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Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…

‘Cut the crap’, You’re scaring me!

I came across this a few months ago and I’ve been meaning to comment on it.

This article is from the ‘KM Chief’ at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission;

“‘Cut the crap’ and other lessons for new IT projects

NRC’s knowledge management chief focused on goal rather than theories”

Let’s start with the one thing that amazes me, not just with this article, but with KM in general.  First, let me set the scene…

“Patricia Eng, a nuclear engineer by trade, was given the title of senior adviser for knowledge management at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and charged with implementing a system to make technical expertise and personal experience readily available across the agency”

Why do organisations constantly believe that they can take an engineer and transplant them, with no training or experience, into a KM role?  Surely, that is like taking someone with no understanding of the law and asking them to defend themselves in a capital murder trial where they are innocent.  What makes things a little more scary is when you read comments such as this:

Patricia (NRC’s KM Chief) said she believes her lack of academic training in knowledge management has been an asset because the experts too often focus on the fluff of theory, paying more attention to the means than to the end.

“Cut the crap,” she said. “You just do it.”

Right, which is why, in the article, there is confusion between Knowledge Management and Information Management!  There’s nothing like paying someone a lot of money to have on-the-job training!  In the mean time, the strategic advantage and improved tactical advantage that KM should be bringing is in the hands of someone who has never done this before.  Forgive me, but can organisations really afford to employ people who don’t have the relevant qualifications or experience for the job?  And, if they can, I’ve always wanted to be a commercial airline pilot.  I’ve never flown anything other than a paper airplane, but I’m willing to learn – please email me if you’re hiring.

Why is it that companies think that you can develop solutions for key strategic aspects of the organisation’s processes and not deploy people with the best knowledge, experience and understanding to solve the problem?  How do these people get the position of ‘KM Chief’ in the first place?  Take one multi-national, who had problems because their KM processes weren’t working.  They accepted a consultant’s recommendations and even developed a new global director position for knowledge and training to be responsible for KM. The problem, they hired someone with a logistics background because they were already a director in the company, were due a promotion, knew what the company needed and, the coup de grace, they had received six-sigma training.  Three years later…same company, same problems…but they now have a well-paid KM Director.

This is usually when companies call in the experts.  The people who know the theory, the people who know the models.  These experts, otherwise known as consultants, coaches or mentors are too often called in when things are going wrong.  By this time we are talking damage limitation and, often, it is too late to save people’s credibility.

The solution?  Employ the right person for the job in the first place.  And, ‘cutting the crap’, if they don’t know anything about KM, at the very least, develop them before you put them into post, please!

For my closing comment I return to the NRC’s ‘KM Chief’:

When you need to get from Point A to Point B, consider whether a bicycle can do the job as well as a Mercedes can…

The question is, do you have the knowledge, understanding and experience to make that decision in the first place?

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2 comments on “‘Cut the crap’, You’re scaring me!

  1. Pingback: The critical function of KM « Theknowledgecore's Blog

  2. Patricia Eng
    February 8, 2013

    Hello. I am that KM Chief at NRC. FYI, I was in a unique position to do what I did. I had been employed by the NRC since 1983 and had worked in virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations so was knowledgeable in both the technical and non-technical issues that new staff faced in coming up to speed at the agency. I also participated in developing annual budgets so knew where the pain points were and way to work around and through them.

    Over the years, I had seen multiple groups of consultants try to come in and convince us to spend lots of money on hiring them to help us streamline our training and knowledge transfer processes. We hired some of them. They cost us a lot. They were not very effective for two reasons: first, they did not understand the impact of our internal culture so proposed general solutions which, when implemented on a pilot basis, often failed. Second, they failed to present a sound business case in terms that agency management could understand and get behind.

    A long time NRC employee, I was reassigned to run the KM program by management. I did not seek it out – as we both know I am an engineer and not well familiar with the theory of information or knowledge management. All I knew was that we were losing thousands of person years of expertise every year and with increased requests for nuclear power plants, knew that we needed to stop the brain drain. So I built a program from the inside using my 25+ years of experience and my understanding of how the organization worked and its priorities. I built the program with a 10,000 annual budget and after two years saved NRC 37 million dollars in training and staff costs. So while I may not be a KM professional, I think the program had a positive impact. I have since retired and do not know if NRC plans on hiring a KM expert. But hopefully the program will continue to help them in their endeavors.

So, what do you think?

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