Knowledge Economy – Broken or Does Your Organization Get It?

What kind of KM challenges do you face?

I received a rather disheartening email from a colleague who I have been emailing with recently regarding his efforts to implement KM inside of his organization. As he had been describing his situation what I was understanding from it all was that any KM successes that he and the organization had were pretty much because of him and despite his organization. I say because of him for the following reason — it seemed that everything that he had done or was currently working on involved using some form of major workaround to make it happen. I say despite of his organization because — nothing was a straight line, and everything seemed to be a series of exercises in navigating past sizeable organizational roadblocks. Don’t get me wrong — he had those successes. But in the overall big picture, they were all pretty much down in the noise level.

What seemed obvious to me was that regardless of what he would seek to do with the KM efforts, and in spite of the many successes he could cite, that the organization simply wasn’t very supportive of KM efforts.

For example, the search function was “broken” inside of his organization. Very much like situations that I’ve encountered in other organizations — there was no taxonomy at all. Lacking the taxonomy there was little structure to the knowledge-base. Lacking taxonomy there was little thought given to meta data strategy. Lacking that there was no consideration given to meta tagging and keywords. And because of that there was no keyword markups of documents. All of which lead to the “broken” search capability.

So after we had a long conversation about taxonomy and the why/how-to of it all….he went back to his organization and made what I thought was a pretty good case for the need to create a taxonomy. And the pitch went well. Very well. In fact it went so well that he came out of the meeting with a mandate to make it happen. All of which sounded pretty good to me…until I heard the other shoe drop. No budget, no resources, no anything. But they loved the idea. Encouraged him to go forth and cobble one together. Apparently on his own. Oh boy.

And here we were at that point in our discussion, with him telling me about the meeting, and sharing that despite the fact that he had no resources and pretty much agreed that it was an impossible task for him to go it alone…he wanted my suggestions about what his first step should be. Of course he wasn’t allowed to tap into any of the Subject Matter Experts (SME’s). And there was no existing Community of Practice (CoP) that he could turn to.

Unfortunately, the news that I gave him was that no taxonomy would be implemented there. Yes, I know he was going to somehow try to tackle the whole thing on his own and knowing him would give it his best shot. But my point was that I believe that the organization lacks even the most fundamental understanding of what this whole “Knowledge Economy” thing is about — and because of that, relative to the organization, the “Knowledge Economy” is broken. And until that is fixed, I don’t think that he’s going to have much luck getting the taxonomy he might create actually implemented.

I say that because if the organization still doesn’t “get it” then he’s not only going to get no support in creating the taxonomy, but will also get no support in implementing it and certainly no support for making sure that the organization does what it needs to do on an operational basis to support the taxonomy. For example, he alone cannot “install” the taxonomy. That’s pretty much going to fall to the IT side of the organization — and they certainly haven’t received any funding for the taxonomy, and other than knowing that for some reason some of the leadership told him to go forth, they really have no vested interest in ensuring that it is put in place, much less done so in a manner that will produce a great outcome.

Add to that the fact that there will be no SME support. No SME support in creating the taxonomy, translates into no SME support FOR the taxonomy. Which pretty much will doom the taxonomy from the beginning. And the reason that I suggest that this will occur is because despite my colleague’s best intentions, organizational knowledge will always outpace a taxonomy. Which means that someone is going to have to go back and clean it up. Maintain it. Upkeep and all that. None of which was discussed or even considered.

The bottom line is that I envision that this guy is going to take on an enormous tasking himself due to lack of funding, lack of resources, etc. And while he might “finish” it….and even if somehow it is installed/implemented (and I’d bet against that succeeding at this point)….the lack of upkeep and maintenance on it will almost certainly cause those who weren’t in favor of the idea (or simply didn’t want to support it) to then go to great lengths to poke at how out of date the taxonomy is, how little value it seems to provide, and so on and so on.

My recommendation as the first step? I suggested that he back off the taxonomy and instead go to work on the culture. I suggested that he begin to wander around the organization a bit and try to get a better handle on why the culture there doesn’t seem to support KM. Failing to fix the culture will continue to snuff out any significant KM effort. I suggested that the first step that he needs to take is to find a champion for fixing the culture, and then and only then can he begin to consider how to best tackle the taxonomy.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
KM can’t long be accomplished under the radar, nor without budget or other resources. Move forward in that manner if you have no immediate choice, but recognize that until you change the culture your success at implementing KM will be limited. Find a champion, take them by the hand and give them a guided tour of the “real” organization. Get that champion on board and then consider which issues to tackle first and how.

Originally published at ITtoolbox on 9/29/2006

About Dr. Dan Kirsch