May 8, 2008

KM Standards & Certification As A Professional Compass

OR, "Benny Medina, Will You Represent Me?"


Wow, it's been a dog's age since I've posted anything on here! I have to say, I'm always impressed by people who are able to blog regularly. Not just the act itself, but the variety of topics as well.

Anywho, I've been doing a lot of research lately on KM certification and (KM-specific) continuing ed programs as well as the establishment of an oversight board to develop generally accepted KM standards/practices (similar to the FAF/FASB/GASB) and I'd be interested in hearing folks' opinions on the subject.

Many of the blogs and articles I've read on certification in the last two weeks have been a few years old with the authors largely coming out against certifcation. In his article, "KM Competencies: Is Certification the Way to Go?" (2006) Patrick Lambe eschews certification in favor of professional societies as a means of KM practitioners acquiring the requisite KSAs (knowledge, skills, abilities), and desired support(mentoring/coaching). In a 2006 blog posting, Dave Snowden provides a nice overview of previous efforts to "standardize" the field of KM and ends by asking the following questions:
  • Have standards just become a commercial venture?
  • If so (he believes the answer to be yes) then how can they be objective?
  • Can you create standards for a developing field before it stabilises?
  • How can you take a standards model devised for goods (fire safety equipment) and apply it to services (knowledge management?
  • And, finally, what is truth?
There's more stuff out there to Google on the subject, but I'm exploring this topic from the average practitioner's viewpoint and I honestly haven't come across any responses that discuss the matter from our perspective.

First off, let me say that I do not possess any certifications other than my university degrees and I'm not convinced that (CKM) certification, as it exists now, is either necessary or critical. It certainly ain't cheap!

However, we live in an age when businesses look to (best) practices that are quantifiable, predictable and replicable with verifiable outcomes and they love, love, love employing folks with various certifications - though not always paying for it - because, in their minds, it means you know something, even if you don't. Although, as I previously posted, KM utilizes a valid process (one that responds to an individual organization's needs) rather than a reliable process, that doesn't mean you can't (or shouldn't) have some form of structure or standards.

In his article, Patrick provides this brief list of reasons that folks would want certification:
  • Novices would like a quick and reliable grounding in general awareness and core concepts
  • Practitioners would like to have their own practice validated against professional standards and commonly agreed approaches
  • Practitioners see career opportunities from acquiring professional recognition embodied in a certification process
  • Consultants would like a qualification that gives them a competitive selling edge
I would definitely have to agree with these reasons and I don't see why this has to be a bad thing or makes those of us in this group misguided in seeking out certification and standards.

What I love about KM is the opportunity it presents (and sort of demands, in a way) for out of the box thinking, developing strategic solutions in much the same way that a marketing executive would develop a new campaign or a designer, a new or enhanced product.

What I hate is that I don't have a foundation upon which the strength of my peers and leaders in my field can back me up when I'm doing KM work and the skeptics I work with/for (who may or may not be signing my paycheck) are out to prove I'm a grifter selling snake oil.

After all, marketing campaign - either they like it or they don't; ultimately, the proof is in the pudding and your effectiveness will be determined by how well the target audience responds to your message - which doesn't require years of cultural change, a sample pool will do just fine. And designers - either the product does what you say it will or it doesn't, a simple trial run is all you need.

But KM? The long-term benefits of KM take time. We know this. And, depending upon the situation your organization is in, the quick wins may not come so quickly.

Now, do I believe that having certification and standards is a magic pill that will turn you into the Wizard of Oz, pre-curtain check? Hardly. The success of any educational program, no matter how illustrious the institution or instructor, still depends heavily on how well the student learns and applies the information (which, itself, is influenced by a combination of context and opportunity - what kind of work they're doing and what opportunities they have to utilize what they've learned). And of course, we all know that there are people with Ivy League degrees who are clearly not as bright as their pedigrees should indicate. But, that doesn't mean there isn't any value in certification or standards or that programs aimed at providing certification and continuing education can't be developed using an approach that reflects the actual needs of KM professionals.

