Posted: 13 Sep. 2022 14 min. read

Managing knowledge in an age of disruption

Why do knowledge management implementations often fail? Try taking a human-centered, business solution architect approach

By Stephen Lancaster-Hall, Eyal Cahana, Ariel Ptak and Peter Zarling


The pace at which organizations have been required to respond to ever-changing market forces has continued to increase at breakneck speeds.1 In order to keep up and even stay ahead of the competition, organizations have had to change the very nature of how they think about the concept of “work” from static, predictable jobs to assembling the right skills together with agility to achieve the outcome of the moment. “In a recent Deloitte survey, 63% of executives say work in their organizations is currently being performed in teams or projects outside of people’s core job descriptions, 81% say work is increasingly performed across functional boundaries, and 36% say work is increasingly being performed by workers outside of the organization who don’t have defined jobs in the organization at all.”2 As skills are applied to activate this disruptive work model, the knowledge and insights generated need to be captured so that others can rapidly apply lessons learned to future challenges.


While technology solutions have been presented as a way to help manage, mitigate, and provide access to content, oftentimes these technical solutions have been introduced to solve specific, narrow issues, further “siloing” the very knowledge that exists across organizations. The wisdom of the crowd gets lost in a multiverse of content repositories. So, while there is a demand for both better organization as well as presentation of knowledge, for the most part, organizations don’t know where to start, or plateau in their efforts to implement Knowledge Management (KM) programs. “Seventy-five percent of surveyed organizations say creating and preserving knowledge across evolving workforces is important or very important for their success over the next 12–18 months, but only nine percent say they are very ready to address this trend.”3 To make more meaningful progress, organizations need to adopt a more holistic approach.


Every organization needs to manage their knowledge to run their business. In the hybrid workplace, the need to better manage knowledge has grown even faster, and KM plays an important role in the rapid evolution of skills in organizations by serving the information that enhances the growth of skills in real time. As an enabler for collaboration, KM drives better workforce agility by identifying emerging trends coming from shared and searched ideas, insights, process/procedures/policies, and other content. Ultimately, this allows the organization to evolve its operating model for work and the workforce with enhanced skills agility.


Organizations want to better leverage the knowledge they have, but are struggling with how to do so for two primary reasons. In some cases, knowledge silos exist (either intentionally or unintentionally) between different business functions operating independently of each other and having no unified approach or solution to managing knowledge.  In other cases, there is so much information already fragmented and spread across disconnected enterprise systems (from Customer Resource Management Systems and Human Resource Information Systems to Content Management Systems, collaboration sites, asynchronous communication channels, and more). These reasons aren’t mutually exclusive; in most cases, the struggle our clients experience in leveraging knowledge effectively is a result of both.


To get the most out of organizational knowledge, content needs to be both easy to consume and easy to find – or better yet, presented at a point of need. At its very core, KM is about understanding not only how we think and speak as humans, but also how we work and behave. Leveraging knowledge efficiently and creating systems to get the right content to the right person at the point of need requires a different way of thinking. Organizations must embrace a Business Solution Architect mindset to leverage knowledge in a scalable way for the future, with a business-led, technology-enabled approach. This requires connecting more to the human experience through human-centered design and following through with holistic and multidimensional approaches of implementation. It’s only then that they can reap the rewards of implementing technical solutions to meet the growing demands of scale.


How to start:  Making work better for humans, and humans better at work


To ensure that the solution addresses the problem, knowledge efforts must have a business owner who thinks like an architect and takes a human-centered design approach to implementation. They need to discover what problems the organization is trying to address, define which are the key issues, and prioritize which should come first. Then, they need to work across their organization and customers to develop solutions in an iterative way that allows for trial and error. “What were you looking to find, and what did you find? What would have been helpful, and what was presented?”. Only then can they deliver their solutions in an iterative manner.4 Following this approach is critical to keeping an eye on what’s important, keeping the solutions that are built centered on what they were trying to solve in the first place.


Having a human-centered approach also means that end users – who are the customers – are involved in different stages of the process. Having representation of different end user personas will make certain that the solutions that are developed are aligned with the expectations of end users. This will enable engagement and testing of the solution before it’s delivered, while creating a network of champions that will support deployment across their respective functions and serve as advocates with their peers.


