It is fortuitous that the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) gravitated toward knowledge management while developing its best practices database because the freeze on funds now need not stall the initiative. On the contrary, it may well allow time to shift the emphasis from database construction to creation of a knowledge-sharing environment that will effectively use it. The key to a successful database is data use.
It appears that NAVSEA recognized human, Navy and bureaucratic culture problems only after it decided at the top what it would do; and then it met with small groups to figure out how to do it. That’s a classic KM mistake. Resistance should have been gauged and dealt with long before the executives set sail.
That’s because knowledge work is a grassroots activity, even in the Navy. A database can capture 20 percent of what employees know. Any directive to “do it the KM or Navy way” will result in only a fraction of that. It’s not so much what’s in the desk drawer that’s at issue; it’s what’s in the mind. Hence, in order for KM to be truly effective, employee buy-in has to be considered from the start.
While a goal of the program is to retain knowledge as a hedge against turnover, the stakeholders need to be convinced that they are not giving it away. Rather, they are offering their knowledge in return for a share of others’ knowledge. The combination will make them more informed and better candidates for commendation and promotion. To get employees on board, NAVSEA should assure them that use of the database will lead to career development.
Like many organizations, NAVSEA seems to believe that employee turnover is all detrimental. In a true knowledge-sharing environment, the constant turnover in employees can be a gain as well as a loss. New employees will bring new knowledge and innovative ideas to the teams. Old knowledge will blend with the new (in minds as well as computers) before people move on. Organizational knowledge then becomes dynamic and ongoing.
Seen in this way, the project is not incomplete. It has breathing room to grow.