posted 30 May 2007 in Volume 10 Issue 8
Shaving the fuzz
A short guide to KM implementation in two handy pages.
By Jerry Ash
In its adolescence, the face of knowledge management (KM) was fuzzy – knowledge work was ubiquitous (organic to all human activity) but knowledge management wasn’t. Although Peter Drucker first coined the term ‘knowledge worker’ more than 50 years ago, management only ‘got it’ when courageous thought leaders and practice pioneers began applying the concept just 20 or so years ago.
Today, there is a wealth of generally accepted knowledge about KM and yet the face remains fuzzy. It’s fuzzy because most advocates have not yet groomed the beast. In this column I’ll try to give KM a shave using the sharp edge of clear learnings to reveal the mysteries behind the stubble. And, because we have learnt so much (and this space is so restricted) I’ll have to use shorthand.
If you don’t know enough about KM, become an expert. Learn from the experts, the thought leaders, practitioners, case studies, papers, publications, conferences and online networks. Absorb the philosophy, theory, practice and outcomes.
Encourage KM by ‘pull’, not ‘push’. Help rather than exhort. Introduce knowledge work as a solution, not a change. With successes, change will take care of itself. Be inclusive in your networks – friends and ‘foes’ alike. Look for opportunities to incite change. Include technology as an essential support system.
Look for places, situations, problems, opportunities, organisational goals and objects where KM might show well. Find out what keeps various executives and managers awake at night. Determine how you can help. Be both clear and realistic about the expected effect of a KM solution. Pick winners. Always win.
You will need to get and keep a decision-maker’s attention. Recruit powerful allies. You might practice KM without the hierarchy but you will never be successful without forming a partnership with management.
Don’t fight management. At the start you are not ready to turn management upside down (bottom up KM). That’s intimidating. Try an up-down approach. Connect top and bottom. Management changes its relationship to people and people enjoy the new status. Accept shared ownership. Senior managers won’t support KM initiatives unless those initiatives are bottom-line important. Executives will likely remain measured by economic outcomes. Ensure that KM demonstrates value to both the company and the individual.
We weren’t born with culture. It is learnt. Change means unlearning. Culture change can’t be commanded. It is human. Culture changes when the environment changes, and more rapidly when there are happy changes like a shift in attitude towards people as an asset, not a spreadsheet liability. Stop bar-coding people. Give them room to breathe. Gradually adopt a new language and meaning that not only conveys, but demonstrates, respect. Penetrate silos – it’s unlikely you will be able to destroy them. Create a cross-cultural comfort. Encourage a shift from sneaky to positive self-interest, shared goals and objectives.
Foremost, include in your strategy a plan for sustainability that will transcend changes in direction, leadership, even ownership of the organisation by making it systemic. Assume you will face periods of instability and make sure that the principles of KM are an accepted and integral part of the way business is conducted up and down the organisational chart. Champions are wonderful – until they are gone. Alongside financial capital, introduce and methodically embed the idea of ‘intellectual capital’ everywhere by adding the word ‘capital’ behind innovation, reputation, leadership, diversity, network, cultural, technological, organisational, strategic and knowledge. Elevate the perception of value in all these.
Build your own programme based on what will work for you. Use components taken from multiple cases, but tuned to the unique needs and environment of your company. However, don’t limit your building blocks to proven practices. KM is young and proven practices are not necessarily best (yet) practices. Theories are hypotheses and they need application. If you see a theory that makes sense in your situation, try it. There is no more risk in trying new ideas than copying old ones. Be an innovator.Provide for both connection and collection. Tacit and explicit are not ‘either/or’ and they are not always separate. Make certain your architecture involves both and that there is connectivity between them. Choose technology solutions that are compatible.
Show value. Yes, as the saying goes, ‘not everything countable counts and not everything that counts is countable’. But use scientific methods where you can, use stories, peer reviews, case studies and testimonials where the results are immeasurable. In any case, establish key performance indicators for knowledge sharing and application. CKOs may be preoccupied with the bottom line, but the CEOs and line managers are open to intrinsic values. Just because you can’t draw a direct line between cause and effect neither proves nor disproves benefit. Anyone can manage the measurable. It’s the unmeasurable that challenges the judgments of great leaders and they are looking for other indicators. Supply them. Always.
And always communicate – before, during and after action. Do it to educate, infiltrate, substantiate the ubiquitous value of knowledge work. Like some of us, KM needs a shave every day to keep the fuzz at bay.
These are proven, pragmatic, practical views on KM. Anything is debatable, but these quick vignettes represent repeated and repeatable applications of KM that are, by their use, becoming SOP – standard operating procedure. It is through such applied knowledge strategies and applications that we are assembling the accepted components of a more understandable and adoptable KM.
The frontline practitioners have done this for us. They have become the final word on what works and what doesn’t. Thanks to them, KM is on its way to becoming fuzz-free.
Jerry Ash is KM coach, founder of the Association of Knowledgework, www.kwork.org, and special correspondent to Inside Knowledge. He is the author of ARK Group’s latest major reports, Next Generation Knowledge Management and Next Generation Knowledge Management II. To order either of these, contact Adam Scrimshire at firstname.lastname@example.org. Jerry Ash can be reached at email@example.com.