In my prior post, I cited a survey that found a dichotomy between corporate knowledge management adoption and satisfaction. I asked but did not answer the question why. Now, a potential answer. 

I received a thoughtful e-mail message from a senior and long-tenured KM director of a large law firm that answers the question. I post it here with permission. It reflects well some of the inchoate thoughts I had as I wrote my prior post.

I read your blog post yesterday about the Bain study and the conclusion that KM usage is relatively high but satisfaction with it is relatively low among the executives surveyed. You also wrote that “I can’t explain why adoption is so high if satisfaction is so low.” I agree that this seems paradoxical, but one possible explanation might be that the users of those KM resources are much more likely to be the people working for the executives than the executives themselves, and that therefor the value of the tools isn’t apparent to those executives.

Based at least on measured usage in our firm, KM resources tend to be used much more by the “grinders” to do the work than by the “finders” to sell the work or advise the client at the board or executive level. Even when KM is used for finders (and it often is), it’s lower-level folks using KM to do the research and draft the decks or RFP responses rather than the higher-level execs. It may be, then, that the surveyed executives see that KM is present (and costs money!), but don’t derive direct satisfaction themselves from that presence and usage, because it is largely invisible to them.

The same dichotomy the Bain study found in corporations would probably be found if Hildebrandt, BTI, or Altman Weil interviewed managing partners and practice group leaders in law firms. Partners might well agree that their firms had KM and seemed to be using it, but weren’t particularly happy with it because they themselves weren’t personally using it and deriving direct value from it. However, if you talked to associates, paralegals, and secretaries — generally the main users of KM resources — you might get a different response.

I realize that this is just one explanation; another might be, of course, that the KM resources in the surveyed companies weren’t very good or useful, and that the executives’ lack of satisfaction with the resources was perfectly representative of organization-wide sentiment. I just wanted to make the point that sometimes when surveyer takers talk to executives (or senior partners), the opinions given in response aren’t always so perfectly representative…