May 23, 2008

The Key to an Effective Knowledge Management System

Is the key to an effective knowledge management system a "non-optional mindset"? This is an attitude that says that a certain activity (e.g., contributing content or collaborating) is a necessity and must be done. It cannot be avoided, evaded, delayed or ignored.  Therefore, it takes precedence over all optional activities.

In his provocative post, How to Create a Non-Optional Mindset, Craig Harper discusses why most people would never think about skipping their daily shower, but will think about skipping a daily workout. For him, it is simply because these folks have decided for themselves that showering is an absolute necessity, but that a workout is optional. And they come to this decision despite all the research and advice that clearly demonstrate that regular exercise is critical for good health!

Turning back to knowledge management, there is lots of evidence about the usefulness of knowledge management activities such as creating, contributing or capturing content; organizing and distributing content; facilitating collaboration, etc. In fact, some have argued that success in these activities is critical to the ongoing health of most organizations. Yet, KM often is treated like daily exercise -- an optional activity.

One way to change this approach is to work on an individual basis to convert each lawyer in a law firm to the personal belief that their participation in law firm knowledge management is non-optional. But this is an undertaking that requires years of effort and, given the rate of attrition from most big law firms, may ultimately be doomed to failure. Another approach is to have management mandate that participation in KM is non-optional. But, as long as there is non-optional client billable work to do, will management ever make KM non-optional? An intermediate approach is to find cohesive, disciplined practice groups within your firm and have them make a commitment to mandatory knowledge management.

Is there a better way to achieve an non-optional mindset with respect to knowledge management? While you're thinking about that, I'm going to the gym.

2 comments:

Graham Durant-Law said...

Hi Mary.

I think this is a very interesting post, and one I agree with. For some time now I have been saying that missing element in the knowledge management literature is discipline. I've published a little bit about this idea, and have a few posts and papers available at this link - http://www.durantlaw.info/search/node/discipline .

Regards Graham

Mary Abraham said...

Thanks very much, Graham.

I read with great interest your earlier comments on discipline in Stan Garfield's blog. You're right -- working in a disciplined organization makes all the difference. The problem is that organizations such as law firms are rather diffuse in terms of power and direction and, consequently, can be hard to steer. Some have likened law firm management to "herding cats." In that context, imposing a disciplined approach seems rather more challenging.

- Mary