200170689-004Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime. – Chinese proverb.

As knowledge management professionals, we want to encourage sharing and the dissemination of knowledge throughout our organizations.  We know how hard it can be to do that and to encourage people to do the same.  You may have set up wonderful systems and resources to help promote this, but sometimes it may seem that you just can’t reach everyone with the “good word” of KM.

Don’t be frustrated.  Be creative.

As a KM professional, you are a “go to” person in your firm.  People come to you for answers.  This is a great opportunity for you to not only respond to their needs, but to promote the KM way of doing things.  In other words, don’t just give someone a fish, also teach them to fish.

Take this opportunity; do it regularly.  Integrate it into everything you do – make it a part of your standard operating procedure, a part of who you are as a KM professional and person.  Always be ready to teach someone to fish.  Here are a few examples:

  1. If you’re in a role that requires you to respond to requests for research assistance (e.g., professional support lawyer, paralegal, reference librarian, etc.), in addition to giving them the fish (“here is the list of cases that you asked for”), also include a link to resource.  This may help the requesting attorney find something on their own the next time.  Of course, I am not suggesting that you adopt a “go-find-it-yourself” attitude.  But giving people self-service tools is always a nice option.
  2. If there is no “lesson” related to the request, as in the above example, then offer a different species of lesson fish.  Perhaps you know that the requesting attorney is typically interested in certain areas of the law.  Regardless of what they ask of you, use the opportunity to add a post script to the response (“I thought you might be interested in this new resource we just added to the Firm Intranet…”)
  3. My favorite is the “email signature” approach.  You can add a “Did you know”-type footer to your emails.  So, regardless of the communication, you are always promoting some KM tool or concept.  For example, “Did you know you can find model documents using the firm’s enterprise search engine [link]?” or “Find contacts and connections for business development with [insert name, and link to, CRM system].” or “Have you checked out the firm’s electronic library [insert link]?”  or “Check out our Knowledge Management resource page [link] on the firm Intranet.”

And don’t just stop there.  Encourage others to teach people to fish.  Even though they are not “KM professionals,” others in your firm may be your biggest KM proponents – especially lawyers.   The next time a lawyer thanks you for introducing them to that great new KM resource or tool, ask them to spread the word to their peers (“Thanks for the note, please tell your fellow attorneys about it.”).  It is often more compelling when customers (the lawyers in your firm) sing the praises of your KM efforts to other potential customers (the lawyers in your firm who are not yet KM converts).  That’s why you see customer testimonials on infomercials.  The Shamwow Guy is pretty convincing, but it’s those actual customers who “can’t live without it” who really sell the product.

I hope you find these ideas helpful.  I’d love to know how you teach people to fish.  Please share your story or thoughts in the comments.

  • C Frappaolo

    Ii really like this post – and the proverb used is a favorite of mine. (In deed, isn’t teaching a community to fish what Km is all about).   Among the many skills and duties associated with a good KM manager are teaching and marketing, which I think this posts addresses. I would add to your list, lead/teach by example. In our firm, the KM team/dept uses all the tools it provides to the rest of the firm. Our communication to the firm and the training we provide is delivered through the KM  system. When asked where something might be found – like you, we include with the response instruction and encouragement to use the system to retrieve content in the future. We highlight in blog posts exemplary usage and participation in the Km system, and have a community of local ambassadors – not KM staff but staff peers – at each office who promote usage and answer questions.

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