Friday 9 July 2010

Isn't KM everyone's job?

This is a comment I hear quite a lot - "We all work with knowledge, so surely knowledge management is everyone's job? Why do we need knowledge management roles? Or a KM team?"

We all work with knowledge, and have responsibility for sharing it, searching for it and applying it. However we also need knowledge managers as an assurance role, to make sure knowledge is managed. Think of knowledge as rather like safety. We all need to be safe, and safety is everyone's responsibility. However we still need HSE professionals to co-ordinate and assure HSE delivery. Its the same with knowledge; knowledge management will not happen without roles and accountabilities.

If you took away the HSE roles, would a safety culture survive? Not for long, I suspect.

If you took away the KM roles (listed and described here), I don't think a knowledge culture would last long either.

Here's something Tom Davenport said in his article for CIO magazine in 1997, "Common pitfalls of knowledge management", which I think puts it brilliantly.

"It should be everyone's job to create, share, and use knowledge-to some degree. But let's face reality here. Every engineer in your organization, for example, should be creating and using new product development knowledge. But not every engineer will (or can) do a good job writing down what he or she knows. Everyone should reflect on life, but not everyone should write poems or novels about his or her musings. Knowledge management will not succeed if there are no workers and managers whose primary duties involve gathering and editing knowledge from those who have it, paving the way for the operation of knowledge networks, and setting up and managing knowledge technology infrastructures.

The next time someone starts spouting the "it's everybody's job" rigmarole to me, I'm going to retort, "So I guess since it's everybody's job to monitor costs and enhance revenues, you've also eliminated the finance and accounting departments?"

Thanks Tom; nicely put!


Unknown said...

Good post! I agree. What I see is that knowledge management is usually not seen as the primary task of most knowledge workers. We need people in organizations that keep helping/reminding knowledge workers to share knowledge. On the other hand, I find it interesting to see how much of knowledge management can be integrated in daily work by removing (organizational and technological) barriers. I think this is one of the reasons why KM failed in the past (telling/paying people to share doesn't work, putting knowledge in databases doesn't work, etc). Social media (the concept and the tools) is helping KM move in the right direction. But still there are (and maybe there always will be) barriers. At least this keeps us KM-ers business! :-)

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Samuel

I completely agree that KM can, and should, be integrated in daily work, and that social media have a major role in this. However I don't believe that just removing the barriers will do the trick - there needs to me more to it than that! Removing the barriers will enrol more of the enthusiasts, but the uncaring majority will just carry on as before. As you say - there always are more barriers, and that means you and I will always have plenty to do.

Atle Iversen said...

*Personal* knowledge management is everyone's job (capture, create and use the knowledge that *you* need to do your job), but figuring out which knowledge can be useful to *other* people in the organization, and when, and in which form, and how, and facilitating and supporting the capturing and sharing, is part of the KM team's responsibility, no ?

Stuart Watson said...

Interesting post.

I would liken it to (albeit a crass analogy) a library. Organisations have many books (representing knowledge) which are present, taken and shared within the business. However without the employment of librarians (KM professionals), books can become lost, uncategorised and under-utilised. The library could function without the librarian, but may at some point, may lose its purpose of enabling effective access to books. In addition, sometimes when an employee leaves, they forget to return their books which can results in the inability for others to share that same knowledge.

Nick Milton said...

Atle - thanks for the contribution - I would look at it differently, as I feel Knowledge Management is, but its very nature, interpersonal rather than personal.

I would say that its everyone's job to seek (from others) the knowledge you need, and share (with others) they knowledge that they would need. This involves having a very good idea of what knowledge is important, both to you, and to the organisation.

The KM teams responsibility is to facilitate and ensure this sharing, through provision and maintenance of (and training in) the processes and technologies, and through performance-managing the application of KM. This latter includes reminding, prompting, badgering, measuring, rewarding and recognising, and ultimately, if necessary, punishing.

Stuart's analogy is a good one. KM without KM roles is like a library without a librarian - destined to become a mess very quickly.

GS Krishnan said...

Nice Views on K-Managers' role.

The best measure of a maintenance manager is the least number of breakdowns needing his assistance. Similarly, the best measure of a K-Manager will be to make everyone a K-Manager so that his need will be the least.

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