Monday 27 June 2016

Sports KM is not for the athletes

Sometimes we use Knowledge Management to improve the performance of someone who is not a knowledge worker, by improving the knowledge of their coach.

Image from wikimedia commons
Two weeks ago at KMUK 2016 we heard two presentations from the Sports industry on Knowledge Management - one from Peter Brown of the English Institute for Sport (EIS), and the other from Chris Payne of the Olympic Games association.  Both described KM in Sport, and in neither case did they focus on providing knowledge to the individual athlete.

(Note I am focusing here on individual athletes - runners, boxers, gymnasts, canoeists, triathletes etc - rather than on team sports. KM has a lot to offer sports teams, as described here, here and here).

Peter Brown described KM at EIS as being in service of the drive for team GB to win even more medals at the Rio Olympics than they did in London. His main focus is on developing and sharing knowledge between the technical specialists - the performance coaches, the nutritionists, the biomechanics experts, the designers of bicycles and bobsleighs, the physiotherapists and the strength and conditioning teams. He also looks at knowledge sharing between the athletes, on issues such as "how to prepare for a trip to Rio", but the primary focus is on the management of Sport Science knowledge.

Chris Payne focused on knowledge related to the logistics of the Olympic Games rather than knowledge available to the athletes, as is appropriate for an organisation that must remain objective. I have already shared a video of knowledge management for Olympic airport logistics, and Chris gave other examples, such as knowledge related to providing TV lighting.

In a competitive situation like the Olympics, the athletes themselves provide mostly physical factors such as strength, skill, endurance, coordination, use of equipment and so on. The bulk of the knowledge work is done by the coaches, the equipment providers and the support staff, which is where KM efforts are best focused.

We can translate this into the business world.

There are some cases where vital work requires less on knowledge and more on the skills of individual performers. Certainly this is true of manual workers, but can also be true of sales staff, for example. If you try to apply KM to a sales persons role, you often meet the challenge that "Salesmanship can't be taught - you either have it or you don't".

There is some truth in this statement. The sales person is often an individual performer, applying soft skills such as relationship-building, influencing, negotiation and persuasion. Knowledge can improve these skills to an extent, but often they are innate.

In a circumstance like this, Knowledge Management can be better focused on the people who "coach" the sales staff - their team leaders for example. We did a very interesting peiece of work for a global provider of consumer goods where we conducted knowledge interviews with the top sales team leaders across the world to develop good practices and best practices in managing a sales team.

This produced some fantastic knowledge, which the sales team leaders could use to bring the best out of their sales staff.

Sometimes KM should be focused not so much at the people "at the sharp end of the business", but more on those who support and coach them.

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