July 28, 2006

So What Does A Knowledge Manager Look Like, Exactly?

It's pushing up on 2am in Atlanta and I've got the Rafael Lelis Club Mix of Christina Aguilera's "Ain't No Other Man" blaring so I can stay focused, write this post quickly and catch some Zzz's before berry pickin' down at Adam's Farm in Fayetteville in a few hours.

Though I've been something of a flogger this week, I have been keeping notes on topics I want to write about. I also decided that at least once a month, going forward, I'd like to start posting some ideas of how KM can be leveraged in various industries and companies. I was in Nashville's equivalent of Discover Mills last weekend and passing Old Navy reminded me of how stale the men's fashion industry is and being both a knowledge manager and fashionista I thought, "How can KM benefit Old Navy and the men's fashion industry as a whole?" (Who hasn't asked this question?!?!?!)

I'm always hearing folks question what the future of KM is and I think that in order for the field to grow there needs to be more practical application of KM concepts and processes; proactive vs reactive KM.

So, while I'm showing my age and cultural influences, I was watching Making the Band 3 last week and thinking about how much image is touted in the music industry and wondering how important image is within the field of KM and how often it (and salesmanship) override substance and what effect this has on the validity of (and respect for) KM.

On Tuesday I had my last meeting with the division head of one of the companies I've been interviewing with. I think it was a largely ceremonial interview, particularly since he really didn't have a clue about what KM was or even what he thought KM could/might be able to do for his division (that, and he nodded off a few times - soooo sketchy), but anyway, reading between the lines of some of his comments, it seemed to me that he was sort of doubting or disqualifying my ability to do the job because of my age and limited experience (4 yrs).

I got the impression that his expectation of a knowledge manager is someone much older than me with 10-20 years experience (no less than 5 years at any one company and not necessarily in KM), a PhD (in God only knows what), certifications from various organizations, and probably a few scholarly articles and/or books to their credit. (Mind you, this is not the job description). At any rate, he seemed quite dismissive which offended me since it completely ignored my education and experience (and complete overqualification for the position as described) and also because my presentation ROCKED and impressed the other 18 people I had met within the division.

Anyway, it had me thinking about a few things. Please keep in mind it's early in the AM and some of these might not make sense:

(1) The image of KM and how many folks (professional and otherwise) paint a pretty picture vs selling a solid strategy. And by "paint a pretty picture" I mean anything from trying to sell a concept of KM that caters more to an organizations ignorance about KM (as opposed to creating/setting realistic expecations which aren't always "pretty") to selling technology tools/applications as a definitive KM solution (totally ignoring the whole "culture/community development aspect of KM").

On the flip side - thinking about organizations that have pre-defined what they want KM to be - do you walk away when an organization is asking you to implement something that isn't necessarily KM or doesn't truly reflect the KM needs of the organization?

I wonder, if I took more of a sales and less of a consultative approach would I have been better received?

(2) Was is it really age-discrimination? I haven't been offered or denied the opportunity so this is not a legal question in the least, I'm thinking more about the fact that while KM is a really forward-thinking, visionary field there isn't any regulation or structure and it still has not hit the mainstream. If I were in Marketing, I might be seen as a young gun with exciting new ideas. If I were a physician or professor I would be considered completely green, no matter how brilliant or accomplished (respect comes with time and tenure in these professions), but in a field without any real structure or career path - with professionals that are both like me and those who actually fit the description above, isn't it easy to be dismissive of someone in my shoes as being more ambitious than experienced - regardless of what is in my resume or how flawless I present my strategy and recommendations?

Much like in Sales and Marketing I feel that to be successful in this field you have to be an innovator, entrepreneurial, you have to be on the edge, with an eye for new opportunities to grow the field and grow within the field. I'm not saying I'm more qualified than the next person (depending on who they are) but I certainly feel my age and focused experience within KM (in very different organzations) enhances my value as a candidate.

3) Touching on that last point, one of the concerns voiced was my length of tenure at each of the previous companies I've worked. I'm not even going to get into the generational comparisons of how long people stay at any one job these days versus the mid-20th century, but in KM aren't there advantages to experiencing the challenges and opportunities presented by various organizations? I'm not saying job-hop for the sake of job-hopping, but how can you grow in the field if you've only experienced KM in one setting, industry, culture, country? And, isn't that what career development is all about - chasing increasingly challenging and fulfilling opportunities and experience?

I'll let y'all know if I get offered the job ;-)

July 20, 2006

The Executive Exception

Thus far in my career, I've worked on two full lifecycle KM engagements and one of the (many) things that irks me is how Senior Executives (including the President and CEO) have been non-users of the KM systems I've been involved with. During my time with Ariba, I'm not even sure if our Sr. Execs even knew the company had a knowledge base (if they did, maybe they wouldn't have laid off half of the team....I'm not bitter, lol), but in my last position with B+P both the President and the company founder were aware that a system had been deployed, yet neither of them ever logged into it.

