Wow – it’s 2018. Already! And Coherent Solutions is now 18 months old. Following a busy fall, I am finally able to take some deep breaths, pause and reflect. So, I thought I’d start off the year with a more personal post. One that explores why the heck I’m pursuing a career in Knowledge Management, what made me passionate about KM.
I came to knowledge management accidentally. To be honest, I hadn’t even heard of it. I was happily managing a department within a non-profit, doing what I could to foster a productive and happy team.
Fumbling with transitions
One of my main challenges was managing staff transitions. My own, as well as my teams. We were a group of primarily women, between the ages of 25 and 45. So that means: maternity leaves galore. We are so blessed in Canada to have the ability to take year long maternity leaves. And they’ve now actually extended that to be up to 18 months. Again – SO great.
These leaves of absence, however, introduce a rotating door of transitions to teams like mine. We were constantly having to hand projects over between people, manage shifting landscapes. I started really looking at how we managed those shifts. And I became keenly aware of how often we fell short. People would come back from maternity leave and find that those who’d taken over their projects had struggled for months with problems they had previously already solved. Changes in procedures were communicated by email, meaning that when someone came back to the team after a leave, they had to sift through a year’s worth of emails to understand what practices had changed in their absence.
So, I started looking into what practices we had that were wasting our energies and producing very little to help us keep our team informed about how to do the work and how to learn from each other. And I started thinking about whether we were using the tools we had to the best advantage, or whether we had the right tools at all. Then I got down to finding the right tools and the right systems to work for our team. I started coaching my staff to think all the time about how they were sharing what they knew in a way that allowed their colleagues to benefit from their insights. It was my favourite work. The projects that I would sit up late at home on my laptop working on – not because my bosses were pressuring me, but because it was genuinely what I wanted to do (sad, I know – but true). I started looking for best practices and what other organisations were doing to solve similar problems.
Late to the Party
And that’s when I stumbled upon the term ‘Knowledge Management’.
Yes! This! This was what I had been doing! It had a name!
“Why hadn’t I heard of this before?” I thought to myself. Well, it turns out I came to the party a bit late. Knowledge Management has been around for ages. In fact, it’s been around so long that some people say it’s had its day. But from what I was seeing and hearing about the struggles other leaders were having in both my industry and others – the problems KM had set out to solve: mainly how do organizations know what they know and share their insights, were still alive and kicking and needing attention.
It was just that unless you hired a fancy consultant firm or were working at a giant multi-national, the principles of Knowledge Management weren’t being talked about in small to medium organizations. The problems are all still there, it’s just that managers within most organizations don’t know about the tools and practices available to them to solve them.
Knowledge Management has an Image Problem
When I dug deeper into the Knowledge Management literature, I made a few realisations.
1. It is HARD to penetrate. Phew, have I ever done a lot of reading and come out the other end feeling dumb and more confused than when I went in! The literature is mostly academic in nature, and rife with jargon.
2. It isn’t seen as being very sexy. For the same reason that politicians avoid some of the biggest and most important problems, KM is often seen as something that ‘someone else’ can deal with while the current leadership deals with more eye-catching projects.
3. ROI is tough to find. The bottom line is top of mind for pretty much all companies. Money isn’t spent unless it can be clearly seen to have a positive impact on the bottom line. And it’s tough to find the data and resources to make a case for KM, especially for small to medium organizations.
Sexy and I know it.
But Knowledge Management IS sexy! Despite what people might say about ‘knowledge hoarding’ in fact, the feeling of knowing that the work you have done and insights you have gained are going to be used in the future for the betterment of your organization is AMAZING, and worth every minute of time spent on it. And the ripple effects from delving into KM projects are vast and highly impactful – including to your bottom line, if only in increased productivity.
So I’ve decided to dive in. Even though lots of people think it’s not sexy (they’re wrong); even though lots of my target client base don’t even know what I’m talking about when I say I am a Knowledge Management Consultant; even though I sometimes have to work damn hard to convince folks that this is a problem they CAN and SHOULD solve.
Because I want to share with others the roadmap I’ve developed.
Because I want to help people gain that feeling that their work won’t be lost as soon as they walk out the door.
Because I want to make organizations less vulnerable to transitions and gain insights into what they do and how it gets done.