As to the utility of professional societies, I'm in the process now of trying to set up a local Chapter of KMPro because I recognize the importance and value of networking with other professionals, but, even then, most of these societies are the same ones selling certification - expensively, I should add - with prices ranging from $575 to $3200. Some organizations I've looked at have membership fees in excess of $1,000 dollars. And don't get me started on the costs associated with participating in the various KM conferences, particularly if you don't live in an area where they are held and you don't have the benefit of a company budget to finance your attendance. Huge barriers to entry, I tell you. And sure, you can interact online with professionals from around the world, but how exactly do I express that interaction in my credentials or on my resume? Yes, you could also write articles and blogs, assuming one has the time, what with being busy trying to do (and keep) the job that pays your bills, puts a roof over your head, and funds all of the other things you do in your daily life.

I could go on and on here, but my point is that every option has its good points and its flaws. Rather than engage in an endless debate about what is best in one's own opinion, why not build and implement solutions, organically, that address the most common needs of KM professionals as we understand them; going outside the box, as necessary, and using the resources available. I mean, isn't that what knowledge managers do?

This is definitely not the end of this discussion for me, but I can't close this post out without attempting to answer Dave's questions:
  • Have standards just become a commercial venture?
    For some organizations/groups, absolutely! And, in fairness to those orgs/groups, since we do live in a capitalistic society, if those best equipped (with passion, intellect, ingenuity, commitment, vision, and a sense of social responsibility) to drive a sincere campaign for standards don't or won't step up to the plate, then why shouldn't someone motivated by the almighty dollar make a buck? Over the years, I've learned that people in this field, both the novices and the experienced professionals, are looking for some structure and stability they can lean on and use to drive both their KM efforts to success as well as improve their career opportunities. Having standards is meant to provide that structure and stability. Should these standards come at a cost? No, they shouldn't, but the lack of standards definitely costs us (the field) in terms of professional credibility.
  • If so, then how can they be objective?
    Clearly, I don't think that standards should be a commercial venture, but assuming that it currently is, I would stress two adages: "You get what you pay for" and "We set the standards for our own performance". If you've paid top dollar for a CKM certificate and you suck as a KM professional, it doesn't really say too much about your abilities or the organization who certified you, does it? Ultimately, in any situation, it's the responsibility of every organization's membership to police the organization to which they belong in order to maintain its integrity and objectivity, because if they don't then they suffer the consequence of their inaction and apathy. (Hello, Bush administration anyone?!?!)
  • Can you create standards for a developing field before it stabilises?
    I think that this field has been around long enough and received enough press and consideration now that, until we have some standards in place, it won't ever properly stabilize and grow roots. Particularly, since so many organizations these days are taking it upon themselves to define the field in terms of their specific needs and then promoting their strategy as KM whether it is or isn't. The result: a multitude of definitions of KM that makes the field seem panoptic and unfocused. Which is not to say that whatever standards and guiding principles are adopted should narrow or restrict the concept or application of KM, rather, they should guide the growth of the field...like dental braces.
  • How can you take a standards model devised for goods (fire safety equipment) and apply it to services (knowledge management)?
    You can't and you shouldn't (at least not at this stage of the game). Whatever moronocito decided to attempt this approach was clearly a friend of Tina. Seriously though, a good set of standards and guiding principles should begin much the same way as the 10 Commandments or Seven Virtues - you don't have to be a Christian or religious at all to appreciate their simmplicity and wisdom. Likewise, KM standards should provide us with a professional compass, not step-by-step, etched in stone instructions. And, a governing body, to oversee those standards, to shape and authorize certification and continuing education within KM is as much a marketing tool as it is a professional and educational resource; it's like having Benny Medina as your talent agent...okay, nothing could be better than having Benny Medina as your talent agent. I mean, if he could take J Lo from video 'ho' to superstar and bring Mariah Carey's career back from the brink of a mental meltdown and expulsion from Sony...the man's a genius.
Okay, that outburst was pretty much my cue to be done.

So, what standards or guiding principles, if any, do you think should be universally adopted for the KM field?

Oops, I forgot the last question:
  • And finally, what is truth?
    Duh, Benny Medina. Ask a stupid question...

2 comments:

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Anonymous said...

This was a great post!

I am in the process of seeking out the answers about Knowledge Management certification. Being a KM Guy I tend to do a lot of research before I take action.

So, it’s been a year since your post. Did you receive any certification?


John