posted 6 Dec 2005 in Volume 9 Issue 4
The KM sideshow moves closer to Drucker’s view of KM at modern management’s core.
When Peter Drucker died last month at the age of 95, he was universally acclaimed as one of the most influential leaders in the transformation of modern management in the last 50 years. His pioneering ideas of the corporation as a social institution and early forecast of the coming of ‘knowledge workers’ were the most frequently mentioned in his eulogies.
Central to Drucker’s philosophy was the belief that people are an organisation’s most valuable resource and that a manager’s job is to create a positive environment where people can work effectively. He believed in the empowerment of workers and the futility of command and control.
His focus was on the power of knowledge and people. That is to say, on knowledge work, not knowledge management (KM) – a subtle, but important distinction. However, the new identity of the ‘knowledge worker’ was nevertheless the springboard for KM, the sideshow.
While KM may have skewed Drucker’s original purpose in defining the knowledge worker, the case reports written by this author during 2005 show that KM is no longer a sideshow. It is playing a central role in corporate change management, providing knowledge-driven infrastructures to help build the new style of management Drucker originally envisaged.
Our reports in Inside Knowledge for 2005 began with some troubling bumps in the road, but were soon offset by a string of positive results. In Running on Empty (February 2005), we discovered the vulnerabilities of some of the best KM programmes in the world, led by the most highly recognised leaders. Through them, we learnt that programme sustainability is as critical to a KM strategy as the programmes themselves. The World Bank’s original trend-setting programme (led by Steve Denning) was suspended; Xerox’s programme (Dan Holtshouse) had lost focus; BP’s book-generating programme (Geoff Parcell and Chris Collison) was close to death; and Clarica’s pioneering programme (Hubert Saint-Onge) had been unceremoniously buried.
As the year progressed, there were more reports of programmes that had sustainability built in. A Sustained Commitment to Collaboration (March 2005) presented the Halliburton case where communities of practice ensure long-term sustainability by building tangible, bottom-line value. Michael Behounek gave us Halliburton’s KM Sustainability Hypothesis, including enjoinders that a sustainable programme would have to focus on vital business needs connected directly to projects. Sustainability would come from focusing on solutions that assist in problem solving:
- At the business-unit level to drive productivity, quality and innovation;
- At the job-role level to help people in their daily work.
Other programmes were following that same instinct. We learned that the US Department of Navy (The Art of War, May 2005 – Alex Bennet) designed a phenomenal KM programme encompassing more than two million people, which became an intrinsic part of the way the organisation operates and helps men and women in the navy and the marines fight wars. Low Tech High Touch (June 2005 – Garry Cullen), described
A Painful Birth (September 2005 – Scott Shaffar) told of huge knowledge losses at defence contractor Northrop Grumman due to unplanned downsizing resulting from the predictable loss of major markets and how the poor preparation for downsizing caused the birth of a KM initiative to better manage the company’s knowledge assets. Kent Greenes, the first architect of the BP programme and now at SAIC, Knowledge in Action (October 2005), told of SAIC’s decision to use KM lessons learnt from its clients to finally develop its own KM programme to harness the power of knowledge sharing to take the company from good to high performing.
In October’s Security and Silos, Erick Thompson shared his decision to stop fighting corporate structure and hierarchy and work within the system to develop a knowledge-exchange programme that would help the company maintain boundaries while using knowledge sharing to improve performance.
In the current issue, a KM project at HP Services Consulting & Integration (page 14) tells of an initiative to achieve and sustain profitability, improve the win rate and project delivery to satisfied customers who want more. Instead of preaching culture change, Stan Garfield not only integrated KM into the client-engagement process – but also installed KM as the platform for the process itself.
Kong Koy Aw, a mechanical engineer who became a knowledge-management guru in
In truth, Peter Drucker was talking about knowledge management from the beginning, but not KM, the sideshow. He was talking about changes in the fundamental business process.
Until now, much of the development of KM has been regarded as a separate movement – maybe even a counter-culture. Our 2005 reports show that the most successful and sustainable KM programmes are those where it is clear to see the connection between Drucker’s knowledge workers and his broad view of knowledge as the object of the core business process.