Knowledge Management

A recent issue of Training magazine ( had an article on knowledge management (KM). Bristo-Myers Squibb found that their scientists spent 9 hours a week (18% of their time) looking for information to drive their research. Reduce the search time and you accelerate the project. The goal of KM is to create an environment where anyone can ask, 'Does anybody know how to do X?' and get a quick, reliable answer.

"The driving idea behind KM really does sound wonderful: Identify not just the key formal documents, but also the 'tacit' wisdom and expertise that exists in the heads of individual employees--the 80 percent of every company's know-how that walks out the door at the end of each workday. Then organize it, classify it, and make it easily accessible to other employees who need that knowledge to perform their jobs well."

Unfortunately, document management software became the technology solution to KM, but the big gap is still in mining the employee mind. "When a KM effort leads with technology, you almost guarantee failure," says Consultant Melinda Bickerstaff.

Succeeding at Knowledge Management

Focus! Begin with a specific bit of business wisdom that someone in your organization knows and that others could benefit from knowing as well.

Does someone in your company consistently:

  • Sell more?
  • Produce more?
  • Have fewer complaints?
  • Engender more customer loyalty?
  • Lead in ways that make people follow them?
  • Manage in ways that get things done and maximize employee satisfaction?

Who is the mad genius that consistently out performs everyone else? And does so without breaking a sweat?

Cloning Genius

Once you know who already has the knowledge and skills you seek, then start to reverse engineer the magic in their method. Ask: Can I interview you about the lessons learned from what you've done? Then ask:

  • What is their metaphor about what they do and how they do it? One comedian I modeled stitched together a "quilt" of comedy bits for each show she did.
  • What do they value? The most productive people I've modeled value getting things done and moving projects forward, even if they only move a little bit every day. They value the wise use of time and hate wasting time.
  • What do they believe? These people also believe that a working prototype developed quickly today beats a perfect solution developed weeks or months from now.
  • What are their capabilities? These people can communicate their ideas in written as well as spoken format, visually as well as orally. They can see the big picture and grind out the detail. They can hold onto their vision and problem solve their way to it.
  • What are their strategies? Productive people focus their passion on priority activities. They naturally fit chunks of the overall task into whatever time is available. People who can do things well use elegant strategies to get them done. Strategies are like little modules of mind code that effortlessly resolve even the most difficult problems.

Unfortunately, the people with these genius skills have no idea how they do them. You have to observe them and listen to them talk about their work over time to detect the patterns they use. While you'll never learn everything they know, you can discover the few key values, beliefs, capabilities and strategies that they use that deliver most of the results. Then develop experiential training and templates to transfer those skills to other people.

Knowledge Transfer
Most people don't need or want a class. They want an example, a case study or a template that they can use as a model for solving their immediate problem. Most people don't want a four week Six Sigma Black Belt class; they want an immediate way to apply the key tools of Six Sigma to their issue right now. Many types of knowledge transfer can be handled in this way. That's why our QI Macros product has over 60 templates that embody the knowledge and expertise required for Six Sigma. A fill-in-the-blanks template beats a sheet of blank paper any day.

Sometimes the only way to transfer the knowledge is with a class. The key is that learners learn by doing, not by being taught.

That's why when I teach a Six Sigma class in one day I prefer to do it in a computer lab where everyone has the QI Macros and everyone has data from the organization that reflects the type of problems they deal with. In one school district, we analyzed problems that ranged from bullying and fighting to drug sales and murder. In a hospital we work on data about patient falls, medication errors, c-section rates, and mortality rates. In a printing company we focused on jobs that had to go back to the presses. In a highway facility, we focused on toll collection issues.

In his book, Lessons in Learning, E-learning, and Training, Roger Schank asks: Why do we persist in doing things [training] we know don't work? I'll tell you why, because a week-long training class pays more than a one day training class. Its supplier driven, not customer driven.

Here's My Point
Capture your employee's wisdom in templates that embody the skills and knowledge of the genius employees. Transfer the knowledge through experiential learning that applies directly to their job. If you don't know how to capture those genius insights, hire someone who does.

Cedric Coco, senior director of engineering excellence for Microsoft says: If you're going to spend millions of dollars on KM, spend the millions to develop content, not the fancy system.

Start to capture the wisdom that walks out the door every night and share it with everyone. You'll be glad you did.


Rights to reprint this article in company periodicals is freely given with the inclusion of the following tag line: "© 2008-2024 Jay Arthur, the KnowWare® Man, 888-468-1537, ."