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The truth! Can we handle the truth?

We are to blame for the current state of KM.  The dissatisfaction.  The issues of value creation.  The lack of vision.  The lack of strategic alignment.  The lack of understanding.  The blame stops here.  The blame lies with us as KM professionals!  I believe this to be true and it comes down to what we are willing to do about it.  To explain…

I’ve been talking a lot lately about our move away from discussing KM as an objective within organisations to discussions about KM as as an implement of change; a mechanism to respond to strategic challenges, such as ‘Resilience’, ‘Sustainability’, ‘Growth’, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Adaptive Capacity’.  We have been doing this in order to draw attention the the impact potential for KM based activity.  After all, isn’t that what we all want, a high impact and high quality function that impacts our organisation’s outputs (present ad future)? These concepts are interrelated and really, if we look at them, they are a family of concepts that surface from the needs of the Knowledge Economy – take a look at the Knowledge Economy pyramid  and you’ll start to see what I mean.

My focus for this argument is on Resilience.  There is much discussion of resilience in terms of disaster recovery, whether social or hard systems (such as IT infrastructure).  However, I am more interested in resilience from the perspective of an organisation as a whole, its capacity to flex to changing demands and, much like a chameleon, change its colours in order to survive.

Resilience is the ability to adapt and thrive in a fast-changing and uncertain world. Resilience is essential for individuals, workplaces, organisations, sectors and societies to achieve a sustainable future. (

Organisations and countries across the globe are being asked to react to environmental demands, often outliers, that impact output capabilities.  The ability of an organisation to react to the punctuated environment is essentially a statement of its resilience.  If we can agree that, for knowledge intensive organisation, knowledge is their most important resource, then we have a pretty strong case for KM being the implement for future planning in the organisation.  The problem is that, as I have suggested before, KM is isolated in many organisations and, as a function, does not have the capability or capacity to engage in future planning or scenario planning (a blog topic covered by Peter Evans).  That, for me, is a critical problem.  We keep debating the need to establish value for us as KMers or for the KM function in general and yet we do not look at how we truly create that value.  We need to speak to the needs of the organisation.  For example, we need to participate in discussions on risk and we need to show that we can see the challenge and mitigate the risk to the organisation.  If KM could achieve this, how valuable would the function become?

As a ‘thank you’ to those that read this blog, and as a way to illustrate my point, with regard to blame for dissatisfaction being placed at our door, I am going to give you a sneak preview of a headline finding from the 2011 KM Observatory survey that will be released later this year.  With over 350 respondents, 61% of KMers do not hold a KM related qualification and, of that 61%, only 17% are working towards a KM related qualification – you will have to wait for demographic data, but, trust me, this is common across sectors and geographic location.  The question that this poses is whether this contributes to our struggle to create/define KM value and whether we possess the capability to take part in strategic issues of risk and scenario planning?

Take the current economic situation.  Most sectors were already experiencing an aging workforce and a feeling of dissatisfaction with the talent available to them in the wider labour market.  This was challenge enough, but then we were faced with new challenges of down/right-sizing, where organisations experienced HR trauma; sending shock waves that seriously impacted output capabilities.  How did you cope with having to respond to a demand for higher quality services/products with leaner resources, while your most experienced/knowledgeable staff were being persuaded to take early retirement packages – or worse still ‘knee-jerk’ workforce culling through redundancy packages that were not strategically or operationally risk assessed?  I am not suggesting for one minute that KMers could have predicted the event itself.  However, I am suggesting that a mature and effective KM function should have been scanning the environment and assessing the risk of this type of scenario to the organisation.

Ask yourself, how much knowledge has walked out of your door over the last eighteen months, how much of it could have been retained and what cost now to re-acquire what you knew in the first place?  Put a price on diminished decision-making capability?  What about the cost associated with operational lag?  What impact has it had on your competitive advantage? What value could have been created for the organisation, what level of credibility could have been gained by the KM function and what currency would the function that recognised this have in the organisation now?  What could you have done better?  Look at the bulletin boards, especially on LinkedIn, and you’ll see thread upon thread of discussion on how we create and demonstrate KM value, but we miss the opportunities that exist under our collective noses.

