Thursday 9 May 2013

KM in big companies - global elements, local adaptations

"If we believe that KM should be implemented on a global level and the rest of the business structure have been set based on geographical locations, surely embedding KM would be tough!" 

This was a comment I received yesterday on Linked-In from Roxana Bahrami, in response to my post about  embedding Knowledge Management into business process. And it's a very fair comment. It gets to the heart of the question -

"How can you implement a common approach to Knowledge Management, in a globally diverse company?"

The answer is that you select global commonalities, but allow local expression of these. And the local expressions could be localised by geography or by corporate division.

There are several elements which need to be common, and applied globally.

  • Knowledge Management needs a common vision and a common definition (see blog post on example visions). That means that KM, across the whole global organisation, is trying to do the same thing.
  • Knowledge Management should employ common principles. Principles such as Shell's "Ask, Learn, Share", or the common "Learn Before, During and After" principle, need to be seen across the entire KM deployment.
  • Knowledge Management should employ a consistent approach to Communities of Practice. CoPs are  likely to be one of the elements that cross the corporate geographical and divisional boundaries, so a common and integrated CoP approach is important.
  • Knowledge Management should use a common global set of technologies. One set of Community software, one Yellow Pages, one search engine, one Portal, one Lessons Management System, one email system, and so on. There may be technologies that apply to only one part of the business - CRM being used only by sales, and not by manufacturing, for example - but it should be applied globally to sales.
  • Knowledge Management should be approached in the same way by Leadership. This will be expressed in a common KM Policy, and reflected in leadership expectations.

The elements which need to differ from division to division, are as follows.

  • Embedding KM processes into business process. Each division will work with a different process. (Ideally processes should be harmonised globally within each division - if not, then this can be one of the early tasks that KM helps with). Therefore KM will need to be embedded differently, in different steps in the process, and sometimes using different processes. The Sales process and the Project Management process may be sufficiently different that each uses a partially different set of KM processes, embedding these processes in different places, but the principles of "Learn before, during and after" should still apply. Projects may "Learn before" by doing KM planning at the project start, while Production may do KM planning on an annual basis. Projects may "Learn After" through holding Retrospects, Sales through using Knowledge Exchange. The principles are the same, the local expressions of those principles are tailored to the business process.
  • Embedding roles into the organigram. Each division will have a different organigram, so KM roles (which will be needed in all divisions - roles for knowledge creation and use, roles for knowledge ownership, roles for KM support) will be placed in different spots on the organigram. If the Projects division has a Project Management Office, for example, this could be the ideal home for the KM support roles for projects - the facilitators, the trainers, the lessons management team. If the Marketing division has regional hubs, this could be the ideal place for the KM support roles for marketing. And so on. 

So the implementation of Knowledge Management is set on global principles, adapted to local settings - all part of the work of defining the Knowledge Management Framework and the Knowledge Management organisation

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