6 principles of KM communication

Implementing Knowledge Management is a change process, and change involves communication.

Interpersonal Communication
Interpersonal communication, by Bovee and Thill, on Flickr
Under CC license

Last week we discussed 5 tools to change hearts and minds while introducing Knowledge Management behaviours and culture. One of these tools was Communication, so here are more details of the KM communication strategy and program.

Your KM Communication strategy should be drafted at the same time as your KM strategy, and should rest on the following 6 principles

  1. Appoint a communication person on the KM team
  2. Develop a simple message 
  3. Communicate value 
  4. Communicate Internally 
  5. Communicate Externally 
  6. Tell success stories

Invest in communication resource

Change management is one of the 5 core skills your KM team needs, and you should specifically one or more people with communication and change management skills. Failure to assign accountability for communication is one of the things knowledge managers wish they had done to communicate better. Also make sure communication is a constant line item in the KM team progress reviews. 

Develop a simple message

Knowledge Management is a vague and complex field, yet you need to communicate it in a simple, easy to understand way until it sinks in.

This simple message could easily be a Vision Statement such as “the goal of KM will to have the knowledge of the whole organisation in support of every business decision” – or “what we learn somewhere we will deploy everywhere”. You can find 45 example vision statements in a collection on this blog. Some of them are far from simple.

You may need to repeat your simple message very many times.  According to the 151 rule, the first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of (KM), nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it. Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress.

Communicate value

The most important thing to communicate is the value of KM. However you need to communicate two aspects to the value – the value KM will give to the organisation and its customers, and the value that KM will give to the individual knowledge worker.

Siemens identified two traps when implementing Knowledge Management, one of which (the “customer trap”) is the need to balance the expectation of the business, in terms of delivery of the KM program, with the expectations of the user. These two customers may have different expectations and requirements that need to be taken into consideration, and they certainly have two value propositions.

By all means communicate a simple message about the value to the business, but also don’t forget to communicate the “What’s in it for me” for the knowledge workers.

Communicate internally

Map out the stakeholder groupings within the organisation, and tailor your communication strategy to each of these, identifying (for each one) what’s in it for them. The groupings might be

  • Senior management
  • Middle management such as project leaders and departmental managers
  • Team leaders and supervisors
  • Knowledge workers
  • Support functions, such as IT, HR, PMO etc
  • Different business streams, such as R&D, product development, Sales, Support and so on
  • People involved in pilot projects

Communicate externally

One particular trick we have seen work extremely well, is to communicate your KM successes to the outside world, so that the messages can trickle back in.

 People within the company see these messages, and think “Hey, we seem to be recognised as being good at KM, Perhaps I had better take it seriously. Here are a couple of quotes from Knowledge Managers who have taken this approach

 “As a company, we tend to learn more from people outside the company than from inside so we were deliberately trying to create a reputation that would come back into our company” 

“My recommendation to anybody in any organisation, is to identify who the key players are in other organisations in your sector or area, and talk to them as well, so that you are planting various seeds not only in your own organisation, but across the sector. After a while, because all these key players talk to each other, you find that you have started to connect them up and they are talking to each other”.

Tell success stories

The best way you can communicate the value of KM to people, is to let them hear success stories told by people as similar to them as possible. This is what we call “Social Proof“.

 The similarity will be greatest when you can show people in your own organisation, at the same sort of level, trying KM and gaining benefit. Do this as follows;

  • begin conducting trials and “proof of concept” studies of KM in-house, with your most willing advocates 
  • when (if) the trial is a success, ask the advocate to tell their story on camera. record a short you-tube-style video story, along these lines – “this was my problem, I tried KM as a solution, this was the benefit I got”. 
  • use these videos widely as part of your communication strategy –  embedded in PowerPoint, on the company Intranet, in your KM introductions etc. 

You know exactly the sort of story – you see it in TV commercials all the time; a plausible person saying “I used to be ashamed to go out, then I tried Miracle Acne Cream and now I am the centre of attention”.

The reason the advertisers use these stories is because they work. On a deep subconscious level, people uncertain about the product will use the “person in the street” as an indication that people “just like them” get value from the product. The difference is that the TV companies often use actors reading a script, and you will use real people telling a real story, but the principle is the same.

 Use the principle by showing people from your own company, as similar as possible to the person you want to influence, gaining value from KM.

