posted 5 Jun 2008 in Volume 11 Issue 9
New challenge for knowledge management
KM usage has grown substantially, but it now faces a daunting generational barrier to knowledge transfer.
By Jerry Ash
What would you say if someone were to tell you that “Recently knowledge management (KM) has had two good years but its performance over the previous 10 years has been mixed. From 1996 to 2006, usage among
That’s what Carla O’Dell, president of the American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC), said to kick off its 13th annual KM conference in
APQC is celebrating more than 30 years of an ever-changing role in the lives of the
The consortium is a highly respected business network, research facility and knowledge source and its conferences are always authoritative and on the edge of business trends.
Now, what if someone from APQC said KM won’t get better until it understands the communication gap among baby boomers, generations X and Y and, soon, the Millenial Generation? You would listen.
The data on which O’Dell based her opening report was the result of a commissioned Bain & Co. survey completed in 2007. When KM enjoyed only a 20 per cent penetration among those surveyed, users expressed a satisfaction rate of 3.5 on a scale of five. Ten years later, KM’s penetration had risen to 65 per cent and the satisfaction rate was still 3.5.
More, not better
According to the report, for the first time since 1998, KM was listed by the respondents as one of their top-10 (number eight) most used tools. However, the same respondents ranked these tools 22 out of 25 in satisfaction.
One might guess that maturity levels probably affect satisfaction. New KM initiatives at the lower end of maturity might pull the overall ratings down, while mature programmes may be logging higher satisfaction rates. On micro basis, it would be good to know where you are on a maturity scale.
APQC has studied maturity levels for years and recently developed a maturity model that describes what you would expect to see at each of five levels. The research finds that programmes progress slowly from the initial level one (growing awareness) to level five (continuously improving practices).
Getting from level one to five is a long journey. People in the audience admitted they were in the lower half of the levels and even those who represented some of the most mature programmes said they were somewhere in level three (common processes and approaches).
The overall satisfaction level, then, would rise only when the overall maturity levels rise.
Although overall KM is still in the developmental stage, APQC has found seven enduring lessons:
Focus on business issues and tangible value;
Never start with changing the culture;
The hardest thing is to get people to show up – unless there is food;
People hoard their time and energy, not their knowledge;
People don’t know what they know until you ask a specific question;
It always comes down to a core group of committed people;
Measure – we all have to continuously show value.
Caution: Multiple generations at work
O’Dell identified the three main forces at work along the new edge: new developments in social computing, multiple generations and social networking. Among the three, the migration of multiple generations into and out of the workplace added new dimensions to the recognised challenges of retirements and lost knowledge.
“It’s not just retirement anymore,” said O’Dell. “Five years ago the issue was the looming retirement of the baby boomers who entered the workforce in the 1970s and 1980s. Today the risk and reality of knowledge loss has become a pandemic in modern organisations.”
But the problem is more complex than lost knowledge. Multiple generations on each side of the revolving door are presenting barriers to knowledge transfer.
Some of the major barriers include:
Boomers: Keep it simple – no bells and whistles please.
New generation: Put it on my fourth screen.
Boomers: Help me save time and do my job.
New generation: I don’t know what to ask these old guys.
Boomers: Don’t change to new tools.
New generation: I don’t want to look stupid.
Boomers: If I have time I’m happy to share what I know. Just ask.
New generation: I’m happy to share what I know. Ask me on Facebook.
Boomers: Who are these people and why are they editing my stuff?
On the new edge, the cultural divide demands not only that we mitigate the risk of lost knowledge but that organisations must learn how to attract and keep the next generations and build bridges for knowledge flow. And remember the admonition – don’t try to change the culture.
Just having the tools KM has already put in place, such as communities of practice, expertise locator systems, will not be enough. We will need to understand the competing cultures and the changing environment.
Social networking is exploding. One-fifth of the world’s internet users have profiles on a social networking site. Among the registered users worldwide, 100 million are at MySpace, 69 million at FaceBook, 20 million on LinkedIn and one million on Twitter.
