posted 10 Oct 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 2
Engaging the human factor in KM initiatives
By Olgar Tines
Many experts who speak about knowledge management and the value it can bring to business acknowledge KM is less about technology and more about people. The human factor is often the wild card that will either help facilitate success or raise barriers that may lead to less than optimal results from KM initiatives.
If this is true, why is it that experts in human factors are sometimes late to the KM game in many companies?
Often, the [KM] voice in the wilderness in a company is a technologist (IT leader, scientist or engineer), who by persistent advocacy manages to get knowledge management on the corporate agenda. The reward for this persistence is typically a leadership role in developing and implementing the KM strategy. There is no deliberate intent to ignore the human-factor dimension. However, the KM technologies that are available today are very beguiling and can consume the energy and focus of the team. KM takes on a flavour of being an ‘IT thing’ and, as such, does not capture or engage the time and attention of the organisation-development (OD) function.
Endeavours such as researching and evaluating tools and methods to capture tacit knowledge are a more explicit activity than trying to understand the work culture, which can be much more difficult to codify.
Often, because the leadership of KM is embedded in a technology-oriented function, there can be an underlying belief that the team can figure out the human-factor plan on their own by reading books and conducting research on best practices. There can also be a perception that adding OD resources to a team that may advocate different implementation approaches than the technologists have in mind will slow things down.
There is certainly much to learn about the human factors in KM initiatives from other companies or academia. However, it is essential to engage experts who understand the culture and KM-enabling behaviours of each specific company.
Human-factor considerations are less critical if the end result of the KM initiative is focused on deliverables that may be invisible to users, such as enhancing the intelligence and capability of internal search engines to produce more useful search results. The quality of search results is improved, but the end user does not have to do anything different to obtain the results – it is business as usual.
KM technologies that are disruptive to work culture and work flows must be carefully thought out and much care taken to ensure the organisation is ready for and sees the value of the change. Looking through the lens of human factors can also provide a set of filters to the KM team that may cause them to rule out or delay certain technologies or initiatives because the culture change required is prohibitive.
Olga Tines is an organisation-development consultant for