Anecdote has worked with some fantastic organisations over the past year and one of the main areas has been in developing knowledge strategies. I thought it timely to look back and reflect on some of the key learnings from these projects and some of these initial thoughts are captured in the bullet points below.
- Strategy is a journey much more than it is a deliverable. Delivering a ‘strategy’ to a leadership team without engaging them in its development is a recipe for disaster at worst or inaction at best. This was driven home to me years ago when in a senior management role: the ‘strategy manager’ stood up at an offsite meeting and delivered the new strategy and concluded ‘well if there are no comments then we will considered the strategy adopted’. He was the only one in the room who understood it well enough to make any comment. The rest of us just thought…’whatever!’, and proceeded to ignore it.
- The flip side to this is the difficulty encountered when trying to write the strategy ‘artefact’ through the normal ‘staffing’ process within organisations. Everyone has a different view of what it should contain, how it should be presented, how long it should be, what font should be used etc etc. Nightmare. Avoid if possible. Patrick Lambe suggests a better way is for the project to culminate in a strategy workshop engaging the leadership team and the artefact becomes a summary of the workshop output.
- The knowledge strategy projects with the biggest impact have used highly participative approaches including anecdote circles and group sensemaking. The impact is mainly through the organisation changing as the project progressed and by people seeing and feeling these changes. I remember an anecdote circle from a heavily stovepiped organisation (see below) that exposed fundamental assumptions embedded in the organisations behaviour, that were patently ridiculous once aired. It is nothing short of amazing to see behaviours change once fundamental assumptions and values are surfaced.
“We have developed cheat sheets on each country we deal with. These contain contact information for the major agencies within that country. We keep them on our local drives as they are specific to our area and are of no use to anyone else.” Another participant, from a different area in the same division, then interjected: “We deal with other countries and I didn’t know about the initiatives going on in other areas. We have been working on our own cheat sheets. It could have saved us a lot of work to use yours.”
- Don’t overcomplicate things. Work hard to establish a simple, shared understanding of what the knowledge stategy is about. Avoid complex definitions. If you must have a definition of KM then use one like Carla O’Dell’s simple description “Knowledge management is the systematic process of connecting people to people and people to knowledge and information they need to act effectively and create new knowledge.” 
- To harp on a theme of ours, little things can make a big difference. Some initiatives are hard to get up because they are so obvious, simple and seemingly innocuous. But, as Drucker said “the greatest compliment you can pay an innovation is to say ‘that’s obvious’”. Resist the temptation to put little things aside in favour of major initiatives.
- Develop a set of principles or behavious that resonate within the organisation. I will blog an example set in a few days time.
- Many of the challenges are similar across organisations. But the path to tackle them needs to be crafted to match the specific context of the organisation. Common themes are lots of silos creating barriers to the flow of knowledge; everyone being too busy to reflect, learn and strategise; low approachability and accessability of senior staff; staff that do not feel empowered to decide and act; and IT philosophies based on delivering systems to users and then trying to overcome their passive-aggressive resistance rather than focussing on user requirements and useability from the outset.
We have found that the key roles of the consultant are to bring proven approaches to the strategy development process, to provide a sense of what is possible (including communicating this in ways that resonate within the organisation) and to achieve acceptance of initiatives that occasionally stretch the comfort zone of the organisation. The more we help organisations in this area the more we realise the impact that having a robust knowledge strategy can have on organisational performance and the achievement of business outcomes.
 C. O’Dell, The Executive’s Role in Knowledge Management. Houston: APQC Publications, 2004
About Mark Schenk
Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on: