posted 29 Sep 2010 in Volume 14 Issue 1
Rethinking the KM lifecycle
Christian Young predicts that something different this way comes and introduces a fourstage model for organisational knowledge work
Over the past year I’ve spent a lot of time studying social movements as part of my continuing quest for novel approaches to better understanding (and branding) of knowledge management (KM). Blessedly, my time feels well spent since the field has been a wellspring of inspiration. During my research I came across a white paper, The Four Stages of Social Movements, written by Jonathan Christiansen in 2009. This had me thinking about – or, rather, re-thinking – the KM lifecycle.
Although I am quite familiar with traditional knowledge lifecycle models, which illustrate some variation of the identify-capture-organise-disseminate process, these have always seemed to be more about ‘knowledge’ and less about ‘KM’. While some knowledge lifecycles are meant to function as a roadmap for addressing KM issues, most are intimidating attempts at describing how information becomes knowledge and how that knowledge might be used or discarded without really providing any clear understanding of a strategic approach to KM. The four stages paper had me wondering about the lifecycle of the KM initiative itself – its journey from inception through to the ultimate goal of cultural adoption (or rejection, if the initiative is unsuccessful).
Using the white paper as a foundation, I developed the following model proposing four stages through which KM will travel in its lifetime. The model is useful in jump-starting strategic planning efforts and also with framing conversations about KM with laypersons.
Stage one: Acknowledgement
Organisations either recognise the need for a strategic approach to their KM efforts or, following a previously unsuccessful strategy, initiate pursuit of a new approach.
Organisations may attempt to build a KM strategy themselves or, optimally, seek out the services of an ‘expert’ to assist in some combination of organisational analysis (for example, SWOT, GAP or KM audit), strategic planning, and strategy execution.
Stage two: Mobilisation
Organisations take an active (versus passive) approach to KM by executing a series of strategies to improve how knowledge is managed – including a branding strategy focused on mobilising awareness and support of the KM initiative.
During this stage, the KM function attempts to build social equity by demonstrating its value, benefit and utility to a broad range of stakeholders.
Stage three: Leverage
Following some success with mobilising wider support of KM (through aggressive branding, documented ‘wins’ and success stories) the KM function has acquired some social equity and is perceived as less of a niche function or ‘pet project’.
The KM function (assertively) leverages the social equity it has acquired to influence a wider range of strategic planning efforts across the organisation.
Stage four: Normalisation
At this stage, the practice, awareness and understanding of KM is normalised across the organisation. The degree and quality of this normalisation (the extent to which KM and its activities are regarded as a ‘natural’ part of the regular working environment) is indicative of the level of success or failure of the KM initiative.
A fully successful strategy is one in which KM has achieved cultural adoption and integration, as identified by the following characteristics:
Organisation-wide awareness and understanding of KM – its purpose, benefit, and importance;
An organisational culture possessed of a spirit of knowledge stewardship in which everyone is, at a minimum, aware of their individual responsibility to share and collaborate in their community;
Continuously evolving policies, practices, and technology tools that reflect, promote, and support a culture of knowledge sharing; and
Widespread, regular, active usage of KM tools and participation in community development efforts (such as communities of practice).
A partially successful strategy might be one where KM fails to realise its potential (as previously described) owing to a number of factors – for example: the culture is heavily change resistant; those leading KM efforts were not aggressive, assertive or savvy enough to navigate the politics of the organisation; or, the strategy simply wasn’t effective. Essentially, instead of KM positively influencing change in how the business operates, the organisation unduly influences how KM is implemented, limiting its role and impact. An example might be an organisation that begins its KM initiative with a limited or narrow scope of the role that KM will play and resists widening this scope. This results in an implementation that provides exactly what was desired, but fails to deliver on the full potential of KM.
A completely failed strategy is one in which KM has been unsuccessful in achieving cultural adoption and integration resulting in the termination of the initiative. Termination is likely the result of a poor branding strategy and failure to properly educate stakeholders – particularly leadership – on the importance and value of KM. Failing to consistently obtain buy-in at key strategy milestones is another mistake.
A repressed or limited strategy doesn’t have to remain so, indefinitely. Assuming that KM has experienced some success and acquired some measure of equity, it is likely that it will be perceived as having value. However, it just may not be enough to immediately propel it to a higher or stronger role in the organisation.
Likewise, strategy failure isn’t necessarily a death sentence for KM. Assuming that the initial need for KM is still present (and acknowledged), it is probable that a new strategy will (inevitably) be pursued and/or new ‘experts’ brought on board to implement it.
Unlike the four stages model – or life, for that matter – there is no point at which KM ever truly declines or ‘dies’. Rather, as the organisation continues to grow and evolve, it will (and should) pursue a series of strategies to maintain optimal normalisation.
Christian Young is an independent KM strategist and blogger. He can be contacted via http:kmreflectionsblogspot.com