• David Griffiths

Hi-Fidelity Knowledge Management | Part 3 of the unflattening KM series

Are you ready to trust people, because KM loses fidelity in complicated and complex enterprise knowledge domains? Hi-Fidelity KM means unflattening the constraints of traditional knowledge extraction, cataloguing and categorisation.

Unflattening KM Part 1 | Unflattening KM Part 2

Hi-Fidelity Knowledge Management

People create knowledge, and knowledge brings influence. However, people are often fallible, impacting productivity, safety, innovation, quality and customer/employee experiences. Organisations fear the cost of human fallibility, as much as they fear knowledge loss. Knowledge Management is supposed to reduce that fear. Extract knowledge, categorise it, catalogue it, make it visible, accessible and ensure it gets to the people who need it at the time they need it.

So, what is not working? Organisations still need KM, but it seems that KM is struggling to deliver what the organisation needs.

Stating the obvious, knowledge is a human condition and, therefore, Knowledge Management is about understanding and influencing behaviours as a function of the interaction of people with their environment. 

B = f(P x E), where (B) represents behaviour as a function (f) of the interaction (x) of a person (P) with their environment (E). (Lewin, 2013)

The interaction of people with their environment is the critical element so often missed by KM. In a rush to extract, categorise and catalogue knowledge, KM loses sight of the relationship between knowledge and its context, the environment.

Knowledge exists in three key enterprise domains: simple, complicated and complex. In the simple knowledge domain, a space of one right answer to a question or problem, which is widely known and accepted, the extraction, categorisation and cataloguing approach works. Avoiding the information vs knowledge debate, in the simple domain knowledge is highly portable because the knowledge seeker clearly understands the context for its application because it is widely known and accepted.

The same approach can work for complicated queries or problems, a knowledge space where there is no right answer, but there are better or worse answers. In such a space, subject matter experts can be used to guide knowledge seekers toward better solutions, improving safety, time, innovation, cost and experiences. In the complicated domain, the higher the number of decision variables, the less portable the knowledge becomes. The extraction, categorisation and cataloguing approach loses fidelity as the complicatedness of the knowledge increases.

However, this is where it gets challenging for KM. Because, as knowledge becomes highly-complicated and then complex, the extraction, categorising and cataloguing approach stresses and fails. 

The complex knowledge domain is one emergence, where the problem or decision variables, as well as their interconnectedness and influence, are both known and unknown. Knowledge becomes highly nuanced and specific to moments of time and place. To attempt to mine and extract knowledge using a categorisation and cataloguing approach is futile because it lacks portability as it is attached to and distributed across people in a specific time and place. 

That is not to say that knowledge cannot be shared, embedded, recalled and applied. But to do so requires a very different approach.

Consider that knowledge-sharing behaviour is a function of the interaction of the person or group of people with their environment. Now, imagine those people are dealing with highly complicated or complex knowledge. What would you do to capture, store that knowledge while also making it visible and accessible? 

If you are thinking lessons learned or something similar, you are falling into a low-fidelity knowledge trap that has arguably failed KM for decades. Consider people and their environment; their knowledge exists in a shared experience where the experience is a right of passage to its access. 

Knowledge is there to be inherited, but the members of the group are the gatekeepers, and they will decide if, when, where and to whom that knowledge will be made available. Hi-fidelity knowledge transfer will happen when the group decide that an individual has the requisite beliefs, attitudes, skills, knowledge, experience and talent to inherit the knowledge. Ask yourself, what is the likelihood that an outsider will have the necessary trust to facilitate such a transfer? 

For Knowledge Management to function in such a space, the function or Knowledge Manager will need high levels of relationship trust and influence. Influence leads to behavioural change, where KM can influence the visibility and accessibility of privileged knowledge, turning outsiders into insiders. To do this, KM needs to focus on hi-fidelity knowledge transfer by influencing people and their behaviours.

What can you do to become a trusted insider that has the permissions to access and inherit privileged knowledge?

One framework that can help you is the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Stairway to Behavioural Change. The FBI uses the Stairway in crises involving hostage negotiations and, though thinking of hi-fidelity Knowledge Management as a crisis might be a bit extreme, the process is highly valuable to KM team leaders and managers.

FBI Behavioural Change Stairway Model
FBI Behavioural Change Stairway Model (Vecchi et al., 2005, p. 533-551)

Stage 1 – Active Listening: people rejecting change want you to listen to them, and most of all, be understood. You will need to use high-performance coaching tools, such as the power of silence; open questions; mirroring; paraphrasing; summarising; and labelling. The power of active listening is why a good leader or manager needs coaching skills because, if you lack coaching abilities, you are missing the fundamental tool required to bring about change. 

Stage 2 – Empathy: empathy is your ability to explicitly articulate “the world according to [insert name of the person you are working with]”. 

Stage 3 – Rapport: through a process of collaboration, you can de-escalate the perceived crisis. You can de-escalate the situation by agreeing where appropriate; reducing the feeling of difference by addressing negatives upfront and accentuating positives; focusing on common ground.

Stage 4 – Influence: by talking with, as opposed to at, the person, you will have earned the right to recommend a way to co-develop a realistic solution (see Design Thinking approach above).

Stage 5 – Behavioural Change: you will only succeed in creating change in a person’s outlook if you have completed all other steps. Rush, and you could cause the person to become even more entrenched in their position, where you lose credibility and trust. Take your time, and you will create a positive relationship that strengthens engagement, involvement, creativity, productivity and wellbeing.

What will opportunities will you discover in the unflattening of Knowledge Management?

If you are interested in hi-fidelity Knowledge Management principles or perspectives on the unflattening of Knowledge Management, drop me a line and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com).