Tuesday 28 July 2009

Governance framework for Knowledge Management

Introducing Knowledge Management is widely recognised as a culture change process, and once the culture has been introduced, along with the roles, the processes and the technologies, then it's tempting to think "Job Done!

But you cannot just assume that cultures will stay changed! Even with long-established management cultures such as the culture of financial rigour, there are always the lazy people who fudge the figures, or the unscrupulous individuals who "cook the books". However as as far as financial management is concerned, there will be good governance in place. There is a clearly defined compliance standard that defines what acceptable financial management is, and any company that wants to operate in the market place abides by the standard and plays by the rules. If the rules are broken, there are sanctions and punishments, as the directors of Enron found out to their cost. These rules, standards and sanctions are partly responsible for ensuring that good financial management is widespread and sustained, despite the odd bad apple.

As yet, there are few governance standards or governance systems being applied to Knowledge Management. Many companies assume KM will be sustained by the enthusiasm and belief of the practitioners. However this enthusiasm is not endless, and KM implementation often falls into a familiar pattern:

1. Knowledge Management introduced with a fanfare and management support
2. Implementation team set up, with budgets and targets
3. Implementation team delivers successful high-profile pilots in some areas of the business, and introduces some new technologies and processes
4. Implementation team realizes that implementing Knowledge Management is going to be slower and more difficult than anticipated
5. Management loses patience and declares victory anyway, prematurely closing down the implementation team
6. Knowledge Management continues for a while, sustained by enthusiasts and champions, but never becomes an established management discipline, and gradually dwindles away.

I have seen this "dwindling" happen very often, once the initial driving force is removed.

Why does this happen? Why does Knowledge Management so rarely survive the departure of the implementation team? Is there something that we can learn from the implementation of other successfully sustained management practices? Yes there is - the answer is Governance.

Governance for me refers to all of the management and organisational elements that need to be in place to ensure an asset (in this case Knowledge) is managed properly and with rigour in a sustained way.

If you are a manager and you want to get something done in your organization, you need to set three things in place.
  • Firstly, you need to make it very clear what you want done.

  • Secondly, you have to give people the tools and the training to do it.

  • Thirdly, you need to check that they've done what you want it.

This is true in all areas of life. If you wanted to get your teenage son or daughter to mow the lawn, for example, you would firstly be very clear with them what you expected them to do, secondly you would show them where the lawnmower is, and tell them how to use it. Finally you would check that they really have done it. Without the clarity of expectation and explanation, they would most likely claim that they weren't sure what to do and so not do it, or else they would half-do the job, leaving the edges untrimmed and the grass clippings all over the lawn. If you don't give them the lawnmower and show them how to use it, they wouldn't be able to get started anyway, and if you didn't check up on them, the likelihood is that they might be distracted by more urgent activities such as the PlayStation, or instant messaging their friends. Those three elements - clarity of expectation, the tools to do the job, and monitoring – make sure the job gets done. They form a governance system for mowing the lawn. The same three elements are needed in a governance framework for KM.

Management disciplines are sustained, because there is a framework fo governance to sustain them. Again if we look at financial management, everybody in the organization is clear on what is expected of them. They know that they will have to prepare budgets at the start of any significant piece of work. They know they will have to do cost tracking as the work continues, and will have to balance the books at the end of the job. They will have the tools to do these activities, such as SAP or Excel spreadsheets, and they will have the training they need. They also know that management will be checking that they have done what they're supposed to do, and there may well be periodic audits to check compliance against the expectations. Whether or not the employees believe that financial management is a good thing, the company has put in place a framework to ensure that it happens.

Imagine if a similar governance framework were applied to Knowledge Management. Imagine if the staff in your organization knew that they had to do a “knowledge budget" [or other learning and planning activity] at the start of any significant piece of work. Imagine they knew that they would have to do knowledge tracking as the work continues, and "balance the knowledge books" by capturing their learning at the end of the job. Imagine that they had the tools to do these activities, and the training to use the tools, and also that management will be checking that they've done what they are supposed to do. Whether or not the individual employees believes that Knowledge Management is a good thing, such a governance framework would ensure that it happened.

The framework we recognise for Knowledge Management therefore contains the following elements (see Figure):

  • A set of clear corporate expectations for how knowledge will be managed in the organization, including accountabilities for the ownership of key knowledge areas, and the definition of corporate standards for Knowledge Management.

  • A Knowledge Management system, providing the means by which knowledge can be managed. This is not just an IT system, but a holistic management system, which will include
    • Roles for Knowledge Management

    • Processes for capturing, organizing, accessing and communicating knowledge.

    • Technologies for capturing, organizing, accessing and communicating knowledge.

  • A person or team monitoring and measuring the application of KM, to make sure that people are delivering on their accountabilities, and applying the system in the way that they are expected to, to identify the need for new interventions to improve the KM system, and to ensure a continuous improvement in the ability of the organization to manage strategic knowledge.

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