While some organizations have yet to embark on organized knowledge-sharing programs, others have well-established document repositories, people-finding directories, and intranet sites highlighting important content and ideas. However, many organizations find that their KM initiatives run out of steam after a while - knowledge capture momentum slackens off, people go back to relying on their immediate networks for answers, and the whole effort gradually loses relevance to front-line operations. What causes this drop-off and what can be done to re-energize KM in these situations?

When diagnosing the causes of a stalled KM initiative, several questions are worth asking, in order to get at the root causes.

  • Why did we want KM in the first place? Successful KM programs are always tightly linked to the organization’s strategic goals - leveraging prior experience to generate real impact on growth and operational efficiency. Look at whether these goals have changed since KM started up - do the content strategy, organization of knowledge, and key performance indicators need to be updated to reflect new objectives? Is KM enabling the “front line” staff or has it become another back-office utility?
  • Were we too successful at content collection? Sometimes, especially when parts of KM capture are automated, content repositories become so bloated that people give up using them - there’s too much to sort through, even with a good search engine and taxonomy, and a lot of what’s found turns out to be duplicative or outdated. Perhaps KM leaders focused too much on the tools and lost track of the core objectives – sharing critical knowledge and insights.
  • Are leaders engaging everyone in knowledge sharing? As organizations get thinned out, people get busier and despite their best intentions, won’t share what they’re learning unless someone specifically asks for it. Effective knowledge management needs an element of organized “pull” – leaders who visibly care about finding and sharing new ideas that will help the business. Is anyone doing the pulling? Are employees motivated to collaborate?
  • Did we forget how to use our existing KM resources? KM platforms should be designed to be user-friendly, with limited training requirements, but leaders often fail to communicate why KM is valuable in daily work and how to get the best out of it, especially after the initial launch and internal marketing push. A leading indicator for failure in this area: more frequent all-staff emails, titled “has anyone worked on topic X?”
KM initiatives often lose momentum over time. They can be re-energized through a combination of business focus, content management, and leadership behavior.
KM initiatives often lose momentum over time. They can be re-energized through a combination of business focus, content management, and leadership behavior.

Whether it’s one or two or all of the above that led to the KM slowdown, the answer to these questions should suggest some viable pathways to renewal. Based on the same framework, the following key levers should be explored:

  • Re-focus on the strategic goals for KM, based on key organizational priorities. Go back to the overall business plan or vision and look at how an effective knowledge-sharing program could support it in terms of concrete deliverables. What specific types of knowledge sharing will help people do their jobs better and create the biggest business impact? Should we focus on best practices in customer service, innovative ideas in product development, or something else? (See Knowledge Management Is More Critical Than Ever).
  • Spring-clean existing repositories. Where knowledge bloat is the problem, someone needs to aggressively filter the most useful material and archive the rest, based on the content strategy. Often this will be a team of topic experts, working with usage statistics, surveys, crowd-sourced reviews and other group input (see Pearls of Wisdom in a Sea of Documents). KM taxonomy should also be reviewed, as some topics will have become more important and others less so. The spring-cleaning in itself will re-energize the KM effort by surfacing the most valuable “nuggets” and highlighting their value, as well as by reinforcing the overall business objectives.
  • Create and support “knowledge pull”. Leaders and managers, especially, need to demonstrate a passion for identifying and capturing shareable ideas and data from day-to-day work. If people feel their knowledge is valued, they’ll be much more willing to share it. Collaboration tools and enterprise social networks can re-invigorate this kind of knowledge flow, especially when they are effectively seeded with important questions and topics. As with the clean-out phase, topic experts can play key roles in codifying and curating what comes in, to improve relevance and findability.
  • Communicate and demonstrate effective knowledge sharing behavior. Again, leaders play a key role in encouraging their teams to actively look for ideas, best practices, and other relevant experience before reinventing the wheel (see Teaming Beyond the Team). KM leaders and trainers also need to emphasize how quick and easy it will be to find relevant content and people to talk with, once content libraries has been slimmed down and the new knowledge pipeline has been re-invigorated.

There are many other ways to re-energize stalled KM programs but these are good places to start. They address business value, ease of use, and content renewal, which are key factors for rekindling enthusiasm and energy around knowledge sharing programs.