Governance seems to be the
neglected element in many KM programs, but is an essential part of
any management framework. You can have all the roles, processes and
technologies you need, but without governance Knowledge Management
may never get off the ground.
In this newsletter members of
our world-wide Knoco family address this crucial element,
explore the three components of governance, and look at what happens
when governance is missing.
We have seen many examples
of organisations with what look like very good Knowledge Management
systems which are not being used. For example, they might have defined
accountability for capturing knowledge from projects, they might have
a defined process for lessons capture meetings, and they might have a
top range lessons management system, and yet only a trickle of
lessons are entering the database, and even fewer are actually
So what is missing, when a
system is in place but is not used? You could say "culture"
or "behaviours" - but both of these are outcomes of
something else. To understand what else is needed, let's think about
what makes people adhere to other systems at work. For example, what
makes people follow the (sometimes onerous) safety procedures, or the
security procedures, or the time writing procedures?
The answer is Governance.
In each successful case, people know the rules and expectations, they
know how to follow the rules, and they know if they don't follow the
rules, there will be consequences. These three elements are the
elements of governance, and apply to every management system, at work
or at home.
Our knowledge management
assessments show that governance is one of the least well developed
aspects of KM, but is one of the elements that will make most impact
to the longevity of your KM program. Read on to learn more, or
contact us for help in developing your own KM governance program.
Knowledge is a key factor that
influences on performance of teams and efficiency of processes. Because
of this, when an organization takes the decision of implement a
knowledge management model it’s crucial to integrate it in a
We see the KM governance frame
having three main elements:
·The company expectations about knowledge management:
what level of KM activity is expected, who is expected to do it, what
standard is expected, and when it should be done. These
expectations can be set out in a KM policy or similar document, and
there may be separate expectations for sub-components of KM such as
communities of practice, lesson learning and the corporate knowledge
·Performance management: measuring the application of
knowledge management, looking for the teams and individuals that are
performing well against the expectations and recognising them, and
looking for the teams and individuals that are performing poorly and
offering them support.
·Support: the resources offered to support people in
meeting the KM expectations, including resources for training,
coaching and monitoring, and online reference resources, elearning
and manuals that cover the KM processes, roles and technologies.
Those three elements together -
clarity of expectation, a link to performance
management and a high level of support – make sure the
KM task gets done, despite the distraction of more urgent (though
often less important) work activities.
Through my years working in
Knowledge Management in both the military and civilian realms, one of
the items that always comes up is the importance of governance for
the program. Establishment of clear expectations for how
Knowledge Management program will work in the organization provides
that much needed guidance for the Knowledge workers in the company.
There are three simple things
to consider when developing these expectations:
·Ensure your Knowledge Management
policy follows the
mission and vision of the organization. Having your
governance nested with the mission and vision links your program to
the larger strategic goals of the company and gains that crucial
buy-in from the Corporate Levels of the company.
·Include a statement from the leadership expressing the
importance of the program. This can be a simple one page forward or
memorandum from the person who is either the company president or the
person who acts in the Chief of Staff role for the organization. This
statement gives validity to your program and shows the middle
management they need to take this policy seriously.
·Understand who is your audience: If your company is at
one location with only local individuals then KM governance and
a KM policy are relatively easy to develop. However, if the
organization involves multiple locations and especially different cultures,
these have to be kept in consideration.
These considerations, no matter
if the organization is only 50 people from the local neighbourhood or
50,000 people from 64 nations gives the focus on your program and the
importance it is not only to yourself but how it affects the entire
mission of the company.
Good governance requires good
metrics, and you cannot govern what you cannot measure. This is as
true of Knowledge Management as it is of anything. we need to be able
to measure both compliance with the KM expectations, and also KM
activity levels down to the level of the individual.
We need to know:
·Who are the experts in our key focus areas, and how
engaged are they with the communities?
·What are the topics for which we lack expertise?
·How can we prevent our company from a loss of critical
knowledge related to turnover or retirement of employees?
·How well are we disseminating knowledge in our
In our changing world, with
dispersed organisations and more and more complex business issues, it
is essential to answer precisely these questions to build and steer a
successful knowledge management program. Luckily there are a lot more
online networks about nowadays, the concept of CoP is widespread,
and the ability to collect big data about Community activity.
However, there often is a lack
of analysis tools for the transformation of raw data into meaningful
and useful information for Knowledge Management purposes. An
efficient solution is based on three pillars: defining
indicators which reflect quantity and quality of knowledge and
knowledge sharing; using advanced algorithms such graph theory to
model relations between knowledge objects; and, finally, making the
results accessible, usable and visible through graphics and
In the last decades management
models (once focused in specific areas: customer, processes, quality
etc) are converging to global models. Knowledge management, as one of
those global models, can take advantage of some of those
already-embedded approaches. One particular case is the alignment
by Objectives (MBO).
MBO is implanted in a large
number of organizations. It’s about starting from the corporate goals
and business drivers, assigning (in cascade) particular targets to
business units, areas and departments, and so on until you reach
individual targets. MBO is a very rich model as it allows different
levels of target assignment and appraisal:
·Performance: related to the measurable achievements.
