Saturday, February 04, 2023

Change and Knowledge Management

Change is constant.  The speed of change is accelerating.  Is it really or is it an illusion?  How does the undeniable accelerating speed of technology innovation impact the speed of change in other areas, like social norms for example?

Change doesn't always happen in the direction we hope for.  In most cases, change is not linear or unidirectional.  There are setbacks.  Two steps forward, one step back. Realizing that we, as individuals, as communities, as countries, are constantly changing, is perhaps the first step to "managing" change.  

The term "change management" is similar to the term "knowledge management' in the sense that change and knowledge are not really "manageable" and they are both very broad terms.  Management implies a lot of control.  I have come to think of knowledge management as facilitating activities that enhance knowledge flows, which encompasses both the collecting and connecting aspects of Knowledge Management, thus removing the illusion of control. When you try to control the flow of a river, you can destroy it. It is possible to do the same with knowledge flows. 

Discussions of change management in the context of a Knowledge Management initiative typically revolve around the need to facilitate employees' transition from one way of doing things to another.  It could be the introduction of a new KM practice, such as Knowledge Cafes or After-action-Reviews (AARs) or it could be the introduction of a new KM platform, the introduction of a wiki tool, or simply new protocols for document management.  

As KM professionals, we often think in terms of the KM best practices that we would like employees to adopt.  We have an ideal best practice in mind and change management is going to help us change the way employees do something.  It's not always easy.  There is resistance to account for. Models like ADKAR are meant to help us approach change management efforts with a clear framework and reassure us that if we (KM) professionals follow all the steps of the model, success will surely come.  

On the other hand, we have seen that under pressure from sources that had nothing to do with well-planned change management interventions based on ADKAR or some other models, change can happen very rapidly in organizations.  The speed with which organizations switched to remote work and the almost exclusive use of virtual tools in the early days of the COVID pandemic was remarkable.  How did that happen?  Change happened very quickly because a) the prerequisite technology was available, waiting to be leveraged at full capacity; and b) employees did not have much of a choice.  Resistance was indeed futile.  In such cases, the ability to deploy rapid communications to support the inevitable change was critical and helped lessen the anxiety and uncertainty generated by the change (on top of anxiety generated by the pandemic itself0.

And, at times, we have to address change that is controversial.  The introduction of AI in the work environment did not start with ChatGPT.  Many of our existing tools have relied on some form of AI, whether we realize it or not.  ChatGPT sparked lively discussions in workplaces, surfacing a great deal of fear and confusion.  Some employees may want to push ahead and quickly adopt the technology to stay ahead of the competition while others worry that their jobs are going to disappear.  Both of these extremes in the discourse often fail to understand the full picture, and in this case, the full picture is very complex.

How can KM professionals provide advice, support, or even lead this full range of potential changes that are inevitably going to continue popping up in organizations, whether they are required, well-planned changes following an ADKAR model, rapid changes to adapt to a crisis, or controversial, or potentially transformational technology advances?

  • Listen
    • Listen inward:  Listen to what employees and leadership are saying:  What are their concerns? What are their aspirations?  What are they focusing on?  What are they not saying?  What questions are being asked?
    • Listen outward:  Read up and stay informed about external development. 
  • Engage
    • Engage {gently} to correct misunderstandings.
    • Encourage employees to share what they are reading, which ultimately encourages everyone to read/learn. Note that people will read what confirms their existing biases (if any), so promoting a variety of sources can help; Promote a diversity of voices.
    • Prompt leadership to engage (as needed).  
  • Support 
    • Based on listening and engaging, determine where KM fits in, how the KM team (often a team of one) can support;
    • Engage more deeply with key stakeholders who will lead the charge in terms of "managing" the change. 
    • Scope the role of the KM team to ensure that KM adds value but does not overextend itself.  Even when the change can be clearly articulated as something that belongs to KM, it is perhaps best to avoid having KM in the lead role because it is very difficult to get buy-in for KM-led activities.  Unless the KM function is fully embedded in business units, it is best for KM to guide and support but not lead the change.  Sometimes adding value comes from being the calmer voice in the room that can facilitate conversations (knowledge flows). 

This was not written by ChatGPT.   Writing is a means to clarify one's thoughts and can be quite therapeutic.  Don't let AI tools tell you what you think or try to tell you what you should think.  Use AI to help you find the information or data you need to enrich your thoughts.