January 20, 2014

More Lessons from a 10 year KM Journey

I would like to use this edition of my blog to share some more lessons from our 10 year journey supporting a client as they evolved in knowledge management.

In this post I would like to share insights on;

  • When to move from a central to a de-centralised team
  • What does success look like for the KM team verses the business

When to move from a centralised to a de-centralised team.  This client like most organisations started with a centralised KM team.  The work progressed well, results were delivered and everyone was happy.  However the majority of the organisation was organised around business units and there was always a tension to split up the team and embed them in the individual business units.  The team successfully resisted that pressure until one of the key players left the team (I think they move back into their original line position).  The pressure built up until inevitably the team was split up and individuals were embedded in the individual business units.

The plan was that while they were sitting in their individual business unit assisting them to deliver their business objectives, the knowledge management people would operate as a community of practice and support each other even if they weren’t sitting together.

While this was a good idea in principle it lacked one vital ingredient, a community charter.  There was no formal agreement on how they work together, behaviours, technology, goals or work focus.  Slow but surely the group started to fragment; ‘friends’ helped each other while ignoring others.  Approaches to implementation of KM and even application of processes started to become ad hoc; some business units continued to make significant progress while others downgraded KM to an almost non existent status.

Within a relatively short period of time at a company level KM didn’t exist, at best it existed in isolated pockets in individual business units.  There was no coordination, everything was ad hoc, the company had lost the benefit of its initial investment.

An incident happened that demonstrated to senior management that knowledge and experience was not being transferred across the organisation and as a result a new group was established as the ‘corporate’ KM team to overseas the work of the individual business unit KM teams.  Even if you wish to de-centralise your KM effort, having a corporate team to provide assurance and governance is highly beneficial.

What does success look like for the KM team verses the business.  When this company started on it’s KM journey, the focus was very much on improving business outcomes.  The vast majority of the KM team’s objectives were associated with or described how they were going to work with the business to assist them to either deliver their objectives or improve their productivity / efficiency / safety record.  Everyone was highly focused and aligned on what was to be achieved.

Then something called the MAKE Awards appeared and suddenly the KM team wanted to achieve something that they business had no interest in.  There were some very interesting meetings at which both sides fought their corner;

  • "MAKE Award winners have consistently higher share prices"
  • "I don’t care if we win a MAKE Award, I want help increasing our market share"
  • "What are the workforce going to be more interested in, we won a MAKE Award or we are going to invest in this project"
  • "It will be a public recognition that we are doing the right thing"
  • And so on.

The KM Steering Team summarised the position as “Are we doing KM to be the best in the world at KM or are we doing KM to be the best company in the world?  After that the focus reverted to assisting the business achieve it’s goals but to a certain extent trust had been lost between the KM team and the business unit leaders and the pressure to disband the central team and embed them in the individual business units intensified.

Balancing the needs of the KM team and the line business is a careful juggling act.  Sure if you are the head of KM, winning a MAKE Award is a big thing for you and your team but you have to balance that with ensuring that your main customer, the line businesses believe that you are fully committed to the successful out come of their objective.


I would highly recommend that you view and then re-use this video “How to implement knowledge management in anorganisation”


January 13, 2014

The Power Of Context

At Knoco we constantly emphasise the need to provide context when transferring lessons or knowledge.  I was reminded yesterday about the huge difference have or not having the context to something can make.

I don’t drive much, about 3000 miles per year, but yesterday I found myself driving my car.  I had the radio on and was enjoying a program of traditional Scottish fiddle (violin) music.  I was alone in the car so had the music up load.  Wall to wall blue skies, winter sunshine, I was full of the joys of the world.

The program finished and another program started.  The announcer introduced the first song by saying that at during the First World War some 150,000 horses (I might have remembered the exact number incorrectly but it was in that order) were sent from Australia to serve in that war but that only 1 returned to Australia and that was the horse of a general.

Now that got my attention; 150,000 went out and 1 returned.

