There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody's job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn't do it.
It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have done.
The issue at the heart of this well-known tale is 'accountability', or rather, the lack of it.
Regular readers of this blog will know that the 4 key enablers of knowledge management (KM) are:
- People with specified roles and accountabilities
- Processes to enable consistency and quality
- Technology to store and share huge amounts of 'stuff'
- Governance to encourage, require and support people to manage their knowledge
All of these are essential if we're going to define, implement and maintain a knowledge management framework.
However, over recent month I've been coming to the conclusion that the first one is perhaps the most important.
When I explain what we mean by the 'people' part of a KM framework, I usually say that it means that people have specific KM accountabilities, and that they acknowledge those accountabilities. In other words, it's not enough for something to be written on a job specification (although that would be a start, admittedly). No, the accountabilities are not just written down but accepted by someone as part of their role in the organisation.
To be 100% clear, with proper accountability it's not enough for 'the Boss' to say "that is your job" but employees need to respond with "Yes, that is my job and we have a shared understanding as to what that entails."
If effective governance is missing, KM will always be patchy, with isolated pockets of good practice surrounded by the bulk of the organisation all but actively mismanaging its knowledge.
If technology is absent, KM takes longer and can only ever reach people who share the same office or, at a stretch, the same building.
If processes are not in place, KM will be random, prone to error and quick to lose credibility.
But it is the absence of proper accountability that will prevent KM ever taking off at all. People will always think that KM sounds like a 'good idea' or 'common sense' but will always assume that someone else is doing it, like the four fools in the story above.