Practical Hint #20: Consider the Power Dimension in KM

Power is part of workplace reality. It is a fact of life. Here are some practical hints which consider the power aspect in KM practice:

  • In a Lessons-Learned Session or After-Action Review, some team members may tend to keep quiet or just agree when the boss is participating. Learning may not take place. A solution: divide the session into two parts: (a) the first part is participated by peers only so that they can talk more freely among themselves on what they think worked and what did not work and why, and (b) the second part is when the boss joins the session and gives his perspective.
  • In any new KM initiative, the formal authorization and/or informal “go ahead” signal from the boss is important, especially in Asian contexts. But once the initiative is started, look for ways to encourage or energize the KM initiative from the staff. For example you can (a) show how the KM initiative will work for their advantage, (b) identify those who are most interested and get them engaged, (c) emphasize or demonstrate the personal learning and other benefits, (d) connect the KM initiative to what they are doing, (e) make learning a social process, (f) ensure that good work is identified and appreciated by the rest of the group and (g) ask the boss to personally acknowledge and recognize staff members who are performing exceptionally well. The presence or participation of the top boss in a KM activity delivers a signal to everyone that the top boss supports KM.
  • Recognize, acknowledge and then harness relevant talents no matter how seemingly trivial by inventing descriptive, attractive and honorific KM titles or formal designations, and accompanying responsibilities, e.g. “Knowledge Networker,” “PowerPoint Expert,” “e-Group Co-Moderator,” “Internal Consultant on HTML,” “Proposal Writing Expert,” “In-House Editor,” “Expert in xxx”, “yyy Mentor”, etc. Get the boss to make the formal designation in writing.
  • In choosing members of a cross-functional KM team, select members who are (a) close to and listened by the boss, (b) influential among members of the division or department, and (c) respected by his professional peers.
  • If a Chief Knowledge Officer or a KM Officer is to be designated, recommend someone who is from the upper management level (at least vice president level). A middle or lower-middle manager would be less able to push the KM agenda across the organization.
  • If the top boss does not believe in KM, and for as long as he does not believe in KM, it would be fruitless to start a KM initiative in the organization.
  • If there is factionalism or power struggle, pervasive indecision or frequent decision reversals in an organization, it would be risky to start a KM initiative (or any other initiative) in that organization.
  • If the boss is a “know-it-all,” frequently tells people they are wrong or publicly scolds subordinates who make mistakes, then learning processes would be stymied in that organization.


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