Why Knowledge Management is NOT the Answer

4 Levels of Learning Outcomes

According to Wikipedia, Knowledge management (KM) is the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization.

At first-read this sounds like a great idea, and many organizations have spent many millions of dollars in the last 20 years to collect and catalog the knowledge their employees possess, in order to “preserve” it and share it.

There is one glaring problem with this approach – knowing what you know and knowing how you arrived at the answer are worlds apart. As the illustration at left shows us, knowledge is at the lowest level of learning. Indeed it is the foundation upon which all learning, skill and ability is built, but having knowledge alone is not enough.

For individuals and organizations to have success, there needs to be a transfer of thinking skills- not just information. For example, in one organization we’ve worked with, the transfer of thinking skills started with asking senior associates to write a short synopsis of the six “defining moments” of their career – when did they have an ah-ha moment and how did it change how they worked? These were then categorized in to themes such as loss, growth, conflict, strategy, competitive advantage, etc.

The same senior associates were then interviewed to get more detail about their “stories” – what they had learned and how. Questions such as, “Was there a single factor that influenced your _____,” or “If you had the opportunity to give advice to your younger self, what would you advise?”

Finally, the “best” stories in each category (loss, growth, etc.) were chosen and those same senior associates were interviewed, on camera, a’la 60 Minutes, to tell their story in five minutes or less. The previous steps of writing the story out and thinking aloud through interviews helped the associates to succinctly transmit the situation, the outcome and the lessons learned.

In just under two months the organization captured the best thinking from the most experienced people in the organization. The videos were used as “teasers” to get learners interested in the topic (theme) and the other stories were made available in a case study format for learner’s reference.

The collection of thinking is available to be disseminated via multiple modalities – on the company’s intranet, via a monthly internal newsletter, on-demand from the learning portal, and in leadership training offerings. An interesting outcome of the project is that other associates have come forward to voluntarily share their thinking as well. They want to share their career defining moments and learnings with the organization and other associates.

The organization now has an archive of what, why, and how, rather than a collection of simply what.