Lori Reid is a senior Knowledge Management (KM) consultant at Consult KM International, based in Washington, DC. Lori has more than 14 years of experience in KM, communications, and writing having supported multiple organisations in the development sector, including USAID, Abt Associates, DAI, FHI 360, and many others. Lori is certified in KM and holds an MA in International Commerce and Policy.
We sat down with Lori for a short interview to learn more about her experience in KM and the sector. Follow our conversation below:
Hi Lori, thanks so much for taking the time to share your experience and insights with us today. You have been “in KM” for a long time now, tell us – why KM? What attracted you to choose this area of work in the first place? If you had a chance to go back in time, would you still choose KM, or what other area of work would you specialise in?
“I ended up working in KM by coincidence. I knew I wanted to work in international development so I started my career with a development organization working in their business development department. KM was one of my job responsibilities in that role and I found that I really liked it. It spoke to my need to organize things and I was able to see firsthand the value that KM can bring to an organization. Overtime I transitioned into a full-time KM role. I’m so thankful that I had that early opportunity to find this niche. If I had the chance, I would definitely follow the same path again.”
You have supported many organisations in the development sector helping them improve their KM programs. What were the common needs or challenges that these organisations had in common in terms of KM?
“I’ve had the opportunity to work with some great organizations in the development sector. It’s one of the things I’ve liked the most about consulting—the chance to work across so many different organizations. It’s also given me a chance to see that many organizations suffer from the same challenges. For example, large organizations almost always struggle with knowledge “silos”—a situation that occurs when teams or business units don’t communicate or share knowledge with each other. This typically leads to a lot of staff frustration, duplication of work, and missed opportunities.
Another common theme in the development sector is the limited bandwidth of staff. It seems like everyone is so busy and overworked! Although this isn’t specifically a KM challenge, it can negatively impact KM. For example, if staff are too busy, they don’t take the time to engage in knowledge-sharing opportunities—whether that’s seeking out new knowledge or sharing the knowledge they’ve gained from their work.
Almost every organization has room for improvement in making critical knowledge and information easier for staff to find and utilize. That’s a common complaint when talking with staff from different organizations. Even those organizations that have worked hard to make information readily available—whether through intranets, databases or file-sharing platforms—still have staff that struggle to easily find the information they need.”
What benefits did improved KM programs bring to these organisations? Were there common benefits across different organisations, or did they vary depending on the organisation itself, and its specific needs?
“One of the key benefits of KM, and a common measure of success for KM programs, is a reduction in time to find information. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that employees spend around 19% of their workweek searching for and gathering the information they need to do their jobs. Making information and knowledge easier to find can have an astounding impact on an organization and its employees.
Another benefit and indicator of success is improved employee satisfaction, which logically follows when KM challenges—like finding information—are addressed.
KM can have many different benefits, depending on the organization’s goals and needs, but these are two benefits that I’ve seen most frequently in my work.”
Could you share one or two examples of your best, most enjoyable or interesting experiences of doing KM work for an organisation? Why and how was it the most enjoyable/interesting?
“I had one client that was just getting started building their KM program. I worked closely with the person who was tasked with heading up their new KM program. We met regularly to discuss strategy and new ideas for KM activities they could integrate to help them meet their goals. It was so much fun brainstorming new KM activities. And I got to see the KM program, and this person, grow and flourish. Her excitement for this new area was contagious, and it reminded me of why I pursued a career in KM.”
What about the worst experience? Surely, there were some pitfalls, difficulties, and setbacks in some projects? Tell us more.
“Early in my career, I was leading a project to design a new intranet. The vision was to combine our old knowledge database and intranet into a new integrated system that would bring us up to date with the latest technology. The platform was determined based on many factors, including some factors that were not captured in the requirements we outlined for the system. Because we were trying to accomplish so much with this one system, we ended up not being able to meet some of the early requirements we set out (specifically, integrating the old knowledge database). As a knowledge manager, I was obviously disappointed that we couldn’t meet that requirement. I felt like we had failed, and I had let my team and colleagues down. The system we built was great and was a huge advancement over the previous intranet, but we still had to soldier on with our old and clunky knowledge database. The lesson I took from that experience is that one system usually can’t accomplish everything, and if it tries to, it likely falls short in one area or another. You have to be realistic at the outset and determine what is essential and what’s just nice to have. Make sure you keep those critical business requirements front of mind when choosing a software solution. You probably can’t have it all, but if you’re focused on what’s most important, you can execute that well.”
What advice would you give to anyone who is considering pursuing a career in KM?
“I truly believe that you learn by doing. You can get a fancy degree, and lots of certifications (which definitely don’t hurt!), but real learning and experience come from doing. Take every opportunity that comes along to participate in a new KM activity, even if it’s just to take notes. The more exposure you can get to KM tools and practices, the better placed you’ll be to lead those types of activities down the road. Even do the things that scare you – so much learning comes from those experiences where you push yourself outside of your comfort zone!”
What about organisations? What would you recommend to organisations that are considering introducing or improving KM?
“Understand your pain points and make sure your goals are clear. Take the time to assess your current state and the KM challenges your organization is facing. Make sure the solutions you’re introducing are addressing those challenges and meeting your organization’s goals.”
Anything they should be aware of / cautious of? Any important steps to consider?
“There is no silver bullet for KM! Be wary of any company that tries to sell you a KM system that will solve all your problems. The technology solution is only part of the equation. Equally important are the processes and culture that support (or don’t support) knowledge management within your organization. A good KM program should address all three aspects (technology, process, and culture) for success.”
Wow, that’s great! Thank you so much Lori, it has been a real pleasure speaking with you and we really appreciate your insights. We look forward to learning more from you during our ‘Live with an Expert’ session on 15 June.
See you then!