How do you develop emotional engagement in KM implementation and bring sustainable change to organisations? By Paul Whiffen

Engage both hearts and minds

In the implementation of Knowledge Management, I have learned that it’s a lot about leadership which means engaging people in both hearts and minds; there’s a focus on engaging people emotionally and inspiring them.

Originally, I did a technical degree (Engineering related) which was fine when I worked in the technical area concerned. The emotional side of things wasn’t so important then as things were more black and white. (Having said that, when there was a people side of things to tackle, I was often asked to address it).

This changed when I started work in KM implementation (around 22 years ago) which is after all, provided you do it fully and strategically, a significant culture change initiative. I learned that facts and figures weren’t enough, I had to get people onside through routinely inspiring them and meeting them at their point of need. Knowledge touches on peoples' beliefs and esteem which is an interesting area to work in. Change is a hard sell, particularly in more traditional cultures.

How do you encourage people to try KM?

KM needs to be communicated as a clear and compelling vision that shows it to be credible, practical, pragmatic and achievable. This took me a long time but when I cracked it, it made a huge difference. After a lot of trial and error I had found a way to communicate KM and what it could look like in 60 very interactive minutes using Flipchart diagrams and energetic discussion (no PowerPoint!). I found that even in the most technical environments, this process engages people emotionally as well as logically and inspires them. I have done this many times over the years, and every session is a learning experience for me too.

“We’ve been trying to implement KM for seven years, but it’s always been in a technically-led way and it’s never really got anywhere. This approach that leads through people, teams and their points of need is actually working.”

KM Piloting needs to happen at two levels – strategic and tactical – and pilots themselves need to be selected carefully. Strategic piloting typically means setting up and running a KM Plan (for a Project and / or Function) led by an open and visionary leader, while tactical means choosing for example Learning Reviews (which even technically minded people find to be emotional events) on successful activities so that some of the positivity rubs off on KM itself.

“Why haven’t we always worked this way?”

Really inspiring, energetic and interactive KM training courses. These are two-way in the sense that the participants can influence the shape of the ongoing KM implementation through their stories and experience. These are not normal “lecture style” training courses but intended to develop the participants as well as the KM approach that informs them – everybody learns. As someone who has designed and facilitated such courses this kind of open two-way approach can be quite surprising and seismic in what they reveal to individuals and organisations as a whole.

“An energetic and enthusiastic approach to KM brought the subject and application of KM to life.”

In parallel with the KM Implementation there needs to be a very effective Communications Strategy that is aimed at key Stakeholders as well as the broader staff population. It’s about communicating with people in a way that they find compelling and makes them curious and supportive. Crucially this also means getting senior staff to set the KM expectation as well as getting participants to talk about what KM has done for them and the benefits it has brought – both top down and bottom up communications are needed as the KM approach matures. The KM lead needs to find a way both face to face and otherwise to get people inspired and bought in, this is not so easy.

“Introducing the KM concept in a technical oriented company like this is itself a major challenge. Paul managed to keep focused on the objectives and successfully motivated the company to adopt KM as a part of the services offered to clients, the ideas and procedures he proposed are still in use.”

All this is a challenge, but it can be done given persistence, patience and resilience. 

Top 3 takeaways to develop emotional engagement in KM

  1. This is not primarily a technical exercise but a people and change one with technical elements in support;
  2. Have a compelling KM vision that really grabs and inspires people;
  3. Communicate, communicate, communicate…and position an inspiring training course as part of the Comms strategy.

More from Paul

How to use knowledge management to future-proof your organisation

Why should you integrate knowledge management in to your business processes?

Free e-book - Are you 'Knowledge Ready?'

Did you know..

  1. 90% of the knowledge within an organisation remains within the heads of its employees [1]
  2. Organisation's that are most effective at knowledge transfer improve project outcomes by nearly 35%? [2]

Knowledge management is a difficult challenge that every organisation is faced with. Being able to retain and transfer valuable knowledge in your Business can be the difference between success and failure.

Our free downloadable ebook Managing the Right Knowledge and Managing the Knowledge Right shares the key questions and solutions for improving your knowledge management capabilities to help you become 'Knowledge Ready'.

Download your copy of Managing the Right Knowledge and Managing the Knowledge Right and start your journey to becoming 'Knowledge Ready'.

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About Paul

whiffenPaul Whiffen has been working in KM for more than 20 years, including Head of KM for three organisations in different sectors.  He understands the theory and know-how to make KM real and effective from experience gained in both leadership and supporting consultancy.

If you would like to learn more please visit his blog page or connect with him on LinkedIn.


[1] PMO Pulse of the Profession® 2015 

[2] Pulse of the Profession® Capturing the Value of Project Management through Knowledge Transfer