Very few company presidents or CEOs will wake up one morning and “decide” to implement KM. Instead, like any other change, implementation is a series of decisions, and each decision rests on a basis of necessary evidence.
The chain of decisions is as follows.
1. The decision to investigate whether Knowledge Management would be something worth pursuing for your organisation. This is a decision to set up a task force, or to commission some studies to gain some idea of whether KM is something the company needs to invest in. The task force will need to do some investigation, and see whether a case can be made for KM.
2. The decision (as a result of the assessment) that the organization needs improved Knowledge Management, and to proceed to find out how much investment is required. The task force will need to assess the current state of KM in the organisation. If the assessment shows that improvement in KM is needed, then further work is needed to scope out the scale of the implementation, to set the strategy, and to do a first-pass costing of what the implementation exercise might cost.
3. The decision to set up a KM implementation program, with a full-time team and budget. Once the organisation understands the scope of the KM implementation exercise, they fund a team and get going. At this stage they will have a KM strategy and implementation plan, and can conduct some proof of concept exercises as a trial of KM in the organisation.
4. The decision to pilot KM in high profile areas. If the small scale trials are successful, and KM has not fallen flat on it’s face or run into political road blocks, then the company may decide to scale up, and run some full scale pilots to fully road-test an integrated KM system. By this time, KM is becoming quite high profile, and quite high cost.
5. The decision to roll out KM as a required discipline to the whole organisation. The pilots were successful, the value of KM to the business and to the employees is proven, and the integrated KM system is robust. Now is the decision – not to be taken lightly! – whether to roll out a KM system to the whole organisation, as a part of the company management framework. This is the point of no return.
6. Once KM is embedded, the decision to stand down the implementation team and hand over to management within the business. Once roll-out is over, the company has to decide when to stand down the implementation team, and hand responsibility for KM over to a steady state organisation
Treating KM as a series of incremental decisions has two main benefits. Firstly, it allows incremental investment rather than ‘trust me, it will work out OK’ management. This is sensible prudent decision-making.
The investment in each stage will be a little larger than the previous stage – a task force costs less than a team, which costs less than a series of pilots, which costs less than a roll-out campaign. Each incremental increase in cost is built on a decision, which depends on the results of the previous stage, and on how well KM has proven itself. And at any point up until decision 5, the company can change its mind, because it is not fully committed. Beyond step 5 the company is committed to roll-out.
And that’s the second advantage. If each decision is made by the right people, based on the right information and the right criteria, then you shouldn't have to revisit the decisions later. Each decision should be documented, and should stand on its own merits; without assuming a benefit that hasn't been delivered yet. You shouldn't have to keep re-justifying, and remaking decisions.
So who are the right people to make the decisions? They need to be senior, and they need to have authority to spend the money. Decision number 5 – the decision to roll out KM – needs to be made at the highest level. You need the support of the CEO to make a company-wide change like this.
However by the time it comes to decision 5, you will have a series of successful trials and pilots that demonstrate that KM works in your organisation, and delivers real value.