"KM is the last thing on my mind!"

People watch as flames engulf the 200-year-old National Museum of Brazil, in Rio de Janeiro, Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018. According to its website, the museum has thousands of items related to the history of Brazil and other countries. The museum is part of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro. (Photo: AP)
Often people who talk about the need for KM focus on the sexy stuff. The way it increases your organisation's ability to innovate, respond to change and spread efficiency gains across your regions. These often appear in your business case.

But I think one of the main reasons you MUST be thinking of KM, at least monthly, is the downside of not getting it right.

A loss of knowledge doesn't just impact what your teams know. It cascades, impacting your ability to create value from your tangible assets. In other words, loss of knowledge usually equates to a loss in capability. Some of it immediate, like how a legal order must be responded to, or what time your trucks are allowed to enter a customer premise. Some knowledge loss has a delayed effect, such as the ability to respond to a large, infrequent flood safely, or correctly deploy management resources in an oil spill event at sea. Often the loss of capability can go unnoticed in these cases for years until the emergency arises. Finally there are the knowledge extinction events, where a whole function disappears overnight.

"The biggest supporters of KM work are those that have paid the price of reconstructing lost knowledge. It is expensive."

In effect, a large part of KM is managing this risk as it changes over time.

In one organisation I worked in, an entire team left simultaneously.  From four to zero in a month, taking with it all the working knowledge.  The incoming team had to reconstruct that knowledge from the thousands of Word, Excel, PowerPoint and MS Project files. Technically everything was written down (most of it anyway) but that was of little use to the new staff who didn't know what questions to ask, or where to look for the answers.

In another role, a large IT system was being shutdown as a new system replaced it.  Unbeknownst to the IT team, there were several users in another part of the business that only used that system in times of special response. I see similar problems happen when underlying datasets are changed without first gaining the knowledge of what reports are based off it.

Of course a lack of KM results in a thousand pin-pricks of lost efficiency, but it is these large loss events that can cost more than an entire KM program in a single day.

The bottom line is this: The more your organisational tempo and culture focuses on day to day operations and emergencies, the more a dedicated focus and investment to make KM a priority is required. The cost of doing this is minimal compared to the price you will pay when critical knowledge is lost for good, and trust me, your customers won't care how much you saved instead of protecting your ability to serve them.

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