Contact Knoco for more advice on communication, or for a free communication plan template

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How collaboration can simplify

Collaboration adds simplicity in a complicated world. 

Simplifying through collaboration is the topic of a Ted talk by Yves Morieux, embedded below, in which he gives us 6 rules to simplify work. Watch the talk to get the context, but here are his 6 rules (with more explanation here)

  1. Ensure people in the organisation full understand what others really do. 
  2. Look for cooperation – reinforce managers as integrators, by removing layers so that managers are closer to the real work. 
  3. Empower everybody to use their judgement and intelligence. 
  4. Create tight feedback loops that expose people to the consequences of their actions. 
  5. Increase reciprocity, by removing the buffers that make us self-sufficient.
  6. Reward those who cooperate and blame or sanction those who don’t cooperate. 

Do these sound familiar? Rules 1,2,4,5 and 6 are all components of Knowledge Management, and Knowledge Management is needed to support Rule 3. Yves is not reinventing KM, but showing how a knowledge enabled, connected and collaborative organisation is like an adaptive nervous system rather than a rigid skeleton of roles and structures.

Yves explains that as these 6 rules are brought into play, organisations begin to be able to manage complexity not through adding more and more complex structures and requirements, but by allowing people to take ownership of issues and sort them out together, rather than passing them on to someone else.

Yves finishes his talk by explaining how CEOs can help support the 6 rules of complexity, and gives us this story, which should resonate with all KM practitioners

The CEO of The Lego Group, Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, says, blame is not for failure, it is for failing to help or ask for help. This changes everything. Suddenly it becomes in my interest to be transparent on my real weaknesses, because I know I will not be blamed if I fail, but if I fail to help or ask for help.

This is very similar to Elon Musk’s email to his staff. Both give the vision of an organisation empowered and obliged to seek knowledge from wherever it may be found. And this is the basis of Knowledge Management. 

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Creating a communication strategy as part of KM implementation

This post contains quotes from KM teams about building a communication strategy to support KM implementation

How to Communicate Your IdeasKM is a change program, and Communication is one of your most  levers in delivering change. Every KM implementation needs a communication strategy.

Here is some guidance on a KM communication strategy, illustrated by quotes from Knowledge Management teams we have worked with, most of which were collected at post-implementation Lessons Capture reviews. (For a free communication plan template, visit our download page). Note that most of these quotes come from people who wished they had done more communication!

Set up a Communication strategy and plan as part of the culture change aspect of your KM program.

“We should have implemented a communication strategy, to define all the different ways of communicating, what the medium would be, what the target audience would be, what the message would have to be”. 

“We should have allocated always in our plan, an element of communication process. Even when push came to shove, we should have fought for that just like we fought for some of the other things that were close to our hearts and our commitment”.

Start the communication strategy from day 1 – the same time as the KM strategy itself

“Maybe what we could have done with the benefit of hindsight is have that communication strategy right from the start instead of inventing it three quarters of the way through”.

Make a member of the team accountable for the KM communication strategy

“Make it someone’s accountability. To form a strategy and to keep revisiting that strategy. Don’t let it fall below the water line”.

Communicate, even when the details are not clear 

“The message that we have been giving has been an honest one. We have told people but we are aiming to do something, although we haven’t told them what it’s going to look like to after the summer, because we don’t honestly know ourselves. If we had gone and said “we are going to do this, this and this” then they might have asked a lot more questions”.

“Compared to some that we have seen, our communication is very much better. (Program X) for example are putting a lot of effort in, but they are not telling anybody anything. We took the opposite tack, and decided to tell people that something was coming. When they ask questions, we say “we do not yet know the details””.

Build an internal mailing list

“We developed a bulletin for people who self-select to stay in touch with things. There are 1000 or 1200 people in the organization who have an interest in what we are doing. Every month we send an e-mail to all the new joiners, and say “Do you know that people are sharing their trade secrets on the intranet all across the company? would you like to be kept in touch with this?” And every time we have a workshop with a group of people, we add them on, and every time we do some consultancy or just meet people we ask them if they would like to subscribe. We send it out once a month by e-mail. It is quite colorful, it is not just plain text, we put colored text in it, we have four bulleted items, and there’s a link to one thing on the Live and Learn site and then two other things on the intranet which have been published, and we advertise our workshops”.

