Selling KM – how to appeal to head, heart, hands and feet

An effective Knowledge management communication message needs to appeal to the head, to the heart, to the hands, and to the feet of the audience. Here’s how.

Communication is one of the 5 tools of KM culture change. Imagine preparing an internal presentation on Knowledge Management to one of your stakeholder groups.  Your aim is to move the group further up the ladder of engagement; ideally to get them into action.
How then do you structure your presentation?

You can use the mantra of head, heart, hands and feet as a checklist to make sure you cover the following 4 areas.


Your KM message must appeal to the head – it must be logical and clear. The head want to understand, and it wants to see a logical case made for KM. There needs to be a business case, based on a logical business driver for knowledge management, and this needs to be explained in a very simple way. It can be really helpful if you get your CEO or another senior person to give you a sound bite in which they “make the logical case”.


Your KM message must appeal to the heart – it must be something that people can connect with emotionally.  A good success story, told on video by the people involved, can begin to convey the emotional impact of knowledge management. The person in the story can tell how much KM helped them, how knowledge management solved a problem, or reduced a risk, or added value, and how they felt about it. Through these stories, you can begin to project a human face onto knowledge management that goes beyond the logical business case. You can make it personal. (See also “selling KM on the emotional case“).


Your KM message must be practical.  It cannot be theoretical – it much be something that people can “get their hands around”. You must show KM as something doable, and very practical. Explain how it works, what people will do when KM is in place, and how KM fits within the work cycle of the organisation. Explain KM in words that are business-centred, so that people see that KM is a hands-on activity. 


Your KM message must appeal to the feet – it must move people into action.  Make sure that you end the message by providing people with “next steps” they can take. reinforce the idea that KM is not just a theory, but something that will move the organisation forward. Let them know how they can start to “walk the KM walk” as well.

If you address head, heart, hands and feet, your communication will be a major force in changing the KM culture. 

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Why it’s important to limit the number of communication channels for knowledge

The purpose of a Knowledge Management framework within an organisation is to give people timely access to the knowledge they need, to make effective decisions and take effective action. 

 Knowledge must flow from the supplier to the user, through Push (publishing, telling) or through Pull (searching, asking).  To flow, it needs a channel.

This is where the Internet, and specifically social media on the Internet, is such a bad model for organisations, as online there can be so many channels, without causing too much of a problem.

How many social media channels can you name? The conversation prism lists over 200.

How many social media channels do you follow regularly? I follow about 5 or 6, you may follow more.  That means I am tapped in to a small percentage of the channels, which is not a big problem on the world wide web as there are so many people out there,  I am bound to find something of interest, or even get my questions answered. There are a lot of people that share the same channels, and I can access a lot of knowledge.  There are other conversations happening on the other channels, but I don’t feel I need to follow them as I get by with the channels I use. To follow them all would be impossible.

However inside the small world of an organisation, you need to maximise the likelihood that the knowledge supplier and knowledge user are on the same channel. You cannot afford knowledge to go missing because user and supplier are using different media. You cannot afford someone to ask a question on one channel, while the person who can answer it is on a different channel. This way lies lost knowledge. You need to limit, or ideally to minimise, the number of communication channels.

Schlumberger’s approach to this issue is very clear – for every knowledge management purpose within their organisation, there should be one channel, and only one channel.

  • Connecting people with technical information? One channel
  • Finding people with expertise? One channel
  • Asking a question of a Community of Practice? One channel
  • Publishing video? One channel
and so on.
When there is only one channel for communicating knowledge, you can be assured that everyone is om the same channel, and that knowledge will not be lost.

Avoid the temptation to add multiple channels which fulfil the same purpose; this introduces confusion and duplication, and increases the chance that critical knowledge will get lost somewhere between the supplier and the user. If a vendor comes to you offering a new communication channel, ask whether it duplicates something you already have. If it does, then be ready to shut down your existing channel, or to say No to the vendor. 

Limit, or minimise, your communication channels for knowledge, to minimise the risk and cost of lost knowledge. 

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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

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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. 

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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”.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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