Friday 6 November 2015

Is Knowledge Management certification counter-productive?

Last month I posted about the planned ISO standards for KM, and received some positive feedback, and some negative feedback.

Christian De Neef, for example, posted this comment:
If we look at the history of ISO 900x quality standards, it appears that some organizations complied with the standard because they needed to (to be able to get business from government for example) whilst others did the effort because they actually “believe” in quality. The first category has never achieved anything more than administrative compliance. On the other hand, the companies that worked on quality management initiatives because it was part of their values, have achieved remarkable success. Possibly, they would have been successful even without the ISO standard. I'm afraid that a KM standard would go the same path: it's not about the standard, it's about believing KM is at the heart of managing your organization!

Certainly a standard can, in some cases, be treated as a compliance exercise. This is true of the ISO Quality standards - some companies "tick the box", others take them seriously.  If a company was immediately told "you must be compliant against KM standards" (for example in order to qualify for a big contract) there might be a tendency to just tick the boxes.

But not always.

To explore this issue, let us divide companies by the following two vectors, to create a Boston Square;

  • Whether or not the company planned to do KM anyway before a requirement for certification was identified, and
  • Whether or not the company will take KM seriously as a core management discipline

These two vectors give us four fields.

The 4 quadrants are as follows

Where the company plans to do KM and do it seriously, the KM Standard should be of great help in avoiding common pitfalls and delivering an effective KM program. This is the primary purpose of the standard - to help people who want to do KM, to get it right by applying the basic principles (It is surprising how few companies even get the basic principles in place)

Where the company is not already planning to do KM but will take it seriously the standard should be of great help in introducing a new company into good-quality KM.

Where the company was planning to do KM but was not going to take it seriously, at least the standard will give them some guidance on avoiding the common pitfalls (though there should be few companies in this quadrant - why want to do it, if you don't want to do it well)

 Where the company was not already planning to do KM, is forced into it (perhaps by a contract requirement) and will not take it seriously, the standard will add no value, and will be treated as a box-ticking exercise. Even then, the box-ticking compliance may surprise them when and if KM starts to add value.

In three out of the four cases above, the standard adds value.

A standard is not a substitute for a "wish to take KM seriously", it is an aid, if that wish exists, to getting it right and avoiding the common mistakes we see so frequently.

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