Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
Do not attempt anything with KM unless you can answer two critical KM questions that if you don’t, or can’t, answer will come back to haunt you!
1. Why are you ‘doing’ KM?
2. What is it that you are trying to manage?
Before reading on, how would you respond?
The first question is a bit tricky. To be clear, “improving our ability to share knowledge” or “improving the knowledge flow within the company” are not reasons to engage with KM, they are tactical responses to KM need. Knowledge Management interventions have to be grounded in strategic advantage – see my previous blogs on the Knowledge Economy for clarification on this. Strategic advantage means that you are applying your knowledge resources to generate a unique market position. Strategies for the development and application of knowledge resources will depend on your view of what KM is actually about. For some it will be grounded in the Resource Based View of the world, where knowledge is treated like any other resource; this pushes a view of explicit knowledge and technology solutions. For others it will be more of a Knowledge Based View of the world, where the focus is on people, environments and the creation of advantage through dynamic concepts such as learning organisations.
Can you start to see how important it is to get this right before you go any further? This is a crucial step In the KM engagement process and yet many organisations cannot answer this question.
We have all read the recommendation that people should first strike out on their own with pilot projects that demonstrate the potential for KM to work; with the outcome being a ‘sales pitch’ to senior management for further funding based on the value or ROI generated. The problem is that many of these projects die a slow frustrating death. The reason being that they are strategically detached from the organisation core and the ‘pitch’ subsequently fails to speak to the future needs of the organisation. It just isn’t good enough and does more damage than good. If you don’t speak to the strategic needs of the organisation you risk wasting resources and, more importantly, you risk serious damage to your credibility.
Now, for an answer to the second question. If you subscribe to the Resource Based View of the world then you are probably restricting yourself to complicated explicit forms of ‘knowledge’, which, let’s be honest, is nothing more than another term for technology based information management solutions. If your view of the world is more dynamic then you are looking at the complex processes that bind the needs of your people and the core needs of the organisation.
Organisations do not need to manage tacit and explicit knowledge! Sorry to the Nonaka followers out there, but the knowledge environment needs you to drill down into the idea of knowledge and produce something a lot more salient than those two ambiguous terms. How do you explain to your people the meaning behind tacit and explicit knowledge? How do you get them to understand what they are contributing and how you are enhancing strategic objectives using these terms? The meaning of knowledge simply needs to be operationalised beyond these terms.
We recommend speaking in terms ok know-what, know-how, know-why, know-when and know-who. Defining knowledge in this way provides clear signposts to what it is you want to know and what is important to the organisation.
The following is a case example of issues of Know-Who in an organisation. One of the global leaders in the pharmaceutical industry was evolving from a position as a service provider to one of a solutions provider. To do this they wanted to better understand and leverage their knowledge capabilities. When interviewing staff it became clear that they relied on who they knew to solve problems, as opposed to solutions or resources embedded in technology platforms. The problem was that the company had a very immature human resource directory. The existing directory listed the name, position, telephone number, location and email address of staff. However, it didn’t have a bio, it didn’t list client or project expertise. Know-How was therefore based on isolated networks that stagnated knowledge flow and, in some cases, created breeding grounds for poor practice. The technology capability to solve this already existed within the organisation, it had just never been recognised as something that needed to be managed in order to improve dynamic capability.
The bottom line is that these two questions are pivotal to the success of any KM project. The rest is over to you…
Check out our next KM Course (Resilient Knowledge Management Practice) in London, May 20th - 24th (Now full, email to join waiting list)
Just opened: Stage 3 (Advanced) Course, hosted by Mars Group in Slough. August 12th to 16th
Check out a special version of Operation Punctuated Equilibrium for Resilient Knowledge Management Practice - Edinburgh, October 24th and 25th