It’s not too late to do something about this.  I implore you, start looking at KM beyond the narrow, often isolated, remit assigned by many organisations.  We need to escape the, all too often self imposed, inertia that plagues the progress of our field.  We need to push the boundaries and drive the value for our activities.  We need to stop complaining about our lack of credibility, the lack of respect given by senior/executive management teams.  We need to start looking at ourselves!  Those of you that know me know that I am passionate about our field and the value we can bring to the organisation.  We need to stop talking and start acting.  We need to look at our own strengths and weaknesses, see them as a challenge and start working to overcome them.

We are in this together. Our collective future begins with the success of the individual…I’m working on my part…

over to you…

17 comments on “The truth! Can we handle the truth?

  1. Douglas Weidner
    July 31, 2011

    Good insights and heads up on upcoming 2011 KM Observatory survey.

    I’m not shocked by its findings. In my experience at many KM conferences over the years (since 2000), it seems true that most attendees do not hold a KM-related qualification, nor are seeking one. I expect, just attending a KM conference is just a start, not a qualification in the sense you mean.

    At the KM Institute, we are attempting to change that – almost 4,000 certified knowledge managers (CKM) since 2001 (KM Team Leaders–if there even is a KM team), but that’s just a drop in the bucket of KM practitioners.

    Hence, we have expanded our offering to offer a more core, quicker, grass-roots/startup focused KM certification program for team-member practitioners as well – Certified Knowledge Practitioner (CKP)(tm).

    But, most importantly v-v the topic, we seek to align with KM-committed universities to offer more advanced and dual (integrated but complementary) awards – certification and diploma (fast start, practitioner-oriented certification integrated with the longer-term, more in-depth academics of the degree).

    Shouldn’t the leaders in KM training and certification collaborate with KM-inspired universities to lead the charge, solve the lack of KM expertise problem, and improve the world by doing so?

  2. David Griffiths
    August 1, 2011

    I totally support the work you are doing, Douglas. We have chatted quite a bit and I only have two concerns when it comes to KM qualifications:

    (1) Content – For example, does the curriculum give the ‘graduate’ the tools to operationalise the organisation’s knowledge driven strategy (whether based in growth, resilience, sustainability or innovation) and can they speak to operational impact in areas such as decision-making capability.

    (2) What criteria is applied to determine the ‘certification’. I have to be transparent and say that I do not subscribe to people holding ‘certified’ qualifications when they have not been through an assessment process that can determine their knowledge and understanding of course content. Attending a course does not mean that you understand or that you can apply the content. In my mind, we need ‘certification’ courses that speak to that requirement. If we are going to use ‘certified’ KMer qualifications as the benchmark for employment in the future then we have to work towards credibility and that means setting standards. Otherwise, in my opinion, we risk devaluing the qualification and the reputation of our field.

    This said, and I want to be clear, I totally support the work that you do. In my mind, you are a leading influence for the future of our field – just look at the reach of your learning and development programmes. However, I do believe that there is a need to mature the offerings and I also believe that you are in the position to drive the standards for applied KM practice.

    Reading that back, it seems like I am trying to challenge you – that is not my intention. I just passionately believe that there is more that we can do and a benchmark ‘certified’ qualification could change the field – just look at the impact of CIPD in the UK and beyond.

  3. Md Santo
    August 1, 2011


    Hi David,

    If “The Truth is Out There” as The X-Files mentioned, so does it seems valid for Knowledge as well as KM. As I’ve mentioned through – “KM model framework by Nature” among others, …… “Knowledge is the edge of Science” – Here, Knowledge within Science continuum located in grey area and there should be shifting paradigm of Knowledge that will open towards new era in which Scientific Knowledge, a term where Knowledge treated as object, could becoming “Knowledgeable Science”, a term where Knowledge treated as subject….”. If it is true, then the mechanism to respond to strategic challenges, such as ‘Resilience’, ‘Sustainability’, ‘Growth’, ‘Innovation’ and ‘Adaptive Capacity’ as you mentioned becoming more difficult to achieved.

