Top Reasons Knowledge Management Programs Fail

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Ineffective_KM_SystemWhile most companies understand the enormous potential of knowledge management, there are a lot of obstacles that can thwart their success. Based on the results of my 2nd Annual Knowledge Management Survey, I was able to identify some common issues that could determine the success or failure of a knowledge management system, how to fix them, and how to prevent them from happening in the future. 

Lack of Knowledge Sharing Culture

Knowledge sharing culture is one of the the primary drivers of KM success or failure, and if your company continues to reward people for hoarding content rather than sharing it, you’re going to have a difficult time being successful. (Tweet this!)

I analyzed my survey data to see if companies with better knowledge culture have better knowledge implementation. I separated all 400 responses into 3 groups based on how they rated their company’s KM culture.Knowledge_Sharing_Culture_1

A snapshot of the best and the worst knowledge management culture in both employee-facing and customer-facing knowledge bases.

I saw what the average ratings were for current KM implementation by culture group, and the results showed that the stronger the culture, the better the implementation, and the greater success they had with their current KM system. (Tweet this!)

While there are a lot of things you can do to improve knowledge sharing culture within departments, it’s a top down initiative. I suggest anonymously polling your employees to see if they feel encouraged to share what they know with the rest of their team, or if they are more inclined to hoard their knowledge. From there, you’ll be able to take the necessary steps towards encouraging employees to share what they know.

No Incentive to Use the System

Many managers, myself included, make the mistake early on by rewarding employees that submit the most new knowledge articles, and that is the single best way to collect a lot of junk and other useless information in your knowledge base.Types_of_Incentives_2

While many companies still don't incentivize content creation, of the companies that offer rewards, the most popular method is tying KM outcomes in with employee performance reviews.

I’m very wary of companies that incentivize based on the number of articles and activity, rather than which articles are the most used, support topics that have the most thumbs up from customers, and which topics are the most helpful. If you’re currently promoting activity, try switching it up to focus on outcomes and tie them in with employee performance reviews, offering compensation for the best content.

Knowledge base analytics can help you determine the most useful content based on who created it, who looked at it, and who is updating and maintaining it. If you can figure out what these top knowledge curators are doing right, you can then capture those skills and train others to do the same.

Not Capturing Knowledge from Professional Services Consultants

By the time your PS consultants complete a large customer implementation, they’ve learned all kinds of interesting things along the way. They’ve built customization codes, they’ve found bugs in the system that nobody knew about, but unfortunately they tend to not tell anyone what they’ve learned without outside encouragement or guidance. Currently, only 11% of PS organizations have a formal process for capturing “best practice” and “lessons learned” content at the end of each project or engagement, which is a lost opportunity to further grow your knowledge base to assist consultants tasked with similar projects in the future. (Tweet this!)

No Dedicated KM Team

In the first few months after implementing a new KM program, you’ll need a lot of hands on deck to set it up and keep it running smoothly. Once you’ve captured the majority of the content, the shift then moves toward maintenance, and the number of people needed to author, edit, and maintain this knowledge decreases. But who should be responsible for this maintenance?

While it’s true that everyone should be accountable for the maintenance of this information, if you don’t have anybody with direct responsibility for the program, the idea that “everyone is accountable” quickly turns into “no one is accountable.” It is best to have dedicated staff to manage your knowledge with everybody else contributing. After all, someone needs to steer the boat.

Out of Date Content

Most of the time when launching a new project, you get amazing success right out of the gate. Eventually, budgets get trimmed or the people driving the project get pulled off and redistributed elsewhere, resulting in stale, duplicate, or junk material languishing in your forgotten knowledge base.


It's important to keep the information in your knoweldge base current.

How often is your knowledge management content updated to edit or remove unused or outdated content? Fortunately, there are a lot of capabilities in today's KM tools that allow you to modify and find this duplicate or stale content. Dedicating resources to this ongoing process is an absolute must, because if you don’t, I guarantee you’re going to be implementing a new KM system every 3 years, and the “rip and replace” cycle will begin anew.

Gaps in Your Knowledge Base

A common frustrating scenario that I’m sure most people can relate to when you have a problem with a product, but are unable to find a single answer related to the issue on the manufacturer’s official knowledge base. However, often times a simple Google search can yield all kinds of answers from people just like you who are solving this problem for themselves through forums, blog posts, or social media.

Many companies like to think that their customers or employees will provide feedback, either via email or trouble tickets, alerting them to this gap in their knowledge base, but that is a naïve approach to filling knowledge gaps. Realistically, they’re just going to search elsewhere, and perhaps never return to try your self-service tools again. 

Search technology is a huge enabler in helping you pinpoint where the holes in your knowledge base are. (Tweet this!) For example, you might have a lot of content on a product, but it all pertains to implementation with no content about upgrading or actually using that product, and it’s this concept level of information that’s missing. Once you accept that search technology is here to stay and use it to your advantage, you can start filling in these gaps and making sure both customers and employees receive the best and most accurate information, wherever they happen to find it.

More About KM Best Practices

To learn more about KM best practices, TSIA research, and the issues in this post, watch my on-demand webinar, Hot Trends Transforming Knowledge Management. TSIA members have access to the complete results of my 2nd Annual Knowledge Management Survey and will be able to see how the companies surveyed have implemented successful knowledge management programs. What is your company doing to ensure the success of your KM system? Feel free to drop me a line or comment on this post, I’m interested in hearing what you have to say!

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About the Author

John_RagsdaleJohn Ragsdale is vice president of technology and social research for the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA). His area of expertise is in creating strategies for improving the service operations and overall customer experience by leveraging innovative technology. Ragsdale drives TSIA's highly regarded technology research agenda, delivering insightful, thought-leadership research and analysis on the most pressing business issues facing services leaders to enable them to better plan and execute their service strategies. Connect with John via Twitter @john_ragsdale.

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Topics: knowledge management, knowledge sharing


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