It’s a fact of life that senior management nearly always love to see facts and figures. Facts and figures can be concise, are usually thought of as being objective, and provide decision makers with raw data from which to base decisions. Senior executives also claim they are time-poor and therefore only want to see just the facts, often in graphical or tabular form because they believe this information is easier to understand.
We therefore often have a problem conveying the full story of our work in knowledge management since we do not always have the facts and figures senior executives want. We often provide information that is easy to collect but does not provide real meaning. The classic example is in using hit rates for intranet pages and web sites. High hit rates can often indicate confusion just as well as indicating purposeful traffic.
And, of course, facts and figures can be gamed. Work perfomance becomes artificially directed towards a narrow set of quantitative targets rather than the complete set of workplace activities and responsibilities. Narrow quantitative targets often stifle innovative thinking, limit team work, and inhibits building trust within organisations. Key performance indicators (KPI’s) are a classic case of turning targets into the target itself!
The other problem is that the outcome of a number of knowledge management processes and activities does not always show a direct linear relationship. The beneficial outcome might come out of a series of interconnected relationships and serendipitous exchanges that take time to yield a distinct outcome on which to report. Social network analysis and knowledge mapping are techniques helpful here but they themselves take considerable time and analysis.
One strategy that I have used in the past is to provide the “raw data” in graphical form with an explanatory paragraph under each graph or chart. It is important to place the graphical representation of the data in some form of explanatory context. Hit rates and traffic numbers on communities of practice are not sufficient on their own.
The other pieces of “data” I provide are stories – narratives of things that have happened as a consequence of an action. This action might be closing a business deal based on information gleaned from a community of practice. It might be that getting that particular report on time meant that the final prepared document for management was more informed and better reflective of the contextual environment. Or it could mean that meeting the right person at the right time meant that the business plan had a greater chance of success. There are many outcomes that one can use.
The skill is in finding these examples and ensuring they represent the kinds of outcomes senior management want to hear and can understand. While I think any form of conversation that enhances our understanding and capacity to work more effectively is a good thing, others do not. Choose outcomes that are meaningful to the person or people you are reporting to.
But don’t stop there.
I would also include a story (or narrative fragment) that might not be directly related to a business outcome, but demonstrates a more intangible element. If the narrative fragment is interesting enough, it is surprising how much this sparks some interest to hear more. These “tell me more” instances don’t always happen, but when they do, they can be even more powerful demonstrations of knowledge management work that just the data.
In this regard, it is vital that the knowledge manager establish and maintain personal and visible relationships with people throughout the organisation. Scaleability can be enhanced through communication channels like the intranet, listservs, blogs, Twitter (if appropriate), and communities of practice. The knowledge manager must remain visible and be perceived to be an important gate keeper or lynch pin for people scattered throughout the organisation.
In reporting, I strongly recommend utilising both quantitative and qualitative information. If senior management have more meaning around the work of knowledge management, the better chance management will see the benefits.