    From my point of view, how “to handle the truth” regarding our K and KM for the sake of “stop talking and start acting”, put our efforts more skewed to the right within DI-KW continuum as I said also from “Knowledge is the edge of Science” – among others, …. “Surely we could partially treat KM as science considering K is object, but in an advance domain, KM should be treated as “Knowledgeable Science” rather than “Scientific Knowledge (Management)”. Of course, Knowledgeable Science domain should be modified and/or adjusted to put Knowledge more skewed to the right within D-I-K-W continuum. Here, among others we preferred using “possibility” rather than “probability”, “complexity” rather than “simplicity”, “genomic/consciousness DNA” rather than “mind brain” or “human senses”, “seeking Right or Wrong” rather than “seeking Good or Bad” and “True or False”, concern more with “Knowledge-base” rather than “Data-base”, trend in using “evidence-based and reverse engineering” rather than “deducto-hypothetico-verificative (scientific pathway), “social media 2.0-3.0 tools” rather than “multi media tools”, “doing by learning” rather than “learning by doing” etc all could be considered used within our KM metrics.

    To conclude, the next near future will be our “home work” among KMers to find out the new and the same paradigm on the way we see and treat K as well as KM

    Md Santo –

    • David Griffiths
      August 1, 2011

      MD Santo – Thank you again for contributing. You have posted a lot about your new model and call for a paradigm shift towards your thinking. Okay, I can buy into that. However, before I do, perhaps it is time to be more explicit about your model, the evidence for its construction and the outcomes of case studies from its application? is this a conceptual model or is this a model that has been subjected to the rigors of scientific research?

      As you come at this from an academic perspective, I’ll respond in kind…

      Bacharach (1989) stated that an effective theoretical model needs to address issues of Falsifiability, Utility, Variables, Constructs and Relationships. He also suggested that an effective model must transmit answers to the questions of ‘how’, ‘what’, ‘why’ and ‘when’. Bacharach also criticised theoretical models for being narrative in approach, which he believes translates to a one-sided description that focuses on the question of ‘what’. “The primary goal of theory is to answer the question of how, when, and why, unlike the goal of description, which is to answer the question of what” (p. 498). This echos the criticisms of models in current KM literature. Bacharach’s criteria is supported by Shanks et al. (2003), who stated that in order for a model to provide an appropriate representation of the field to which it is providing a lens, it should address ‘accuracy’, ‘completeness’, be ‘conflict-free’ and there should be ‘no redundancy’. Rasli (2004) developed a framework, founded on the work of Bacharach, to specifically investigate a KM framework. The framework also encompassed the work of Shanks et al. Rasli simplified the language of Bacharach and Shanks et al. to assess Models and Frameworks based on ‘Comprehensiveness’, ‘Correctness’, ‘Usefulness’, ‘Clarity’ and ‘Conciseness’.

      My question is this: What research have you conducted to ensure that your model meets these criteria and where has this research been reviewed and published?

      The search for new models and frame- works has been comprehensively criticised by some theorists as being a contributing factor to the apparent poor performance of KM as a strategic management tool:

      “The profusion of terms…flippancy as to the way the concept is used, ignorance of the classical categories of thought and the frivolous abuse of fashions…are constructing a ‘Tower of Babel’, provoking injustice and unease in the unnecessary formulation and accelerated substitution of propositions of new models and expressions without allowing them to mature and without making a minimal effort to contrast them to prior ones” (Bueno, translated from Spanish and cited in Limone & Bastias, 2006, p. 40).

      To be fair to the argument… The position of Bueno is interesting as he appears to discourage the improvement of scientific theory, specifically Popper’s theory of Falsifiability, which would seem to demand a process of evolution in order to interrogate the efficiency and effectiveness of existing models and frameworks in order to determine not only when they work, but when and why they don’t work (Blackman et al., 2004). However, Bueno’s stance would also appear to inhibit the field from advancing Argyris & Schon’s (1982) double loop learning theory, as discussed in the literature review, where not only the action strategies, but also the governing variables of theories are examined. In addition, Meadows (1982) opines that addressing issues of process change can be politically challenging as it can be easier to point away from the cause, being, in the case of KM, current action strategies within models and frameworks, than to interrogate the core of the issue, being the governing variables. Meadows further suggests that thinking such as that of Bueno can produce a state where a culture of least resistance is perpetuated and the desired performance of the field is lost to an accepted state of lower standards and poor performance. In another interpretation perhaps Bueno could be seen to be asking theorists to take more care and give greater depth of thought to analysis.

