No need to search through my blog or search the internet for the best of the best in KM to learn the secret. I am going to share it with you right here and now. It is called “communication.”
To share information and gain common understanding we need to communicate. We need to communicate in stories so that we have context and we need to communicate in process so that we can find steps to accomplish a task, a goal or an outcome. I realize that you know these things and that I am close to losing you except for one part… If communication is the key to KM and communication is essentially the key to success in every area of life, why doesn’t it happen?
It is hard to communicate. In business there is fear of the unknown. At home, there is fear of feeling a certain way or being embarrassed. There are plenty of reasons that hinder our ability to communicate. There are also a lot of reasons that we think we are communicating when in fact, we aren’t.
We know that we need to share data, information, knowledge and leverage the wisdom of our workforce. We know that we need to gain as much as we can from people by asking questions to gain more context and more explicit knowledge. The reality is that people work best in small teams and trusted communities and environments. People work best when they can provide feedback without fear. People need purpose and feedback to work towards their potential. Once they think they have reached their potential, they need to realize more.
The measure of a good KM program is a shift in culture. The measure is how they feel and the overall sentiment. Everything else in terms of sharing and productivity will be in flux and will change on a regular basis but the key is how people feel.
In 1999-2000 time frame Gateway computer was still leading the pack in computer sales. Ted Waitt was essentially cashing in his chips and stepping down from operations. He co-founded Gateway computers and he said “You’ve got a friend in the business.” Ted basically stepped back and let Jeff Weitzen run the company.
“The astounding rise of Gateway came to a crashing halt in 2000 when the global PC industry fell into its worst slump ever. Gateway was hit particularly hard because of its greater reliance on the consumer and small business markets–the hardest hit sectors–and because of questionable management decisions. Soon after taking over, Weitzen began pushing aside old-time Gateway managers and instituted a number of new policies that hurt not only morale but also the bottom line. Weitzen also muddied the company’s distribution strategy by launching deals to sell Gateway PCs through such channels as the OfficeMax chain and the QVC home shopping network. He also opened up 100 more Gateway retail stores in the United States. When archrival Dell instituted a price war in an ultimately successful attempt to grab more market share during the PC downturn, Gateway took a heavy blow and ended up suffering a fourth-quarter 2000 net loss of $94.3 million. For the year, net profits fell 26 percent, to $316 million, a figure later revised downward to $241.5 million. Gateway’s stock fell 75 percent during 2000, from $72.06 per share to $17.99.”
I worked for Gateway for a minute during this time. I was on the call floor with the online technicians. It was truly a tragedy. I watched people who loved Gateway fall apart and when I discussed this with management as a new comer they simply stated that the operating model changed and that everyone would have to deal with it.
Interestingly enough, there was a knowledge management system that technicians created outside of the Gateway system. One technician built a website that captured lessons learned and best practices. He had step by step help systems that were written by other technicians as well. It was driven by passion and it was very good. Gateway banned use of the site after they discovered its existence.
I didn’t have a measurement vehicle but I knew that Gateway was in trouble by how it acted as an organization and how the people around me felt. I went to my manager and discussed my concerns. He looked at me and essentially stated that Gateway was in good condition and that it would do well in the near future and beyond. I could see that they were blind and this is where communication failed. I turned in my resignation immediately after that conversation and within a few months, Gateway closed their Hampton, Virginia call center due to economic downturn.
Clear outcome based on organizational behavior. Ted came back to save the day in March 2001 but it was too late, the organization was polluted and they never recovered for a lot of reasons.
Fitting this in to KM
Communication is an activity and it starts everyday when you get up. It isn’t a sport that you watch, it isn’t a game that you play. It is real and to have a good knowledge based program, you have to read, talk, write, listen, love and work out loud. You have to think out loud and you have to engage your circles. You have to lead with clarity of thought and be consistent in your words and definitions. These must be aligned with your intent. Your intent is further aligned with your organizational goals and outcome based initiatives.
No need to fail
Failure in small doses is fine but we don’t aim to fail, we aim to succeed. If we do, we can be happy to make a mistake, a mistake is not a failure. It is a learning event and we have been successful in our attempt to eliminate an option. If we are listening and learning, if we have the right people being open, honest and clear, if we have the conversations around solving root causes as opposed to treating symptoms, KM efforts will succeed.
Everyone won’t come to the party
That is fine. Not everyone will always want to participate but at the end of the day, we all have to answer to Maslow. If we find the right approach with people as groups and as individuals we will share and learn and that is success in KM.