It’s not 1997: Stop worrying about Knowledge Management

Knowledge Management (KM) had a time and place in the history books regarding “effective management principles B.I. (Before Internet).”  According to Nancy Dixon (2009), Knowledge Management, the goal of KM was “to make sense of collective knowledge in an organization.” With the adoption and implementation of social learning tools and the Internet, KM has been doomed because:

  • It is too inward facing
    • KM relies on the expertise of an exclusive group of people. It does not recognize the importance that connected experts can bring to solving problems and issues (Weinberger, 2011). Jarche (2010) pointed out that a collection of the “right” people can lead to success above those holding only internal knowledge.
  •  It cannot change fast enough
    • We move at the speed of the Internet (or real time). Employees do not have the patience for waiting for lengthy corporate training sessions to take place. By the time these do happen, many workers have developed their own solutions or learned about it on YouTube. We are living in the Twitterverse. What do I mean by this? We have the incredible ability to connect and interact with others in real time (Drexler, 2014). Google can provide us with instant answers, but Twitter and other social networks can instantly create a two-way conversation with others experiencing the same thing. People are learning in crowd settings (Weinberger, 2011) not just in individual siloes.
  •  It no longer meets the needs of the workforce
    • Diversity, diversity, diversity.  The environment is diverse, workplace settings and cultures are diverse and workers are more than diverse than ever. The knowledge that is shared and used to teach others must also be diverse to add to its stickiness. Developing expertise in a connected world naturally connects pieces that are different from one another (Weinberger, 2011).

It is worth noting that Dixon herself has not posted on the topic since 2012.


The Leader’s Role: Model the Way

Kouzes & Posner (2007) developed five practices for exemplary leadership. The first being Model the Way. To me, this describes, in the most basic terms, the role of the leader-you must walk the walk not just talk the talk. walkthewalkIn the unfiltered world, a leader should help followers navigate through the myriad of information and knowledge that is available literally at one’s fingertips. At times, the leader must act as the filter to help followers uphold a shared vision. The leader must invest into the right digital tools to help this filtering process. Through the analysis of these tools, it is clear that there is not a one-size-fits-all tool, so the leader’s ability to find and vet (or appoint a follower to handle this) the right tools for the job. Even when these tools are adopted, there is a continuous cycle of networked learning.

Even when the right tools are implemented to encourage connected knowledge, the leader’s role does not end there. Too much filtering on one extreme or too much diversity on another extreme can lead to more paralysis than production. The leader must find the balance to meet the demands of the environment, the culture and the workforce.

16 thoughts on “It’s not 1997: Stop worrying about Knowledge Management

  1. Krista – I really appreciate the clarity of your analysis of knowledge management. I think you hit on three very important points: the inward-facing nature, the impossible pace of evolution, and organizational diversity. Each reflects a major challenge to leaders.

    You point out that a big part of the leadership challenge is walking the walk when it comes to technology. I would venture to guess that many leaders (like many teachers) simply can’t keep up with the pace of technology either. If you have to keep working on new tools, how do you have time for doing the business of the business you’re in? Further (and this is very evident in classroom settings), leaders may be ill-equipped to utilize the technology in a way that’s germane to the tool and the environment. For example, reading Huckelberry Finn on a tablet is no better than on a book if the teacher and materials don’t take advantage of interactivity and rich media.

    Nick Morrison (2014) states that “It is not the technology itself that is important, it is how it is used. And this requires investment not just in equipment but in giving teachers the confidence and competence to exploit it.” I think this applies to leaders across industries and org types… and that the investment in leader training and confidence is paramount. Should we prioritize this type of action over other management and leadership tasks?

    Morrison, N. (2014, October 22). It’s time to rethink our use of technology in schools. Forbes. Retrieved from:


    • James, I hear you…but…

      Will there ever be time? Is this somewhat of a cop out? We can look up how to change a faucet but not how Slack could improve productivity? In a DIY world, not doing it yourself seems wrong.

      Or am I off target?


      • Dr. Watwood and James,

        The time question is an interesting one. I have found that if people see the value, they will take the time to learn something. The same holds true for an organization. As leaders, we may need to take on the role of being a cheerleader and showing the value so that employees take the time to learn a new tool that can make a difference for our customers and the organization.



  2. Really well written post! Can appreciate your focus on leaders needing to model the right behavior and also the discussion around finding the right balance between diversity and over weaning of material. However, I wonder how often leaders actually gets to select which knowledge their subordinates engage with. In my case, the larger organization lets me know which information is non-negotiable and what my leader suggests is generally negotiable. Also, there is virtually no way to prevent subordinates from managing their own knowledge in their own ways. Thus when it comes to the literal management of knowledge I feel that the most important task of leaders is to continue to promote an environment and a mindset where learning and sharing is a priority. I suspect that the tools will continue to evolve so quickly that even the most informed leader will always be a step behind. However, the necessary environment and mindset would seem to be relevant longer than any tool. What has been your experience? Thanks ~ Tricia


    • Tricia:
      I would suggest that we should not forget the role of the follower in any leader-follower relationship as the leader is only as strong as the followers. And it is the leader’s responsibility to ensure that followers are getting the right support. Some followers do want to just come in, check the tasks off of a list, and then go home; others might seek this shared learning from colleagues. I have found this in my current situation where I have great disparity between my different direct reports and what they want from their position. It is part of my job to create the roadmap and get the right people on the bus (Collins, 2001). Kouzes & Posner’s second principle of leadership is to inspire a shared vision (2007).

