posted 10 Jul 2009 in Volume 12 Issue 8
Opinion: Strategy Development
Embedding KM strategy
Art Schlussel takes a look at the essentials of embedding an effective KM strategy to achieve organisational success.
Much has been written on the subject of knowledge management (KM) strategy development and implementation. There are numerous approaches one can take to develop a successful strategy, and there is no one right or wrong way to do it. What ultimately constitutes a successful KM strategy? One that is signed off by management, is resourced, and is allowed to be implemented. Once that is achieved then you can make all the adjustments you need to ensure strategic alignment with organisational strategy. The value of a KM strategy comes when the strategy is resourced, implemented, and the organisation begins to realise the benefits. So, with that in mind there are some important points that should be considered.
Why you need a KM strategy
A KM strategy is a specific plan of action laying out the activities necessary to embed KM into the organisation within a specified period of time. The strategy will create a picture of how the organisation’s KM capabilities will be integrated into the enterprise. It should guide investment into the required KM resources – human, structural, and technological – to drive the KM initiative/programme, and it should highlight the skills, change management, content management, tools, and technologies to support it. Ultimately the organisation’s goals must always be the end-state for a KM strategy, so all KM investments need to be consistent with other investments. In other words, do not do KM for KM’s sake, incorporate any KM planning in the overall organisational strategy, and embed KM into the organisation rather than piling it on.
Link the strategy to the organisation
KM strategy must be based on the organisation’s goals. What does that mean? It means that before a KM strategy is drafted, the author must know where the organisation is headed (or where it plans to be headed), what is important to organisational success, and the plans and investments the organisation has already made or is making to realise its goals and objectives. The KM strategy should then support the organisational strategy.
Ensure you have the right strategy for your industry
Usually you know the industry your organisation is in and then you plan a strategy around that. For example, an organisation in the financial industry may focus on how best to deal with changing regulatory issues. Or another in the manufacturing industry may focus on increasing production and efficiencies. Sometimes, like in the case of my chief knowledge officer colleague, you need to decide what industry you are focussing on because multiple approaches can apply. In his case he works for a military academic institution that is also a think tank, a research organisation, and an operations center. Each of the areas might actually require a different KM strategy that focuses on the goals of that industry. It is almost impossible to take a one size fits all approach to this.
Know how your knowledge workers access organisational knowledge
Since KM is about connecting people to all types of knowledge, the strategy needs to articulate how that is going to be done. The strategy should outline how people will connect with each other and to the explicit knowledge within and outside the organisation. What you really need to know first is how this is done now. Is the organisation mainly personalised or codified? This is extremely important. If knowledge is mostly gained through database and online tools the strategic approach is very different than if knowledge is mainly gained through personal interactions.
Understand the relationship between KM and IT
KM is a behavioural issue and IT is a technology issue. Let’s keep them separate. IT is an enabler; it’s the pipes, the conduit, the computer, and so on. But it does not drive sharing and collaboration. KM trumps IT because, as I am reminded by a learned colleague, “Knowledge is the higher value asset.” IT relates only as a piece of paper and a pen relates to KM, or as me typing this article on the keyboard relates to the knowledge transfer I am giving you now. Bottom line – do not make IT the focus of KM; make it a KM tool.
The strategic role of KM
KM plays the strategic role of putting in place the capabilities (organisational, behavioral, technological, and informational) of the knowledge and ideas of the people within the organisation and provides the impetus to share and collaborate all for the ultimate betterment of the organisation. KM is used to help the strategic intent of the organisation. It may even drive a new organisational strategy as the KM benefits (or KM yield as I like to call them) drive innovation, better ways of doing things or expose new opportunities. Always remember that KM is there to support the organisational strategy. It is not there to drive it, or replace it.
There are seven key areas in any KM strategy.
KM strategy supports organisational strategy – state the organisation’s mission, vision, and goals and how the KM strategy going to support it.
Governance is about roles and responsibilities. Examples of items to consider are:
Where does KM reside in the organisation?
Who decides where the KM investments will be made?
Who coordinates KM activities across the enterprise?
Who will be doing the different KM functions and what will they be?
Will KM be driven by a central corporate function or will it be driven at the department or unit level?
Who establishes the standards for KM technology?
