8 Reasons Knowledge Management Initiatives Fail: 4th in an Occasional Series on KM and Social Media

It would seem reasonable that the better a company can capture knowledge and render it strategically useful, the more successful the company will be.

Unfortunately, we are depending on people to be reasonable, which is not always the case. Small to medium sized companies face the biggest challenges in this sphere, so they get a double-whammy when it comes to making KM work for them.

According to Ivy Chan and Chee-Kwong Chao in their paper "Knowledge Management in Small and Medium Sized Enterprises" published April 2008 in Communications of the ACM, there is a balancing act between management support, technology, and organizational structure for a successful KM deployment. All three of those items are heavily influenced by people who make choices that will either enable or impede a knowledge management initiative.

Here are eight issues negatively influencing successful implementation:

  1. Management may not want to invest in the appropriate technology.
  2. Management may not support the initiative beyond saying it must be done.
  3. People may be afraid to share knowledge because they feel it gives them a hedge against layoffs.
  4. People may not wish to expand their knowledge in case it leads to more work for them.
  5. Just because there are plans to implement KM or even  awareness that KM is an important competitive business function does not guarantee success.
  6. There may be a dispute or disconnect between management and IT about responsibilty for deployment and maintenance of KM.
  7. Employees may feel that it is up to management to make the decision about how KM will be deployed.
  8. These barriers may be tougher to surmount in the small to medium business arena simply because of the time factor; the exisiting employees and owner/manager already have full plates and do not have the financial or human resources to throw at the initiative from start to finish.

The technological infrastructure problems may be resolved by educating management on how the investment in the proper system will create ROI in a short period of time. What management group doesn't want to save money? This may not be the toughest nut to crack.

Getting everybody to share is.

Sometimes a reward system is in place that actually discourages people from sharing their knowledge. Maybe rewards are not given in a consistent manner or there is no written procedure on using the reward system. See Yours, Mine, and Ours- Knowledge Sharing Insights: No. 3 in an Occasional Series on KM and Social Media for a more detailed assessment of reward structuring.

Another problem is ineffective communication of the KM plan and the steps for implementation. Everyone may be ready to go but nobody knows where to start.

A third problem is the fear that if a mistake is made using the new KM system it will be grounds for disciplinary action. This is a somewhat harsh view of the consequences of things that happen during training and early use, but it has happened when management wants someone to blame for an issue.

In each of these cases it is encumbant upon management to plan well and continue to oversee the process of adoption. Each step must be spelled out for all to see and understand. And the plan must be uniformly followed and all actions agreed upon.

If any of the eight issues above sound like your company, you will want to take a long look at your company culture to find the problem areas and find a way to get buy-in from all parties. Only then can deployment have a chance.

Now, just make sure the KM system you choose is right for your company (a topic for another post).

As Rosanne Rosanadana says,"It's always something."

Being aware of the somethings puts you ahead of the game.