Knowledge Management — it’s not an IT thing, start with your culture!

If you are working in a growth team these days you will have heard this message: “Validated learning is key”

Test and learn, or die trying, right?

Well yes and no. It really depends on your company’s culture.

But let’s start at the root of the problem:

Businesses are drowning in information and while they are happily drowning, they are throwing IT at this problem like there was no tomorrow.

IT shall fix our issues.

May the code bring our information overload to its knees, may it enable people to share what they know.

This might as well be the battle cry of the new millennium.

Sure. We have learned to google things. We are quite good at getting information the second we need it, until we don’t. Until we are stuck at work needing a piece of information, but simply can’t find it.

Until we re-invent the wheel multiple times in the same department at the same company, because we quite literally have no clue what everyone else is doing around us.

And yes…You are doing these meetings once a week, where people share what they do. Guess what…we all are, still we seem to sit in the same boat.

So what’s going wrong?

Knowledge sharing is important, but most of us approach it the wrong way:

Ever since an IDC Research in 2004 showed, that Fortune 500 companies lose more than $30 billion annually, due to sucking at making knowledge available and enabling knowledge sharing, businesses recognize, that sharing knowledge is kinda important. (my short summary of the study for you)

Here’s the thing, unfortunately other studies show that Managers also think that investing more money into IT would ultimately fix this problem.

And why is that unfortunate you wonder?

Well, partly since new studies show that if one thing really doesn’t make a difference, it’s that new pricy CRM/CMS of your’s. In fact, the study concludes that your investment into IT have basically no impact on your ability to share knowledge.

And yes, the other part is simple. Knowledge hasn’t gotten less complicated since 2004, Sorry folks.

I wish all my academic papers in this field would have had this headline, since many of them ended at exactly this conclusion:

Sharing knowledge can be a powerful tool for your organization. Sucking at it can really hurt your bottom line. If you are having trouble with it, investing into IT is not the way to solve it.

So what’s the takeaway?

The key lies within your corporate culture and how much managerial focus you are willing to deploy to this issue.

If people aren’t exchanging knowledge at the watercooler, in their face to face chats, on their walk to the bus or during the lunch break, they will likely not do it on your fancy system.

Your cultural problems won’t be solved by IT, they will be translated onto your IT system. If your corporate environment is very competitive and people keep the best stuff to themselves to push their careers, they won’t just share it now, that you have that great new system.

Validated learning is important. The Silicon Valley way of celebrating failure is great to some extend, as long as you actually learn something from it.

I don’t want to have to quote Albert Einstein here. But if you repeatedly fail, without learning from it, you are quite frankly insane.

So what are your next steps?

Recognize that this is an issue that needs focus from your managers. This is a change management issue.

Figure out where the barriers to knowledge sharing lie within your organization. Are you geographically split up? Do you have many different departments? Do they even sit on information that is relevant for each other?

Use people as boundary spanners, you know the developer, that also did email marketing for the other company. Or that finance guy that is really into UX and behavioural economics. Use their interest to build bridges between different departments.

Remember customer development? You should have done a whole lot of that when you started your company. Either way your company should constantly engage in this practice to serve customers in the best way possible. You have to do the same thing with your employees. Figure out where the pain points are, what information or knowledge would help them in their work. Then figure out how you could get people to share this information with them. Your task is to enable your employees in doing so, not just handing them the tool to do it.

If IT doesn’t matter, start as low key as possible. You don’t need to do a big investments into a fancy system, use the free stuff. A google sheet will do just fine for people to enter their marketing ideas.

Remember: validated learning, making knowledge accessible, it’s depending on your culture. And yes culture is a difficult thing to influence, it will take time. But it will be worth it!