Hoarding for headcount

I was one of the guest speakers at a seminar on Thursday. The NSW branch of the itSMF held their first quarterly seminar for 2012 and the theme was Knowledge is Power. It was a terrific lineup and a full house. The Q&A panel, following the two presentations, yielded some great questions, many of which, I expected to hear. There was one, however, that I completely fudged my answer to, even though I was prepared for it—it’s the one obstacle knowledge wonks face all the time. I thought I’d take this opportunity to explain why I blew it and also to answer it again, in writing.

To paraphrase the question: aren’t we knowledge-managing our way out of a job; and therefore, shouldn’t I be anxious about sharing knowledge?

I talked about Management ensuring a safe environment for sharing knowledge. That’s true, but no doubt there are times when the mandate is to cut headcount, and knowledge management is a way of ensuring the successful continuance of a business (or department) in the wake of redundancies of critical staff. I haven’t had to play a part in that kind of situation, except to be on the receiving end.

So, now that I’ve had a chance to contemplate, here’s my answer.

I still think Management need to provide a supportive environment for sharing knowledge—staff need to be aware that sharing knowledge doesn’t put them in danger. Indeed, it has the opposite effect—it increases respect and trust. But if the mandate is to cut staffing, the Executive need to own it and own up to it. Don’t forget that by the time a business is considering KM as a useful means to an ugly end, the rumour mill is already running. Make knowledge management a part of a broader transition program where at-risk employees have access to career help, while the KM strategy is integrated into everyone’s day-to-day routine. It’s only fair that people have as much time as possible to prepare for such an outcome. To do otherwise, only promotes an ongoing sense of mistrust and reluctance towards any future corporate knowledge management strategy.

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  • Another aspect of this question and its answer has to do with KM in the context of the ever-changing nature of the IT industry.  Technology, processes and specifications change so fast that every forward thinking company NEEDS good documentation and knowledge management authors to keep things up to date and relevant.  If good authors can create documentation and knowledge content that allows others to easily digest and use this information, this is in the best interests of the company.  If others are benefiting from their work, this is the expected and desirable outcome of this process.  Making a such a documentation champion redundant is a mistake and runs contrary to the whole philosophy of such a task.


    • Totally. Paul Jay gave a terrific answer to that question by saying that whenever he runs across a reluctant person, he asks them if they have a backlog. Naturally, just about everyone has a backlog. They’d rather be doing the cool, project related stuff, than be stuck dealing with a queue of, most-likely, boring and repeatable tasks that anyone could do if they had a how-to.

  • Ian

    I know I’m a bit late but I was going to say what Paul jay told you, sharing knowledge can empower your own career, it frees up your time to do the cool stuff and learn new skills, shift left is the way forward. A lot of people struggle with this concept but some people grab it by the horns and run like crazy and they usually do quite well for themselves, there are of course the plodders who don’t want to progress and feel threatened. But as a manager it helps highlight these people… What you do next is a whole different story……..