Why is managing the change process in KM so hard?

Cindy Hubert's picture

Admittedly, I have carried a banner (and passion) for knowledge management (KM) for 2 decades. APQC’s research and hands-on work with our members has resulted in a proven framework and a formula for successfully implementing KM; yet we hear time and time again of “failed” KM implementations. We go into strategic design and planning knowing that one of the 2 variables in every KM implementation is culture. And, still, how people react to KM is what keeps us up at night. What gives?

First, let’s explore this issue by reminding ourselves that the commitment of the KM Program is that we will serve the business by innovating and leveraging all capabilities to help knowledge flow as best as we can no matter what the business hands us. Yet, we continue down the path of designing and implementing standard frameworks, knowledge flow processes, and proven knowledge sharing and transfer approaches and tools with the hope that people will adopt and adapt our approaches and tools and knowledge will start flowing across the enterprise. 

When will we finally accept that fact that we are asking people to CHANGE the way they work? Have we really thought about what change means to our organizations? What happens when change occurs? How do we deal with it effectively so that we can move through it easily and effortlessly with as little fear and anxiety as possible? 

I started taking a closer look at the change process to see what else might be missing last year with APQC’s Advanced Working Group that was focused on dissecting barriers to culture change. As a group, we read The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. As we discussed the implications for KM, it reinforced the fact that change didn’t happen just because it was a bullet listed on slide in a presentation. The wheels of my brain were turning…  

I then joined APQC’s research, Transformational Change – Making it Last and my eyes continued to widen and my perspective began to change. David Shaner, author of The Seven Arts of Change, was the subject matter expert for this research (He will also be a featured keynote at this year’s Process Conference). He reinforced what I learned in the book review by stating that when it comes to changing culture, you have to recognize that we are addicted to the way we have “always done things.” And, when asking people to change you are asking them to change – it’s not just using new tools, practices, or people to collaborate. You are also asking them to change their minds and beliefs.   After all, that’s where culture resides – in people’s heads!  And it’s reinforced with collective experiences from people inside and outside of the organization.

One thing that helps make KM adaptable and flexible to service the needs of the business is understanding the layers of change. Change is a major catalyst for growth and transformation - and it’s a huge issue with many layers. Even when the change is seemingly negative, the resulting lessons learned are powerful and affirm our ability to deal with situations.

Change.  Is it crazy?  Always.  Is it stupid?  Sometimes.

I’ll be blogging more about this topic, focusing on the key findings from APQC’s latest transformational change research and looking at it through the lens of knowledge management. I’d be interested in your thoughts and experiences on this topic. I hope we can find ways that make sense for changing how we change.

You can follow me on Twitter @CHubert_apqc.

3 Comments

Anonymous's picture
interesting analysis, well said "Culture" is key in KM processes.
Anonymous's picture
I like the linkage back to change management. As a change management leader, and someone who wrote my masters thesis in knowledge management, I could not agree more. We can accomplish anything if we manage the change effectively. These days, with so much other change, we need to be creative as to how we design a knowledge management approach.
Cindy Hubert's picture
Thanks for the comments. One of the things I discovered a few years into designing and implementing KM programs, processes, approaches is that you have to engage people at the very start of the process and not say "hey, we're from "corporate" and we are here to help midway or at the end of making a change. I've also found that asking for people to provide feedback, insights, or perspectives via a discussion or interview works well. It helps inform the plan for KM and they can see themselves as a contributor. Have any of you found other ways to help get people engaged in the early stages of change? I'd love to hear from you.

Cindy