Friday, 12 February 2021

Why roles are important in Knowledge Management

 Knowledge Management roles and accountabilities are one of the four legs on the KM table, but receive comparatively little attention. They seem to be a bit of a "blind spot". 


In our consulting work, we find that Knowledge Management roles often do not get the same level of attention as other KM components. Both our assessment and benchmarking services and our free online surveys show KM roles to be one of the weakest elements.  Google finds five times as many hits for "knowledge management processes" than it does for "knowledge management roles". And I have had many conversations recently which made me think that roles are just not perceived as important.

For example, the KM consultant who said "I just include roles as part of processes. They are just about the people who are needed to do a process". Another example was the consultant who explained that the "people" aspect of his people/tools/content triumvirate referred to behaviours and culture, with nothing related to roles at all.

However accountable roles are required in any management system.

No financial management system would survive without accountable roles such as budget holders, financial clerks and chief financial officers. No safety management system would survive without HSE staff. No HR system would survive without accountable roles for hiring and for staff management. 

Knowledge management is the same; roles and accountabilities are needed. Most organisations will need to assign some of the roles and accountabilities below.

Obviously not all of these roles are needed - each organisation will have a selection, based on their business and on the details of their KM framework. The graph below, taken from our KM surveys, shows the relative usage of some of the main roles, and how this changes with KM maturity (the green bars being the answers from the organisations where KM is fully embedded. 



As I explain in this blog post, some of these are full-time roles in the KM team, some are roles are accountabilities for people within the business (for example the accountability given to an SME for maintaining the body of knowledge related to their subject matter), and some are specific knowledge roles (such as a KM champion in a business unit, or a knowledge manager on a project).

Without such roles and accountabilities, KM becomes "everyones job" which is the same as becoming "nobody's job".  I shared a taxi in Kuwait once with Jeff Stemke, who used to be head of KM at Chevron, and he told me "the most important thing we did (at Chevron) was to make people accountable for knowledge".

So as you plan your KM implementation, think not just about the technology suite, the process suite and the elements of governance; think also about the structure of roles and accountabilities you will need to introduce, and plan your Knowledge Management organisational structure.


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