posted 31 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
The treacherous path of the CKO
By Raj Datta
OFTEN knowledge management (KM) seems akin to the pursuit of the mythical Holy Grail. There’s the promise of immense benefits and untold riches, but the journey will always be eventful and, even then, the ultimate goal may be elusive.
The pursuit is complicated by the fact that KM is not a simple discipline and, to be truly successful, the approach has to be multi-disciplinary and inclusive. Instead of a single solution, there has to be a number of co-existing sets of solutions, which are complementary and work together over time to build an ecosystem.
This ecosystem must not just focus on technology. It has to incorporate viewpoints from sociology, psychology, epistemology, economics and many other disciplines. And it cannot be architected in a traditional deterministic manner.
This chief knowledge officer (CKO) has to understand all this and roll it out in a manner that bears fruit, both short-term and long-term. The CKO has to:
Make or influence change, not just to organisational systems, processes and policies, but also to the culture and individual mindsets;
Build legitimacy to enable such significant changes and do it in an unintrusive manner;
Provide surface-level solutions that are visible to people on a day to day basis, but must provide a deeper foundation, too. For example, a people finder will be welcomed by most staff, but persuading them to use it for knowledge sharing is another matter.
All this has to be done in an environment that is focused on short-term results, has little appetite for risk-taking and which hates any talk of emergence, interdependency, or anything that is not easily understood.
If we examine the level of CKO job movement, it’s clear that there’s a big mismatch in expectation. Often, the CKO himself doesn’t really understand the complexity of KM; sometimes the organisation doesn’t understand it; and frequently, neither do.
For these reasons, KM programmes that start with a bang, often fizzle out, yet they nevertheless continue and get treated as ‘nice-to-have’ initiatives. In time, either the CKO or the organisation gets fed-up. Even where there is good progress, often the attribution to KM may not be clear or direct.
To counter this, the organisation must synchronise its view of KM. That is the first task of the CKO – to synchronise intent, understanding and actions. There has to be a high-level plan, but this must have flexibility and agility.
The CKO needs to have vision and zeal, but must also be careful to tailor the message to suit the audience. The CKO must change minds, one at a time, starting with his or her own.
The CKO must have a thick skin and a long-term orientation – it’s a long road chock-a-block with naysayers and uncertainty. Persistence is the key and CKOs must be prepared to use a toolbox of different styles and interventions. There will inevitably be some false starts – the ability to absorb setbacks is important.
The CKO has to be a continuous learner, picking up from many different disciplines. Yet at the same time, must also be a craftsman who can tailor solutions that work. What will hopefully emerge will be unique, beautiful and lasting, even if it is not the Holy Grail.
And the journey along the path, in hindsight, may not seem so treacherous after all.
Raj Datta is general manager, knowledge management, at MindTree Consulting. He can be contacted by e-mail, Raj_Datta@mindtree.com.