Tuesday, 4 August 2015

Is KM "everyone's responsibility"?

Who is responsible for knowledge management in an organisation? Is it everyone's responsibility? Or do you need specific roles?

We often hear people ask "We all work with knowledge, so surely knowledge management is everyone's job? Why do we need knowledge management roles? Or a KM team?"

The answer is that everyone is responsible for working with knowledge - for using, creating and sharing it - but some people need to go beyond this general responsibility. Some people are not just responsible, they are accountable for either some facet of KM, or for KM as a whole.

Think of knowledge as rather like safety. We all need to be safe, and safety is everyone's responsibility. However we still need accountable HSE professionals within the business to assure HSE delivery, and you need a central Safety department to ensure the system works.

Or take Quality as another example. Everyone is responsible for ensuring their work is to a high standard of quality, but you still have Quality managers accountable for quality management in buinsess departments, and you still have a head of Quality accountable for ensuring the quality system works.

Its the same with knowledge; knowledge management will not happen without roles and accountabilities. These include;

If you took away the HSE roles, would a safety culture survive? Not for long, I suspect. Nor would a Quality culture survive for long if you removed the Quality professionals.

If you took away the KM roles, I don't think a knowledge culture would last long either.

Here's something Tom Davenport said in his article for CIO magazine in 1997, "Common pitfalls of knowledge management", which I think puts it brilliantly.

"It should be everyone's job to create, share, and use knowledge-to some degree. But let's face reality here. Every engineer in your organization, for example, should be creating and using new product development knowledge. But not every engineer will (or can) do a good job writing down what he or she knows. Everyone should reflect on life, but not everyone should write poems or novels about his or her musings. Knowledge management will not succeed if there are no workers and managers whose primary duties involve gathering and editing knowledge from those who have it, paving the way for the operation of knowledge networks, and setting up and managing knowledge technology infrastructures.

The next time someone starts spouting the "it's everybody's job" rigmarole to me, I'm going to retort, "So I guess since it's everybody's job to monitor costs and enhance revenues, you've also eliminated the finance and accounting departments?"

Thanks Tom; nicely put!

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