Tuesday 18 June 2019

Beware of the self-funding trap for KM teams

In conversation with a Knowledge Manager last week, I was reminded of a trap that Knowledge Management teams can fall into if they are not careful.

In this organisation, the KM team was told they had to become "self-funding". In other words, they had to charge the business for their services, and this charge had to exceed their salaries.

Now firstly, this is the wrong model for KM teams. This team was in the later stages of KM, with Knowledge Management embedded within the business. At this stage, the role of the central team is to monitor and maintain the KM system. They do not work directly for the business, they work for senior management. They have a role like central finance, central Health and safety, or central Audit; none of which would be expected to be self-funding.

However, for whatever reason, management didn't understand this, and asked the team to pay their way.

As a result, the team have been charging out their time as process facilitators. Originally they were focusing on Knowledge Management processes, but to keep the funds coming in they have moved on to facilitating other types of meetings as well.

My concerns with this development are three-fold
  1. KM has become tactical - the role of the KM team has become "meeting facilitation"
  2. KM has become a cost rather than an investment, and
  3. The role of the KM team has become diluted - away from strategic knowledge activities into general facilitation duties.
If a KM team is to become self funding, I think you need to take a different direction altogether. You need to become a business problem-solving team. You need to 
  1. Work with the business to understand their knowledge issues; those business challenges and problems caused by lack of knowledge. The bigger the challenge the better.
  2. Charge your time to the business as a resource to solve the problems. Document this in a charter or performance agreement.
  3. Solve the problems, generating more business value than you cost.
This way KM is seen as operational rather than tactical, the work of the team is seen as an investment rather than a cost, and the role of KM remains that of helping the business to perform.

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