Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
I’m sitting in a hotel in Singapore, preparing to deliver a workshop at KM Asia. Sitting here over breakfast, looking out at some of the most amazing architecture that I’ve ever seen, three towers of flats bridged by a curved ‘transport ship’ that sits perfectly as a beacon for trade, I cannot be anything but awe struck by the power of human innovation and creativity.
Shame then to be drawn back to reality by the doom and gloom offered by the daily newspapers and business magazines – Iran on the verge of financial meltdown, lessons not learned from Japan’s demise over a decade ago, America in crisis…the list goes on.
One message seems to resonate across the articles that I’ve been reading lately; it is going to be down to private industry to pull the world out of this mess!
The question is, how? Endless cutbacks, shrinking operational budgets and global austerity is naturally creating a risk averse environment; it’s no shock then to hear executives shy away from investment in human capital or support processes, such as knowledge management or organisational learning. If we can agree that people are the key to navigating the successes of the knowledge economy, then surely we have to agree the need for investment in these areas.
The problem is one of return. Working in Bahrain last month it was the key message on the ground, a similar message to the one I am hearing in Scotland. If firms are to invest in their people, they need to be able to capture a return. Where is that return if the company then makes them redundant in six months or what if the employee leaves the company for a lack of opportunities brought about by a stagnating internal career ladder?
What we need is a change of perspective. First, we need to accept the obvious, that people are our biggest asset. Secondly, they need investment or our knowledge stocks will devalue, rapidly. What also has to be accepted by KM evangelists is that the firm needs to be protected at the same time. We have to make sure that knowledge is captured in the company’s vault, embedded deep within the architecture of processes and people. The knowledge of the individual needs to be accessible to the collective if our knowledge stocks are to grow. Our collective knowledge makes us greater than the sum of our parts, so why limit our investment in our people to the view of the individual? Organisational memory, networks of people, this is the organisation’s knowledge vault. Simply being part of the organisation gives staff the combination to a wealth of development opportunities that can increase their personal capital. This in itself is a message about the values of the organisation and the reason to stay when careers can appear to be stagnating. Not only that, but through knowledge management processes, we can now manage our knowledge stocks for the future.
I was recently told by a colleague in Ireland that you cannot make people share knowledge and therefore the argument on investment is moot. I would argue that this very issue is the challenge at the heart of true knowledge management; the management of the knowledge worker’s environment. Can we really argue with that? If not, then we have to accept the challenge of manipulating the environment of the knowledge worker, manufacturing people processes, using mundane tools such as job descriptions, strategies, assessment criteria, recruitment criteria, to name but a few, to capture what we know in the firm’s knowledge vault.
We have to acknowledge the tough times we operate in, but we still need to embrace opportunity. In doing so we have to recognise that the only way out is through our people. Establishing processes that capture organisational memory through a human vault of practice is one way to protect our investment. Perhaps then we will feel more secure about the risk associated with investment in learning and knowledge. Perhaps then we will realise that the biggest risk is in not acting today for fear of tomorrow. For without our people tomorrow could be a very bleak place indeed.