Getting Management Read-in

Picture this. You have been commissioned to conduct an audit of KM and IM related infrastructure within an organisation, and you’ve identified certain gaps and areas for improvement. Some of them relate to some information governance issues and risks. This is a complex area to explain so you write a 20 page report identifying the key findings, linking them to well known risks and existing good practice and standards around policy governance, records and information management, and making specific recommendations.

Because this is about governance and corporate risk, it needs to go to the senior management team. You have twenty minutes with them, so you compress your report into five slides that summarise your findings and recommendations, but you also send them the report in advance and ask them to read it. At the meeting, they have not read the report, they take issue with the colouring scheme on one of the slides, and do not accept some of the more important recommendations.

Issues around knowledge management, information management and records management do affect corporate performance, opportunity and risk. They are also often complex to explain (even on the best of powerpoint slides). We often talk about the importance of getting management buy-in for KM, but quite often, it’s not just buy-in we need. We need sufficient attention and comprehension from senior managers to tell us where their priorities are, to understand and respond appropriately to significant findings affecting their business, to make and understand the consequences of decisions. So it’s not just about getting management buy-in. A prior challenge is getting management to read and think.

But of course, Dilbert says all this much better than I can.


11 Comments so far

Shawn Callahan

It’s a common problem Patrick and I think we (consultants) are partly to blame because we get sucked into the pattern of working as the experts and delivering the expert opinion. While the opposite approach doesn’t quite work either (I know this from personal experience), that is, working entirely as a process consultant and expecting the organisations to work out a good way forward, there is a middle ground which requires the senior managers to get involved in the process. If they say they are too busy and would prefer if the consultant do all the work, we should walk away because we know we are going to run into the problem you describe. If the issue is important then executives must be part of working out the way forward with the consultants.

Posted on June 12, 2008 at 10:30 AM | Comment permalink

Stephen Bounds

Hi Patrick,

This post resonates really strongly with me because I’ve just done exactly this audit process—albeit with a greater focus on IM and not KM.

However, I haven’t yet got to the “senior management presentation” stage ... it’s currently with my senior manager for approval before it goes further. 

Did I mention this has taken 9 months to date?

This might seem hideously slow.  But I’m actually quite optimistic.  Some of these proposals are “big stuff” ... and my experience is that big changes take time to percolate through the organisation and gain acceptance.

By quietly talking about and promoting my recommendations at the lower levels of the organisation at every opportunity, I’m hoping to build a kind of inevitability about the proposals (and possibly even have started implementing the smaller recommendations) by the time the senior managers actually examine them.

This is, of course, a luxury that consultants such as you and Shawn simply don’t have—your chance of building deep networks in an organisation over time are next to nil when you are hired on an hourly basis.

But for what it’s worth, I would much rather have all the middle managers on side than the senior managers.  Middle managers can block change in both directions—driven by either the grassroots and the executive—and so their support is surprisingly essential.

Posted on June 12, 2008 at 05:40 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

I take the point on the networks side, and in general I agree with you on the middle managers support. But sometimes you need a bigger-than-operational decision, and then you’re stuck if you can’t get sufficient senior management mindspace to think it through responsibly.

Posted on June 12, 2008 at 10:10 PM | Comment permalink

Good point Patrick, that’s certainly a case where the senior management team is the only viable channel to use.

Posted on June 12, 2008 at 10:54 PM | Comment permalink

Michael Cheng

Thanks as usual for a great post.  I was hooked on to Steve Denning’s Springboard idea for this very reason.  His premise on storytelling as a mechanism to making connections with stakeholders is valid.  The challenge is to rework the presentation in such a way as to be meaningful to our different constituents.

Posted on June 13, 2008 at 01:22 AM | Comment permalink


Hi Stephen,
I did write about getting mid-management and young staff buy in for KM here-

But at the same time, I agree with Patrick that is it imp to get senior management to understand what we are doing and get themselves invloved to some extent.

As we know, senior management are always engaged with non-stop meetings, forum etc etc. why don’t we write the report short, instead of 20 pages we can make the document shorter, say 7/8 pages with the key points about the audit/gaps?

Posted on June 13, 2008 at 11:35 AM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Michael: I think the springboard story idea is great for getting attention and communicating a need which is primarily driven by human and organisational issues. But some problems are technical and analytical problems, and while a story might get attention for it, a story cannot substitute for real analysis and thinking. You can’t do engineering or finance just using stories.

Naguib: yes, maybe a shorter report might have worked, maybe it wouldn’t… it’s always hard to tell at which level the balance between information filtering and communication effectiveness is placed. But my main point was that we (myself included) often think too simplistically about what senior management buy-in means. It’s not just acceptance, it’s not just getting their attention, it’s not just convincing them of something, it sometimes means getting their serious involvement, and we should not let them off too lightly as if they are gods who should be troubled as little as possible. They do not have the monopoly on busyness, and the less they think and work through serious technical issues, the more risk-laden their management is going to be.

Posted on June 14, 2008 at 02:00 PM | Comment permalink

awie foong

Why this funny statement failed to make me laugh?

“... and we should not let them off too lightly as if they are gods who should be troubled as little as possible...”

Because there’s so much truth in it!

And that’s why KM needs either a strong support from senior management, or a creative middle level team who’s able to get things done without the need to go to the senior management at all.

There’s a Chinese proverb that says: “There is a solution to every policy from the Top”. If you think creatively enough, you’ll know what I mean smile

Posted on June 16, 2008 at 02:44 PM | Comment permalink


Hello Patrick....long time me no comments here. Nice post....well articulated, as usual. This post makes me want to say something because I am able to relate to it so much! Stories are good....crisp reports with graphical stuff are good....but maybe what works really well would be a reputation and a rapport (the KM-head/KM team whatever) that makes senior management stop and listen and want to get to the bottom of things? Or maybe only how critical the context/situation is - and how much KM can contribute therein - is what will help? I guess the whole this is a part of KM evolution...the more KM articles and ideas and thoughts magazines like HBR convincingly carry, the more it will seep into the top management!
or to say something really raw, maybe it simply depends on KMers’ talent for such thought-provoking communication. which means if one wants to be a KMer, one better master the art of provocative and deep-rooted communication strategies.....
sorry...just rambling i guess… smile

Posted on June 16, 2008 at 03:07 PM | Comment permalink

Patrick Lambe

Awie… I like the proverb!

Nimmie, nice to see you here! Your comment reminded me how powerful it is if you have a strong advocate/sponsor actually on the management team - their ability to command the respect and attention of their colleagues is invaluable. Even that isn’t perfect however, especially if you have fractured and politicised management teams. You comments on the need for excellent communication skills are spot on.

Posted on June 16, 2008 at 03:14 PM | Comment permalink

Serena Joyner

Patrick - I feel like you are telling my story.....grin This problem was chronic were I used to work. Have you seen this on The Mistake Bank? (requires sign-in)

The Dilbert cartoon is brilliant. I wonder if a proponent could stick that on the front of the report management is required to read first, and add a pact “I wont use stupid powerpoint slides if you’ll read this report prior to my presentation”? Although I know there are only some situations I’d be cheeky enough to try that.

Posted on June 18, 2008 at 07:17 AM | Comment permalink

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