Make sure you budget for communications in your manpower planning

“We could easily have doubled or trembled the level of communications that we were doing, if we had had the manpower”.

Communicate your KM successes to the outside world, so that the messages can trickle back in.

“As a company, we tend to learn more from people outside the company than from inside so we were deliberately trying to create a reputation that would come back into our company”

 “My recommendation to anybody in any organisation, is to identify who the key players are in other organisations in your sector or area, and talk to them as well, so that you are planting various seeds not only in your own organisation, but across the sector. After a while, because all these key players talk to each other, you find that you have started to connect them up and they are talking to each other”.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How to talk to the business about KM

Communicating KM to the business requires using business terms, not KM terms.

Talking to the manager of Publix in NaplesKnowledge Management is not an end in itself, it is a means to an end, and the end is a more efficient, effective and productive organisation.

The senior and middle managers in your organisation are not interested in Knowledge Management – only in what it can do for their part of the business.

Therefore when we talk with the business stakeholders, we need to talk in their terms, and address the things they are interested in. We need to use words they are familiar with, rather than KM jargon.

One approach is to rebadge KM in words they already know, like innovation, collaboration and learning. So instead of talking to them about Knowledge Management, we talk to them about the following;

  • Innovative products – bringing together the knowledge of our people, as well as external knowledge, to build new ways of doing things, new products, and new lines of business. Here you use KM processes such as business driven action learning.
  • Collaboration solutions – bringing together knowledge from different parts of the business to develop better ways of working – using the knowledge we already know, but which is scattered and siloed. Here you use KM processes such as communities of practice.
  • Empowering the front-line with knowledge – arming our customer-facing staff with the knowledge they need to close the deal, or delight the customer. Again communities of practice are important here, and effective knowledge bases.
  • Harmonising the way we work – comparing and learning from the disparate practices across the organisation, to find the ones that work best in given circumstances. Here you use KM processes such as Knowledge Exchange.
  • Learning from Experience – ensuring our projects and business activities do not repeat the mistakes of the past, but build on the successes. This is the whole area of project-based learning.
  • Stopping the brain-drain – addressing the risk of losing capability as knowledgeable people retire. Here you use KM processes such as Knowledge Retention.
  • Speeding up the learning curve – either for new-hires coming into an expanding business, or for new areas of the business (new markets, new products, new geographies). This will require a combination of many of the KM approaches above.

Address these business issues one by one, starting with the most urgent and bringing in KM solutions as you go, and pretty soon you will have a complete Knowledge Management Framework in place!

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

The secret to successful KM communication is repetition

When communicating about KM and its benefits, you need simplicity and lots of repetition!

image by Ghozt Tramp from wikimedia commons

Are you tired of repeating the same old Knowledge Management message within your organisation?  According to an interesting article from Ramon Barquin and Chris Coleman, you may just have to keep on repeating – 151 times!

Their central message is not only that you need a simple, understandable message (see my tips for the KM salesperson) , but that you also need constant repetition. Here’s some excerpts from the article.

A memo from the CEO isn’t enough to build support for knowledge management. Constant repetition from a variety of sources, both spontaneous and carefully strategized – meetings, memos, word of mouth – is the only way to do it, and this brings us to the Rule of 151.

Scientific? Maybe not, but the Rule of 151 goes something like this. The first 50 times you talk about the business advantages of (KM), nobody seems to hear you. The second 50 times you explain it, they don’t understand. And the third 50 times, they just don’t believe it.

Persist beyond this point, however, and you see progress. Colleagues, peers and bosses hear what you’re saying. They understand it, and more importantly, they repeat it. Fueled by word-of-mouth, even the most offbeat notions can evolve into conventional wisdom. Marketers call it branding, politicians call it campaigning, cynics call it brainwashing. Call it whatever you like: repetition works.

And a really useful summary paragraph at the end

Shortly after Michael McCurry, Clinton administration press secretary, left the White House, a writer for the Harvard Business Review asked what McCurry says when people ask him how to become better communicators. “Know what you’re trying to say and say it precisely and simply,” McCurry answered. “And be committed to telling the story over and over again. You have to persevere.”

