40 KM Pitfalls to Avoid: Part 2

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

July 09, 2020

When starting a KM initiative, knowledge management practitioners often fall into traps that may limit the effectiveness of the program. This is the second in a five-part series on pitfalls to recognize and avoid. Read 40 KM Pitfalls to Avoid: Part 1 here.

11. Using the term “best practices”

The problem with the term “best practice” is that it connotes that an ideal has been achieved. It’s better to learn about and adapt proven practices which fit your environment, whether or not they are the “best.”

Proven practices are methods which have been demonstrated to be effective and lend themselves to replication to other groups, organizations, and contexts. Using them involves selecting, documenting, and replicating processes that have proven to improve business results so that others in similar environments or with similar needs can benefit from proven successes.

12. Reporting metrics for the sake of metrics

Avoid collecting every random thing, sliced and diced every possible way, which someone might want to know once. They probably have no intent to do anything with this data, other than to say, “Oh, that’s interesting.”

The main reasons to collect metrics are to:

  • Take action based on what the numbers indicate. For example, if you are leading a communities initiative, report on the health of each community every month, and retire the inactive ones using a health report.
  • Track and communicate progress against goals. For example, if you are leading a knowledge management initiative, identify the top 3 objectives, track and report on how the organization is doing in a monthly report, and inspect and discuss progress (or the lack thereof) in management team meetings.
  • Persuade others, answer typical questions, and refute baseless assertions. For example, I sometimes received comments such as “no one uses our enterprise social network (ESN).” I refuted these by pointing out that the ESN actually had more than 100,000 members, more than 1,000,000 messages, and more than 150,000 files.

13. Becoming certified in KM

Taking a one-week class in knowledge management and then being anointed CKM is not meaningful, and is generally not respected. Focus on learning, not on certification.

The field of knowledge management spans over 100 KM specialties. It is too broad to be certified in as a whole. Doctors get board certified in a specialty, not in the broad field of medicine.

14. Rolling out tools and driving adoption

Don’t fixate on rolling out tools, and then trying to drive adoption, which is a losing proposition. Start with the needs of the organization, not with finding a use for a tool which you have already bought.

We hear a lot of talk about rolling out a tool or driving adoption. Rolling out a tool implies a tool that’s in search of a solution. We don’t know why we’re rolling it out; we just are. In the early days of SharePoint, for example, people would say, “We want to roll out SharePoint.” They wouldn’t explain why or what it was going to be used for. It just existed for its own sake.

Today, we hear about that with enterprise social networks. The wish for everyone to start using the enterprise social network leads to vague terminology like, “We want everyone to start collaborating globally. We want everyone to make connections. We want everybody to interact.” If you don’t get more specific than that, that’s not a very appealing use case. If you say, “Will you please start collaborating globally?” it doesn’t mean anything.

If instead you say that you want people to share, ask, find, answer, recognize, inform, and suggest, and then you go into a little more detail about each one of those use cases, people can better relate. You could have a conversation with them; ask them, “The last time you wanted to share something, what did you do? Did you share with an email? How did that work? The last time you had a question, what did you do? Did you ask the person sitting next to you? How did that work?” You can interact on the specific use cases, and then you can talk about how the tool that you’re wanting them to actually use does that better.

15. Using buzzwords and corporate speak

Don’t use buzzwords, insider jargon, or corporate lingo. Use words and expressions that are widely understood. Touting vague concepts like “increase engagement,” “add value,” or “drive transformational change” will not go over well with your audience.

Use obvious terminology rather than arcane, esoteric, or exclusive expressions known only to a clique, the in-crowd, or a single organization. If there is a widely-known expression, industry-standard term, or well-defined abbreviation, use that instead of one known only to those previously initiated. This is especially important to avoid making newcomers to a group feel ignorant, left out, and isolated.

16. Telling others to do as I say, not as I do

Not practicing what you preach sets a bad example. People will closely observe the actions of leaders, and mimic them. So lead by example and model the desired behaviors.

This starts with leaders who initiate a KM program and then will leave it to others and say, “Okay, you take it from here and I’ll do something else.” Or people who work in knowledge management, but who don’t lead by example. They want everyone in the organization to use a particular tool or to follow a particular process, but then they don’t do that themselves. They figure someone else will do that.

They might say that we should use an enterprise social network, but then they continue sending email or they say, “You should fill in your profile,” but then they have someone else fill in their own profile. You’ll run into this kind of thing when you’re encouraging a leader to interact in an enterprise social network or to do something using one of the tools and they’ll delegate that to someone else. They’ll say, “You fill in my profile or you post for me” or “you ghost write it for me,” and things of that sort.

We can all sense that when it’s happening. You can’t really get away with that. If you really want someone to do something, one of the very best ways to do is to do it yourself and then, not only will you learn about how it works and the pros and cons of it, but other people will also see you doing that and they’ll do it as well.

17. Being secretive

Don’t give lip service to transparency while continuing to operate in a closed manner. Communicate frequently, truthfully, and openly.

18. Making it difficult to find information and resources

People struggle to find information, resources, or experts they need to do their job. They perceive that search doesn’t work, and even when it does, the content is incomplete, obsolete, or irrelevant.

Recognize that this problem exists and do everything possible to make it easy for people to find what they need. For suggestions on how to do so, see

19. Lacking trust

People are reluctant to ask for help in public, contact people in other organizations, or say the wrong thing. They would rather suffer in silence than expose their ignorance to the world, or to be criticized, blamed, or ridiculed.

Here are five ways to increase trust in organizations:

  1. Facilitate conversations between people so that they get to know each other.
  2. Encourage storytelling, allowing people to tell their personal stories to help others understand their backgrounds and perspectives.
  3. Hold periodic face-to-face meetings to establish trust between attendees.
  4. Encourage people to post in communities and enterprise social networks and get together informally to build trusting relationships.
  5. Make it safe for people to express their individual personalities.

20. Pushing content

Organizations want to push information out to audiences, rather than making it attractive to pull content for themselves or enabling interaction with leaders. Use the power of pull in these ways.

  1. Allow people to choose which ESN groups or communities to join and how they wish to be notified of new communications, instead of sending out email messages to large distribution lists.
  2. Use an ESN or threaded discussion board to enable two-way communications; solicit feedback, questions, and suggestions for each communication. This is especially valuable for leadership communications.
  3. Allow users to opt in and out of distribution and membership lists using tools and services that allow people to subscribe and unsubscribe easily.
  4. Don’t send messages to people unless they want to receive them from you.
  5. Make your content so desirable and valuable that people will ask you to provide it to them, eagerly await updates, and be disappointed if updates are not frequent enough.
Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

A recording of Stan’s webinar discussing all 40 KM pitfalls is available here. Please read Stan’s additional blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. And learn about Lucidea’s Inmagic Presto, with KM capabilities to support successful knowledge management programs.

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