Tuesday 18 March 2014

If KM is all about people, why all the pictures of software?

Tutorial Day: Marcel Molina by fraserspeirs
Tutorial Day: Marcel Molina, a photo by fraserspeirs on Flickr
At the last big conference I attended, the presenters stood up, one after the other, said (effectively) "Knowledge Management is all about people" and then proceeded to show slide after slide of technology screenshots.


What's THAT all about? (as the comedians say)

We so often hear the phrase "KM is all about people", and everyone nods sagely, and then proceeds to ignore the statement, because, to be honest, this is a platitude - a statement that nobody could disagree with and yet is of little value to the Knowledge Manager.

Firstly, EVERY management system is all about people, because it's people that do things. Talent management, safety management, risk management, even property management and financial management, are all about people, because they are about the attitudes people have, the priorities they apply, and the decisions they make. So saying "KM is all about people" doesn't differentiate KM.  What is REALLY different about Knowledge Management is that Knowledge Management is actually all about Knowledge, just like Safety Management is all about Safety, Risk management all about Risk, and so on.

KM is "Management with a Knowledge focus".

Secondly, it's all about people, but in what way? In a 2012 blog post I argued that Knowledge Management is about people in the collective, rather than about individuals, in that KM treats knowledge as collective property rather than individual property. That's what differentiates KM and OL from Learning and Development.

Thirdly, once we come down to the things that drive Knowledge Management, and enable it to succeed, KM is actually about FOUR things.
  1. It's about people with roles and people with accountabilities; being clear on what these are and ensuring that people know what they are supposed to 
  2. It's about Knowledge Management processes, embedded in the routine of day to day work, which enable people to create, seek, find, discuss, identify and share knowledge
  3. It's about simple pervasive Knowledge Management technologies to support those roles and processes
  4. It's about the elements that influence and drive behaviours and culture - what we call Knowledge management governance - elements such as strategy, clarity of expectation, the reward system, and the support system
We know it's about four things, because if any one of these is missing from your KM Framework, Knowledge Management fails.

  • If there are no roles and accountabilities, then Knowledge Management is nobody's job (or else, it's "everyone's job" which soon becomes "no-one's job")
  • If there are no processes for KM, then nobody knows what to do, or how to do it.
  • If there is no Technology for KM, then nobody has the tools, and KM can never extend beyond the immediate and local
  • If there is no Governance, then nobody sees the point. KM remains an optional activity, and nobody has time for optional activity.
  • So next time I am at a conference,  I hope to hear nobody say "Knowledge Management is all about X" because, like all management disciplines, it's not all about one single thing.

    And I don't want to see an entire presentation of technology screenshots either, I am afraid.  Technology is a quarter of KM, so the three-quarters of the slideset should be about the roles and accountabilities which this technology supports, the processes that go around this technology, and the governance which drives the behaviours without which the whole framework becomes pointless.

    But I expect to be disappointed on both these counts.

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