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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.