I have heard of many KM strategies that fail to kick off efficiently and end up facing a sweeping crossroad. During my time in the frontline I realized it´s not always due to lack of worker commitment and overall leadership: some knowledge managers fail to grasp the fundamental elements that comprise an organization´s strategy. Before we can start digging up critical knowledge we need to thoroughly understand everything about the business environment: strategic objectives, customer demands, key processes, risks, etc. We need to immerse ourselves in the business spectrum in order for KM to start speaking the business jargon. This provides a manageable context in which KM can root for the right framework s that doesn´t not focus on ordinary processes but on those that can really generate long term value for business.
The first step towards understanding the business environment is dividing the organization´s strategy in three levels which will help us to trace the relationship between critical knowledge and business strategy: Strategic, Functional and Support levels.
What often happens is that we engage in conversations with different people within the organization in order to gain their insights and experience regarding critical knowledge application. However there may be a prevailing sense that those that we engage see things at a very tactical level. This means that they are focused on their daily functions and not necessarily see further as their functions are not always linked to other organizational excellence processes. However we can obtain this insight from key executives, managers and other people that cover certain strategic roles. They envision the organization´s strategy and understand what needs to get done. Is in this dimension that we find critical knowledge which seeks to generate exceptional opportunities for business growth.
KM actions must be connected with critical knowledge otherwise we might end up with an incredibly extensive and frustrating KM plan. Focusing on critical knowledge is an excellent way of grasping the company´s attention and getting everyone to work for KM and not against it because they will become aware that the actions undertaken will shape the company´s future.
This is why knowledge managers have to start recognizing the company´s organizational structure and identify the decision makers. Afterwards we have to interview them in order to understand their vision and identify key elements that will affect the future of business in terms of rentability, competitivity and quality.
This doesn’t mean that we have to ignore the rest. It’s important to gain the insight of the remaining strategic levels that will allow us to understand the vision of the functional areas. For example in an engineering firm the functional areas are: mechanics, electrics, instrumentation, civil, structures, etc. They basically include all the engineering areas that interact in an engineering project and each one has a leader. Leadership vision at this level is basically focused on the technical part based on their current and past project experience.
We must also take into consideration the remaining strategic areas such as: human resources, organization development, finance, marketing, etc. They undertake several key actions that support the company´s growth.
Understanding the business environment and steering KM actions towards critical knowledge are key success enablers. By doing so we can develop an adaptive KM strategy and foster a meaningful relationship between KM and the organization.
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