Monday 6 September 2021

The Middle Management layer in KM - blockers? Or enablers?

Middle management can form an almost impenetrable layer to knowledge management in many organisations.

Image from wikimedia commons

The two main stakeholder groupings for KM are the senior managers and the knowledge workers. The value proposition for the senior managers is that KM will deliver greater efficiency, greater effectiveness, faster growth, bigger market share, faster time to market, and happier customers. The value proposition for the individual knowledge workers is that KM will provide then with easy access to reliable knowledge that will save them time, will reduce their risk of failure, and will make their results better.

However between these two groups lies a layer of middle management; the sales directors, the plant managers, the project managers etc.

These are the people who have tough choices to make. They are the resource allocators. They have demanding customers, tight budgets, and tighter deadlines. Every penny they spend on KM is a penny less to spend on operational issues. KM, for them, is two steps away from operations (the first step is that operations requires knowledge, the second is that knowledge requires management).

The result is that these are the people for whom KM is the toughest sell - the people who won't be swayed by high level arguments or appeals to emotion.

Here is what John Keeble, CKO at Enterprise Oil, had to say

"It is that bunch between (top management and the "coalface" that I think are almost the most important - the team leaders, the middle management. They are the people who are constantly trying to juggle this dilemma of too much to do and not enough people. So if you cant convince them of the value of knowledge management, its likely not to get the resources applied to it. So then you get the situation where in theory you have support from the top, and demand from the base, but that demand from the base is being frustrated by the fact that their managers aren't freeing them up to do it. And that can be a very negative cycle if you get trapped in it. Overall I think you have got to get support from all levels, but it is very easy to overlook that middle management level, and they are perhaps the most important"

Make sure your stakeholder management plan clearly addresses the middle managers as a core group, and that you have a well worked business case that addresses their concerns. Show them how KM is an investment in resource, how knowledge is a resource for them and their teams, and how currently its unmanaged, or mismanaged. Show that that KM is not a waste of resources, but an application of resources, which will benefit their results and streamline their activities.

If you can get them on board they are your greatest enablers. If not, they can be the toughest blockers.

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