Is KM a quick fix or a slow burner?

BBQs, Brais, whatever you want to call them, they’re one of the reasons that Summer evenings are the long, relaxing family times that they should be.

After years of using, abusing and replacing BBQs of various types and sizes, I succumbed to the marketing of the Big Green Egg Company and bought one. I admit, it was an indulgence – but I love it!

For the uninitiated, it’s a ceramic, charcoal-fuelled BBQ/grill/smoker which (according to the advert) can cook pretty much anything – but does particularly well at slow-roast hickory-infused joints of pork, lamb, beef – gently smoking away for up to 8 hours at a time, until is just falls off the bone. Mmmmm. Now I’m starting to drool.

I had a call today with a long-standing client in a UK’s government department. Over the last 4 years, I’ve been delivering a half-day leadership programme for their middle and senior managers, entitled “knowledge sharing strategies”. During that time, nearly 400 staff have participated in a range of activities: inventing knowledge transfer approaches for the Olympic Games, flying with the Red Arrows and hearing from heart surgeons, reflecting on quotations from Einstein to Toffler, Prusak and Snowden, diagnosing the seven deadly knowledge-sharing syndromes and learning from leaders.

This client was excited to report that there were clear signs that the training was bearing fruit: after action reviews are becoming more widespread, project reviews have become more meaningful, people are experimenting with randomised coffee trials to connect across boundaries, subject experts are consolidating knowledge into ‘knowledge assets’ which connect back to their SharePoint repository, people actively consider learning before doing, knowledge loss is being addressed as a real risk, and leaders are more aware of how their own behaviours and questions can shape the environment for knowledge-sharing. There’s still a long way to go to join up these puddles of good practice in to a river of improved performance, but it’s really good to see evidence of real change. The programme continues…

So what’s the connection between my Big Green Egg and that client conversation?

It’s all about patience and time

If my 20 years working in the field of knowledge management have taught me anything, it’s that whilst there may well be quick wins, there are no quick fixes.

 Some people perceive KM the business improvement equivalent of a beef burger – pre-processed content, a quick grill, flip it over, and it’s ready for consumption.

Change the technology. Send out a management missive. Start up a discussion or implement microblogging and call it a community, then look for the benefits in a few months.

My experience is that a sustainable implementation of knowledge management is far more like a slow-roasted joint of meat – well-chosen, marinated and prepared. We’re talking about hours rather than minutes, depending on the tenderness and cut of the meat in question – but the smokey aroma reminds you that it’s worth the wait.



In just the same way, when we consider strategic KM, we’re talking in terms of years rather than months. For this client, it’s taken 3-4 years to see great examples emerging – some organisations are more ‘tender’ and change comes more rapidly – but generally KM is a slow burner.  That’s not to say we don’t need to identify quick wins, or sparks of inspiration as we go. Most change programmes need a steady trickle of these to keep sponsors happy and keep the faith and morale high in any implementation team – however, let’s not settle just for the quick wins and lose sight of what’s really possible. 

Just as we wouldn’t invest in a Big Green Egg to just to grill burgers – let’s ensure that our impatience doesn’t deny us the long-term, lasting benefits of a knowledge-enabled organisation.  That might mean that we have to re-educate the business palate of a few key people – but in the end, it’s well worth it…


Now isn’t that much more appealing than a burger?