Tuesday 8 October 2019

The importance of choosing the A team to run knowledge management

Introducing Knowledge Management to an organisation is a process of massive disruption and change (or at least it should be!). You need your very best team on the job.

One of the most frustrating situations you can face as a consultant is working with an internal KM team that does not have the capacity to deliver. You want to help them, you want them to succeed, they are focused on the right things, but they are just the wrong people.

I am talking here primarily about the team that implements Knowledge Management - that introduces the framework of roles, technologies, processes and governance, and that leads the change to a new way of working. This is a big change process, you as asking people to change their working habits, and to change the way they see the world of work. You are introducing a new order of things and you need the right team to deliver this. You need the A team.

But who are the A team?

The team leader, first and foremost, needs to be a change agent. They need to be a visionary leader, capable of working at the highest levels in the organisation as well as the lowest. They need to be a respected organisational insider; this is a role that cannot be outsourced, as they need to "speak the language", know the politics, and have the credibility. They need to know enough about KM to translate it into business and customer terminology, but able to back it up with sound KM theory.

The skills of the KM team need to be varied. KM covers the area of overlap between IT, HR (or Learning and Development) and Organizational Practice, and so the team needs a blend of people who can cover these areas. The key skills here are the softer skills. This is what John Keeble, the CKO of Enterprise Oil, said about the make-up of a KM team
"If you look at the team more widely, rather than just the person leading it, far and away the most important things are the interpersonal skills, and we have said whoever we are recruiting anyone for the team, that's the most important thing. We can teach them the knowledge management skills, they bring their own network with them, but they have got to have the interpersonal skills, because so much of this is about persuasion. You cannot coerce people into sharing their knowledge, you have to be able to entice and cajole and persuade them to do it"

Some of the following skills should be on the team.

Facilitation skills. Most of the KM processes require people working together, and sharing knowledge, on groups, communities or meetings. The quality of dialogue in these meetings is vital, facilitation is key, and the KM team members play important facilitation roles. Secure facilitation training for the team members as soon as you can.

Influencing skills. The knowledge management implementation team has a hard job ahead of them, changing the culture of the organisation, and the soft skills are absolutely core. They will be working very closely with people, often sceptical people, and they need very good influencing, marketing and selling skills. Give them training in this aspect as well.

Coaching and training skills. If the aim of the team is to introduce new behaviours and practices to the organisation, they will need people skilled in training, coaching and mentoring. Look for people with skills as change agents and business coaches. One or more people with a training background should be on the team.

Writing skills. The processes of knowledge capture and packaging are in some ways very akin to journalism. Interviewing, group interviewing (e.g. Retrospects), analysis, summary, write-up, presentation, are all part of the stock-in-trade of journalists. Make sure there is at least one person on the team with journalistic or writing skills, and preferably more than one.

Communication skills. The early stages of implementing knowledge management are all about raising awareness, and "selling" the idea. The team needs at least one person who is skilled at presenting and marketing. This person will also be kept busy raising the profile of the company's KM and Best Practice activities at external conferences.

Technology skills. The team needs at least one person who is aware of the details of the current in-house technology, the potential of technology as an enabler for knowledge management, and who can help define the most appropriate technologies to introduce to the organisation. However do not staff the whole team with techies (this is one of the two common unbalanced teams - the team of techies).

Library and information science skills. Your team needs at least one person who can look after the issues of information management as it applies to documented knowledge, and who can take care of the organisational aspects of taxonomies, databases etc. However do not staff the whole team with librarians (this is the other common scenario of the unbalanced KM teams - the team comprised entirely of librarians).

The organizational backgrounds of the core team need to be varied. The team will be attempting to change behaviour and embed knowledge management into the business process across a large part of the organisation (or indeed the whole organisation). Ideally the team should contain people with good and credible backgrounds in each major organisational subdivision. This is really to establish as much credibility as possible. When members of the team are working with business projects, they want to be seen as "part of the business", not "specialists from head office who know nothing about this sector of the business". They have to be able to "talk the language" of the business - they need to be able to communicate in technical language and business language. They act as Best Practice champions within their area of business, and when the working team is over, may take a leading Knowledge Management role in their subsidiary.

The members of the team will also need to be passionate about the topic. The team members must be seen to be personally committed to best practice and knowledge management if they are to retain credibility. They need training in the skills and theories of Knowledge Management and Best Practice transfer, and need access to books, conferences and forums on the topic They must be enthusiastic about applying knowledge management tools and techniques in their own business, and to their own work, in service of improving their own performance.

Finding such people is not easy, but changing the culture of an organisation is not easy either. With the wrong people on the team, you don't get the right result, even with the best consultants in the world to support you. However ...

With the right team, the right leader, and the right approach, absolutely anything can be done, and Knowledge Management implementation will be assured.

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