So, persevere! Communicate! Keep sowing the seed on the stony ground, until one day, after 151 sowings, it takes root.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

Knowledge Management Awards – brilliant Multimedia example

The link below is to an excellent and high-quality multimedia description of the Knowledge Management Awards 2007 at ConocPhillips, introduced by the Executive Vice President of Exploration and Production, John Lowe

It provides a glimpse into how a mature KM program maintains visibility, and recognises the good KM performers.


View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

When writing about KM, ditch the long words

Knowledge Management is a simple concept, let’s explain it in simple words.

llanfair pgSo much of Knowledge Management is about communication; the communication of knowledge, solutions, work-around, tips and hints, the communication of concepts and ideas.

Communication to stakeholders is the main thing we do as part of the change management associated with KM. Knowledge Management can be an alien concept to many people, and we need to be able to explain it to them, That means we may need to translate many of the concepts into simple words.

When this communication takes place through conversation, we tend to use ordinary words, laced with technical terms when needed. But when we write, somehow things don’t seem to be so simple. We set aside the short and simple words,  reach for the fancy phrases and the longest words we know, and we perpetrate polysyllabic obfuscation.

Here’s one I was reading earlier.

“the exploitation of complementary knowledge resources across businesses leads to a significant market- and accounting-based corporate performance effect”.

which means “you can increase profit and market share by re-using knowledge”

And another

“To maintain connectivity and freshness of content within your knowledge ecosystem consider implementing a technology enabled knowledge transfer system”.

I think that what this means is  “You can keep your knowledge up to date if you have the tools to communicate online”

And as much as I admire the work of teh late great Carl Frappaolo, his definition of KM lacks simplicity.

“Knowledge Management (KM) is the leveraging of collective wisdom and experience to expedite responsiveness and innovation”.

I think this means “Knowledge Management is using what we all know, to respond faster and to come up with new ideas”.

I am not sure any of us would say “expedite responsiveness” out lound in a conversation, but somehow it seems OK to write it.  I don’t know why this happens. It probably happens to me as well – when you write you reach for the Long Words bottle, and sprinkle it liberally over the text. I am well aware that I have set myself up here for people to come up with examples of polysyllabic obfuscation from this blog, but I do try and keep things simple myself.

The perpetuation of polysyllabic obfuscation through redundancy and obtuse reiteration is often unnecessarily repeated as a distinct disservice to clarity and brevity.

Instead let’s keep it simple!

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

20 example KM straplines

What’s your KM strapline?

The creation of a good Knowledge Management Strapline can be a small but important step in the communication program that accompanies Knowledge Management implementation and helps drive the accompanying behaviour and culture change. The strapline is an ever-present message in your KM comms. It’s like the pitch before the elevator pitch.

Here’s a short selection of Knowledge Management straplines from my own collection.

  1. Shell – “Ask, Learn, Share”
  2. Infosys – “Learn once, use anywhere”
  3. BBC – “Live and Learn”
  4. BP – “Learn before, during and after”
  5. Mars – “Know to grow”
  6. KPC – “There’s always a better way”
  7. Bright – “Turning knowledge into cash”
  8. Knoco – “Know-how is our business”
  9. VidenDanmark –  “From knowledge to results”
  10. Medco Energi – “Knowledge works”
  11. Nestle – “From Data, To Information, To Knowledge, To Actions!”
  12. Infoscions – “We help Infoscions make learning a way of life”.
  13. Knowledge Management Post Graduate Centre – “Encouraging serendipity – Connecting People.”
  14. Spirax Sarco – “Little improvements from everyone”
  15. Lots of organisations – “Right knowledge, right people, right time”
  16. Schlumberger – “Apply everywhere what we learn anywhere”
  17. Syngenta – “Yesterday knowledge was Power.. ..Today sharing knowledge is Powerful”
  18. Fluor – “Make the best decision – every time”
  19. Petroleum Development Oman – “Connect, Collaborate, Succeed”
  20. Public Buildings Service – “Faster Answers, Better Projects, Happier Customers”
Do you know of any others that have been used by organisations? If so, please share them in the Comments sections.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

How Fluor raise the profile of KM – "Knowvember"

Fluor, the construction company, use the month of Knowvember” as an opportunity to publicise KM internally.

