posted 1 Sep 1999 in Volume 3 Issue 1
Your Say, The rise & role
of the Knowledge Manager
Knowledge Managers... they are often seen as corporate crusaders who battles with red tape and old traditions to harness the illusive intangible asset; knowledge!
This unusual role has developed over the years to take on more and more responsibility for the underlying brain of an organisation. Dysfunctional processes are diagnosed and the Knowledge Manager attempts to unite people to form better relationships and knowledge flow. But do you need a degree in psychiatry to be a Knowledge Manager? In this month's Your Say, contributors look at their roles and the most important skills for the job.
KM - HR or BPR ?
During a recent KM conference, someone asked whether the Knowledge Manager is a species that's here to stay, or just a transient aberration of the evolutionary process. (At least, that's what I think they said). The answer I believe depends on whether you see KM as being more similar to HR or BPR.
In the early days of any company's KM activities, one of the most important roles for a central knowledge manager is to raise a visible rallying point for like-minded folk in the organisation. If you take on the role and survive, people feel safe to experiment with real practical KM around you - in the same way that you might feel safer playing golf in a thunderstorm if you were under a lightning conductor. (There's no evidence that you are, by the way, but it does give a wonderful sense of confidence, however misplaced).
That role could indeed be transient - hopefully because the organisation moves beyond the point of needing it, rather than because the lightning conductor has been reduced to a charred pile of twisted metal. Funny how you never see second-hand lightning conductors advertised for sale, isn't it ? Where ARE all those BPR consultant these days ?
We need to get to the point where knowledge management ceases to be an external
bolt-on activity, to where it genuinely becomes part of everyone's role.
Then, just as we don' t call all managers personnel managers, even though
they manage people, we won't call people knowledge managers either, even though
they might be spending an increasing part of their time managing
But the role of central knowledge manager might well continue. Even though managers manage people, we still have HR departments to support them, to ensure that appropriate strategies are put in place and good practice is actually followed.
I can foresee a similar role for the Knowledge Manager. Just as HR departments are concerned with helping business units to bring staff into the company, and to employ and develop them for maximum effect, Knowledge Managers will be helping to do the same thing with knowledge. Their relationship to the business units will hopefully be more like that of a good HR organisation than that of a BPR consultant.
Of course, I realise that adopting HR as a role model in this way might be seen by some as setting our sights too low. But as one who recently emerged from the IT world, I say you have to start somewhere !
John Keeble is Group Head of Knowledge Management at
Enterprise Oil, UK. He can be contacted at:
A contradiction in terms?
Knowledge Manager, it sounds like an oxymoron to me, and I have always been uncomfortable with the title especially as I am positioned as 'BT World-Wide Chief Knowledge Manager'! Apart from owning the companies most pretentious title, my role is threefold:
|1||Catalyst: To help the company understand the concept and value of effective knowledge creation, sharing and re-use.|
|2||Consultant: To help the company identify appropriate areas to apply KM principles for greatest gains with least pain in order to build a momentum for change.|
|3||Collaborator: To ensure the business role models Knowledge Management through sharing of learning, successes and failures in the field of KM.|
There is definitely a need for KM specialists and managers in at the start of the KM journey, mainly for the reasons listed above. Long term, I believe Km skills and behaviours should be embedded within the culture and activities of all in the company. Our approach in BT has sought to transform and embed KM principles within the organisation and not build a separate unit responsible for KM activity. Thus I have a small team of three, a limited budget and anticipate a KM group life expectancy of 5 years. The down side for me personally is 'letting go'. After 2 years we now have several key and major transformations underway led by business units or functional communities. Although my children are only 10 and 12, it must be like watching your kids leave home and fending for themselves! The generic qualification for a knowledge job include:
|Business Acumen: Understand the strategy, the capabilities and knowledge vital to deliver the strategy and how to develop them.|
|Influencing: Selling of the concept and the value to businesses, individual and leaders in their words and their world. ( Ideally without the KM words,just the concept )|
|Shaper and finisher: Help build the vision yet fanatical with detail and completion as transforming the current people, policy and processes will be long and demanding|
|Stamina: Builds on point 3. A knowledge Based Enterprise bigger than a family size unit is new, the transformations are demanding and there will be many highs & lows.|
|Credibility: In my role you must quickly establish a track record, I have been in BT 24 years, worked in most operations and understand the issues faced and know many of the movers and shakers, this has been key in getting a foot in the door let alone agreement for an initiative!|
My final point is be clear Knowledge Management is 75% about people and collaboration and 25% processes and technologies to enable KM. Most KM fails because of people issues:
|NT + OO =
New Technology plus Old Organisation = Costly Old Organisation!