At Ariba, I challenged the argument that execs at this level should be exempt from having to manage their own content (usually submitted and managed by direct reports or admin) - to no avail. I wonder, however, if exempting Sr. Execs from knowledge management activity (even the mundane stuff - it's mundane for everybody) diminishes their awareness of the critical value of knowledge management and factors into why so many KM efforts fail; after all, if its not supported, in practice, by your senior leadership, then why should the rank and file give a hoot?

One could argue that the higher the position in the organizational hierarchy, the greater the responsibility to share one's knowledge and, thusly, demonstrate and model good knowledge stewardship.

Christian's Kick-a** KM Roadmap

I recently updated the Knowledge Management Roadmap I use to establish my KM strategy overview. I took some inspiration from the Roadmap created by Amrit Tiwana (formerly of my alma mater, Georgia State) in his book, Knowledge Management Toolkit.

I'm still figuring out how to attach the PDF to this post, but you can email me at youngde1@gmail.com for a copy.

Essentially, this Roadmap breaks-out into five steps the various processes I employ in my approach.

Phase 1: Knowledge Audit
Every KM strategy should begin with a knowledge audit. How elaborate the audit might be is driven by whether or not an existing, documented strategy is in place and/or the level of carte blanche held by the Knowledge Manager. On the one hand, if you're walking into an existing, documented strategy you might have to get by with a very informal knowledge audit while you wrap your hands around what's going on in the organization. On the other hand, if you're starting fresh - and you have the carte blanche and organizational support to do so, you might be able to conduct a wide-scale knowledge audit; it's important to establish how much carte blanche (or "juice") you have at the onset - nothing worse than doing something full-on only to have someone slam on the breaks.

Along with performing the knowledge audit I am usually understanding and setting expectations of KM (by asking - and answering - these questions of the stakeholders, "What does KM mean to you?" and "What do you expect from KM?"); Defining and documenting the scope and vision (What does a fully implemented KM strategy look like the organization?); and, achieving buy-in (something that never ends).

Phase 2: KM Strategy Blueprint
This phase is all about taking the information collected in Phase 1 and building out the KM strategy, establishing metrics (which correlate directly with the intended deliverables!); building out a functional requirements document (what does your KM system/application need to be able to do, as indicated by the information you gathered in your knowledge audit regarding the needs of the various stakeholders in the organization?); determine the human resources needed to make the strategy work; and, yet again, acheive buy-in of the the strategy you've devloped.

This is also the phase where I would be comparing off-the-shelf applications and understanding how each could be customized to suit the needs of the organization.

Phase 3: KMS Development
If you've never had to establish a content classification methodology then consider yourself blessed because this really is a pain in the buh-tocks. Not only is this methodolgy driving how content is captured and organized in your system, it's also driving your search functionality which is huge determinant of how functional your system is (if folks can't find content they won't like your system, and if they don't like it, they won't use it, and if they don't use it, you probably won't be that company's KM for very long).

Never fear, though, you're also doing plenty of QA, UAT, and bug-fixing in this phase before you get to Phase 4.

Phase 4: KMS Deployment

Each phase of this roadmap is critical, but this is really where you put your money where your mouth is! Not only are you rolling out your knowledge management system, you're also having to launch your branding campaign which involves all of the marketing and education around both your system and KM, in general.

More thought definitely needs to go into branding knowledge management. I think the traditional technology focus most folks take when thinking about and implementing KM ill prepares both organizations and knowledge managers for this aspect of KM. Neverthless, "pimpin'" KM is hyper critical to making it successful!

Phase 5: KMS Evaluation
This is both the end of the KM cycle and the beginning, because it will set the stage for the next knowledge audit (which I think should be done on an annual basis, but that's what works for me). Basically, this phase goes back to all of those goals that were set in Phase 2 and evaluates how well they were acheived based on the pre-determined metrics.

I know that at this point, the temptation to add a little gloss to the results might appeal to some depending on what they to work with, but my experience is that the only way to really make KM work is to be as critically honest as possible. Obviously highlight positives, but don't be afraid to emphasize negatives as well; providing reasons for why things did or didn't work along with recommendations for resolving issues and improving outcomes.

Honesty is key not only for professional integrity, but also because you can't truly address critical organizational issues if you're not confronting them - and somebody has to, why not the "knowledge manager".

July 18, 2006

KM Career Information/Resources

I was cleaning up my KM IE Favorites links today and came across some career resource information that I thought folks might find useful.

The International Center for Applied Studies in Information Technology at George Mason University has compiled a list of KM degree and certificate programs that can be found here. The site also features a list of KM-related dissertations (with downloadable topic list) as well as a list of priviate companies offering KM education.

Kent University, which offers an MSc in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management, offers a list of KM Careers and Resources (including professional organizations) to assist those interested in the field.