What it takes to sustain: The many factors to consider


Beyond human-centered design, implementing knowledge efforts require multidimensional critical thinking. Each organization has unique groups and players that should be brought to the table when designing solutions. However, there are general domains to consider that can help knowledge efforts be more successful and sustainable. Here are some to consider:


  • Have The Right Leadership Buy-In: There needs to be alignment or direction from key executives in your organization. If your organization is big enough, it should also involve cross-functional alignment. The strategic goals should be tied to the larger organizations’ goals and outcomes. Without either, the changes needed may not be able to be sustained, and siloed KM initiatives will continue to evolve, generating redundant efforts and duplicative content.
  • Clearly Understand the Experiences: This is where clear understanding of the human experience lies. It’s important that the right content at the right time is delivered.  So, clearly articulating what, how, where, and when knowledge needs to be present in the flow of a user’s experience will make sure that the knowledge you provide is valuable, contextual, and consumable.
  • Clearly Understand the Processes: There must be a clear understanding of how knowledge is expected to move through your organization to ensure quality and efficiency, as well as the right level of controls. Without clearly documenting this (and challenging assumptions when necessary), you run the risk of not understanding who clearly plays a role in the knowledge life cycle, and the inefficiencies that need to be addressed when updating it.
  • Don’t Underestimate Change Management: For meaningful change to occur, people need to be accepting of that change, and also be prepared for it. Even the best change is still in the end change, and something humans rarely embrace. However, people tend to support what they help to create. By including end users in the design of your solutions, they will be able to “see themselves” in what is developed, making it much easier to adopt new processes and ways of thinking about knowledge, understand the benefits provided, and create natural incentives to adopt and sustain the solution. 
  • Get the Right Technology:  This is often where people start their efforts, thinking that technology will be the “magic bullet” that will solve all issues related to KM (“Build it and they will come”). However, the reality is that there needs to be a good understanding of how all the dimensions will work in concert with technology to meet the needs and deliver the required value. Technology is a powerful enabler, and it’s able to meet more and more use cases of knowledge workers all the time. However, if you haven’t correctly assessed how you’ll use that technology, there’s very little chance it will be implemented correctly.


How innovative organizations are trying to solve the problem


Given the amount of change it takes to holistically address knowledge efforts, it’s not surprising that many organizations don’t know where to start, but the rewards can prove out to be well worth the effort. While organizations need to apply many types of measurements for success, one clear metric should come in the form of scalability. If knowledge is managed in a way that allows for constant change, it’s more likely to be able to be harvested as information in new and exciting ways.  It’s able to be scaled using new tools and capabilities.


A successful example of this can be seen in a global technology company, which, due in large part to the global COVID pandemic, quickly found itself with an all-remote global sales enablement team that needed to augment how it supported its salespeople with information remotely. It needed to fundamentally change how they looked at enablement, and it needed to do it quickly.


It started by working with leadership to achieve buy-in for the changes it needed to make and established the clear and simple goal of getting its sales team better access to knowledge to better sell products at scale. By taking a human-centered design approach, it evaluated its entire learning ecosystem and leveraged user personas to understand the employee experience. It was able to pinpoint where it needed new employee experiences and the features to prioritize by taking a holistic view of the ecosystem. It thought through how to rearchitect the process for better collaboration, which required looking at how people across the company thought about the sales and learning process.


It developed a social listening capability so it could better understand its workers’ needs and assist them in finding knowledge more quickly. It could now leverage content in a more effective way, and that understanding led to the ability to leverage AI data models to find learning topics that were more relevant to people. As it demonstrates more and more success, there is now interest and demand from other parts of the organization to replicate what it started in sales. It can scale at a level that it wasn’t able to previously.


The world is figuring out how to connect knowledge to people in the flow of their everyday lives. This didn’t happen by accident, but through people who understand and architect solutions around everyday human needs focusing and building commodities we need. The organizations that move first are building the frameworks that will likely cascade to others. This requires new ways of thinking broadly and holistically. While we are becoming increasingly technology-oriented in our solutions, the problems we are trying to solve are still human-centric and require a multidimensional thinking that will ultimately address those needs.



1 To meet the pace of change, we need to meet in person” Bob Priest-Heck, Fortune, July 21, 2022 

2Moving your organizational strategy from jobs to skills: Unleashing agility and human potential with the skills-based organization,” Michael Griffiths, et al., Deloitte, July 15, 2022 

3 2020 Human Capital Trends Report, “Knowledge Management” 

4 The Four D’s of Design or the Double Diamond Design Process Model



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