Lucidea’s Lens: Knowledge Management Thought Leaders Part 55 – Kaye Vivian

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

January 18, 2024

Kaye Vivian is professional genealogist, but previously she was a knowledge management thought leader.

Her personal website featuring content on knowledge management, communities, and gaming is no longer accessible online. I retrieved it through The Wayback Machine of the Internet Archive and have included some of her many posts in this article.

KM, Knowledge Transfer and Outsourcing – Discussion thread from ActKM community, May 2006

One KM trend I have been seeing relates to outsourcing and the need for “knowledge transfer” in both directions. A company that is outsourcing work needs to provide a database of information for the offshore company to use, and the offshore company needs to update it or create a new database that can be passed back to the outsourcing company in the event they later choose to bring the processes back under their own roof, so to speak. While this overall process might rightly be considered “information management”, the processes that go into collecting and capturing what is put into the database(s) on both sides of the ocean are KM processes — communities, technology, processes, capturing stories/anecdotes, taxonomy, search/find, expertise location, strategy, rewards and recognition, content management, ROI, etc.

One company I know spent months interviewing several large Indian outsourcers, and in the end, what appealed to them most was the technique of “shadowing” workers to capture the daily steps and procedures of the workers (in this case, COBOL mainframe programmers, most of whom were near retirement). They proposed to send a team of Indian workers in to follow a predetermined slate of programmers through their days over about three weeks. As the worker did his/her job, the Indian outsourcer would make notes and ask questions, and basically write up a procedures guide for each person’s role. All these writeups were to be put into the outsourcer’s proprietary database system and referenced when questions came up.

What appealed to the employer about shadowing employees was:

  1. Many of the programmers had been doing the same job on the same system for more than 20 years, and had lost initiative to improve what they did every day
  2. All of the programmers complained they were too busy to document their work (there was an element of job protection there, too…if it wasn’t written down, no one else could do it)
  3. These important systems would finally be documented. Too often repairs, quick fixes and shortcuts made were permanent, and the only person who knew why it had been done that way and what it affected was “Bob, who retired last November”.
  4. They thought it liberated them from the tyranny of key employees who made a career path of retiring as soon as possible and returning at about double their salary as a consultant to do the same job (though this point was only mentioned unofficially in small meetings).

In the end, the cost was so prohibitive that the employer decided not to spend the money for shadowing, and to start by having the workers write down how they do their jobs and who they call for what. I don’t have to tell you how effective and complete that was. As Dave said, why would workers tell everything they know so they can be replaced? There were also some concerns about who would own the “knowledge” gained from the shadowing process if it were only available from the vendor’s system.

Truths of Knowledge Management

For the last few months, I’ve had an opportunity to step back and reflect on KM after having been heavily involved in trying to get a grassroots initiative off the ground in my former company for more than three years. Here are a few of the things I believe to be true.

  • KM is a business discipline powered by exchanges of information between people. It is a business process that creates value and enables learning transfers.
  • KM is a business process enabled by technology. It is not a technology.
  • Information is not knowledge. Knowledge is the personal experience, associations and information that exist in each person’s head. Knowledge is a fluid mix of personal experience, values, contextual information, and expert insight that provide a framework for evaluating and incorporating new experiences and information.
  • Knowledge is the product of human activity. When it is documented, it becomes information. Information becomes knowledge again when other people learn it themselves. KM is the process of capturing and making available information for reuse and learning.
  • KM is a duality. The “social side” includes collaboration, conversation, community, meetings, discussions, lectures, classes, and live help. The “static side” includes repositories of documents, images, video, sound files, directories, web pages, records and help files. Both aspects are necessary and important.
  • People are wealth and capability generators who can profoundly affect market appeal, reputation and performance. Value and reward subject matter experts.
  • These environmental factors are needed for KM to succeed: Strong and committed leadership (without it, don’t start), Well-defined strategy integrated with business objectives, Measurable goals, Rewards and recognition for participants, Mindset/culture of knowledge sharing, and Right technologies.
  • Capturing knowledge and making the information available to replacement workers can greatly reduce the negative impact caused by loss of key employees, enable new workers to become effective more quickly, and help to build the intellectual capital assets of the business.
  • A knowledge strategy has two aspects: Cost control/avoidance and revenue/value generation. Different areas of a business will benefit from one aspect or the other, and both are equally important.
  • Knowledge management requires a long-term commitment from the organization to change processes and culture, as well as the tools to facilitate data capture.

Thoughts on Communities in KM

While it’s hard to imagine an organization that would not be better off with communities of interest, an amazing number still don’t have them. One reason is because of legal concerns, especially in the financial services and consulting businesses. They worry that a member or visitor will get bad advice from the community and act on it — then hold the organization responsible for any losses that result. Another reason is that business managers may not have much personal experience in a community, and are uncertain how to be effective at managing one, so they ignore them. Another reason is that communities are self-governing and discuss topics freely. Most organizations still believe in top-down, carefully crafted messages from executives. Executives fear loss of control over information (which, as we all are taught, is power).

In the 25 or so years that I have participated in and managed online communities, I’ve learned a few things that I believe to be true. Here are my Principles of Community:

  • Communities are voluntary associations of individuals who share interest in a common topic. A business community can be formed around a professional discipline, a skill or a topic. Other communities can be formed around any topic or interest.
  • A community can be a small, active core with a narrow focus or a larger group with diverse voices, opinions, learnings and experiences.
  • Communities have value when they are focused around data, not organizational structures.
  • Workers participate in two dimensions –vertical business heirarchies and horizontal roles that cross the business. Role-based communities provide an important context for work improvements, value creation, learning and efficiencies across the enterprise.
  • Communities require moderation. Moderators should be members from within the community, and moderators must be coached and supported.
  • Unless managers give workers time and encouragement to participate, communities will fail.
  • Key thought leaders must be involved in the community for it to succeed.
  • Communities play an important role in content creation and management.
  • Communities are the asset generators of a knowledge management system. Knowledge is shared between people, and capturing that exchange has value.
  • Members of communities develop trust and a strong camaraderie that results in candid questions/answers and effective problem solving. Community dynamics are important motivators for subject matter experts and can help in SME retention.

Management guru Tom Peters said, “It’s a cross functional world — removing/trashing/obliterating any and all barriers to cross-functional communication is nothing short of our single highest priority. However sophisticated the technology, however grand the vision of integrated solutions and great customer experiences, the business is doomed without real human communication.” Communities fill that need, and all organizations have informal communities or networks, even if they are not supported by technology. Communities develop intellectual capital that can add to the market value of organizations. Giving communities the tools to function more effectively and create information archives is a priority for any knowledge management strategy and any smart business.

Stan Garfield

Stan Garfield

Enjoy Stan’s blog posts offering advice and insights drawn from many years as a KM practitioner. You may also want to download a free copy of his latest book for Lucidea Press: Knowledge Nuggets: 100 KM Infographics.  Learn about Lucidea’s Presto, SydneyEnterprise, and GeniePlus software with unrivaled KM capabilities that enable successful knowledge curation and sharing.

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