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High Quality, High Impact KM: Start with the right questions

I’ve set out my stall when it comes to KM and by now it should be pretty clear that I believe that successful KM outputs are reliant on people.  I also strongly believe that the key to successful KM requires us to consider the following in its operational activities:

The needs of the individual, framed by the strategic and operational drivers of the organisation and enabled by the processes that bind the two together.

Accepting people as the locus of our KM activities leads to their development.  No, this is not a pitch to relocate KM to the HR (Management or Development) function; this is about the need for KMers to acknowledge that the development of knowledge as a resource that contributes to adaptive capacity and improved decision-making.  This leads to knowledge as the foundation to our learning and outputs of  knowledge application, extension and subsequent development.  Subscribe to this and you will find yourself in the field of andragogy.  

An organisation’s approach to the development of people will give away a lot about their approach to the development of knowledge resources. There is a distinct difference between dynamic ‘learning’ led organisations and static ‘training’ led organisations.  As someone once said to me, “training is something that is done to me, learning is something that I do”.

Is this a concern?  Yes, it probably is.  It has been suggested that training is a form of programming, driven by a needs such as compliance.  A training-led approach to adult development has links to Mc Gregor’s  ‘Theory X’ approach to management, where people are seen as lacking in self-motivation and ultimately contributes to the development of ‘static’ organisations.  Learning, on the other hand, has links to Mc Gregor’s ‘Theory Y’, where people are motivated participants in active problem solving activities and ultimately contribute to ‘dynamic’ organisations.

Training is generally accepted to be a reductionist approach to development; a mechanism by which components of a process are broken down and explained; it has suggested that this places training within the realms of explicit knowledge transfer.  The process of training is also seen as being subjected to quantitative evaluation processes and therefore, if training is deployed as the dominant part of a knowledge strategy, it could be seen as being aligned with the Resource-Based View of the organisation and the treatment of knowledge as an object.

What does this potentially tell us about an organisation’s approach to the development of knowledge resources?

Learning, on the other hand, is summed up by Spender (1996) – yes, there are many others, but, for me, he captures what I believe learning to be about:

“learning is the process of experiencing and analysing, or the process of communicating, the knowledge previously generated by others”

Learning is based in the act of knowing, the activation of knowledge, that sense of experience that sees knowledge applied, tested and revised.

This blog is about asking the right questions to enable this process.  The following table is taken from ‘The Adult Learner’ by Knowles, Holton and Swanson and I highly recommend it for anybody interested in progressing this area of thought in relation to KM.  The questions in this table, for me, provide a stable platform for high quality high impact KM activity:

Performance Variables

Performance Levels

Organizational Level Process Level Individual Level
Mission/Goal Does the organisation’s mission/goal fit the reality of the economic, political and cultural forces? Do the process goals enable the organization to meet organizational and individual missions/goals Are the professional and personal mission/goals of individual congruent with the organisation’s?
System Design Does the organizational system provide structure and policies supporting the desired performance? Are processes designed in such a way to work as a system Do individuals face obstacles that impede their performance?
Capacity Does the organization have the leadership, capital, and infrastructure to achieve its mission/goals Does the process have the capacity to perform (quantity, quality and timeliness)? Does the individual have the mental, physical, and emotional capacity to perform?
Motivation Do the policies, culture, and reward systems support the desired performance? Does the process provide the information and human factors required to maintain it? Does the individual want to perform no matter what?
Expertise Does the organization establish and maintain selection and training [learning and development] policies and resources? Does the process of developing expertise meet the changing demands of changing processes? Does the individual have the knowledge, skills and experience to perform?

My challenge, if you think that this concept is divorced from the purview of the Knowledge Manager, is to compare and contrast these questions to those being suggested on the multitude of bulletin board threads on KM as a response to operational KM challenges.  In my opinion, KMers need to explore the realms of adult learning further as a part of their wider toolkit.

9 comments on “High Quality, High Impact KM: Start with the right questions

  1. Douglas Weidner
    August 14, 2011

    Good stuff. I claim that one of the key initiatives for all organizations is to “Rethink Learning”.
    I don’t have the sources in front of me, but various studies have put training at 10 – 30% of learning, on-the-job experiences as 70 – 90% of learning.

    As an aside, you might check/correct your sentence, “No, this is a pitch to relocate KM to the HR…” Someone who didn’t read your blog carefully might miss the apparent typo.

    • David Griffiths
      August 14, 2011

      Hi Douglas…thanks for spotting the error – agree with your view of On-The-Job learning — frustrating, as I can’t recall the source, but similar findings at 80-20%

  2. Pingback: Tom Graves / Tetradian » Knowledge, process, people, and enterprise-architecture

  3. samantha22
    August 19, 2011

    This is quite amazing article.I just loved the concept here mentioned.Thanks for posting such a nice post.Keep up the good work.

  4. Pingback: The Elvis loving Six Sigma black-belt, 3M, KM and a pub in Wales! | Theknowledgecore's Blog

  5. Nik Fleming
    August 29, 2011

    This is really thought-provoking. I’m just about to start a new job leading knowledge management for a global telecoms/tech company. One of the reasons why I got the job was a deep background in organizational change management (read: changing peoples mindsets and behaviors). In the interview process, the HR people stressed the challenge would not be aligning people, but getting the KM architecture to fit. The KM architects were adamant that the infrastructure was flexible and dynamic and if only the people processes were aligned to nurture KM participation.

    In prepping both for the interviews and now to assume the role, I had revisited “The Adult Learner” and have been using those sorts of questions as the foundation for my first step of an objective diagnostic. My thought is that this set of questions (plus a few others) will give me the fact base to build on.

    • David Griffiths
      August 29, 2011

      Nik, Thank you very much for your contribution and I would love to hear how thing progress with your new project. Glad that the ‘Adult Learner’ can help; it is a fantastic book! Also, we have a KM construct the K-Core) with 4 functions and 12 constructs that organisations need to be looking at if KM is to be a success – please let me know if we can provide any advice for you in this area. All the best…David

  6. Jeff Angus
    September 6, 2011

    Griffiths’ point is unarguably true, and further, any KM implementation that does not take this orientation as its foundation is either pointless or so close to pointless as to be worthless.

    The challenge, IMNSHO, is that few organisations have “enough” of this setting before the KM effort is started — and the de facto presumption of people-as-commodity is usually well-infused into the collective consciousness. That makes it quite challenging to overcome many individuals’ belief that change can/will happen.

    I’d love to see Griffiths’ thoughts and the thoughts of others here about techniques KMers have had success with in overcoming emotional inertia enough to give the Griffiths method sufficient traction.

    In my own practice, I’ve had some good success overcoming a history of employee-as-commodity societies with deploying token economies…

    …but mostly with blue-collar industrial workers (a tendency to be more literal in thinking on average…that is, strictly-measurable & immediate rewards trump chronically bruised feelings & organisational history). I wish this worked better with office workers, but I think generally for them, the group emotional attachment to feelings of persecution tends to trump the tiny reality of the token economy.

    • David Griffiths
      September 6, 2011

      Jeff, a pleasure to hear form you and thank you for your valuable insight! The issue of, as you put it so well, ’emotional inertia’ is a significant one; something that can doom knowledge projects to fail, if you don’t get the KM approach right at the start – strategic alignment, communication of objectives, identification of management constructs, operational planning, motivation consideration…I could go on, but this link will show you the K-Core model we work to when engaging with organisations:

      I hope we get the chance to chat further and please feel free to contact me offline if you ever want a Skype chat — I’d love to hear more of your perspective.



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