Fluor are an international engineering and construction company, who have been applying a Knowledge management approach, based primarily on Communities of Practice, for nearly 20 years. And with a long-running program such as this, it is easy for people to start to forget about KM, or take it for granted. Fluor have a powerful approach for keeping KM live in the corporate consciousness, described in a 2011 blog from Jeff Hester entitled “Successful KM storytelling“.

Welcome to Knowvember.

Knowvember is an annual collection and celebration of KM success stories. It is a time when the Fluor offices sprout posters describing KM successes, chosen from submissions over the previous year. 
Each story has been collected – either informally and formally – from the various communities of practice and describes an example where knowledge was sought and shared, and where value was delivered to the organisation or to a client as a result. The stories come with pictures and quotes.

Then every year during the month of Knowvember the KM team reviews the stories shared over the past 12 months, and select a list of finalists. These are presented to a panel of C-level executives that select the winning stories. Jeff describes how “in 2010 we collected roughly 300 stories, culled this down to 20 finalists, from which the executives selected six winners. If your success story is selected as a winner, you get to select a local charitable organization to which a $500 donation is made in your name.”

Although these stories are collected and publicised through the year, the annual one-month focus brings KM to the fore. As Jeff says

“During the final judging for the annual contest, the exposure these stories and the people involved get at a very high level of the organization serves two purposes: 

  • it provides recognition to folks who are often from far flung offices, and 
  • it reminds our executives of some very concrete ways KM strengthens and improves our company. 

And we’ve found that these stories provide the most tangible measure of the value of knowledge management — much more than the number of clicks and downloads”.

Try a similar communication campaign at your organisation, focused on value stories. I could help keep alive and fresh the perception of KM as a value-delivery tool.

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.

"You are obligated to ask" – Elon Musk’s email

Even in the most progressive organisations, sometimes the boss needs to drive a “culture of asking.” Here is how Elon Musk did it.

Image from wikimedia commons

Musk’s email is quoted here, and seems to have been sent in response to a dissatisfaction with default communication and knowledge sharing habits at Tesla.

There are 6 things I want to point out regarding this email, which I have highlighted in the text of the email


  1. Musk is setting the expectation for lateral communication and knowledge flow, rather than the vertical communication seen in many other organisations (which I describe as knowledge hedge-hopping).
  2. He makes his expectation very clear, and backs it up by spelling out the consequences (“Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company”).
  3. He places this expectation in the context of problem-solving and asking for help (“Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company”). Musk is looking to drive a culture of “open asking”.
  4. He makes this expectation very eplicit. It is not a request, it is an obligation.
  5. He separates out this behaviour of problem-driven asking from “random chit-chat”, and sees it as key to competitiveness.
  6. He recognises that the default “hedge-hopper KM” behaviour is driven by a natural human tendencies which needs to be “fought” in support of the corporate good.
Here is the email quoted in the link above (the text in bold below was highlighted by me, not by Elon Musk)

Subject: Communication Within Tesla 

There are two schools of thought about how information should flow within companies. By far the most common way is chain of command, which means that you always flow communication through your manager. The problem with this approach is that, while it serves to enhance the power of the manager, it fails to serve the company. 

Instead of a problem getting solved quickly, where a person in one dept talks to a person in another dept and makes the right thing happen, people are forced to talk to their manager who talks to their manager who talks to the manager in the other dept who talks to someone on his team. Then the info has to flow back the other way again. This is incredibly dumb. Any manager who allows this to happen, let alone encourages it, will soon find themselves working at another company. No kidding. 

Anyone at Tesla can and should email/talk to anyone else according to what they think is the fastest way to solve a problem for the benefit of the whole company. You can talk to your manager’s manager without his permission, you can talk directly to a VP in another dept, you can talk to me, you can talk to anyone without anyone else’s permission. Moreover, you should consider yourself obligated to do so until the right thing happens. The point here is not random chitchat, but rather ensuring that we execute ultra-fast and well. We obviously cannot compete with the big car companies in size, so we must do so with intelligence and agility. 

One final point is that managers should work hard to ensure that they are not creating silos within the company that create an us vs. them mentality or impede communication in any way. This is unfortunately a natural tendency and needs to be actively fought. How can it possibly help Tesla for depts to erect barriers between themselves or see their success as relative within the company instead of collective? We are all in the same boat. Always view yourself as working for the good of the company and never your dept. 

Thanks, Elon

View Original Source (nickmilton.com) Here.