I was forwarded two articles last week, coincidentally covering the same topic.
The first was from the National Interest, which looked at the "Learn and Adapt" (KM) policy as applied by the US Army in Iraq and Afghanistan. The article suggests that the learning and adaptation dogma had been focused at the tactical level, on Counter Insurgency work (COIN), completely omitting the strategic level. I quote ...
"Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey released a report in June 2012 assessing what the American military had “learned” in operations since the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center. The report is striking in its underlying acceptance of the counterinsurgency narrative, and the learning and adapting paradigm. The report noted that for the “first half of the decade” the American military fumbled at COIN in Iraq and Afghanistan. But roughly by 2007 it finally started to learn and adapt at COIN operations and became better. Nowhere in the report, however, is there any kind of objective assessment of exactly what counterinsurgency operations had achieved strategically and politically in Iraq and Afghanistan".So the Army had been getting much better at tactical learning, but ommitted the strategic learning.
The second article was an hbr blog post from 2011, by Max Boisot and colleagues, entitled "Are you wasting money on useless knowledge management". Again, the authors were bewailing the fact that so many companies apply Knowledge Management at a tactical level only.
Most companies recognize the need for knowledge management, but often delegate it to the IT and HR departments without linking it to corporate strategy, often thereby wasting both resources and the strategic options their firm’s knowledge could generate. The problem is that most current knowledge management efforts merely inventory the company’s knowledge, without parsing out the knowledge that is strategically relevant. Strategic management of knowledge focuses only on those knowledge assets that are critical to your firm’s competitive performance — from the tacit expertise of key individuals right through to explicit company-wide general principles.Both of these articles are a salutary reminder.
To add value, Knowledge Management must be strategic.
In any Knowledge Management implementation, you may need to earn the right, at tactical level, to become strategic, but as soon as you can you need to take the strategic focus.
Here are three steps to take
- Build a good Knowledge management strategy, focused on the critical and strategic knowledge areas.
- Engage the senior managers in a conversation about strategic opportunities
- Start to work with the generals, instead of the GIs.
Take these steps, and with any luck you will avoid the pitfall of winning the (tactical) battle, but losing the (strategic) war.