Having examined the evolving technologies, APQC has found a growing focus on connecting people to people and a decreasing emphasis on collecting and managing content. They have discovered a convergence of expertise locator systems, ‘people finders’, and social networking. Companies are starting to emulate the web-based social networking tools in their corporate expertise location and profiling systems.
Connect or collide?
The central question is how these two worlds will connect or collide: remaining baby boomers with their databases, taxonomies and content managers, retirement, federated search and integrated collaboration platforms; the new generations with their wikis, social networking, blogs, social tools, social bookmarks, RSS feeds, mash-ups, folksonomies and mobile computing.
The remaining keynoters reinforced O’Dell’s analysis and break-out speakers focused on the details of KM strategies aimed at improving KM and mitigating the changing human environment.
Adding to the changing cultures, Larry Prusak announced (if you haven’t noticed already) that Europe, America and Australia have lost the monopoly on useful knowledge (see page 20).
Of particular significance were remarks by keynote speaker Robert Wendover, managing director at the Center for Generational Studies. “Matures” were influenced by family, neighbors, schools, radio, newspapers, magazines,” he said. “They had plenty of time to think. Contrast that with the next generations.” Technology made the difference.
Wendover recalled a hike in the mountains with his daughter. They had barely begun when his daughter became bored and asked if she could use his mobile phone. For the rest of the outing she entertained herself by programming it.
He quickly discovered in the next quarter mile that his phone had 35 different ring tones. After she gave it back he found that she had reprogrammed it and added in her friends’ birthdays. Thereafter he received constant reminders until he asked her to remove them.
“The next time I buy a cell phone I’m going to give it to her and have her figure it out for me,” he said. The major difference between the generations is the technology.
Transfer that to the workplace: “If I can find the information when I need it, why would I need to know now? I’ll just whip out my PDA and go there. Surely this organisation will have it somewhere,” said Wendover.
The new generations are not disloyal. They think differently, look at jobs differently and haven’t figured out the difference between information and knowledge. They question relevance and whether the knowledge is true or worth knowing. And you wonder too: Are the technologies developed years ago relevant in today’s world?
“On the other hand not everything can fit on some tech linear environment,” said Wendover. “Choices are based on experience, morals etc. What do we do about a process that ensures leadership ability?”
One of the things front line managers are thinking to themselves is, ?This kid has no common sense. I have to take job expectations and break them down and oversupervise – trash is full, take it out; jacket fell off the hook, pick it up.’
Wendover continued to describe the situation as both conundrum and opportunity.
Story-telling champion Steve Denning ended the two-day discussion by talking about how to inspire enduring enthusiasm for a cause; connect with a diverse, cynical audience, get their attention, stimulate desire and reinforce reasons. All good material for an audience suddenly aware of a new and demanding edge to the knowledge age.
In summary, perhaps the following quote best draws this discussion to a close:
“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” Marcel Proust (1871-1922)
To download the APQC KM Maturity Model visit http://www.apqc.org/portal/apqc/ksn/2007KMConf_Patrizi_Levin.pdf?paf_gear_id=contentgearhome&paf_dm=full&pageselect=contentitem&docid=131404
The American Productivity and Quality Center (APQC) is celebrating more than 30 years as developers of benchmarking standards in human-capital management, financial management, information technology, innovation, product development, supply chain and knowledge management (KM).
It is a non-profit consortium of organisational members, whose dues fund the production of data and
They hold conferences, but they are not ‘conference providers.’ Still, it’s events are open to non-members including individuals who are not lucky enough to be employed by an APQC member organisation but seek the learning. Many non-members attend.
In 1977, the founding of the organisation – then known as the American Productivity Center (APC) – was backed by a powerhouse board of directors including the leaders of Fortune 1000 companies, union heads and former senior government officials.
In 1995 APQC entered the world of KM by partnering with Arthur Andersen to produce a Knowledge Imperative Symposium. The event propelled the APQC agenda into KM. The recent
For more information on APQC, visit www.apqc.org