It is hard for me to believe that I read and commented on John Bordeaux’s “The Day DoD KM Died” blog post 3 years ago – hard to believe that 3 years has gone by so fast and hard to see that we are still struggling with knowledge management in the Department of Defense. My opinion about his post is sadly no different today than it was 3 years ago which seriously bums me out. I thought I might reread it and discover that my mind had changed, that our situation had changed for the better, but I find myself coming to the same conclusions Dr. Bordeaux did then: We simply continue to miss the mark in KM inside the DoD, and it’s entirely our own fault. The structure of the DoD and the way we respond to it continue to hold us back. On the bright side, we may not be able to change the structure of the DoD, but we CAN change how we ‘respond’ to it. Let me explain.
Currently in the DoD, our community of knowledge managers and our leadership still cannot agree on what the REAL work of knowledge managers is, where this work needs to be done, what our function really is, and how to actually DO it effectively. Instead, some of us march on as though having a good portal, whatever the flavor, means we are evolved beings who, because of “a tool” magically know how to manage and share knowledge. Some believe if we could ONLY have taxonomies and naming conventions in place that we will crack the code on knowledge management and develop into “learning organizations”. Still others continue to talk about Web site and share drive overhauls as if they are new innovations in our field. The list of outdated, singular approaches to KM go on and on. Before you get ready to pounce on my bluntness, let me say there is nothing wrong with ANY of these things – in fact, applied ”locally” in certain situations they can be extraordinarily helpful – but these things alone will not lead to an enterprise DoD level success with KM, nor are they representative of what knowledge management is, or should be today. Those who STOP their journey at the end of the technology and taxonomy fence line are destined never to know how knowledge management could really change and strengthen our organizations in systemic and profound ways.
A big issue we continue to struggle with as Dr. Bordeaux implies is that we want to place a structure on something that quite frankly doesn’t do well shoved into a “code” in an org chart so it can be managed from above and made into nice ‘fit rep’ sized bullets. “Is it a 6 function? A Chief of Staff function? A 3 function?*” Why do we have to answer that question at all (okay money, requirements, yes, I know – but can we not operate out of the box?) Done right, KM, and those who steward its integration in an organization, should be like water flowing through that organization freely but with purpose. Instead, we insist upon trying to be “equal” to everyone else. We fight to be FISH in the fish bowls that are our organizations, and this is where that level of effort continues to take us:
When Dr. Bordeaux sat through the meeting he mentioned in his blog post, I imagine it was like watching KM flop around on the floor like a fish out of water while people stood around debating ad nauseam over how, when and why to lift it off the floor, about the qualifications of the person who might potentially lift it off the floor, and deciding who should write the point papers about the pros and cons of putting it back into the water. Painful, pointless and focused on making KM “a BIG fish” so it had a presence. 3 years later, we still fail to see that KM and knowledge managers have a presence that is most effective not when we are in FRONT of or ABOVE people, but when we are all around them.
This is where we run into trouble in the DoD. Some of you right now are probably gagging at my new age view of knowledge management flowing through and around not above or below us, but quite honestly that’s when knowledge managers and knowledge management principles are working at their best. The problem in the DoD, however, is that we’re a top down, hierarchical organization that not only believes in but needs to preserve the order of command and control – everyone reports to someone. Someone must be above, someone below. Someone needs to be in CHARGE.
But can anyone truly be “in charge” of knowledge management which, today, should focus more on the hard, organization wide, ”gray” cultural and behavioral changes vice seemingly easier “black and white” technical implementations? Can someone “direct” sustainable change when our organizations are in a constant state of personnel turnover and ‘knowledge in, knowledge out’? Will we not forever be more successful if we work with the fish supporting their grassroots changes so we can help weave them through our organizations in order to make them “systemic”? If so, CAN KM SURVIVE LIKE THAT IN THE DoD and, when it comes to affecting the enterprise, is DoD KM a fish out of water?
What do you think?
*For those not familiar with the 6, 3 references, these are codes for departments or directorates that typically are the IT folks (in the Navy it’s N6, in the Army it’s G6) and the Operations folks (in the Navy N3, Army G3). The Chief of Staff has a code that is typically either N01 or N02. The Commander is always double zero (N00 for Navy).