The majority of effort and focus
should be on people knowledge, behaviours and attitudes.
Marc Auckland is BT World-Wide Chief Knowledge Manager. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org
New Age Football Coach!
Knowledge Manager, the role title that's guaranteed to ensure that any after dinner conversation goes with a bang! After dealing with the inevitable 'what', the next stage is to deal with the question 'so what exactly should a knowledge manager do, manage knowledge?'. Logical I suppose, but way off the mark! If capturing knowledge in an organisation is always the responsibility of that person then the organisation's knowledge initiative will last about 3 months, long enough for the pilot to be completed in my experience. No, the role of the knowledge manager is to encourage, facilitate, help projects and support teams in order to capture those difficult to articulate but absolute little gems of learning which are so easy to ignore or over-look.
Inevitably in an organisation with over 1000 employees, my role is to programme manage the introduction of a number of integrated projects which together will hopefully help to move the culture forward to one where knowledge sharing is part of daily work. When this nirvana becomes business as usual for everyone then the role is over. Currently our definition of a knowledge management process (capture-deploy-use and review) exists in splendid isolation as a stand-alone process in order to help the communication of its purpose. However, if knowledge management continues to be a stand-alone 'extra' activity which people do when they have time or less pressing things to do, then it will undoubtedly be doomed to failure. When groups complete a task and then automatically, as an instinctive reaction go on to review the way that task was undertaken and the outcomes, then this learning is captured in a form which is suitable for their colleagues to understand and learn from. When teams answer phone calls and e-mails from their colleagues who want to know more details about the context of their learning, then my work is done !
Why was the Knowledge Manager role created ?
The role exists because for most people this 'KM' stuff does not come naturally to them, it is all currently extra work ! The way individuals' behaviour and values are rewarded do not ensure that it is instinctive for them to capture and share their learning. Individuals of course learn every day of the week, but to capture it in a form which can be shared and then discussed, and to share it with colleagues has often not been achieved since we played football at school. We all remember the constant post match analysis in the school dressing room, where every move was dissected and examined by the team and the coach. Well, what we attempt to do is instill some of that same team work; camaraderie and results-driven reviews so we can learn from what we have done well and badly, and then come out and play the next game much better.
The Knowledge Manager personality
So if I was looking for the ideal Knowledge Manager to lead the team who would that be? Well they would be 'thick skinned', and possess the patience of a saint - this is required to deal with the constant questions such as 'why should we share our knowledge'. Its our only asset !!
Marc Baker is a Senior KM consultant within Royal Mail. He can be contacted at:
Information Literacy, the fifth skill?
Over the next twenty years, companies, government and individuals will face increasing difficulties in an environment of increasing complexity.
... we have enormous positive potential, including technology, improvements in communications, availability of capital, and great increases in the quantity and availability of information ....'1
In our recent research study into the skills and competencies needed in KM environments we identified a range of skills that anyone needs in order to effectively apply their core competencies. We were also able to categorise a range of 'KM enabling skills' which are a mix of management competencies and professional skills relating to human resources, information technology, organisational development and information content.
The research focused on the roles that are emerging in KM environments, on members of KM teams and networks, but also investigated what 'knowledge' approaches meant for the skills required by everyone in a KM environment. In other words, what was it going to take to thrive in complex organisations that build their futures on the creation and sharing of knowledge and information.
