Friday 26 June 2020

What is KM governance, and why is it important?

Nowadays I talk about the four legs of the Knowledge Management table being Roles, Processes, Technologies and Governance.  But why do we need the extra leg? What is the purpose of KM governance?

I have seen many examples of organisations with what look like very good Knowledge Management systems which are not being used.

For example, they might have defined accountability for capturing knowledge from projects, they might have a defined process for lessons capture meetings, and they might have a top range lessons management system, and yet only a trickle of lessons are entering the database, and even fewer are actually re-used.

So what is missing, when a system is in place but is not used?

You could say "culture" or "behaviours" - but both of these are outcomes of something else, namely governance. To understand what else is needed, let's think about what makes people adhere to other systems at work. For example, what makes people follow the (sometimes onerous) safety procedures, or the security procedures, or the time writing procedures?

It's three factors:

  • They know they should follow the procedures
  • They know how to follow the procedures, and
  • They know if they don't follow the procedures, there will be consequences.

These three elements are the elements of governance, and apply to every management system, at work or at home. If these governance elements are in place, the behaviours will follow, and the culture will develop. If there is no governance, then KM remains an optional process, and who has time for optional activity nowadays?

To take a trivial example, if you wanted to get your teenage son or daughter to take over the task of mowing the lawn, for example, you would

  • Firstly be very clear with them what you expected them to do (and when, and how often, and to what standard), 
  • Secondly you would show them where the lawnmower is, and show them how to use it safely, and 
  • Finally you would check that they really have done that they were asked, reward good performance and not reward sub-standard performance. 

Without the clarity of expectation and explanation, they would most likely claim that they weren't sure what to do and so not do it, or else they would half-do the job, leaving the edges untrimmed and the grass clippings all over the lawn. If you don't give them the lawnmower and show them how to use it, they wouldn't be able to get started anyway, and if you didn't check up on them, the likelihood is that they might be distracted by more urgent but less important activities such as the PlayStation, or TikTok. Those three elements - clarity of expectation, the tools to do the job, and monitoring – make sure the job gets done.

We need similar governance elements for Knowledge Management to make sure the KM task gets done, despite the distraction of more urgent (though often less important) work activities. We need:

  • A set of clear corporate expectations for how knowledge will be managed in the organization (for example a KM policy), including accountabilities for the ownership of key knowledge areas, and the definition of corporate standards for Knowledge Management;
  • Training and support in the use of the Knowledge Management framework, including training in how to perform roles, how to follow KM processes, and how to use KM technology; 
  • Monitoring, measuring or auditing the application of KM, to make sure that people are delivering on their accountabilities, and applying the system in the way that they are expected to: to identify the need for new interventions to improve the KM system, and to ensure a continuous improvement in the ability of the organization to manage strategic knowledge.

That's Knowledge Management governance, and that's why we need it, because without it the chances that people will actually use your KM system are as remote as your teenager voluntarily mowing the lawn.

Contact Knoco for help in developing your own KM Governance system

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