it's on life support, or it's irrelevant. We've been hearing this for the last 20 years. Not only was KM sort of born in 1995, but a year later, people were asking if it was dead. Along the way, so was everything else that we used. We'll hear that email is dead, but doesn't seem like it is. We still seem to get lots of it. Social business is dead. Whatever it is, saying that it ís dead just seems like a way to generate interest in a point of view or sell a product or sell service. You can make a claim like that and it'll be provocative and people will tend to pay attention to you, but that doesn't mean it's accurate.
 
Recently, there was article that Tom Davenport published about this where he was claiming that knowledge management has become irrelevant. That generated a lot of comments. I wrote an article in response to that called ìIs Knowledge Management on Life Support? I tried to take an objective view, acknowledging that there are some negative indicators that have occurred over the years. It's not like everything is 100% perfect, but I think there are more positive indicators than negative indicators. The fact that we continue to hold KMWorld and we all come to it, the number of people that sign up to attend the workshops and participate in the sessions, the number of different people every year that are presenting, that's one sign. The number of times that I get asked about knowledge management doesn't seem to go down.
 
Something is going on that continues to sustain it. It may not be rapidly growing in size, but I think it's clear that knowledge management is not dead. I donít think the need for knowledge management will ever go away, whether we continue to call it knowledge management or start calling it something else. Will we continue to need to share and innovate and reuse and collaborate and learn? I think we always will. That's why I don't think the idea that we won't need knowledge management anymore is an accurate view.
 
What I think is dead are some of the older notions that we started out with. When we started out 20 years ago, we focused more on collection and getting document repositories created and measuring things like website visits. Some of us are worrying about that same thing, but I think that's the thing that's on the way out. 
 
One of the other reasons people say KM is dead has to do with the name for knowledge management. There are always people saying that we shouldn't call it knowledge management. We should call it something else. In one of the slides that I present in my workshops, I show 50 different names that people have suggested for it. They all have some validity. There's nothing wrong with any of them, but we're still calling it knowledge management. That's the label that stuck. Spending a lot of time talking about what we should call it probably isn't as helpful as worrying about how to do it better.
 

KM Myth 4: Incentives Don't Work

 
We also hear from people that incentives don't work. I've heard this as long as I've been in the field. My own view is different. I think incentives do work and I've developed incentive systems that I have worked quite well and have been adopted by other companies, but the notion is that people will gain in the system.
 
We had a point system that I developed when I was at Hewlett-Packard that awarded points for knowledge sharing behaviors and, theoretically, it could've been gained. It would've been easy to gain because you got a point for every time you posted in the thread or discussion board. We had one person who would tend to post in the discussion board with some trivial comment like ìgreat, thanks,î just to run up the score, and eventually, I approached that person about that. After that, he was never seen in the forums again. It's self-correcting. If people do this in the open, in enterprise social networks, everyone else is going to see that and they're going to appreciate it and you'll hear back. In my experience, people gaming the system hasnít proven a problem.
 
Another part of the incentive issue is that people aren't really motivated. Intrinsic motivation is more important than extrinsic motivation; rewards wear out. There's probably some truth to that. There was actually great response to when we added an incentive component to our point system. I think it's not only because participants could earn some money, which everyone likes to do, but it also signaled the importance of the effort. When they saw that the chief executive was backing up this program financially they said, "This must be important. Therefore, I probably should be doing it." 
 
To me, knowledge management incentive programs have worked. If you want to see some examples of them working today, you can look at IBM, Accenture, and the KM Stars Program.
 

KM Myth 5: Roll it Out and Drive Adoption

 
We hear a lot of talk about rolling out a tool or driving adoption. I always cringe when I hear that. Rolling out a tool implies that we have a tool that's in search of a solution. We don't know why we're rolling it out; we just are. In the early days of SharePoint, for example, they'd say, "We want to roll out SharePoint." They wouldn't explain why or what it was going to be used for. It just existed for its own sake.
 
Today, we hear about that with enterprise social networks. We want everyone to start using our enterprise social network and they'll use some sort of vague terminology like, "We want everyone to start collaborating globally. We want everyone to make connections. We want everybody to interact." If you don't get more specific than that, that's not a very appealing use case. If you say, "Will you please start collaborating globally?" it doesn't mean anything to me.
 
If you say that you want them to share, ask, find, answer, recognize, inform, and suggest and then you go into a little more detail about each one of those use cases, people can relate better to that. You could have a conversation with them; ask them, ìThe last time you wanted to share something, what did you do? Did you share with an email? How did that work? Last time you had a question, what did you do? Did you ask the person sitting next to you? How did that work?î
 
You can interact on the specific use cases and then you can talk about how the tool that you're wanting them to actually use does that better. If you just make it this vague thing--you're rolling it out, we're driving adoption--that doesn't generally work too well.
 
Then there'll be the one-time special events like when we rolled out our enterprise social network we had a big fanfare and we had a 24-hour rolling online jam and so forth, but that sort of thing wears out and people can be skeptical about that. We were just trying to drive a lot hoopla and hype over it, and when you do that people will tend to tune it out. I recommend not talking about driving adoption or rolling stuff out. Instead, talk about you can make it clear to people what the advantages of using tools are.

 

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