Theknowledgecore's Blog

Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…

Two Killer KM questions: How would you answer them?

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…

Please participate in our 2011 KM Survey

12 comments on “Two Killer KM questions: How would you answer them?

  1. Christiane L. Roehler
    April 3, 2011

    The two questions raised (“why are you ‘doing’ KM” and “what are you trying to manage”) are certainly very important questions to clarify for any KM. However, I’d take the answers a bit further.

    The “why are you doing KM” response should also address the “what is in it for me?” question of the persons you expect to contribute to the KM effort. Just figuring out what the organization wants to accomplish is not enough. You also need to make it relevant for the contributors. After all, the contributors to a KM project in a knowledge economy are giving away some of their human capital.

    Related, your example for “Know-Who?” is an important one. Assisting people in findingin the right knowledge in the organization is one of the advanced projects in the scheme of KM work. However, just enabling people to connect (the example of the expanded company directory technology) will not be enough to actually get knowledge exchange going. Why should person A respond to an e-mail/ phone call from person B about knowledge A has developed in a previous assignment or job? You need an organization culture and/ or HR policies that expect A to share his knowledge, that reward A for being cooperative across organizational boundaries. Or if you identify A as being a great knowledge resource for the organization in his field of expertise, you should make it part of his job description to be a knowledge center/ resource for the organization.

    Knowledge (not information) sharing ultimately is all about people, not technology.

    • theknowledgecore
      April 3, 2011

      I totally agree with your comments – We have been working on the K-Core model and our approach is very much focused on people being the platform for KM. We look into the HR processes that link people and their needs to the needs of the organisation…this incorporates links to appraisal processes, job descriptions and R+S processes.

      An example of how we work and the way we approach KM analysis can be found in our latest article in the JKMP:

      Thank you for your thoughtful and valuable input.


  2. Nikolay Kryachkov
    April 3, 2011

    1. Why are you ‘doing’ KM?

    I would answer – because would like to find the answer to a problem.

    2. What is it that you are trying to manage?

    I would answer – meanings of actions to use.

    • theknowledgecore
      April 3, 2011

      Hi Nikolay, thank you for responding…

      The one problem that we have found is that engaging in KM to solve a problem is usually a tactical response that suffers for not being tactically embedded in the organisation – what do you think?

      The other thing we have found is the need for clear operational definitions of what it is the organisation is trying to manage – something that can be enabled at the operational face of the business.

      Would be really interested in hearing more from you on your thoughts and experiences though.

  3. Nikolay Kryachkov
    April 4, 2011

    Hi David,

    I think the problem is that attempts to standardise the KM terminology failed a few years ago. “What Guru says” approach won and most terms of KM are not applicable. For example, accountancy is standardised and therefore applicable. But normalised KM and accountancy must be connected to take knowledge into account. It is a fundamental problem because any business entities are being separated from human being, but knowledge is not. If so, a human being with knowledge (Knowledge Person) is not a resource in knowledge society and economy.

    I suppose that knowledge organisation can have almost zero expenditures – knowledge persons and resource owners form the temporary project and share the results according to the agreement. So, they manage their relations within that project to achieve the planned results. Something like that 🙂

  4. Abdul Jaleel Tharayil
    April 4, 2011

    Wow! Since long I’ven’t been reading the discussions or the blog posts. Well, I see amazing parallel’s with your view of pilot KM projects. I’m one of the KMers who had to inherit a pilot project in shambles in one of Oil sector companies in Kuwait. I had a tough time convincing the higher management on why the pilot project is going to give you nothing in the way it’s structured. As you might know pilots are generally tried in a Team or Small group setups (where knowledge sharing might not be a real requirement (as it’s already taking place through team meetings).

  5. Md Santo
    April 5, 2011

    Hi David,


    Md Santo –

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  8. Hermella
    June 13, 2011

    Hi David

    i like the responses.

    I’ve always been bugged with the issue, How do you calculate/find out the ROI (or value added if you can’t put it in quantitative terms) of your KM initiative?

    Management knows what your proposed KM solution can accomplish and how it’s useful but how do you convince them to sustain it. We see cases where fancy KM tech tools emerge and then die within a short period of time due to lack of management buy-in.

    What are the ways (scientific or else) practitioners show visibly the ROI for a KM initiative?

    • David Griffiths
      June 14, 2011

      Hi Hermella…I’ve replied offline and hopefully we can continue the conversation



  9. Dr Jayanth G Paraki
    March 11, 2012

    Why are you ‘doing’ KM?

    1. Why are you ‘doing’ KM?
    By ‘doing’KM i stay enlightened.

    2. What is it that you are trying to manage?
    My professional work and my family responsibilities

So, what do you think?

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