Knowledge processes are the key to knowledge environments and the efficiency of these processes determines how quickly relevant knowledge can be used to inform a decision or solve a problem. The more efficient the process the sooner the problem is solved, or the more time available for reflection before taking the decision. If the process is inefficient the quality of knowledge bought to bear on the situation is poor. What the research identified as fundamental to the success of KM activities is the level of 'information literacy' skills throughout the organisation - skills that enable the knowledge processes to work in 'top gear'.
From the corporate perspective the core requirement is for staff to be 'knowledge and information aware', and to understand the value of information within the context in which they are working. They also require skills which enable them to assess their information requirements and to find, share, use and create information. These are the four core skills which support the key areas of problem solving, innovation, strategic planning and business processes. The fifth skill is combining these into their core competence. Corporate information literacy provides the platform for successful KM, corporate illiteracy is a stumbling block for all environments.
IInformation Literacy combines an awareness of the value of information and knowledge to the organisation with the skills and competencies that enable an individual to play a full, effective and rewarding role in knowledge environments'
Angela Abell is Director of TFPL Ltd. She can be contacted at:email@example.com
|The report, 'Skills for Knowledge Management' is available from TFPL for £50.00. Knowledge Management subscribers can receive a discount of 10%. Just call Nigel Oxbrow on 020 7251 5522 and quote reference number: 3125|
Diary of a PI, Episode 1, The CKO
...an alternative approach to the knowledge manager's role!
It was going to be tough. As tough as any assignment I'd taken on. Where
was I gonna begin? Here, in this sleaze ball of a town, or over there, in the
sleazier part of town. The international network was large. That could be
tricky. But this assignment was not like any other I had accepted. I had to get
together all the skills I'd picked up over the years, and boy, had I picked up
some stuff. It was going to be a tough assignment.
But, I still had this funny feeling about it. You know, kinda curious. I guess curiosity is in my nature. But you still gotta be alert to the opportunity. But don' t get me wrong. I am no yes man. Sometimes, you just gotta say no. I mean I'm as flexible as any other Sam. In this game you gotta be flexible and able to change pretty quickly. Opportunities can come from all sorts of angles. You gotta realise that. But sometimes the work is just not suitable and you gotta stick to your guns. Just say no, or just let'em know the way it is.
That's the skill with this job. You gotta be able to talk and listen. Comes with the territory. Socialising. You gotta get about. And of course the greatest part of this job I reckon on, is meeting all these people and getting them to talk. The trouble comes with those who don't wanna talk. No good being a bull in a china shop. But I get'em to talk. That's the art they say. I say its easy. You just gotta influence them without stamping your authority. Give'em a bit of what they want, but not everything. And the tough cookies? Well they get the 'ole, jack boot treatment but sometimes you just have to think smarter. Those sorts of people have been around., so give' em the Colombo treatment. You know, hit them with the killer question, just as you're about to leave.
You see, in this game, you gotta be able to think quick and fast. No time to stop and contemplate or else you'll get nothing done. Deep down its in my psyche. You know, being able to fit the many situations encountered. Play that chameleon role. And that's the exciting thing. Juggling all these different situations and scenarios. Its just like, juggling balls. If you keep your eye too long on one of them, poof, all gone. The trick is to keep your eyes in the middle, so you can see all of them.
Still, I'll keep juggling those balls, because I love this game. Motivation ain't no problem. I've been in this game a long time. But one things true. If you're motivation is unclear, well this game will eat you up and chew you out. But, I still got the bug. Motivation is no problem at all. But some people, well they lack that that focus. They're in it for the money. Take it and run they say. Not me. Its those people who give us true professionals a bad name. Am I gonna give this game up? You gotta be kidding. Just as likely as 'ole Numbers Malone the accountant, giving his game up. You never know, I could take over what he does.
Sunil Sharma is Chief Knowledge Officer of ORI Inc. He can be contacted at:firstname.lastname@example.org
|1 Open Horizons: three scenarios for 2020. The 1998 report from the Chatham House Forum|