Tuesday, 4 February 2014


your CKO - an internal or an external appointment?


This is a common question;  you are implementing Knowledge Management at your organisation - should your CKO be an internal appointment, or should you find a KM expert to help you?

Our advice is that it should be an internal appointment, and here's why.

As we have often said, Knowledge Management is a simple idea, but very difficult to do in practice.

The idea - that people should share knowledge with each other and learn from each other - is not a complicated idea. The complicated thing is getting it to actually happen. Implementing KM is about culture change, and culture change is both difficult and highly politically charged.

The value in having an internal appointment (and not just an internal appointment, but an internal change agent), is that they know the politics. They know how to get things done in the organisation; they know how to drive change. And that, as we know, is the difficult part of KM implementation.

Learning enough Knowledge Management to be a CKO can be done quickly, with the right mentoring and coaching.

Learning the politics of an organisation can take years, if not an entire career.

So look for someone who can do the difficult task, not the simple task. Look for an internal appointment, look for someone who knows the organisation inside out, and look for someone who has a proven record of driving change in that organisation.

9 comments:

Rupert Lescott said...

This is a tricky issue but I agree that internal champions for KM are, on balance, what we're after. The zeal with which an external appointee will bring to KM will be met in equal measure by internal resistance from those that have yet to be persuaded of the need for change. As with all interventions - better to encourage the good stuff and let the bad take care of itself...doing the reverse will simply increase resistance.

Lawrence Niculescu said...

The devil is in the details... an internal appointee knows the details better than an outsider. Besides, sometimes there is need of an internal authority -- to hire, to fire, to persuade. Persuading from outside is a more difficult task. So yes, an internal appointment is better. I'd like to hear the altra parte.

Lawrence Niculescu said...

The devil is in the details... an internal appointee is better as he/she knows the details that count in driving change. Besides, there is sometimes need for administrative authority to hire, to fire, and to persuade. Persuasion from outside is difficult and not always effective. Finally, to an insider it's part of one's career, and ownership involves more engagement than just counseling. So yes, an internal appointee sounds better. I'd like to hear the altra parte.

Bonnie Cheuk said...

Interesting question indeed! Throughout my career, I have been appointed CKO from the outside in to various industries, and with luck and support and hard work, I manage to drive change and bring tangible KM benefits to deliver business goals. It has been hard work but possible! I think the secret ingredients to make this possible are: (1) strong CEO buy-in to transform the business to be knowledge-driven: (2) the need to bring new perspectives in from outside when internally the company does not have change leaders with KM skills and passion; (3) and most importantly, as a newbie, I surround myself with a few good mentors and coaches who have been with the firm for over 20 years who can help me to navigate the maze and the politics. And I partner with business leaders who are trusted by the employees and leverage their network to bring about change.

anneke de lange said...

Here's some altra parte. Since about eight years I am working as an internally appointed KM worker at a law firm. Before that I worked ten years as a KM consultant for an IT company specialized in expert systems. I have experienced being at either side of the coin.
Internal means: + knowing the culture (that has to be changed), + knowing the stakeholders, users and decision makers, not only by name but also by character, + knowing the history of earlier KM initiatives (or attempts). Disadvantages however are: - the lack of urgency that is being felt, - low intensity; - KM initiaves can more easily be sabotaged before they really started in the first place, - competition with other organisational priorities.
External means: + often project based; + clearer cost-benefit appraisal; + more clear-cut if well defined, + high intensity .Disadvantages are: - higher treshold to get started, - risk of missing out the crucial stakeholder or KM advocate, - availability of the key persons within the limited project time.
For me a preference for on or the other depends on organisation characteristics, KM objectives, KM maturity stage within the organisation and many other parameters.

robin van kippersluis said...

There is never a clear cut answer to such questions: it all depends! In KM leadership the importance of momentum is vital in my view. And to create momentum sometimes external people can be more powerful then established forces. Obviously one also needs to understand an organisation deeply to be able to really make a change in how people work, connect, interact and share ... What are your views on the ideal composition of a corporate KM leadership team?

Nick Milton said...

What do you mean by "leadership team" in this context, Robin?

Ping-fa said...

Well you need knowledge in hand (in head actually) to share it; and while I would argue that every single job on the planet requires knowledge it is the exception - not the rule - that an individual worker's knowledge is mission critical - an intellectual asset that would cost if that person walked out the door without a parting word. So the pool of workers in any organization that would have the ability to move into the CKO role is extremely limited. Significant academic instruction and training would be required, including experience at related - and unrelated enterprises. As one of the KM leading lights said to me once, "KM is not rocket science. It's harder than rocker science."

Nick Milton said...

The pool of workers is not that limited. You need to find a strong change agent, with a deep knowledge of the organisation. They can buy in the KM support and experience to help them, but that's the easy part.

KM is simple but difficult. It is more difficult than rocket science because it involves change, and change (as all the psychiatrists tell you) must come from within. In this case, from within the organisation.

Blog Archive