Although I've still yet to find any US search firms/recruiters that specialize in staffing KM positions - and by specialize I don't mean they've placed a couple of folks here and there - this article on recruiting brought UK-based TFPL to my attention. They focus on recruiting in four areas: KM, library & information management, records management, and web & content management.

Just a thought, I have seen the odd KM position (those leaning more towards knowledge librarians) posted by Library & Information Management recruiters, but I wonder if those agencies are the most ideal for recruiting KM positions, in general.

July 17, 2006

Thoughts on the KM Interview Process

Well, it's been months since I started my blog and I've finally come to the realization that I'm a total flogger...a flaky blogger. You say you're gonna write, you tell the world you're going to put in the time, and then you flake out, giving nothing to world but wordless disappointment.

So, in an effort to rebuild some of my unearned trust, I thought I'd finally create a new post.

Towards the end of February my dreams of bringing knowledge management to Brierley+Partners turned to dust when I was told the company could no longer afford to fund the project - which particularly sucked because I was told at the onset that funding was very much a non-issue. At any rate, I've relocated back to Atlanta and have been interviewing nonstop for various KM positions locally.

The interview process is interesting for a number of reasons:
1) I'm always curious about the background of other applicants. Although my BS is in Urban Policy Studies and my MSc (when I finish my thesis) is in Adult Education and Organizational Learning, I've focused my entire academic career in the field of knowledge management - every paper, (most) every project centered around acquiring and developing the skills I felt would be most beneficial to my career. I didn't have the benefit of any advisors or course selections throughout school and the literature I was reading was too academic and theoretical (and too heavily focused on KM technology tools) which pushed me to really develop my own theories and, in my opinion, has made me a better knowledge manager.

During at least two interviews I was asked about my affiliation with KM organizations such as KMPro , KM Benchmarking Assn (KMBA), and Assn of Knowledgework (AOK) or any KM certifications I held. I suppose because of the academic and career success I've enjoyed (despite being booted from B+P) I've yet to see the benefit of joining any organizations and I think 6 years of digging for, chewing up and spitting out every nugget of info I could on KM plus 3+ years of working in the trenches trumps the certifications currently available. Still, I know that many process-driven orgs like being able to see (and tout) certification, so I'm curious to know what if any, other applicants bring to the table, in addition to their academic and professional training.

2) I'm also curious about how other KM applicants approach the interview process. Typically, I take a very consultative approach. I use my initial interview as a means of acquiring enough information to develop a high-level strategy which I then pitch during the follow-up interview. Mostly, my interviewers are very impressed with this strategy, but at least one company still chose to offer the position to the other candidate. I wasn't upset about not being chosen (I kinda sorta didn't really want the job after doing a little more research into the company and uncovering some cultural similarities to my last job that were a little too close for comfort), but after my kick-ass pitch I wondered what could have topped it. Of course, I've interviewed for KM jobs in the past that went to PhD's and professionals with 20 years experience (not all within KM) so I can see how that beats my more limited experience, but when it doesn't, is it really just a personality fit? Does the company have more if an idea about what they need/want they are letting on in the position description and early stages of the interview process? Did I set the bar too high? Too low????

3) The other thing that intrigues me is KM recruitment. Since Atlanta is not really a hotbed of KM opportunities I've actually been exploring the idea of moving into recruiting. Part of the pain of job hunting in this field is that there isn't any person or organization that really focuses on recruiting within the field of KM. Many, if not most, of the current professionals have come into the field from other areas, usually in response to the specific needs of an organization (which they may or may not have successfully responeded to) and not always with a larger awareness of the entirety of KM. Outside of the "real world" (read: business world) there are a few KM courses cropping up here and there, but there isn't a prescribed path for pursuing a career in the field.

I find it ironic that when I was in undergrad at Georgia State, while I was given room to do my thing, there wasn't any real support for my studies. And then, less than four years later, fresh from my graduate studies and working in my first KM gig I was back at GSU giving a presentation on KM to a knowledge management class with my co-workers.

Still, today, KM is not often regarded as a critical strategic function that necessitates (a) dedicated resource(s) and requires, academically speaking, a multi-disciplinary background; effective knowledge managers are strategists, marketers, salespeople, financial analysts, techies, psychologists, web designers, statisticians, data analysts, librarians, researchers, entrepreneurs, reporters, secretaries, telemarketers, stalkers, hand holders, and babysitters all-in-one!

But I digress...

The point is that there isn't a generally accepted idea of what knowledge management is; there isn't fixed career path; typically only the hiring manager knows what s/he is looking for and the average (read: pretty much most of them) recruiter doesn't have a clue which, in my opinion, limits their ability to effectively fill the position(s).

I'd love to see some of the KM orgs out there begin to address these types of issues as a means of growing the field. In the meantime, if none of the KM opps I'm working on pan out, maybe I'll take up the recruiter challenge. Being a pioneer certainly suits me (as long as I can do it in capris) ;-)