posted 1 Dec 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 4
no to consultants
Do consultants help or hinder the KM process? Les Nuttman explores the issue.
Boeing's CEO, discussing the possibility of post-Concorde supersonic passenger transport, said he found it impossible to imagine telling his grandchildren that he could travel twice as fast in the 1970¹s as he can in the 2020s. That mirrors my feelings about management theories. I can visualise my grandchildren's astonishment when I tell them that 20 years ago organisations in Britain tried and gave-up on continuous improvement, total quality management, business process re-engineering, knowledge management.
Why do we collectively have such a poor record of incorporating modern management practices into our businesses? My answer is that we regard the introduction of techniques like these as something which is an add-on to business-as-usual.
This concept is very wrong. Managers need many skills. Two essentials are defining corporate objectives, and building a strategy to achieve them. That strategy will include factors peculiar to each enterprise. But there are common elements that every organisation should embody in its strategy. They include:
|Process re-engineering (simplifying what we do)|
|Automation (cutting cost out of what we do, and doing it faster)|
|Total quality management (doing what we do better)|
|Self-directed teams (speeding up what we do and being more responsive)|
|Knowledge management (learning from what we do)|
For brevity, consider just the last of these. The only real USP an organisation has is its knowledge. Processes and facilities can be imitated, but knowledge should remain sacrosanct. Knowledge is capital, is an asset, has balance sheet value. It should be protected and nurtured like other assets, but more so. Knowledge needs to be managed (identified, collected, maintained, and made available) whether it is structural, market, or human. But once the need to manage that knowledge has been identified, the trouble begins.
Like many management theories, Knowledge Management (KM) is seen as an excellent source of revenue by consultancies. And because knowledge has to be stored for access, IT solution specialists regard KM as a milch cow. Despite the blandishments of these professionals, the consultancy/IT approach is wrong.
KM is as much a part of business-as-usual as cash management, or sales reporting, or inventory control. It should be endemic, with every employee understanding its importance, and contributing to its primacy. Staff buy-in is essential, because they control the knowledge that is most difficult to extract - and most useful - in their heads.
Winning employee commitment is where an internal approach to KM implementation will be more successful than an external solution. There is a natural inclination for us to regard personal knowledge as exactly that; private, secret, our own USP. For an employer to take ownership of personal knowledge, a deal has to be struck, although 99 times in 100 it is never spelt out. The deal goes "If you tell me what you know, I'll tell you what I know." By exchanging corporate knowledge for personal, not only does the organisation win but so does the employee. The stock of knowledge of both is increased, to the benefit of both.
Because this deal has a certain intimacy getting inside someone's head is never an impersonal transaction the interjection of a third party in the shape of a project team will cause resistance rather than co-operation.
As a modern manager, you should be wondering how to implement KM in your own organisation. Start by building it into your corporate strategy, making it a way of life not a passing fad. Introduce it from the bottom up, at departmental levels, slowly building towards an enterprise-wide KM regime. Make corporate knowledge available to help employees perform better, and you'll find they'll willingly share what they know. Build knowledge-reporting into every process, and make sure that the information gained is available to everybody to whom it matters.
That way, when your grandchildren ask you about knowledge management, you can say "I was one of the pioneers, back at the end of the second millennium." Do it well, though, and they will never ask you, because KM to them will be as natural as talking to their wrist-mounted computer.
Les Nuttman is Director of Intellectual Capital at Sgi. He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org