      This brings me to my next question, have you compared your model against existing models and frameworks to assess its originality and currency?

      To put my money where my mouth is… Our research has compared and contrasted initial meta-analysis findings of over 500 aspects of practitioner and academic literature against a further meta-analysis of 163 models and frameworks that 0 (zero) identified the 16 functions and constructs identified in the meta-analysis. The rigour applied to the research would appear to address Bueno’s concerns and justify the exploration of a new model; furthermore, in support of this position, Checkland (2000) observed models as, “intellectual devices – whose role it is to help structure an exploration of the problem situation being addressed” (p. s26). (Our research has been published in various places, but is available in almost complete form here:

      Model building has also been criticised for attempting to be mathematical, where “proof and formal analysis are aesthetic crafts” (Klein & Romero, 2007, p. 245) and Ludvall (2006) has stated that KM cannot be reduced to a set of techniques. However, Klein & Romero (2007) argued that model building brings discipline of mind and insight by applying formulaic models. They contend that proof will involve arguments that the model’s formulation is of academic interest and importance with a purpose aimed at advancing knowledge and understanding of real-world issues. The question, again, is what research has been conducted to inform the identification of these ‘real world’ issues? Perhaps you take Checkland’s (2000) view, in that they [models] are not actually models of anything: “They are accounts of concepts of pure purposeful activity, based on declared world-views, which can be used to stimulate cogent questions in debate about the real situation and desirable changes to it” (p. s26)

      Knowlton & Phillips (2009) posited that models need to be designed and deployed in order to overcome key questions that can improve effectiveness; “are you doing the right work; can you make better decisions; are you getting superior results?”(p. 13). Knowlton & Phillips further suggested that models provide a critical link between strategy and results. Finally, theorists acknowledge that models are required to provide visual literacy in stimulating the transfer of theory to practice (Handzic et al., 2008), through what could be considered to be a conceptual model for testing.

      The key, for me, is in the ‘testing’. If you are going to push for a paradigm shift, then it has to be based on rigorous research. That shift cannot happen without credible, transferable, dependable, and confirmable findings. This is my frustration with conceptual models, just look at SECI (! Our field needs evidence based research and evidence-based practice to move forward. Anything else at this point just isn’t good enough – there’s just too much dissatisfaction out there and we are fast losing credibility.

      Just my opinion…

  4. Baoman
    August 2, 2011

    I hold an MSc in KM from HK Polytechnic University Dept of Industrial & Systems Engineering. The programme is comprehensive and students are assessed for 10 courses or 7 courses + a thesis. The programme produces about 30~40 graduates a year and has done so since 2006. The graduates have a good grounding on KM theory and practice. Therefore, there could be as many as 150 people or more with KM master’s degrees in one of the world’s most important finance markets as well as being part of the world’s largest (China’s) manufacturing supply chain. The department also has short certification courses, which give people some KM knowledge but no assessment on what they have actually absorbed and understand about KM. The HK Polytechnic also offers an Associate Degree in Information Systems and Knowledge Management. There is another MSc in Electronic Business and Knowledge Management at City University Hong Kong. On the surface Hong Kong should be a hotbed of KM activity but clearly this is not the case. There are 3 jobs on one of the biggest job-sites for knowledge managers today. This may not be completely fair but it does indicate to me that as a recognizable role in companies and organizations knowledge management does not exist in Hong Kong.

    My point is that simply offering certification and degree programmes is not necessarily going to improve the presence, importance and role of knowledge management. I agree with David Griffiths that over reliance on un-tested models is not moving KM towards being more credible. KM theories, models and other conceptual ways of thinking about how to organize KM efforts are not useless but actual execution of identifiable KM processes inside companies and organizations is much more important to gain credibility with both workers and managers.

    • David Griffiths
      August 2, 2011

      Hi Bill…good to hear form you again…

      Interesting points. The survey data is only a headline finding and, perhaps my fault here, is out of context from the central argument that we are developing for the final report. Basically, I am suggesting that there is a risk in taking an unqualified KMer and putting them into a position where they are responsible for the development of what is a strategic resource for the organisation. If we look at the recruitment and selection process in organisations, there are too many examples of KMers being appointed with no background in the concept area. Is there a risk in this? In my opinion, yes and is perhaps an indicator of the ‘importance’ placed on the KM function by the organisation; it might also be an indicator of the understanding of KM on the part of the organisation.

