posted 18 Apr 2005 in Volume 8 Issue 7
KNOWLEDGEWORKS: Crossover KM
The importance of knowledge work to a growing raft of organisational disciplines. By Jerry Ash
During a recent Association of Knowledgework (AOK) dialogue with Dave Ulrich, business professor at the
Ulrich’s work concentrates on strategy, organisation design, leadership development and strategic HR. He speaks to large audiences of HR professionals and CLOs, and has counselled more than half of the Fortune 200 companies. In 2001, Business Week ranked him the #1 educator and guru in the US and in 2005 he was ranked second on Executive Excellence Publishing’s list of consultants who excel in the areas of credibility, relevance, originality, practicality, ideas, presentation style and the ‘guru score’ (the influence of his work). Not a bad advocate to have on KM’s side.
During the past ten years, Ulrich has probably done as much or more to advance the cause of knowledge management as any KM guru without actually calling it KM. In his recent conversation with KM advocates, however, he was explicit: “If you have the human values in place, you can manage with low, almost no, technology. If there is open communication, freedom to question, inquire and fail, any process is secondary. If there is support and time for learning, models to aspire to, examples to follow, feedback to steer by and consequences for non-compliance, KM has a fertile substrate to take root and grow. Where the HR partner is lacking in vision, reluctant in collaboration, timid in setting requirements and fails to follow through, KM fails to germinate.”
Based on the Ulrich model, many organisations have consolidated HR, learning and organisational development either structurally or collaboratively. Independent from the KM movement, this triad has begun to see people not as chattel, but as the bearers of human knowledge. Together HR, learning and OD see their combined roles as one quite similar to that of knowledge management.
It’s only natural. The emphasis on the value of human knowledge comes not from the unique and valuable leadership of the KM community, but from the rapid evolution of knowledge as one of the critical success factors of an organisation and its people. People are HR’s business. KM specialists are not alone in the quest to manage knowledge assets. KM-like interests and initiatives are everywhere. As awareness of the role of knowledge grows, other disciplines and functions are beginning to look for ways to add KM to their portfolios.
The membership profile of the AOK is one indicator of this. In addition to explicit KM professionals, the largest constituencies are technology professionals, librarians, researchers, business analysts, project managers, HR and learning specialists, and middle and senior managers. Their interests include all the usual KM subjects, plus social-network analysis, competitive intelligence, taxonomy and ontology, customer-relationship management, benchmarking, and e-learning. In all, every professional discipline and interest is represented at the AOK table – not surprising given the organisation’s invitation to ‘people from every specialty across professional, geographic, cultural, economic and hierarchical barriers who work with this stuff called knowledge’.
KM is not a discipline unto itself. Those who fear the ‘hijacking of KM’ by other disciplines disagree, of course, but whether as hostage or partner, KM will have to get used to crossover KM and find its place in it. As Dave Ulrich notes, “When I go into a company, I can see, touch and talk to an HR person who is likely to be in an HR department. Granted, many of these professionals are doing administrative transaction work, but increasingly they are adding value. I am less clear about where ‘knowledge’ people sit. Like quality, at some level knowledge is embedded in every employee, but at another level someone needs to frame the knowledge disciplines and bring them into the organisation in a predictable way.”
On the positive side, crossover KM does offer an opportunity to join forces with others of like mind. “Many interested parties are looking at similar phenomenon with different eyes, but seeing similar things,” Ulrich says. “The fields of knowledge, learning, OD and HR (and others probably) overlap both conceptually and pragmatically. If a representative of each of these four disciplines were sitting in a room talking to a line manager who was trying to figure out how to accomplish something, what would each say? What would be the unique contributions of each approach? How could each approach offer unique insights into problems of innovation, customer share, investor expectations, or some other strategic concern?”
Better still, how much more powerful would their message be if they came to the meeting as a unified team? But to turn an Ulrich phrase, where the KM partner is lacking in vision, reluctant in collaboration, timid about forming partnerships with existing professional disciplines, KM fails to capitalise on the KM-like initiatives of crossover KM.