Monday, 13 October 2014

What really matters for KM analogues?

In Knoco, we very often have clients contact us and ask something like "do you have any examples of successful Knowledge Management in the Canadian farm machinery manufacturing business? The answer to such a detailed question is almost always No. 

 Although we have 15 years experience in working Knowledge Management, with close to 100 different clients, we have not yet covered every variant of every industry in every country.

However the client is looking for similarities - for analogues - and they don't have to narrow their field quite so closely.

The techniques of Knowledge management, and the details of the Knowledge Management framework, are largely independent of the content of the knowledge (just as  the techniques of Risk Management are largely independent of the nature of the risks).

However if you ARE a client in the Canadian farm machinery manufacturing business and you are looking for Knowledge Management analogues, then here are some of the things to consider.

Guidance for KM analogues.

Firstly there will be no perfect analogue - nothing you can copy and paste. Your Knowledge Management framework needs to be integrated with your business, and with the structures and systems you already have working for you. It needs to be tailored to fit, not bought off the peg.

Secondly, consider the nature of your business, and the nature of your important knowledge. Specifically, are you a Process company, a Product company, or a Customer company? Does your critical knowledge concern your processes, your product, or your customer base? The way KM addresses these three - the practices you use, the roles you develop - are different. Process based organisations such as the military and the oil sector approach KM one way, product based organisations such as the legal world and the aircraft manufacturers approach it a different way.

Thirdly, consider your size. Are you a one-office company? If so, you will manage knowledge in a very different way to a multinational. Communities of practice, for example, may be much less relevant to you, and much of your knowledge transfer should be face to face. If you operate a single hotel, or a single airport, then your KM needs will be very different from an owner of a hotel chain, or an operator of multiple airports, who will need to compare practices, and share knowledge, across multiple sites.

Fourthly, look at your demographics. Are you a company full of young but inexperienced people who need to learn together, and learn fast? Are you a company full of  ageing experienced staff, where knowledge retention is a big issue? Are you a start-up, needing to spread the knowledge currently held in the head of the founder?

Finally look at your national culture. Different nationalities have different approaches to elements such as leadership, tolerance of ambiguity, and individualism. Methods of Knowledge Management that work in Thailand may not work in the Netherlands, and vice versa. Cutting and Pasting from different national cultures is a risky business.

Can you have KM analogues at all?

You most certainly can have KM analogues, within the limits described here. All western-based product-focused multinationals manage knowledge in a similar way, for example; and that is a wide field to choose from (it is also the field that has published the most case studies).  Western engineering companies with ageing demographics are beginning to converge on similar strategies for Knowledge Retention. I suspect similar patterns to emerge in Eastern organisations as well, from conferences such as KM Asia and KM Singapore.

Yes, you can have analogues.

Don't look in too narrow a field, but look at your industry type, your company size, your demographics and your national culture, and maybe a Canadian farm machinery manufacturing business can learn from the KM practices of a Swedish pump manufacturer, or a Swiss chemicals company.

And somewhere in our 100 clients, we probably have an analogue for you

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