posted 20 Jul 2004 in Volume 7 Issue 10
Put it to the board: Paul Louis Iske
At conferences, people have been discussing the validity of the expression ‘knowledge management’. Many believe that the term is too vague or that the concept is subject to business hype; others feel it is an invention by consultants or only applies to those involved solely in ICT.
However, there is another, more critical reason for challenging the use of the expression. The question companies need to ask themselves is, what is it that you want to manage? The alignment of KM with corporate strategy is often discussed, but organisations need to become knowledge conscious. This means knowledge should be considered a strategic resource – it is therefore not knowledge that is being managed, but the organisation as a whole. An alternative term is ‘knowledge-conscious management’, which aligns KM and business objectives so that they are completely inseparable.
This is more than simply a discussion about semantics. The work relating to specific KM projects and programmes is being acknowledged in the form of case studies or awards in the knowledge-management arena; the argument being that the selected activities are well-organised and executed, with tangible business results. In these cases, buy-in from relevant stakeholders has usually been achieved and IT systems that capture knowledge or support knowledge-based collaboration have been deployed. KM strategies that revolve around document-management systems, portals, search engines, e-learning applications, decision-support systems, online team rooms, web conferences and communities of practice are familiar to everyone involved in the area.
But the implementation of these tools does not necessarily mean that the organisation is practising knowledge-conscious management. A company can employ almost all known KM tools, but neglect to maintain communication with those experts responsible for creating and further developing the core competence that gave the company sustainable competitive advantage in the first place. An organisation that bombards its employees with knowledge-sharing programmes that require cultural change is not knowledge conscious if, at the same time, staff and other stakeholders feel that nobody listens to them.
It takes more than the adoption of the latest KM technology for an organisation to become knowledge conscious. Still, many truly knowledge-conscious organisations are not recognised as such, since they have no high-profile KM projects in place. My advice for those looking to become more knowledge conscious is to reverse the knowledge-value chain. KM processes are typically described using terms such as knowledge analysis, development, capturing, sharing and application. However, this thinking belongs to the industrial age of product push. Begin with knowledge application, that is, how knowledge is actually used. By focusing on what you want to achieve with knowledge rather than KM activities per se, your organisation is more likely to become truly knowledge conscious.