Thursday 15 September 2011

Top 7 tips for knowledge management success

I know I have made all these points before, so some may be a bit deja vu for regular readers, but here in one place are Knoco's top 7 tips for making Knowledge Management implementation work. You probably have more tips to share - please contribute these via the comments section.

1. KM needs to be business-driven.  It is vital that KM efforts are clearly linked to business outcome, with a clear business objective. I have a quote from a survey from the early 00s, that reads as follows
“Most successful knowledge management applications addressed a ‘life or death’ business situation. Successful cases answered two questions at the outset - What business objective am I trying to achieve? How can I apply existing knowledge?”

Here's another quote - "We have been looking at the key processes of the business, testing them for their "knowledge intensity" to see if we would create some significant new change in the performance of that particular process if we managed knowledge in a more profound way. The concept has not been difficult to sell to the top executive team." See how this approach starts with the key business processes?

Similarly Tom Davenport and co-authors, in the paper "Building successful Knowledge Management projects", conclude that "Link to economic performance or industry value" is the number one success factor for successful KM. Mars, for example, is implementing KM at a rate of two business issues per year. Work out your business focus areas, and work on delivering value in those areas.

2. KM needs to be introduced as a management framework. A Framework is a a small defined set of technologies and processes, embedded into business activity, and a small defined set of roles embedded into the organisational structure, all under an umbrella of Governance.  Like other management systems, effective KM is a framework of roles, processes, technologies and governance which has been embedded into the business. Just as Financial Management is not a single tool - budgets for example, or invoicing - and is not a toolbox ("you can try writing budgets if you like - here's a guide"), but is a complete framework embedded into the business process, so Knowledge Management needs a framework. If there are holes in the framework, it will not deliver value.

A common mistake is to introduce one element of the Framework - a technology for example - and expect knowledge to start to flow. It won't. It might trickle, but it won't flow.

3. KM needs to address Pull as well as Push. I have blogged about this many times - Push creates supply, Pull creates demand and the two need to be in balance. Too many organisations focus on knowledge sharing, not on knowledge seeking and re-use. Pull, in the early stages, is more powerful than push. Creating demand creates a market.

4. KM is a change process. It is not a gradual change either - it is a step-change. It is a remodelling of the organisation; a make-over, a new way of thinking. It needs to be treated as a change process and measured as a change process. Don't go into KM thinking that it is about a new IT tool, or just "trying out communities" - you won't get far if you don't start to address the hearts and minds. This also means that KM implementation must be structured like a change program (including a piloting component), and must have a strong team of change agents to implement the change.

5. KM Must be embedded in the business. If its not embedded, you risk "tipping back" to a pre-KM state. Many of the high profile failures of KM are due to a failure to embed. You can;t rely on KM being driven by the efforts of a central team. A central team are needed, but their role is an assurance and support role. The drive must come from the business.

6. KM needs not just high level support, but high level expectation. People do what they believe is expected of them. People are generally good workers, they want to do a good job, and if something is expected of them as part of the job, they generally do it. Expectation can be explicit or implicit - written or unwritten. Expectation comes from leadership, and from peers, and these two sources of expectation need to be aligned to be effective (there is no point in the boss saying "I expect you to have a work life balance" if all your peers are working to 10pm and expect you to be part of the team). So knowledge management needs to become an expectation, from management as well as from peers. Senior management in the organisation needs to make KM expectations clear by explicitly stating what needs to be done in Knowledge Management, and by whom. They need to write these expectations down, and keep reinforcing them by what they say. They also need to make sure these expectations do not get weakened by, or conflict with, other company structures and expectations.

7. KM needs to be delivered where the high value decisions are made. This might be at operator level (the operator of a plant, the driller of a deepwater well, the pilot of a passenger aircraft) or it might be at senior management level. Knowledge supports decisions, and decisions are made at all levels. In fact the most valuable and risky decisions are made at senior level. The default approach to supporting these senior management decisions is to hire a big-5 consultant firm to supply the knowledge, but there is no reason why KM can't help as well.  Delivering a high level KM pilot at senior level has three benefits.
  • It delivers massive value to the business
  • It engages senior managers in KM, and helps them understand the value KM can bring
  • It gets senior managers on-side, by solving their problems for them (see the thorn in the lions paw).
KM is something that is needed at all levels, and the sooner you involve the senior managers, the faster and smoother your implementation will become.


Beatriz Chatain said...

I completely agree with you Nick. I would add a last tip :since the decision is made to develop a business oriented KM strategy in your firm, start it as soon as possible and deliver a concrete result quickly, even a little one! As you mentioned, it is a step by step process so then it will never be completely finalized and this is normal. The feeling that the expectations raised are quickly taken into account is the best way to motivate and encourage other initiatives injecting enthusiasm into the whole process. A KM project which takes years in being “visible” tends to be discredited and people involved may feel disappointed.

Nick Milton said...

Thanks Beatriz

I address the issue of visibility here

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