Thursday 17 December 2020

CKOs (or KM team leaders) are generally appointed from within the organisation. here's why

It is becoming increasingly common to appoint your CKO internally, from within the organisation.

A common question when implementing Knowledge Management  - should your KM team leader, or CKO, be an internal appointment, or should you look externally to fill the role? I posted on this topic in 2019, but include some additional survey detail here. 

There are advantages and disadvantages to both options, as I explain below, but the majority of organisations appoint their CKO internally. As the pie chart shows, 83% of organisations in our three KM surveys (2014, 2017, 2020) appoint the leader of their KM program internally, as opposed to 12% who appoint externally. The remaining 5% have no such role.

Not only this, but the trend of appointing internally seems to be increasing. In the 2014 survey the percentage of internal appointments (the red sector in the bar chart) was 79%. In the 2020 survey this was 86%.

The advantages and disadvantages of the options are listed below (this text is copied from my 2019 post)

Internal appointment

As we have often said, Knowledge Management is a simple idea, but very difficult to do in practice.
The idea - that people should share knowledge with each other and learn from each other - is not a complicated idea. The complicated thing is getting it to actually happen. Implementing KM is primarily about culture change, and culture change is both difficult and highly politically charged.

The primary value in having an internal appointment (and not just an internal appointment, but an internal change agent), is that they know the politics. They know how to get things done in the organisation; they know how to drive change. And that, as we know, is the difficult part of KM implementation.

The internal appointment has existing networks they can use, they know the business priorities, and the way the organisation works.  They should have credibility within the organisation. They may also know the real reasons why previous KM attempts failed.

The disadvantage is that they might not know much about KM, and will need external mentoring and coaching in the details of KM and its implementation.  There also might be a relatively small pool of change agents available within the organisation. And in addition, if the organisation has already tried KM with little success, an internal appointment may be too linked to, and influenced by, the approaches of the past.

There may feel like a lack of urgency if the appointment is internal, and the internal appointee may already have rivals at the firm, and if priorities shift, they can also find themselves transferred out of the role as quickly as they were transferred in.

External appointment

It will be easier to find an external person with a history of KM success in other organisations, and very often a new appointee, with a clear view on KM and a wealth of experience of what "good KM looks like," can be a breath of fresh air. It may be difficult to find such strong and passionate change agents within the organisation.

They will have experience in KM, a repertoire of interventions, and some good success stories to share.  An external appointment might be on a fixed term contract of a few years, which gives KM an urgency, a project-like structure and a clear cost-benefit equation.

The disadvantage is that the zeal with which an external appointee will bring to KM may be met in equal measure by internal resistance. Organisation often reject "foreign bodies", and the best change always comes from within. The external appointee will not know the "language" of the firm, or the key players, or the unwritten rules and assumptions. They will need strong support from the CEO, and to surround themselves with mentors and coaches with decades of tenure at the organisation, to help steer the CKO through the political maze.

There may be a higher threshold to get started for an external appointee, and if they are on a fixed contract, they will still need to find an internal person to whom to transfer the accountability for KM when the contract ends, otherwise KM may wither and die at that point.

Our recommendation is as follows:

If you can find a good, experienced change agent within the firm who "gets" the vision and the opportunity KM can bring, then give them the CKO role, supported by coaching and mentoring from external experts. Their knowledge of how to change the organisation is more important that their lack of knowledge of KM.

If you cannot find such a person, or if KM exists but needs a shake-up, then look to hire someone external, and give them a wise "chief of staff" who knows the organisation inside out and can help navigate the politics associated with change. And if you are hiring your CKO externally, follow this piece of advice from a Knowledge Manager I interviewed:
If I was recruiting somebody external and I had an interview and I asked "do you think you were successful (in your last KM implementation)" and they said "yes we were absolutely successful" I would instantly be suspicious, because knowledge management is not straightforward. I want practical evidence that it was painful. I want to see the blood and the guts".

Internal appointment is far more common, and has big advantages, but ensure you get strong external mentorship from KM consultants with proven KM implementation experience.


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