Here’s Your Sign – Yes, in Knowledge Management Too!

Here's your sign!

I’d like to dedicate this particular post to a great comedian Bill Engvall, and his routine focused around “Here’s your sign.”   This post is for those who in implementing Knowledge Management, truly need their sign, and especially for this “poster child” that really needed a sign.


So just to make sure that everyone understands where I’m coming from, here’s a bit of Bill’s “Here’s your sign” routine:

Stupid people should have to wear signs that just say, “I’m Stupid.” That way you wouldn’t rely on them, would you? You wouldn’t ask them anything. It would be like, “Excuse me…oops…never mind, didn’t see your sign.”
It’s like before my wife and I moved. Our house was full of boxes and there was a U-Haul truck in our driveway. My neighbor comes over and says, “Hey, you moving?” “Nope. We just pack our stuff up once or twice a week to see how many boxes it takes. Here’s your sign.”

Okay, now that we’re all up to speed, here’s my story of that “poster child” that needed a sign.

Seems there was this company that wanted to get started with implementation of Knowledge Management.  Only thing was that they had actually been doing Knowledge Management at the grass roots level for a long time. They had become very adept at sharing…oh, let’s say…”lessons learned.”  So good at it that they were able to push through the entire organization a bit of a culture that supported sharing those lessons learned.  So good at it that all the workers would immediately think about being able to “document” a lesson learned, and then would seek out opportunities to share that lesson learned with co-workers.

They did this because they had learned (often the hard and painful way) that not knowing someone else’s lesson learned might result in them having to learn the lesson for themself.  Learn that lesson in advance, then avoid the hard and painful method.  Sounds pretty good so far, right?

Okay…then one day, someone in management decided that they should implement Knowledge Management.  So they named someone to be the “Knowledge Manager” and the first thing that this new Knowledge Manager did was prepare a really nifty PowerPoint presentation.  A presentation that explained exactly what Knowledge Management was, how it has been used in the company, and oh yeah…a really nifty definition of Knowledge Management.  In fact, let’s just say that the Knowledge Manager spent a whole lot of time carefully crafting that perfect definition.  Polishing it, neatening it up until it was just…super dooper spiffer-ooney! And all the managers on the receiving end of that PowerPoint presentation all went, “Oh! Ah!” and Clap, clap, clap.

And so…the Knowledge Manager left that meeting feeling pretty good.  Wonderful in fact.  Imagine that, he’d been able to make his presentation, define Knowledge Management and everything, and everyone seemed to get on board.  They seemed outright supportive of Knowledge Management.  As if they couldn’t wait to get involved, and help out with that implementation.  Obviously a job well done!

I talk about this little thing that I like to call “Avoiding Elbow Injuries.”

You get these injuries when you — it helps if you follow along — extend your arm out in front of you (either arm will do)…turn your palm upward…approach your shoulder with that palm (Important Safety Tip: It helps if you go to the opposite shoulder!)…and touch the palm of your hand on your shoulder. Pause for a moment. Then slightly raise the palm. Pause.   Then lower and touch.  Repeat that process.  And while doing so say the following: “Good job! Good job!”  Repeat process until elbow injury sets in (sort of like tennis elbow), then use the previously unused arm-hand-palm-shoulder until that side hurts, then seek out others with elbow injuries and form a conga line.

My belief is that you should avoid elbow injuries, and an easy way to do so is to…well, avoid trying to pat yourself on the back a bit too much.

Now…back to our poster child for “Here’s your sign.”

So…fast forward in the corporation and then stop the tape when you get to the part where the parent company of the company decides to give the company a whole bunch of money to implement Knowledge Management.  You see, it seems that the company had gotten some good press about it’s “lessons learned” sharing, and so the parent company thought, why not give them a bunch more money so that they can REALLY get the Knowledge Management implementation moving along, and do lots of great things!

So….money arrives…now, fast forward in the corporation and then stop the tape when you get to the part where the company (the one implementing the KM) pretty much abandons implementation of Knowledge Management.  See that?  Wow, wonder what happened?  They were doing so well!  How did it get to that point?

So…rewind the tape just a bit…look for it….slow…look for it….there it is.

That would be the point in time when all of the other managers there, having seen all the money falling from the sky, decided that they really wanted to get in on that schtuff…what was it called again?  Oh yeah, “Knowledge Management.”   What is that anyway?   Gosh I don’t know…but what if we do this — could we just take the project that WE want funding for, and simply add the words “Knowledge Management” to the description? Maybe it will get funded? Good idea! Let’s give that a try!

Edge forward just a bit further…slowly…look for it.   Ah, there it is — the celebration where the above manager and his team are celebrating the project funding windfall that came their way, all because they just happened to call their project a “Knowledge Management” project.  Even though it wasn’t.

So…by not having taken the time to openly discuss what exactly “Knowledge Management” was “going to be” in the company (and lacking any formal strategy to describe what the organization was going to “do” with Knowledge Management), it was left entirely up to each and every manager to decide for themselves just what it was or wasn’t.   Or in worst case…to simply forego that whole time consuming process and simply label any and everything as “KM.”

Here’s your sign.

If they actually had their sign, I’d know that they didn’t “get” what Knowledge Management was.   That would have made funding decisions easy if I’d been there.   Using funding allocated to KM for things that actually were KM, and all that.

I’m not trying to suggest that this was a case of all of the above being the results of not having a pat definition of KM adopted without discussion…obviously there were (and still are) other things amiss in this company.  And that lack of a KM strategy certainly didn’t help.  But I will suggest…that not taking the time to have those discussions, to reach consensus on what KM was and wasn’t going to be for the company….left the door wide open for the above abuse.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
Having a working definition of Knowledge Management is nice, but I suggest that it is by far better to develop that definition by consensus, after discussion and thought, than to simply rush to engrave something on the plaque to hang on the wall. The process (journey) that you take as an organization to get to the consensus of the definition/concept may be much more important than the definition itself.

Based on my post originally published at ITtoolbox on 10/5/2006

About Dr. Dan Kirsch