Social Knowledge Management

In their post on tacit knowledge management yesterday, 3 Geeks and a Law blog ask whether 2010 will be the year that Knowledge Management (KM) thrives or dies.

In its current state, KM has turned into a mechanism that attempts to capture explicit knowledge in a way that is seamless to the person creating that knowledge. The results turn out to be databases filled with retrievable information presented as contributed knowledge from someone within the firm. So, we end up with CRM databases, document management systems, research capturing tools and expertise databases. All of which are simply ways that KM has attempted to capture the explicit knowledge of those within the firm as it written down in order to be retrieved at a later time by others in the firm. Unfortunately, this has become the classical KM routine, and the resulting product turns out to be a rarely used resource because the data is either ‘dirty’, obsolete or irrelevant to the current needs of those within the firm.

The Geeks are right. KM as we know it is dead. And the sooner we all realise that, the better.

The key problem of traditional KM tools is a human one: When something becomes obvious, people tend to stop sharing. It becomes implanted in their subconscious as background thinking and they cease to write it down. Rajesh Setty explains this phenomenon beautifully in Why are some people reluctant to share?

What is needed instead are simple tools that connect people to people and their knowledge. And they are not always technology tools…

In my 7 years at Microsoft plenty of KM initiatives came and went but nothing was anywhere near as successful these simple social business tools:

  1. Searchable discussion forums – by far the most important mechanism for sharing knowledge. Why? Because it is based on need. People ask questions, and they get a response, as and when they need it. (Too many KM system entries are based on what experts think people need, or what they think is good for them)
  2. People Search – the ability to search for people based on their area of expertise, see where they sit in your social graph, and get an introduction.
  3. Instant Messaging – to be able to ask questions of experts in time critical situations. You should aim to create a flat organisation. Create a culture where staff are empowered to ask questions of experts and where experts are rewarded for sharing knowledge.
  4. A buddying system for new hires to coach them on the company culture and processes – all the stuff that isn’t in the training manual.
  5. A mentoring programme for all staff to help people build connections both up and across the business.

Blogs and Wikis also had a place too, but to a lesser extent. Blogs were good for keeping up to date with news from various parts of the company. Wikis useful when a group were collaborating to solve a problem or document a process for the first time.

Finally, in 2008 a prototype twitter-like service called TownSquare was introduced which was incredibly was useful for keeping up to date on what your network was working on. This will see the light of day in SharePoint 2010 later this year.

So there you have it… my take on knowledge management and the use of social tools to capture and share knowledge. 

What tools and techniques have you found most useful for sharing knowledge across your organisation?

James Mullan - February 15, 2010

Mark, thanks for directing me to this post. I don't recall reading the 3 Geeks and a Law Blog post so this was very interesting. I absolutely agree with your list of social business tools but would say that I also feel blogs and wikis have a place in Social Knowledge Management.

I used Instant Messaging a lot at my last firm, it was great to be able to touch base with people when you didn't want to send an email and they were on the phone but appeared to be online. Sites like Twitter and Yammer have taken over from Instant Messaging a bit, especially behind the firewall. Being able to see what people are doing is a great way of starting a conversation, especially if you're interested in what they're doing.

People search is one of the most highly valued tools on our Intranet and probably the most well used. I agree that people able to find out what expertise people have is also good, but it's reliant on the individual either adding information about their expertise or having a search that is very good at picking out keywords/expertise from content.

I'm a fan of mentoring as a tool for helping individuals to find out more about the organisation they work for and as a way for them to speak to senior members of staff, these are typically the people who are mentors. Thanks for the post I'll be blogging about this on my blog no doubt!

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