I am constantly reminded of the importance of communicating effectively. And I am repeatedly convinced that a simple message delivered in a simple way is most effective.
Last Thursday, I participated on a speaking panel with Lisa Gianakos, Director of Knowledge Management at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman LLC. The topic was “Leveraging KM Technologies and Methods to Grow Legal Project Management.“ Since we weren’t sure about the audience’s familiarity with knowledge management or legal project management, we started with an overview of both. I handled KM, Lisa handled LPM.
This was only the introductory part of the presentation, sort of let’s-make-sure-we’re-all-on-the-same-page stuff, so that we could move on and address the main part of the topic, KM technologies and methods.
The presentation went well and the audience seemed interested and attentive (at least nobody fell asleep). I was shocked, however, by what people wanted to ask me about after the session. The questions and comments were not about enterprise search, SharePoint document repositories, document automation applications, or other KM technologies.
Everyone said, “Can I see one of those cards?”
They were referring to a simple business-sized card that I held up when during the presentation. I created the card (depicted above) to help communicate knowledge management to lawyers. During the presentation, as I do in my daily practice, I flatly rejected the complex and often jargon-filled definitions that some try to articulate. I even add some KM-deprecating humor by sharing one of my favorite Dilbert comic strips about KM (an oldie but a goodie).
The Right Stuff…
When talking with lawyers, I describe KM in simple, meaningful terms that they immediately understand and remember. Depending on the context of the conversation, I typically use one of three approaches. I often use the tried and true “right information” line. That is, KM is about getting the right information to the right people at the right time. This is not a definition of KM, it is (one of the things) that KM is about. The “right information” line communicates that we aim not to inundate our lawyers with stuff they don’t need when they don’t need it. Instead, we want to help them get — either in a push or pull manner — what they need when they need it. This could be by organizing information on an intranet, pushing information to attorneys at the appropriate times, or any number of other methods that KM uses.
Who We Know…
A second way I communicate simply is to say that that KM is about is “who we know, what we know, and how we do things.” This is another common mantra among KM professionals. Again, notice the word “about.” I don’t claim that this is a definition of KM. It is one of the many things that KM is about. I’m not sure that defining KM to busy lawyers is all that important, really. After all, do we ever “define” HR or IT or any other function of our law firms? We usually just describe what people with those functions do or can offer. The “who-what-how” approach helps us communicate that KMers are focusing on how to leverage relationships, knowledge and experience to benefit our lawyers and the firm.
Connections Are the Key…
My favorite (and primary) way to communicate KM to lawyers — and the representation in the KM card, above — is to speak in terms of connections. It’s about “connecting people with people, connecting people with knowledge and information, and the processes, procedures, and technologies required to make those connections.” I like this approach because it is broad, yet meaningful. It allows me to talk about various aspects of KM from culture to technology, without eyes glazing over.
I carry the KM cards with me at work (and elsewhere). When I need to explain KM to someone, I talk about connections. After my elevator speech, I hand them a card as a take-away mnemonic. “Here’s an easy way to remember what we do,” I say, “the KM department’s email address is on the back.”
The more “complex” definitions of KM are fine when talking to people in KM circles and getting into the depths of knowledge management, but when talking to busy lawyers, spouting some convoluted, jargon-bloated, “nonsense” is the surest way to lose their attention. Lawyers are no strangers to jargon. They know it — and will reject it (and you) — the second they hear it.
This card has been highly effective in helping communicate what KM is all about. It has also become a part of our KM brand and the “KM experience.” I include it in presentations, and I ask my KM department members to have the cards handy when they promote the department and our mission.
I would love to hear from you about how you communicate KM to your lawyers.
By the way, several people also asked me where I had the cards made. They are from an online printer called Moo. The cards are really high quality and look great. I use the rounded corner cards. The graphic quality is great. Here’s a link for 10% your first order.