Thursday, January 07, 2010

Why KM Initiatives Fail

Yes, this topic has been "kicked around" many times before. But something occurred to me this morning that I thought I'd share.


First, if you subscribe to the idea that organizations are complex unordered systems, and cause-effect relationships are un-predictable, then perhaps the complete, detailed picture of why KM initiatives fail is to some degree unknowable and unique to every situation and organization - or at the very least too costly to determine.

Perhaps that is why most causal discussions seem to present factors that contribute to failure, or report against the critical success factors presented in the KM initiative business case or project charter.

So, here are some of the factors I think contribute to a KM initiative's success (v.s. failure) - and I'll try and avoid the more popular ones.
  • strategic / enterprise-wide orientation
  • willingness to have the status quo challenged in a productive / meaningful way
  • recognition of the link between knowledge and the human learning process, which will help ensure that the "solution" is not overengineered with a rigid implementation plan
  • proper positioning of the value and purpose of external and internally created information in the learning process
  • recognition that a significant amount of learning takes place every day in the workplace, and the importance of this learning on knowledge work/workers
  • understanding that knowledge management initiatives are learning initiatives in and of themselves, requiring frequent after action reviews to adjust plans, evaluate and revise overall direction, or perhaps even stop completely and move onto another focus area
Let me balence these success factors with some challenges rooted in many of the characteristics of adults as learners as they apply in the context of decision making.  The implementation success of KM initiatives are often hampered by: 
  • a lack of an imminent crisis (life changing) event to trigger consideration of a change action
  • need of decision-makers to forsee some form of immediate, tangible value in the initiative
  • lack of decision-maker comfort with an initiative that is radically/dramatically outside the current thinking/mental models or what is already known
  • being overly complex / multi-facited / multi-dimensional
  • being led by experts using a prescriptive engagement model, rather than providing opportunities for those affected by the proposed changes to be involved in determining priority actions
  • perceived personal risks to decisiion-maker reputation, self-esteem and personal ego in:
    • admitting that the current situatuation, that they may have played a role in creating or sustaining, can be improved on or is in some way insufficient
    • acknowledgeing that they don't know the answer / solution already
All this leads to what I think the real value in a "start small" / pilot approach that is often recommended in KM articles and literature - low risk, experential LEARNING. This notion goes well beyond the "proving value or ROI" benefit of a small pilot.  A real learning approach enables key stakeholders to participate in a low personal risk setting, make sense of underlying concepts and principles, gain comfort with approaches/methods and tools, and participate in designing and affecting organizational change. For this learning to happen, it is mandatory that the project plan include frequent opportunities and events (after action reviews/restrospectives) to alow time for reflection, sense making, and learning.

What is still required, though, are decision makers with the willingness to experiment and provide support and access to the necessary resources for the learning pilot, and a "client" with the strategic foresight and avilable attention to offer their problem or opportunity for the pilot.

With the prevalence of crises to manage every day, willingness, resources and attention are difficult to find for a learning pilot. And crisis management, which drives tasks and actions to deadlines, offers few opportunities for good pre-and post action learning..

2 comments:

girassol said...

Hi!

please answer our innovation management research questionnaire located at http://www.preventorsoft.net


We would be happy if several experts could answer the questionnaire, and if you could consider forwarding it to clients.


Best regards,


Denis Coelho


University of Beira Interior
Covilhã - Portugal
http://www.ubi.pt

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