Wednesday 18 July 2012

Why KM is about people, but not about human capital

You often hear that Knowledge Management is "all about people", and like many one-liners, this is half true, tells some but not all of the story, and can be read the wrong way. And what this statement doesn't mean, is that it is "all about individuals", and therefore best handled by the HR department.

Let's look for a moment at the famous Skandia Intellectual Capital model, and consider where KM might sit. It certainly sits within the Intellectual Capital branch, but is it a part of human capital?

Human capital is generally considered to be the attributes of the people who work at the organisation - their leadership characteristics, their skills, talent, competence, education, intelligence, know-how, creativity, and so on. These are humans seen as individuals, and the sum of their individual attributes. Knowledge management can help enhance some of these attributes, but Knowledge Management itself is not an individual attribute.

Knowledge Management is a way to make knowledge into a corporate asset, not just an individual asset.  KM is the framework structure of relationships, roles, processes, technologies and governance that an organisation puts in place that allows knowledge to be treated as a common asset, and which allows relevant know-how, insight and experience from others to be accessed and applied to business problems. Knowledge management, for me, sits within Structural Capital. It is part of the "supportive infrastructure, processes and databases of the organisation that enable human capital to function". It probably sits within the subset of Organisational Capital (organization philosophy and systems for leveraging the organization’s capability). KM is a system for leveraging the organisation's Knowledge capability, and will enhance and enable human capital, customer capital, innovation capital and process capital.

KM therefore belongs with the people who look after the philosophy and systems (and I don't mean IT systems) rather than with the people who look after the individuals. KM sits with the organisational designers, not with HR.

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