• David Griffiths

Knowledge Management Insights | KM Gamekeepers & Poachers


As a consultant, I often find myself being a gamekeeper by day and a poacher by night. Bear with me, and I'll explain the difference between the two.

This article is not about one set of traits being right and another being wrong. However, it is about understanding how traits can clump together to form a KM type that might not fit the job at hand. The difference is significant because, as I set out in my UK Knowledge Management Summit keynote, KM today is a product of all the decisions taken to date and moving forward, it needs to change.


In the face of a need to change, will you be a Knowledge Management gamekeeper, protecting what has gone before, or a KM poacher who adapts to the needs of fast-changing environments?

Question: are you a Knowledge Management Gamekeeper when you need to be a Poacher?


Sometimes you need a Gamekeeper and other times a Poacher. It's about creating a fit between you and the environment. The question is, are your beliefs, attitude, skills, knowledge, experience and talent optimal for the environment you work in?


A few years back, I worked with a Knowledge Management team responsible for 'agile' and innovation within a large multi-national engineering company. Based in Germany, the team pulled the brightest and best talent from across the company with a remit to engage the workforce to generate ideas that could lead to innovations that enhanced the company's competitive position in the marketplace. However, the team was facing a challenge. 

After experiencing an initial influx of ideas, the well had quickly run dry; two years down the road and they found themselves at a point of crisis with the executive leadership team questioning their commitment and capability. The response was one of anxiety and fear, which stunted learning.


The team believed their problem was the employees; they didn't get Knowledge Management, agile or innovation and, subsequently, they didn't have any good ideas.


The reality was very different. You see, the agile project was full of gamekeepers when what it needed was poachers. 

The Gamekeeper and Poacher


Over the years, I have discovered that Knowledge Managers tend to be a blend of gamekeepers and poachers.


The Gamekeeper:

  • An experienced hyper-specialist (e.g. an engineer or lawyer turned KMer)

  • A linear thinker who detests messy problems

  • Protector and enforcer of structures, systems and processes

  • Trust the process - mistakes happen because someone didn't follow the rules

  • Thrives in certainty and has a low tolerance for risk

  • Predicts and measures success through Key performance indicators

  • Responds to challenges using tried and trusted methods

The Poacher:

  • An agile multi-disciplined generalist

  • A non-linear thinker who sees mess as an opportunity

  • Finds and selects the right approach for the job and will rapidly change if a given strategy isn't working

  • Mistakes happen because they got it wrong

  • Thrive in uncertainty and has a high tolerance for risk

  • Speaks about the probability of success

  • Responds to challenges by probing the environment, sensing and then responding

Being formed of Gamekeepers, the Knowledge Management team in Germany didn't have the Beliefs, Attitudes, Skills, Knowledge, Experience and Talent (BASKET) required for the mission. The team needed to embrace the Poacher mindset, taking an approach that allowed them to be Gamekeepers during the day and Poachers at night.


Engineers, accountants, Project Managers and the like who transition to KM tend to lean toward being Gamekeepers, and, in complicated environments, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this. However, the moment the environment tips toward complexity, the Gamekeeper tends to get outwitted by the Poacher.

Gamekeeper & Poacher BASKET Shortfalls


Recently, I have been working with a team of European Knowledge Managers with a Project Management background tasked with influencing the way people feel and think about electric vehicles. EU stakeholders were not happy with their performance because, after two years, the team had not achieved the impact they expected. 


At the heart of the dissatisfaction was a BASKET shortfall, where the teams lacked the variety of BASKET needed to create trust, influence and impact with their target audience. 


The team was full of brilliant Gamekeepers, who couldn't work out why people wouldn't subscribe to their rule-based approach to influence; they knew best because they were expert engineer Project Managers, and people should listen to the logic, their logic. They didn't grasp that whenever two people meet, whether to compete or collaborate, there is complexity - the relationship is dynamic, and outcomes are not predictable. 

The team needed to break out of its Gamekeeper sanctuary and learn to be Poachers. However, to do so, they needed to be learning agile and, unfortunately, they reinforced the need for a fixed mindset - the way of the Gamekeeper was the one true path.

Important note on Knowledge Management gamekeepers and poachers


This article is not about Gamekeeper = wrong & Poacher = right.

The world needs both Gamekeepers and Poachers, but the message here is to choose the right manager(s) for the environment. Also, I want you to ask is, as the environment changes, am I fit enough to pivot and thrive; can you be a Knowledge Management Gamekeeper by day and a Poacher by night?


If you want to learn more about high-impact Knowledge Management principles, drop me an email and start a conversation (david@k3cubed.com)

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