Avoiding half-assed knowledge management flops

Knowledge management is part of most social business initiatives. Equipping employees, partners, suppliers and customers with knowledge to smooth operations makes complete sense – from building FAQs and content for use by customer service agents, to crowdsourcing ‘how tos’ from customers. We all know intuitively that the gathering, sharing and distribution of knowledge is important.

The trouble is, we tend to stop there; hence a bunch of failed knowledge management initiatives throughout the 90s to today.

The fact is, an estimated 70% of workplace learning is informal. Just because you post something somewhere on a technology platform doesn’t mean anything is going to change – not when the knowledge isn’t used and supported by people telling stories, by trial and error, by inexperienced people watching more experienced people, by constant coaching, by developing new products and practices off the back of it.

When looking at the capture and dissemination of enterprise knowledge as part of a social business strategy, an intranet revamp, or an HR initiative, considering the unbudgeted, unplanned, uncaptured tacit knowledge is the missing piece of the puzzle that will mean the difference between success and failure. This typically means stretching out the responsibility of whoever is contributing a piece of knowledge – to ensure they’re also responsible for embedding it in the organisation beyond uploading a file.

The final missing piece is philosophy, vision and values – i.e. not just what you know, but the way you see the world. So many organisations try to take knowledge and working practices from other successful companies and emulate them. Look at how many have attempted to copy the Toyota Production System (TPS); yet somehow, it doesn’t work. Why? Because TPS is a philosophy. It’s a perspective, a way of seeing the world, a way of thinking about quality, processes and people; not just a set of techniques.



  • Are you saying that “philosophy, vision and morals” is part of that knowledge that needs to be transferred, or that its the lens through which knowledge has to be interpreted?

    • Thanks for the comment Matthew.

      I’d say a bit of both, but the former is worthless without the latter. Transferring knowledge of philosophy, vision and values is only meaningful when the organisation lives and breathes those values and that philosophy, uses them to guide decision-making, hires people who embody them (fires people who don’t) and constantly refers to them in everyday working life. That’s the strong stuff of high performance culture.

      Having knowledge that something should be done like X, without a culture that truly supports doing it that way, typically leads to people doing things under the radar (secrecy, lack of transparency, lack of knowledge-share), giving up (lack of engagement, subpar work) or leaving (low retention).

      In order to successfully grow, share and use knowledge in a way that drives performance gains, that in itself must be part of the philosophy.

  • Great post, Jane. I clicked on the link for Tacit knowledge and read with interest the Wikipedia article, particularly the section about the distinction between know how (Tacit knowledge), know what (facts), know who (networking) and know why, which they defined as science. I was struck that the know why in many cases isn’t science, but what you’re describing as philosophy, vision and values. Perhaps you’re familiar with Simon Sinek’s Start with Why?

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