      The risk? I’d say that the KM position in an organisation, whether IT, HR or socio-techno centric, is pivotal – what cost in terms of issues such as service provision, competitive advantage or decision-making capability while the ‘unqualified’ KMer gets to grips with what KM is really about in the first place. Take any given organisation, in how many positions would they appoint unqualified people with a lack of experience to fulfill the needs of the role? Perhaps this takes us back to the understanding of KM on the part of the organisation?

      The qualification is an indicator of understanding and that, for me, is important. Then we can start talking about experience…. If the field is to mature then, again, for me, this is an important progression.



  5. Baoman
    August 2, 2011

    KM qualifications, which are assessed and recognized in the larger community, are important. They are just not the only indicator of maturity. KM is not a mature discipline either academically or professionally. I’m not at all sure it is going to attain either one if it continues on its present rather disoriented course.

    As far as organizations appointing unqualified people I would say it is not that uncommon. It tends to happen in those parts of companies where defining ‘professionals’ is rather vague; marketing, sales, information technology & management, administration, human resources all come to mind where I have seen very doubtfully qualified people in roles that should have been filled only with people with recognized qualifications. The people in these roles caused a lot of problems because they were ‘learning on the job’ and sometimes simply lacked the intellectual capacity to ever successfully understand what they needed to know to do the job. When I ran a global records management programme I tried as much as possible to only hire people with recognized library science qualifications because they came ‘knowing’ certain concepts which would be useful for what we were trying to accomplish.

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    August 3, 2011

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  9. Of course David you are correct….KM in isolation is like driving on one wheel, likewise for OD/OT, leadership development, strategic planning, HRD….am always amazed these are silos within a company….Perhaps some of this is due to lack of KM professionals making these links or a stronger case to leaders, but ultimately leaders bear the responsibility to
    cross-pollinate all of these functions….

    My focus in KM as US strengths-based leadership/change pioneer/author is:
    How can employees know what is valued in their knowledge if there is not a culture of valuing and speaking out about what works, what is valued?

    Few know their strengths, much less what the value is of all the knowledge rambling about in their heads….how then can they know what to share?

    This a a huge cause of distortion underlying KM systems and their implementation….many
    companies jump to intranets or software solutions without even addressing this…guaranteeing lower use of system, less great input, lower revenue, and employees feeling less valued than they are/should be…hey, other than that…..there is a US study early in 2011 on cnnmoney showing that 84% of employees want new jobs and will change jobs when they find one…up 60% from last year!!! Giant warning flag!.

    Best to you all,
    Dr Linne Bourget MA MBA Ph.D.
    Founder/CEO Institute for Transformation Leaders & Consultants-ITLC

    • David Griffiths
      August 14, 2011

      Hello Linne,

      First, thank you for contributing your experience. We have experienced similar challenges in the EU, Middle East and Asia Pacific; there isn’t an easy answer, but we need to raise awareness of the issues and offer credible solutions. We’ve just entered into a strategic alliance with Perigean technologies in the US to improve our offering in the area of knowledge and expertise mapping. We know that knowledge is walking out the door every week and we know that this cost to reacquire/relearn it is high. We also know that HR/IT/seniore/exec/management have problems identifying what it is they actually know and where it is located. Our challenge is to show them and, where possible, embed it within the wider organisation to optimise the opportunity for retention, reuse and development.

      It’s a challenge, and perhaps something new for KMers who see KM as existing in an IT box, but this approach has high currency in the current economic environment.

      Thanks again for contributing and hope to hear more from you…


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  14. chatiwa nsala
    September 10, 2012

    I agree with you my colleagues that it is high time we walk the talk.Action now or never.We need to start acting on our ideas,skills and experience.They usually say in an organization if all is not well the senior/top management is to blame.I disagree because in some instances the general staff can operate at a low tart hence affect the improving efforts of the entire organization.As KNOWLEDGE MANAGERS we need to come up with ways in which we can keep knowledge as a n on going process.We all know that the knowledge resides in an individuals mind .the big question is what will we do as managers to ensure that even when an individual with certain knowledge is no longer in planet earth………we still have that knowledge for the new generation?

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