Fully embedded KM is when people can’t get away with not doing it

Knowledge Management is fully embedded when refusing to do it is not an option.

He'll never get away with itLet me give you an analogy, from the world of Safety. A couple of years ago I was conducting knowledge management exercises at a gas plant in the Niger Delta.

In places like this, safety is a huge consideration; both personal safety (keeping individuals safe in a hazardous environment), and process safety (keeping the environment from becoming even more hazardous).

For example, it was mandatory to wear a hard hat and safety boots when on site, no matter how uncomfortable these might be in the African sun.

One of the engineers was giving me a tour of the plant, and we were on a high walkway when he spotted a worker who had climbed a tall tower and was sitting at the top, resting in the sun, without his hat and boots on. Immediately the engineer stopped the tour, and ordered this guy to put his safety equipment back on and report to his foreman about the break of safety regulations.

It did not matter that the worker was safe, and that nothing was about to fall on his head or his feet – it was that such behaviour – such a breach of the safety policy – was not permitted. One small breach for the sake of resting in the sun could lead to a larger breach, and then to something dangerous. There was zero tolerance, and everyone was involved in reporting breaches. Even out of sight on a tall tower it was not allowed, and anyone (like my engineer) who spotted it would take action. If this worker could get away with avoiding the safety rules, then others would know, and would copy, and soon there would be a reduction in safety discipline, and accidents would happen.

Now, if we truly want Knowledge Management to be embedded, then we will eventually need a similar attitude.

Imagine if lesson-learning were truly embedded in the project lifecycle for example.  Imagine that the leadership of your organisation had realised the cost of repeat mistakes and rework, and had made it clear in their Knowledge Management policy that they expected every project to identify, document and share lessons and knowledge for the benefit of the rest of the organisation.

Then imagine what would happen if people could get away without doing it.

As soon as one project manager realised that they could skip lesson-learning with no sanction, then the others would also realise, and would copy, and soon there would be a reduction in learning discipline, and repeat mistakes and rework would creep back in. This breach of the Knowledge Management policy, this neglect of lesson learning, could cost the organisation millions of dollars and put other projects at risk. It should not be permitted.

If you are serious about Knowledge Management, and if you want it fully embedded in your organisational practices and your organisational culture, then you need to aim, eventually, for a time when people cannot get away with not doing it.

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Shared by: Nick Milton

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