Tuesday 5 May 2009

Can KM survive without performance management?

I don't think it can.

There's a very close link between knowledge and performance, and a very close link between knowledge management and performance management, as I point out in this video. In fact, the link is so close that I don't think knowledge management can thrive where performance management is absent. Let's see if I can justify this statement.

Knowledge Management, for me, is a systematic approach to organisational learning. But learning about what? Learning to perform, is the answer. Learning to perform means the identification of better ways to do things, and then sharing and replicating those better ways, and embedding them into the processes and structures of the organisation. We can measure the result of this learning in learning curves.

But what if there is no performance management - no measurement, no metrics? What if there are no measures of performance? How will you know if any one approach is better than another, and worth replicating? How will you see the learning curves, without metrics? How can you plan to improve, with no targets? What will incentivise people to learn from each other, if performance is not a driver?

Think of the old Deming Loop, of Plan, Do, Measure, Learn. How will Learning find a home, if there is no planning or no measuring? This issue becomes important when you start to look at Knowledge Management in the public sector, where performance management is a far fuzzier affair than in the private sector, and where key performance indicators can be complex things.

In the private sector, a best practice is easily identified as being the practice that delivers the quickest, cheapest or higest performing result. But in the public sector, how do you define a best practice? For a government department, what solution is "best"? It's not necessarily the cheapest, nor the quickest solution. Is it maybe the solution that has greatest public acceptance? Or that the press doesn't make fun of? Or that the minister prefers? And what's Best today, may not be Best tomorrow.

Where performance management is difficult or challenging, Knowledge Management will not be easy either.

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