posted 26 Jun 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 9
What keeps your CEO awake at night?
By David Gurteen
I enjoyed chairing KCUK this year, and there were many good presentations, but the one that inspired me the most was a talk by Dr Bonnie Cheuk, global head of knowledge and information at Environmental Resources Management (ERM).
Bonnie’s talk was on ‘Supporting the business: Redesigning and improving your intranet’ but it wasn’t only the content that impressed me – it was her approach to knowledge management (KM), which is one that I have long advocated.
Her goal was to place KM on the centre stage of the business and to do this she repeatedly asked the question: ‘What keeps the CEO awake at night?’. In adopting this approach and responding to such issues she had clearly built up a strong working relationship with the CEO and had, indeed, made KM central to the success of the business – something most knowledge managers would die for.
Let me elaborate and explain my own thinking on the subject.
Identifying a serious business issue that KM can successfully address is the most fundamental of steps and, strangely, one that is too often overlooked.
Undertaking a KM project to, say, ‘improve knowledge sharing’, ‘create a learning organisation’ or ‘create a knowledge-driven organisation’ is not only meaningless, but also dumb!
These might be strategic responses to real business issues, but it’s the wrong place to start. You need to identify the issues that need to be responded to. It could be a problem, an opportunity, or a risk, but start there – not with grand visions. I think Dave Snowden, chief scientific officer at Cognitive Edge, states it well when he says:
“KM should be focused on real, tangible intractable problems not aspirational goals. It should deal pragmatically with the evolutionary possibilities of the present rather then seeking idealistic solutions.”
As you identify the issue, keep asking: ‘Why is it an issue?’. You need to get to the root of the problem in business terms. For example, ‘people won’t share their knowledge’ is not a business problem, but ‘slowness in bringing new products to market’ is.
Ask the question: ‘Are we responding to the real issue or its symptoms?’. For example, I recently had a conversation with a knowledge manager who asked me about the best tools for capturing knowledge from people when they decide to leave the organisation.
I stepped back and asked her what the issue was and she told me that it had an attrition rate of more than 30 per cent per annum. People were not staying with the business and the problem was that knowledge was being lost.
In response, I told her that I thought she had identified the wrong problem. It was not that the company was losing knowledge as such, but that it had a high attrition rate. Therefore, she would do better to focus on reducing the attrition rate rather than trying to capture the knowledge walking out the door – which you can never really do anyway.
When you have identified an issue, write it down clearly and relentlessly refine it. Take it to the senior managers in the organisation and verify that it is a real issue and that people desperately wish to see a response to it. If it is an issue that people cannot agree on or that no one cares about, especially senior management, then forget about it. You will be wasting your time. Find a fire that is raging – something that is causing pain – and, as Victor Newman often says, ‘Go to the battle’!
So, where’s the battle in your organisation and what keeps your CEO awake at night…?
David Gurteen is the founder and director of Gurteen Knowledge. He can be contacted through his website at www.gurteen.com