Complexity and Knowledge Management Navigators…
Almost three weeks without a blog – lots of travelling…time flies!
I had dinner in Helsinki with someone relatively new to KM, David Gurteen and an experienced KMer from Dubai. And you know something, we’re having the same conversations all over the world. What is KM? What is the silver bullet for curing knowledge sharing? What can I do to ‘do’ KM?
Year on year, the same questions. Years of arguing. Years of cajoling. Years of misunderstanding. Years of dissatisfaction and irritation. All because of two words – Knowledge Management!
We’ve lost sight of what this is really about and KM is a burden and a curse. Ultimately, KM is not the point. It’s all about pain, nothing more… That’s the context behind this blog… Just keep one thing in mind; future competitive advantage will be built on a knowledge advantage!
KM is a redundant process that should be re-evaluated and scrapped. That simple. It’s a myth that we wished into existence because we don’t like the idea of managing a resource that we don’t understand. We created a management myth and we’ve been chasing unicorns ever since. KM emerged out of ‘Management Knowledge’, a need to share expertise on how to do a better job of management. Now there’s an idea! Instead we started hunting unicorns in data mines, forgetting that people are the ones that activate what is put in front of them. Well, I found the unicorn, it lives in the firewall between IT and people!
I believe that KM is redundant because the people, the experts that should be managing the concept of knowledge as a resource already exist: HR and IT; IT manage the information processes, HR the knowledge environment. HR should be have the expertise in learning and development and IT the expertise in the realm of creating information flows.
KM fills a gap, caused by a lack of business understanding and a street war between territorial agents from IT and HR.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of KM exists with a bias towards IT, just look at the job descriptions for KMers advertised on job sites. This is not healthy and it is not what organisations need.
Knowledge is embedded within learning. Adults are experiential learners (on the job training?); we naturally seek out solutions to problems, even if it is just a case of being told what to do. IT architecture allows people to connect; it also allows data/information to be acquired, stored and presented, but people activate it, people make the ultimate decision.
KM has been brought about by such a simple need – organisations have an input and an output, in between a transformation process takes place (we build products/deliver services) and we monitor the quality of, or the changing needs of the environment that bring about a need for a change in, the output. That disturbance is what drives KM; transforming resources are too slow, too inefficient, giving advantage to a competitor; the organisation can’t innovate quick enough, giving advantage to a competitor; 20% of the staff are leaving in the next 24 months, impacting decision-making capability and service provision/product development – this is where the need for KM comes from.
Want to improve knowledge sharing? Start by looking at your HR cycle (job descriptions through recruitment, through induction, through appraisal, through to development and exit) and the way it represents your need.
People ask how to ‘do’ KM. KM is about how you ‘do’ business, something organisations have been doing for centuries. Yes, the way of doing business has changed, but, fundamentally, this is about the organisation and the individual recognising the problem and reacting to the need. It really is nothing more complicated than that.
The best organisations know how to use the tools at their disposal (many being open source, such as the Stakeholder Matrix) and, where they see a weakness or a threat that they can’t answer, when to bring in expertise to help them navigate their way through emerging problems.
It is about recognising the threat or weakness, in strategy and/or operations and formulating an appropriate response. In the field of physiology it is seen as a Specific Adaptation to an Imposed Demand. The muscle experiences a load and responds; pain is warning of muscle failure – and the body responds.
We know that the modern economy is driven by knowledge and that competitive advantage is shifting from efficiency based measure to be driven by the ‘knowledge advantage’. The bottom line; if this is about people, about how they learn, how they apply what they know, make decision, develop expertise and learn from success and failure, then this is about HR.
HR professionals need to get their act together and start reacting to the needs of the individual and the organisation. If they can do that, if they can realign their value proposition, then we have the solution. We don’t need KM, we need a more focused and proactive HR function and we need a strong relationship between HR and IT. KM is not the solution. This is the solution.
Even within the realm of IT, there is a need to reevaluate priorities. Organisations spend good money after bad attempting to learn lessons from the past.
Look at the KEn diagram; at the ‘procedural end’, no problem, work on best practice and process improvement – old knowledge becomes largely redundant, as new processes contribute to output improvement – but there is very rarely the need to go through old procedural ‘lessons’ and the ‘old’ knowledge is usually superseded (exceptions do exist, such as procedural challenges within the law/accounting field).
On the managerial side, the knowledge is highly perishable and, in the vast majority of cases has a limited shelf life. Take the example of a lesson learned from a project involving issues arising from transactions with a specific client; your manager/teams dealing with the client’s manager/team – many of the lessons are specific to individuals, culture and experiences that are specific to a time and place; the odds of it being repeatable or transferable are very low; maybe there is a clue here for why ‘lesson learned’ programmes die a slow and lingering death (see the NASA 2012 Lessons Learned report).
If KM isn’t working, if it hasn’t bridged the gap between HR and IT, then scrap it and invest the time and money in developing the professionals that should be managing knowledge in the first place.
We need to stop trying to force KM into ‘doing’ something. Focus on the pain. Is it a human issue? Is it a knowledge issue? Once you understand the pain then we can build Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands.
Call it KM of you wish, just make sure you have the people and the processes that understand how to interpret the pain.
Otherwise, good luck finding those unicorns…