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Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow - Book Review

1 March 2011
Dr. Moria Levy
book cover

The book "Mastering Organizational Knowledge Flow: How to Make Knowledge Sharing Work" was written by Frank Leistner in 2010. He currently serves as the SAS Knowledge Management Manager at SAS, one of the largest private software companies globally. Leistner, an advocate against using the term "knowledge management" because he believes knowledge itself cannot be managed, emphasizes the importance of managing and influencing the flow of knowledge. In his book, he underscores that effectively managing and promoting the flow of knowledge can be shared within teams and throughout the organization. Many knowledge managers share this perspective with backgrounds in computing, and Leistner stresses that technology is not the core of the issue but rather part of the solution.


The book covers various topics, including:

  • Officials

  • Initiating Activities

  • Fundamental Conditions for Activity

  • Success Promoters

  • Obstacles in the Path

  • Measurement and Analysis

  • Knowledge Management Solutions


This book is highly recommended for all knowledge managers, especially those in high-tech organizations. Happy reading.


Officials

The pivotal roles in knowledge flow activities encompass:


Senior Manager – Leadership, Budgeting, and Responsibility for change management


Director of Activity in the Organization or External Consultant – Professional Leadership, Assessing the topic within your organization, and Overseeing change management.


Stakeholders in the organization - Human Resources Manager, IT Manager, Finance Manager, Internal Communications Manager, Marketing Manager – Concern, Sharing responsibility, and providing assistance in a scenario where knowledge existing in one part of the organization can be utilized by others on the opposite side, Fostering professionalism, and promoting knowledge flow in the organization.


Every manager at every level, to some extent, every employee – Encouraging individuals to invest time in activities.


Intermediaries (brokers) – employees in the organization – link, Connecting knowledgeable employees


Technical Writers / Documenters (Stewards) - Employees in the Organization - Documentation, Assisting others in creating structured documented knowledge assets

Informatics and researchers – employees in the organization – research, Providing services to others in research and discovery of activities related to information and knowledge, aiming to generate new knowledge


People responsible for leading the flow of knowledge at a local level (intermediaries) – local leaders, Aiding in local adaptation: understanding the required knowledge, identifying the recipients, and determining when it's suitable to connect knowledge with individuals, Contributing to increased local usage, These are individuals who know how to instill self-motivation for the activity and possess a passion for the job.


Initiating Activities

Start-up: Clarify that this is a long-term endeavor rather than a start-middle-end project. It is advisable to commence with strategic planning activities and initiate well-defined initiatives.


Strategy:

  • Ensure that the strategy aligns with the organization-wide strategy and seamlessly integrates.

  • Ground the strategy in the current situation and propose desirable directions in the following dimensions:

    - Organizational culture

    - Processes

    - Computing infrastructure

    - Business activity

    - Support for the flow of knowledge

    - Administrative leadership


Initiatives will be derived based on these dimensions, within which projects for promotion will be defined.


Initiatives:

  • Recommend targeting initiatives.

  • Develop appealing initiatives, as knowledge management activities rely on co-owners and users' participation.

  • Propose initiatives that evolve iteratively and are manageable.

  • Ensure initiatives can serve as success stories to facilitate future expansion.

  • Advise that initiatives have a partly supportive role in the long term.

  • Consider gradual implementation rather than an all-at-once approach for the initial initiatives, particularly when social network components are involved.

  • Plan initiatives independently of each other yet integrate them (technologically, culturally, etc.).


Fundamental Conditions for Activity

The main essential factors crucial for the success of an activity encompass:

  • Passionate support for initiatives. Cultivating this passion can be achieved through various means: showcasing progress, commemorating milestones, sharing stories, setting a positive example, and instilling a sense of identity.

  • Supportive culture. This culture is influenced by the country's culture (and, in the case of global organizations, the culture of each country separately) and the organization's entity. While it's possible to modify an existing organizational culture to encourage cooperation, such changes should be orchestrated by the organization's management.

  • Trust. This involves personal trust between individuals, the willingness to share as a result, and the trust people place in materials written by other employees within the organization.

    - Effective management of a feedback loop.

    - Organizational transparency fosters trust.

    - Face-to-face meetings bolster trust.

  • Management support. Obtaining this support requires conveying to managers at various levels that knowledge and knowledge sharing are critical to the success of employee performance (refer to Kotter's book: "A Sense of Urgency" M.L.). Activity managers must, of course, justify their activity management and focus it on business areas where it genuinely promotes.

  • Ability to motivate and reward employees with a variety of tools. It's essential to recognize that different employees are motivated by different factors (various soft rewards). A diverse collection of rewards must be included to conduct activities that promote knowledge sharing.


Combining these factors ensures that individuals in your organization are inclined to be part of initiatives over time.


Success Promoters

The leading coefficients of success, according to Leistner, include:

  • A holistic view.

  • Investing significant time and persistent effort in managing aspects related to human behavior.

  • Treating technology as an enabler but not as a solution itself. Recommendation: Allocate about 70% to culture and people, approximately 20% to processes, and the remaining 10% to technology.


Beyond that:

  1. Integration of a portfolio of solutions.

  2. An open and straightforward framework of activity: simple rules to understand and implement, allowing freedom and flexibility in their application among different teams.

