"The operation was a success but the patient died"

Are you a man or a microbe?

You're human right? So you would always choose a surgeon over a microbiologist to fix your medical problem.

But would you trust a surgeon that had never been trained in microbiology?

Someone who was brilliant with a scalpel, amazing with an arthroscope, but didn't care about infection control?
Would you be OK with somebody who has a 100% track record of successful knee reconstructions but 20% of his patients get septicemia in the weeks following his operations and the response is always "Nobody seems sick when they leave the hospital. I think it's more about personal hygiene and maybe a bit of bad luck."

Well that is basically how a lot of managers and consultants work today.  While doing brilliant work, they commit basic KM mistakes, often successfully solving the business problem but leaving behind a trail of orphaned knowledge, little to no strategy, incomplete change management and unfinished training that is a recipe for knowledge loss, service degradation, internal conflict and reinventing the wheel.  As for learning, they see that as something you did in Uni before we hired you, not an active component of the organisation's collective decision making process.

Building the Knowledge Lens

Your primary task isn't to hire more knowledge managers. It must first be to teach your current managers how to manage with knowledge awareness, just like a surgeon focuses on solving the issue, but always has the threat of infection in mind.
  • Introduce the concept in meetings, asking "what have we learned this week?" and "how can we make that available to our future selves?" 
  • When a problem pops up, ask "who else might have dealt with that before?" or "what is our process for solving problems like that?"
  • When you find a solution, commend the problem solver(s) then ask how they are going to make that knowledge available to the next one who has the problem and the method that person will use to find it.
  • If you are sending your people to get an MBA, make sure they do a KM subject and then share what they learn with your team.
  • Look for KM advocates who "really get it" and create a community of guardians of the company's knowledge.
Experienced knowledge managers are brilliant, especially when big changes need to be made. However, never forget the majority of positive change will always come from the people on the front line exhibiting behaviors that put the company's long term prosperity first.
To me, that's a sign of a good leader.

Stuart French facilitates the SIRF KM Roundtable, runs the MIS & KM online subject for La Trobe University's MBA program and also runs the KM-101 Practical Introduction Course for those wishing to become better managers by understanding the impact of KM on their businesses. If you would like to take the next step in your management journey, Stuart can help you find the best next step for you.

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