June 21, 2007

Critical Issues of KM in 2007-08

I've been working on a paper exploring five critical issues of KM from a practitioners perspective and since I haven't had time to blog I figured I might as well pop these out here and see what kinda feedback/responses I get. The paper (and research) is in process so these are just the issues I've decided to focus on - thus far - with comments from my notes (so please don't anyone try to break me down).

My overall goal with this paper is to examine ways in which to shift the field away from being too heavily driven and influenced by the demands of a market that neither fully grasps the concept of knowledge management, nor is completely cognizant of its own KM needs in order to further establish and legitimize KM.

1. A governing body to market and endorse a universal definition of KM and guiding principles for the field.
Because all organizations and their knowledge management challenges are not the same, “rules” for developing and implementing KM strategies are superfluous. However, “guiding principles” establish a set of standards for the field; illustrate the values of KM to which practitioners should aspire; and, provide organizations with an introduction to the scope and scale of KM.

2. Eschew KM as “business as usual” in favor of “business by design”
Efforts to sell KM as a quantifiable, measurable and replicable practice, producing proven, predictable results are misspent and wasted often resulting in a failure to launch any (worthwhile) strategy at all. Rather, the focus should first be placed on “producing a spectacular solution” that addresses the organizations need and then determining ways of measuring impact and fiscal value.

3. Minimize the continued emphasis on IT
Though IT may offer to provide the quantifiable, measurable and replicable solutions that speak to business “traditionalists”, in the knowledge economy innovation, not technology, is the means by which market advantage and increased profits are achieved. While KM strategies can be made more efficient and effective with an investment in the right technological tools, they are made successful with an investment in the right people development tools.

4. Expand the concept of knowledge workers
Organizations that aspire to become true thought leaders need to redefine internal business roles and relationships to see all employees as knowledge workers and organizational talent, removing the talent “class” ceiling. All employees have knowledge that is valuable to the organization. Certainly, higher value is associated to employees who require less development and management, but the question to be asked by organizations needs to be, ‘How how are we developing all of our talent resources?’ Particularly, since employees with a greater awareness of their higher value and its marketability are typically the first to leave in search of greener pastures. Conversely, talent requiring more development and management are more likely to aspire to greater things when the ceiling is removed.

5. Branding KM
There are many reasons KM initiatives fail to have the desired impact or simply fail altogether – even those bolstered by considerable executive, financial, and technological support. One of the most common reasons is that most, if not all, KM strategies are developed purely from the perspective of the organization’s self-interest and rarely, if ever, take into consideration the employee’s perspective, despite the fact that the initiative’s success hinges upon their collective buy-in and participation. Such strategies fail because they attempt only to answer the question, “what’s in it for me” and not, “what’s in it for them”.

Branding knowledge management is an attempt to redress this disparity through the strategic application of marketing techniques and learning tools that enable organizations to promote the relevance of KM to an individual’s role while firmly establishing the value and criticality of KM to the organization.

May 18, 2007

Building A Better Knowledge Manager: Love Is A Battlefield

"We are young, heartache to heartache we stand, no promises, no demands
Love is a battlefield
We are strong, no one can tell us were wrong, searchin' our hearts for so long, both of us knowing
Love is a battlefield"

I've spent the months since my last post trying to solve the riddle of how to regain my passion for KM and deciding whether or not I even want to continue in the field and all I can say is that it sucks to give up something you enjoy especially when you're good at it (and invested four-and-a-half years of college and five years of sweat). Sometimes the only thing you can do about a situation is to learn from it so then, I guess the only real option I'm left with is to pick my bruised ego and wounded pride up off the floor and resume my KM journey.

Since it turns out that Forrest was right and life is eerily like a box of chocolates, I'm not quite sure if I'll make it to the KM Valhalla I envisioned when I was a college sophomore starting down this path, but WTF, too much certainty is bad for the soul, right?

At any rate, as I'm now committed to developing myself into a better Knowledge Manager, I've determined that the first step is ditching the spirit of fear and frustration I've acquired and reclaiming the spirit of adventure that attracted me to KM in the first place. An excellent source of inspiration in this endeavor is an amazing article on making design work written by the Univerity of Toronto's B- School Dean, Roger Martin, for my business bible, Fast Company. In my opinion, this article should be de rigueur reading for every KM professional.

In providing his keys to making design work, Martin provides a description of design that illuminates the field of knowledge management.

"Corporate types, by and large, seek to fuel growth by building from bulletproof, reproducible systems; designers generally attempt to do so by imagining something new, different, better. That difference can be seen as a trust in reliability on the one hand and in validity on the other.

"A reliable process--which tends to attract folks in finance, engineering, and operations--produces a predictable result time and again. This is business as algorithm: quantifiable, measurable, and provable. It hews to that old management adage, "What doesn't get measured doesn't get done.

"A valid process, on the other hand, flows from designers' deep understanding of both user and context, and leads them to ideas they believe in but can't prove. They work in a world of variables: the unpredictable, the visual, the experimental. Great designers worry less about replicating a successful process than about producing a spectacular solution…Valid thinking demands an inspired leap of faith. Before John Mackey launched one of the country's first supermarket-style natural-food stores, for example, nobody could prove that Whole Foods Market would succeed at all, let alone become the most profitable food retailer (in terms of profit per square foot) in the United States. But Mackey did it anyway.

"As the computer scientist Alan Kay put it so memorably, 'The best way to predict the future is to invent it.'"

