posted 18 Dec 2006 in Volume 10 Issue 4
For best results, seize the opportunity.
By Jerry Ash
At the recent KM Asia conference in Singapore, Alex Bennet, former knowledge-management (KM) lead for the US Department of Navy (DON) and founder of Mountain Quest Institute in West Virginia, US, talked about building and implementing a KM architecture that provided the platform for knowledge sharing throughout the US Navy and Marines.
That programme became the model for KM initiatives in other military branches and agencies of the US federal government.
I was next at the podium and had included the DON story among the ten case reports chosen to demonstrate my topic, ‘The Power of Collaborative Thinking’. I had not expected Alex to dwell on the DON story because she has been so busy at Mountain Quest during the past several years, developing new knowledge about KM and that’s what she usually talks about.
Having been upstaged, I decided to have some fun with Alex.
“That Alex Bennet. Isn’t she something? She has every reason to be proud of her accomplishments at the Department of Navy and that’s why I wrote a special case report for Inside Knowledge magazine. But let’s face it, if any of us in this room had been handed what Alex started with, we too could be a heroes.
“From the get go she had the commander of the Pacific Fleet – a four star admiral – already practising seat-of-the-pants KM and advocating knowledge sharing Navy-wide. The task was assigned to the new chief information officer (CIO), Alex’s former colleague who left after working with her on a KM initiative there. Soon, her CIO buddy was calling for her to join him in his new assignment to help reorganise. Not too surprisingly, one of the three new departments created was KM in disguise, and guess who got to be department head and unofficial KM lead? Alex, of course.”
I went on to acknowledge that even with all that high level support, spreading KM to two million people in four years was an amazing feat.
The banter got me thinking. Almost all of my stories were kind of like that – spectacular successes all starting with an opportunity. By the time I reached my assignment in Moscow I was calling it Carpe KM – seize the KM opportunity. Here are some cases in point:
- Raj Datta seized the day when MindTree Consulting was in its formative stage in New Jersey, in preparation for its move back to India. The ten founders were building the company on values of democracy, openness, transparency, trust, questioning, communication and teamwork – an equation perfectly suited for the KM approach. Datta became ‘MindTree Mind #17’ and succeeded in embedding knowledge sharing in the roots of the organisation it was forming. Now he’s a conference speaker;
- At SAIC, Kent Greenes, former KM lead at BP, had been hired to provide KM consulting to its clients. SAIC did not have an internal KM programme of its own. A downturn in the economy and resulting shrinkage in consulting assignments forced the company to look at redundancy wherever it could find it and Greenes saw a chance to nudge the company into formal KM. In the midst of cuts, Greenes convinced management that a centralised KM programme would not only save money by changing the way the company worked, but would assist consultants in winning more bids;
- Tom Barfield was managing a mature KM programme at Accenture when management began to move its attention from KM to training and development (T&D) following a plan to gradually shift some of T&D to self-directed learning. Barfield recognised an opportunity to broaden the profile of KM by making knowledge a continuum where training, learning and KM would be under the same roof. Today you can’t tell where one ends and the other begins;
- At Cadbury Schweppes, Arthur Shelley knew the company was disappointed that its decades of merger and acquisition had not resulted in the hoped for shared knowledge and market strength. Shelley seized the opportunity, proposing a change-management programme based on the networking strategies of KM;
- Garry Cullen stopped a plan to develop a KM-based expertise locator system at Lend Lease Corporation based on KM software. Instead of buying software, he convinced Lend Lease to put its money in knowledge workers – four facilitators in its four world regions who would act as match-makers for knowledge seekers and sharers.
I have since seen this pattern in most KM success stories and the conclusion is obvious–KM works best wherever it is needed and wanted.
One of the speakers in Singapore was Niall Sinclair, whose consulting practice is in Canada. Sinclair this year published a book, Stealth KM, and I recall my conversation with him after his presentation. “Niall,” I said, “I dearly love the idea of ‘stealth KM’, but I’ve never found one story that shows a real success. I have lots of disaster stories, though, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a KM missionary would be better off choosing the right location for battle. Can you give me one success story where an individual in the mid-level of an organisation has started a KM initiative by developing a personal network, which spread through the department and eventually blossomed company-wide?”
He said he had six success stories in his book. I haven’t had a chance to buy it yet, but my advice to KM wannabes is still to go where the opportunity is. Carpe KM!
Jerry Ash is KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, http://www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is also the author of the ARK Group’s latest major report, Next Generation Knowledge Management. To order, contact Adam Scrimshire at email@example.com. Jerry Ash can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Niall Sinclair’s Stealth KM was reviewed in the April 2006 issue of Inside Knowledge.