  3. Internal marketing of the activity: both at the level of communication and internal branding. Examples of communications are milestone celebrations, channeling events (the year for a specific activity or tool), and awards. Tailor quiet marketing to different target audiences. The key point in marketing is ongoing activity over time, not just a one-time activity. Marketing tip: Use existing channels but also create additional channels.

  4. Regular updates to the organization/users of ongoing activity:

    a. New content

    b. Quantity of use

    c. And more.

Updates can be sent via email or newsletter—tips: a) Permanence and b) Simplicity.

5.Reach many users. Implement comprehensive solutions designed for broad populations. The significant advantage lies in the level of benefit. Tip: Gradually introduce for different groups/needs, only some at a time.

6.Motivation. Work with intrinsically motivated people, motivate employees (see primary conditions above), and remove obstacles (see the next section).


Obstacles in the Path

Success always results from combining two types of effort: a direct attempt to promote success and an indirect attempt to remove obstacles. In a study conducted at the Fraunhofer Institute, the following obstacles in the field of knowledge management were identified. 70% of respondents mentioned the first three barriers, with a much lower percentage for the rest. Therefore, Leistner provides recommendations primarily for the former. Here is the list:

  1. Lack of time. Recommendation: Address this symptom as a lack of priority, making it easier to address and reduce.

  2. Lack of awareness of knowledge management. Recommendation: Address knowledge needs, avoiding the necessity of branding them as knowledge management.

  3. Lack of awareness of knowledge. Recommendation: a) Create transparency regarding knowledge and its sharing. b) Utilize successful individuals as knowledge brokers, as they can help raise awareness as part of their role.

  4. Knowledge is power. Recommendation: Strengthen the perception that power lies in those who build and transmit knowledge. Additionally, it emphasizes that morality learns and strengthens itself in every transmission of knowledge.

  5. Lack of reward systems.

  6. Lack of transparency.

  7. Specialization.

  8. Lack of appropriate technological infrastructure.

  9. No regulated knowledge sharing.

  10. Organizational culture needs to be more supportive.


    Beyond these, Leistner mentions other challenges:

  11. Sharing knowledge takes effort. Recommendation: Aim for an effort level in terms of desired outputs, but not beyond that (effort for effort). Refrain from compromising efforts to ensure content quality and focus on the right effort.

  12. A desire for perfection. Rejects the contribution of information (and sometimes even uploads it to the air, M.L.). Recommendation: Encourage uploads with appropriate reservations.

  13. Excess knowledge. A well-known obstacle is the perception that the more knowledge we have, the better. The same applies to the parameters (metadata) that accompany each item. Recommendation: Underestimate.

  14. Legal barriers. Barriers related to sharing customer information, proprietary information, and more. Recommendation: a) Separate information and knowledge; often, the information, not the knowledge, should be blocked. b) Raise awareness and understanding of the nature of legal barriers. c) Strike a delicate balance between publication and confidentiality.


Measurement and Analysis

As an employee of the world's leading analytical analytics firm, one might not expect Leistner to delve into the measurement chapter. However, he certainly comprehends that there are barriers to measurement:

  1. Finding meaningful metrics for evaluating knowledge-sharing initiatives and flow is challenging.

  2. Motivating behavior may be easy, but motivating the "right" behavior is complex.

  3. Precision in measurement is challenging, as much related to knowledge is fuzzy.

  4. Measurement can be misleading, creating a positive impression of measurement without always contributing to the desired result.


Measurement recommendations:

  1. Amount of knowledge contribution.

  2. Usage level.

  3. Participation and frequency of participation.

  4. Values received: time saved, money earned, and more. Caution – not trivial.

  5. Culture. Example: Changes in the trend towards using tools related to knowledge management.

  6. Quality. Measure item integrity and format.

  7. FEEDBACK AND RATING.


Combining direct and indirect measurements, analyzing trends, and exercising caution throughout the measurement process is advisable.


Additionally, there is a solid recommendation to analyze what was measured and invest significantly in publishing what is measured (transparency) to as many people as possible. Feedback is critical and promotes widespread usage.


Knowledge Management Solutions

Leistner presents a range of solutions facilitating the flow of knowledge within an organization, offering representative examples applicable to any organizational context. He explores the tension between solutions emphasizing the elements of knowledge and those aiding in identifying and endorsing individuals possessing knowledge. Here are his recommendations:

  • Knowledge communities. Available in face-to-face meetings and possibly facilitated through email mailing lists.

  • Skills management. Addresses inquiries in both training and locating experts.

  • Knowledge bases. May incorporate voting for individuals with knowledge to promote depth.

  • Portals. Emphasizes the importance of RSS as a supporting tool, focusing on ensuring content quality.

  • Open space meeting. A roundtable meeting without predefined goals allows participants to raise topics and choose discussion tables, with the flexibility to switch places during discussions.

  • Search. Provides access to information needed to be organized in advance.

  • Storytelling. It stresses the significance of a good story, as it conveys meaning uniquely.

  • Knowledge transfer sessions. Involves the transfer of knowledge during transitions or retirements, described as a one-time encounter, a kind of "hit the expert," where the departing individual sits in the center and answers questions from the audience. The meeting is recorded.


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