KM is a field in which a lot of new ground is being explored in understanding, identifying, managing, capturing, and leveraging information, knowledge, and the organizational relationships that generate and share information and knowledge. Like design, the best strategic KM solutions utilize a valid process – one that is developed in response to an individual organization's needs. And, like design, this approach comes under steady fire from traditional business leaders who seek a reliable process that is predictable, quantifiable and replicable.

In the article, Martin goes on to discuss how utilizing both approaches leads to business gold, and obviously, that's the goal, but for most organizations that synthesis must wait until a sustainable KM effort is in place.

The key for KM strategists? Education, education, education. It doesn't help many of us that there is so much information and misinformation about knowledge management floating around cyberspace, readily available to folks in need of a solution. Even when you attempt to set realistic expectations about developing and implementing KM solutions, it's hard to get past misleading service providers who claim their OTS (off-the-shelf) application is a one-stop solution in a box for all/most KM needs or that hard-headed executive who reads one article on the potential benefits of KM, but who fails to consider the depth and detail of the work involved in bringing those benefits to fruition. And for the KM's themselves (speaking from recent experience), the pressure to conform to a way of doing business that, while being familiar to the "traditional" exec, limits the success and challenges the integrity of a successful KM strategy, is stifling.

Love is a battlefield and so is KM. Let's do what we can take to stay the course.

March 6, 2007

Keeping The Faith: Bouncing Back From Losing Your Passion For KM

It’s been months since my last blog and even trying to write this involved taking days off from work and tossing and turning in bed several nights.

After years of trying to blaze a KM trail I’ve lost my passion. Truth be told, my passion was less “lost” and more pounded out of me. Surfing the rough and tumble corporate waters, I suppose it was only a matter of time before one too many waves took its toll on me and now I’m struggling to find my “mojo” and get back out into the water; that is, if I want to get back out there at all.

The experience has me wondering how you keep going in this field when you’ve lost your passion. Over the years, I’ve read several articles about the value of maintaining your sanity as a KM professional and keeping your head up in a business world that doesn’t always understand or appreciate you. Now, going through my own professional crisis, I can’t help but wonder how many of those authors remained in the field after their literary purge.

For me, the biggest challenge has been staying inspired. I mean, I still love KM; it’s certainly not that I don’t care about KM anymore, but I don’t feel the same level of inspiration that motivated me to study the field and transformed me into a proselyte. In the absence of this inspiration, I am confronted with exactly how important passionate adherents are to the future of this field; more so than is currently discussed in the existing literature.

Yes, you need awareness of KM, understanding of organizational dynamics, executive support, access to tools and resources, blah, blah, blah, but none of that means much if you don’t have someone passionately championing KM initiatives in an organization. And more than a budget or carte blanche, that person needs to be supported and encouraged in the work that they do. What's more, KM professionals also need to be able to maintain their own level of passion and inspiration.

Anyway, in the hopes that this literary purge doesn’t herald the end of my own KM ambitions, I reflected on some possible tips for getting back into the swing of things and re-discover that old KM magic.


#1: Remember that KM is change. KM involves uncomfortable changes in the way people communicate and relate to others in an environment where their financial security (and a huge part of their identity and self-esteem) is at stake – and you’re the point person! Regardless of how necessary or beneficial the changes you propose, they will most likely be met with resistance and, perhaps, counter measures. Understanding this won’t make you feel any better when you’re under attack, but hopefully it will give you some insight when launching your own counter attack.

#2: Maintain strong, reliable social and professional networks. Having folks around you that not only understand you as a person, but what KM is and what you do professionally is truly a beautiful thing. People who know you as a person will help to keep you grounded and (hopefully) prevent you from going postal in the workplace, while people who understand what is that you do (or strive to) and who can relate to the challenges, victories, and defeats you encounter as a KM professional help to take the edge off and are able to help you come up with potential solutions to professional dilemmas.

#3: Maintain your spirit of adventure. True KM folks are not only strategists and creative problem solvers, we are entrepreneurs and risk takers. We’re the folks who don’t stop at whining about a problem, we set out to resolve the problem. We’re not afraid of a challenge or even the little failures along the road to success. Still, we’re not undefeatable or indefatigable – consistent blows to our spirit can diminish our confidence as it would anyone elses. The key is to find some way (a totem, a mantra, prayer…ecstasy – just kidding…a little) to stick to the road less traveled for the duration of our KM adventure, even when the urge is strong to temporarily stray from the path to clock a naysayer.

#4: Do you. As a college Junior, what drew me to a career in KM was the opportunity to pursue my combined interests in strategy, organizational development, marketing, psychology, and party planning – hey, I’m a social butterfly. The icing on the cake was working in a developing field with the potential to be someone who shapes a new way of doing business. Years later, I find myself having had to narrow or completely sacrifice my scope and vision of KM to satisfy organizational leaders who are either afraid of change, lacking in vision, or who, ironically, also suffer from having had their passion for what they do blotted out. In business, it’s not uncommon to rationalize that certain “sacrifices” must be made in order to make the deal, satisfy the client, walk away with the “win”, etc, etc. My only thought here is a biblical one: “What does it profit a man to gain the world yet lose his soul?” So, I say, “do you.” Follow your bliss. Don’t be stupid, blind, or na├»ve about it, but don’t be so quick to change your path to accommodate those who lack the vision, courage, or conviction to chart new waters. Hell, that’s supposed to be the American Way.

Well, this blog was definitely cathartic. I’m curious as to what will come next. If I can find a way to get back on the path, re-discover my “mojo”, re-ignite the flames of my passion and forge ahead on “Route KM”.

Let’s hope so.