Wednesday 12 June 2013

Strategy, Tactics, KM and the Apprentice - don't get fired!

You're fired. “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before the defeat.”
Sun Tzu

Anyone who is interested in the way that business works, should watch the popular TV program “The Apprentice”. This is a reality game show, where teams of young entrepreneurs are set business tasks, and compete against each other and deliver the task of the most effective way. The losing team will lose one of its members - “fired” from the program as the numbers are whittled down to find the winner. The tasks vary from episode to episode, as do the reasons for failure of anyone specific team.

Analysing these reasons provides you with a very instructive primer in how to succeed in business, and, sometimes, in Knowledge Management as well.

Week 7 of the 2012 UK series threw the issue of strategy into very sharp focus. The primary task for this episode was to buy goods from a warehouse and sell them at a market stall. The team that held the most cash and stock at the end of the day, and therefore made the biggest impact on the "bottom line", was the winner.

One team leader took a very strategic view. His strategy was “stock the items where demand is greatest”. Quickly he determined the key item that sold well and delivered a good margin (it was a slightly tacky-looking bottle of self-applied fake tan lotion), and set about acquiring as much stock of this as he possibly could. The other team was project-managed by a young woman with huge levels of energy and enthusiasm, and excellent selling skills, but who had little time for strategy. Instead she reacted tactically to what was on the warehouse shelves, and spread her resources around several products. Not surprisingly, the strategic leader won the task, and the tactical leader lost. The tactical team were good at selling, but as Sun Tzu says, those sales tactics were just the noise before defeat. The bottom line did not lie, and she "got fired."

But what if, instead of selling fake tan on a market stall, you were implementing Knowledge Management in an organization? Do you still need a strategy?

Of course you do. You may not be in a reality game show, but you are in a competitive situation. You are in competition for internal resources and internal attention. If you do not have a good strategy, then good tactics are not going to save you.

You should not be in the position of responding tactically to items on the “KM Warehouse shelves”; you should know what your business needs from KM, and focus on where the demand is greatest.

We are constantly hearing of yet another KM program closed, and yet another Knowledge Manager looking for a job, as the company sought to cut back on expenditure. If you are not seen to be addressing the crucial business issues, supporting the business needs, and adding to the "bottom line," then you could be seen as optional, and times are too tight for optional expenditure.

Get your Knowledge Management Strategy right, and you can avoid those awful words, "You're Fired".

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