The announcer went on to explain that because of quarantine difficulties and costs it was decided to shot the horses.  The horses in many cases had helped to save the life of their human counterparts so it was decided you wouldn’t shot your own horse but that of your best mate!!

This guy really had my attention.  I now fully understood the context to the song that was about to be played.

I heard every word of the lyrics; every single one, a man saying good bye to the horse that would not exist the next day.

Less than a minute later I had to switch the radio off; the emotion and sentiment of the song was overwhelming.

Now I could almost guarantee that if I hadn’t heard the background to that song that I wouldn’t have ‘heard the lyrics’, it would have just been another song on the radio, one of many, instantly forgettable.  But in this case I had the context to the words and boy did those words now mean something to me.

So if you are hoping to transfer knowledge to someone, remember the story above and what a positive difference will be achieved if they understand the context of what you are transferring.

January 6, 2014

Lessons from a 10 year km journey

The New Year in my native Scotland is not only a time for celebration but also a time of reflection, which caused me to become aware that we at Knoco had been providing consulting services to at least one client for over 10 years.

During that 10 year period the services we have been supplying to them have changed considerably; in the early days it was centred on providing responses to questions such as;

  • What is knowledge management?
  • What benefits will it create for us?
  • How would we get started?
  • How will we know we are doing the right thing?
  • What sort of resource do we need?
  • Who should the team report to?
  • What technology do we need?
  • What budget do we need?

Over the years the context within which they work has changed (just think of the things that have changed in your business life in the last 10 years!) and as a result the support that Knoco provided to them changed to match their changing needs.

In the next few blogs I would like to share with you some of the insights from that 10 year journey.  I won’t attempt to put them into a priority as your organisation and its context will be different and hence the value or priority of these insights will be different.

So here goes, some of the insights from supporting a client’s 10 year journey in knowledge management.

Have a vision or end goal in mind before you start.  It might sound very obvious but before you start any journey you should have an idea of where you want to get to.  Your vision shouldn’t be too specific or too challenging but something that all stakeholders can align with.  In this case they chose to avoid describing their vision in terms of ‘km’ but rather in business objective terms.  Initially this didn’t seem to be something of great important to them but later on they started to better understand how if they had made the vision to ‘km’ they would have lost the support of key people in the business.  So not only do you have to have an idea of where you want to end up, you need to describe it in a language that the vast majority of people can relate to.

Know where you are journeying from.  Just as you need to know where you want to journey to (the vision), you need to know where you are starting from.  In this instance the enthusiasm to get started in km meant that they started to design and put things in place without really, truly understanding what the current reality was.  In part this was also because their management reporting metrics weren’t great.  As they progressed into their journey they started to find that they couldn’t answer questions such as “What benefit has km brought to this?” or “Are we getting a return on our investment?”   To their credit they realised that it was better to put in place a measurement process based on where they had reach rather than lament that they hadn’t done it initially.  Once you know where you are, you can measure and report on the improvement. 

Senior management education is vital.   When they first started on their journey, their senior management knew almost nothing about knowledge management, they were relying on their newly appointed km team to do the right thing, brief them and provide them with ‘data’ upon which they would make their decisions.  Initially the km team found it difficult to communicate with senior management.  This new thing that went by the name ‘knowledge management’ seemed very squidgy, didn’t have any science behind it, seemed to be very ‘soft’ and very hard for senior management to get to grips with.  In the early days the km team were given very wide remit in the hope that they would be able to create something that would provide benefit to the organisation.  The km team didn’t fully understand the gap between their belief that km would be good for the organisation and the senior managements need to have something defined in terms of process and work flow.  Slowly and informally, they educated the senior management in what they were doing and what they were trying to achieve.  Key to this was the use of a Steering Board (key, influential senior management were members) to support the km team. 
Nowadays education of senior management in what you mean by knowledge management probably isn't starting from such a low level as was the case in this instance but it is certainly worthwhile considering.

In the next few blogs I hope to be able to share insights from their 10 year journey on topics such as;