      Sometimes a leader and follower do not have the collaborative relationship which is necessary to be effective.

      Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York City: Harper Collins.
      Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2007). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: John Wiley &
      Sons, Inc.


      • Quick thought – I believe your reference to a leader’s responsibility to create a roadmap is what I am saying when I reference the leader’s fostering the necessary mindset. I may not have made myself clear and may be misreading your response but I was not at all diminishing a leader’s responsibility in providing support or guidance in terms of KM but rather acknowledging that many followers are seeking information from a wide variety of resources and bringing these ideas and perspectives into the workplace whether they align with the vision I or the organization have set forth. Thanks for the dialogue. ~Tricia


  3. Krista, thank you much for your post. While I agree with many of your comments, I disagree with the assessment that Knowledge Management is dead. The Internet has definitely changed the paradigm. However, situations remains where no amount of knowledge gleaned from the external world may offer a best practice or path forward. I touched on this in reply to another post, but my organization has for example, as I am sure many others have as well, specific industry regulations that lead to differentiated processes versus those competitors may or may not have that require internal knowledge to address. While there are many cases where I do turn to the Internet for knowledge, there are also instances where I must be able to access internal resources for an answer.

    A recent article in Harvard Business Review examined the topic of business specific, experiential knowledge (Leonard, 2016). What are your thoughts on how successful the Internet would be in filling those internal gaps if the knowledge employees were generating each day was deemed not of value and therefore left not captured or managed?

    Leonard, D. (2016, September 29). Develop deep knowledge in your organization – and keep it. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from



    • Julie:
      Thank you for providing a counterpoint to my position on the death of Knowledge Management-this is one benefit that we all share from the cohort learning process. I would suggest that even industry regulations are created by a team of multiple stakeholders, not one/two experts as suggested by traditional knowledge management. At my employer, the Ohio State Medical Association we have a team of government relations professionals who work with elected legislators on proposed laws. Once those are passed, my colleagues work to ensure that the right and manageable rules are created for following the laws and remaining in compliance.

      The article you provided was very interesting, but the practicality of retaining employees for a long period of time is hard to imagine. What I learned from that piece is that mentorship and knowledge succession is of the greatest importance.

      I appreciate your point of view-Krista


  4. Krista,

    Good evening. I appreciate your thoughts on diversity. I thought that Weinberger’s (2011) writings on diversity were an important takeaway this week. I worked with someone in the past that thought of diversity has boxes we check. We have too many young females on the team; let’s hire a middle aged male. We need to hire a minority female, so we look good. It was amazing to witness. The thought never crossed their mind as to what diversity truly meant and the benefit it gives our teams and our organizations. I enjoyed Weinberger’s thoughts that all diversity is not equal. I also appreciated his ideas of having the right mix of diversity so to avoid homogeneous thinking. I have been reflecting on this over the week. How do we strike that balance Weinberger was discussing? We want to have enough common ground that we can move things forward but not too much in common and have everyone agreeing on everything. Have you had success finding a balance of the two?



    • Jason:
      You are quite correct that diversity is often reduced to checking the boxes. If this technique is used, I’m not sure the leader or the follower is set up for any success. Kouzes & Posner’s (2007) second principle for exemplary leadership is to inspire a shared vision. For me, it is of utmost importance to remind a diverse group of people that we are all in this together and that shared vision provides the end goal that everyone is working on together. The common ground then comes from the achievement of the goal, not the same groupthink on how to get there.

      Kouzes, J.M. & Posner, B.Z. (2007). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: John Wiley &
      Sons, Inc


  5. Krista,

    I agree with James’s point that, as you mentioned, the speed of technology can be almost impossible to keep up with as a leader and still have time to accomplish the remained of required duties. However, as you noted leaders should help followers to filter and keep them focused on the shared vision. I believe the best way to accomplish both is for leaders to be champions of innovation and encourage followers to constantly look towards emerging technologies. It will require the leader to have an overall understanding of newer technological advances without requiring the proficiency that can be so time consuming. This sort of freedom can also be beneficial to the well being of a company’s employees, as seen in companies like Google with their 20% policy.



    • Chris:
      It is true that no one person can be all things to all people. Great leaders find the right people to help them accomplish collective goals. It should be noted that Cass Sunstein was one of Obama’s regulatory czars. It is always good to recognize one’s strengths and weaknesses.


  6. Krista,
    I really enjoyed your post this week. I think you did an excellent job of synthesizing and bringing to light a holistic view at knowledge management. As I read through the reading this week and your post, I kept thinking about the older generation of employees or work force that aren’t as technologically savvy. Where do you see them fitting into this world of social media and technology advancement? Is there still a value-add to their work and perspective?



    • There seems to be too parts to your question, Katie. First, do we still value the work that is based on experience and not technology? Second, if someone is not tech savvy, are they too old to learn new tricks? 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s