Will there be a KM steering committee or will KM be driven by one individual?
How will changes in the KM strategy and operations plan be made, by whom, how often, by what process?
The governance model should accomplish two things:
Help ensure the allocation of resources to KM is consistent with the strategic direction and intent of the organisation
Establish a mechanism to help ensure that resource allocation (remember this is about people and technology) remains consistent with the organisation’s strategic direction in the future.
Remember, this is a strategy document. A strategy cannot be realised and sustained without resources. That is why you need to focus on who is going to do it, how is it going to be done, who has the authority to make decisions, and how the resources are going to be gotten and sustained. No resources = no implemented KM strategy. It’s just that simple.
Culture is about change and change management. How are you going to get the workers to share and collaborate? What change management initiatives will move the culture to the new way of doing business? What carrots and sticks will be used to move the workers in the right direction? There needs to be a strategy for this.
4. Content management
Content management is very important to KM strategy. Content management is about the retrieval, distribution, and application of codified knowledge to help workers do their job better. If you do not do content management how are you ever going to get the right information to the right people at the right time? You need to know how knowledge flows (both tacit and explicit) within the organisation. You need to know what knowledge people need to do their jobs, and you need to know where people go to get the information they need to do their jobs. You might have to perform a knowledge mapping exercise to figure all this out.
Ultimately it comes down to these three things:
Each department should provide you with the key missions that drive its activities;
The workers should provide you with the decisions they need to make in order to complete their missions;
The workers should provide you the information they need to make those decisions, and whether or not they have access to it.
And this information:
Lets you know what is important to the success of the department;
Tells you how people make decisions to support the mission;
Tells you what information people need to do their job;
Tells you if there are any knowledge gaps because people cannot access the information they need to do their job;
Tells you if the knowledge and information the people need resides internal or external to the organization;
Tells you if people can find the information they need (codified information “find ability” or knowing who to go to get the information they need).
Content management is also about the content-management lifecycle. You need to think about content from a holistic perspective; from creation through disposition. You should consider how the disciplines of document management and records management, as well as areas such as compliance, storage, taxonomy, search, etc. impact knowledge flow. The bottom line is that in the end you want someone to use the content. You need a plan on how to handle this. You may also need to add a content management position in your roles for resources.
There is a plethora of technology available for KM. If your organisation already has technologies (such as SharePoint or OpenText) in place then work with your IT department to see how you can incorporate the technology into your plan. Sometimes IT is mandated; like in the U.S. Army for example. You have got to use Army approved technology without deviation. You need to ensure that the technology can be supported, and that the tool can deliver the results to your intended audiences. You also need to consider ancillary technologies (not just portals and wikis) such as content management systems, document management systems and records management systems. Do you need them? Maybe. Do you at least need comprehensive processes to manage how functions are performed with our without technology? Definitely. All this needs to be in the strategy and it needs to be resourced.
Application is about this question: ‘Where can the application of KM result in the greatest value to the organisation?’. There are usually two places: areas of strategic importance and communities of common objectives or practice
If strategic communications is really important then focus in that area, if collaboration across the enterprise is really important then focus there; if providing a better customer experience is most important then focus there. The bottom line is that you cannot do it all, and you cannot do it all now. There usually will not be the resources available to do it all. You need to decide what strategic issues need to be tackled, in what order, and then decide if you can afford to do it. This is also where you would put a timeline in place.
You will need a metrics plan, but for the purposes of the strategy plan you need to state how you will know when you achieve your goals. What changes will take place to let you know that your KM strategy has been successful? What are the key indicators that show forward momentum? Show how the enterprise is different when you succeed.
This is how I have performed KM strategic planning in the past, and my approach is based on an a special report written by Charles P. Seeley and William M. Dietrick, ‘Crafting a Knowledge Management Strategy’ (KM Review, Melcrum Publishing, 2001). There is much preparation that needs to be done prior to writing the plan. You most likely will need to perform activities such as conducting an organisational knowledge assessment and a knowledge mapping exercise, form a KM steering committee, work with finance and IT to determine costs and capabilities, and find a senior KM champion and sponsor. It is a lot of work, but necessary to establish a KM programme that will endure.
Art Schlussel is a knowledge management consultant at the