Monday 10 October 2022

Why "85% of KM initiatives have no stated objectives" is a scary observation

If it is true that 85% of KM initiatives have no stated objective, then its no surprise they so often fail.

Image from wikimedia commons
In an unpublished 2011 presentation, now unfortunately no longer on the web, Bob Armacost quoted the results of a survey run by KPMG as follows:
  • "80% of companies in a recent survey said that they had KM initiatives under way
  • Of those companies, 85% had no stated objectives for their KM initiative".
 I suppose it depends what you mean by "stated objectives", but even so, that's a scary statistic.

Given that so many KM initiatives fail, then to start an initiative with no clear business objective is surely a rash thing to so.  Clarity of purpose is one of our 7 top success factors for successful KM implementation.

So what sort of objective might the KM initiative have?

ISO 30401, the ISO management systems standard for Knowledge Management, in its very first "requirements" clause, talks about having defined "Outcomes" for your KM initiative. The outcomes are the business results you want to achieve, set by the business drivers for attempting KM in the first place.

Our KM surveys in 2014, 2017 and 2020 tested 7 business drivers, and found they were ranked as follows, with high numbers equating to high ranking:

  • KM to improve operational effectiveness - rank 5.2
  • KM to increase internal efficiency (time and cost) - rank 5.1
  • KM to provide a better service to clients and customers - rank 4.7
  • KM to retain knowledge at risk of loss - rank 4.4
  • KM to improve internal innovation - rank 3.9
  • KM to enable company growth - rank 3.5
  • KM to improve health, safety or environmental record - rank 2.4.

Each of these is a potential outcome. Depending on which business driver is relevant to your organisations (and different industries have different drivers for KM), then impacting this business driver must surely be a stated objective for KM.  If your organisation wishes to become more efficient through the use of KM, then one stated objective of your KM program must be to improve efficiency, measured through reductions in cost and time.

You can map your KM initiatives onto this objective using a strategy map, you can put metrics in place to measure KM activity, and you can seek anecdotal or even measured evidence that KM activity is linked to delivery of this business objective. 

You can then declare an objective such as "Improved knowledge management will deliver efficiency improvements in our capital projects resulting in an average 5% cost reduction against the 2016 baseline", or "Improved knowledge management in our contact centres and online customer support will result in a 5% improvement on Net Promoter Score against the 2016 baseline."

The value of a clear objective and outcome

It may initially seem scary to link KM to a measurable business outcome, but let me tell you three things:

  • Lots of people have done it, and this blog contains over 100 examples of metricated business impact from KM
  • Your senior management will really appreciate it, and your KM program will be all the safer from having a clear link to business deliverables. No manager will support the development of KM for its own sake, but will support it if there is stated value to the organisation;
  • You will find this business objective clarifies your KM program considerably, and allows you to focus only on those things that add real value. It will make your life simpler and clearer.
  • You will find it easier to map, measure and report progress.

Don't be part of the 85% with no defined objective. Get smart, and define clear goals.

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