·Accomplishment: related to assigned functions or
·Commitment: related to some desired behaviors.
This model is totally
aligned with the background of the governance frame, particularly for
individuals with a KM role to play, such as the KM champions, the
departmental or project knowledge managers, the community of practice
coordinators or the process owners. So, if you are implementing (or
have already implemented) a knowledge management model and one of
your concerns is related with governance, you can develop or align
your existing model of MBO to ensure that it includes also the
appraisal of KM-related aspects of specific roles, or just general
engagement with the KM expectations of the organisation.
Contact us for help in building a KM performance
The starting point is that
Lessons Learned itself is an act of Governance; making sure positive
lessons and techniques are promulgated, and that something is done
about negative outcomes. Unfortunately we regularly see organisations
"observe" lessons without actioning them, and in many cases
we can trace multi-million dollar losses occurring, with the
probability of ongoing losses. This important role of Lessons Learned
has finally been acknowledged in ISO9001-2015.
Within a Lessons Learned regime
there are three important points of governance.
·The first is Root
Cause Analysis. This is a well-established practice
and we encourage it. It means continuing to ask "Why" until
you have identified the actual factor (and ALL the factors)
responsible for a specific organisational outcome. Too
often we see organisations jumping to the first conclusion resulting
in re-occurrence of the outcome.
·The second is Validation.
It comes up frequently when we discuss Lessons Learned with
organisations. This means that the Lesson is validated by a subject
matter expert, preferably within the organisation. Again we are
seeking a complete understanding of the context and outcome. Even if
the lesson is raised by a senior and experienced person, it should
still be submitted to peer review to test for completeness.
·The third is ensuring action. A lesson is not learned
until something has changes, and every lesson is associated with a
change action. The lessons learned regime ensures these actions are
assigned, and taken. Once the action is complete, the lesson can be
These 3 points of
governance are important in all lesson-learning systems. Where they
really stand out is when it is established that the outcome was due
to non-compliance. In that case the organisation has nothing to
"learn", and the Validation and Root Cause Analysis will
replace the reported "lesson" with a new one around
training and discipline. The Lessons Management Hub (LMH) software
embodies these governance points.
Contact us to learn more about effective lesson learning
and the Lessons Management Hub
Do you know what Brownian
motion is? Brownian motion is the random movement of microscopic
particles suspended in a liquid or gas, caused by collisions with
molecules of the surrounding medium. For the external observer the
movement is completely chaotic, although a lot of energy is involved.
The key word here is
"random", which is what I saw in
a recent implementation program for an educational portal.
The portal was a great tool with a complex functionality, an easy way
to create its own e-courses, support social activity and cooperation,
find experts, make surveys and questionnaires, and of course to
collect and share knowledge. It was a really great tool, and people
liked it. However the downfall of the project was the Brownian motion
Different people in different
places of the organization implemented the functionality they
liked or were simply fascinated in. Sometimes other people joined
them. Sometimes not. Sometimes they stopped using a
particular tool, or changed the subject of their interest. They
were no rules, no clear expectations, so they could stop whenever
they wanted and start something new. From my external observer's
point of view it was just random activity.
What was lacking was a
clear Governance framework, with a set of expectations
related to the question "What do we want to achieve?" This
would put some rules on the chaotic activity, stop the Brownian
motion, and direct the flow of knowledge in service of the company's
When Nick requested input for a
newsletter focused on governance, it made me wonder how many boards
of organisations actively apply Knowledge Management to the improvement
In his book The Corporate Citizen Mervyn King (South Africa's
governance guru and author of the King Reports) says that "Good
governance is a journey and not a destination. It is a continuous
learning process". Interestingly, knowledge and the development
of experience features frequently in the book and Mervyn King
highlights the danger of "asymmetrical knowledge" at board
level produced by an imbalance in internal "coalface"
knowledge of a business with external experience. He also makes a
point that rigidity in process can dilute enterprise.
Governance, like many
organisational activities, is a dynamic process that should
continuously improve in order to meet the challenge of changing
external and internal dynamics. From King's perspective quality and
continuous improvement should be fostered in the company's control
procedures. Like the revised ISO9001:2015 standard, this focuses attention
on how an organisation is led. If leaders make the judgement call on
introducing KM, it is vitally important that they should contribute
to defining how it will be applied to add value by applying their
"coalface knowledge of the business".
Knoco has found this to be a
key differentiator of success versus failure when it comes to KM
implementation. Where leaders abdicate this important judgement call
to people with limited knowledge of the business and the way in which
it creates and delivers value, the return on the investment is much
harder to achieve. For this reason, good KM governance should include
a regular health check, where the effectiveness of KM processes are
reviewed and lessons learned reapplied to continuously improve the
value adding capability the KM team can bring by exercising
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"This is the most comprehensive book I have ever read on the implementation of knowledge management. Whether you are just starting out or a seasoned professional, it is all here. Absolutely a first-rate reference." (Robert H Buckman, retired Chairman and CEO, Bulab Holdings, Inc)
I am a director for Knoco, the international firm of knowledge management consultants, offering a range of knowledge management services, including knowledge management strategy, knowledge management framework development, and knowledge management implementation services.
I also have an interest in Lessons Learned