Knowledge Management. What does it involve? Which companies are doing well?
I analyzed some of the best companies doing well in this aspect. IBM, Fluor Corporation, Kraft Foods, Ecopetrol, Danone, McKinsey, Deloitte are among the names I had a look at. Each of them has added their personal touch to many KM initiatives in time but their starting point and value preposition is clear: KM needs to focus on developing strategic knowledge. i.e, knowledge which supports the organization´s strategy and objectives. For example, McKinsey Director stated that “Knowledge is only useful if it helps achieve client impact. In a rapidly changing world our clients expect us to consistently deliver leading edge knowledge from across the firm”
So KM starts with asking a fundamental question: “what knowledge is strategic in order to deliver value to our customers and strengthen our value preposition? The problem is that too many companies begin to approach KM from a tech perspective and think that it can be solved by purchasing a database or sharepoint like platform. It´s natural to think like that when people are “connecting” more, not less. What some of the best companies have revealed is that technology indeed is essential but it does not guarantee success. They all have KM portals which support wikis, forums, group pages, expert directories and other forms of tools which facilitate knowledge transfer but they didn’t start there. Emphasis is placed on strategy. Tech comes later.
We need to look at KM from a strategic point of view and transformation begins with developing strategic knowledge, not technology. In my opinion, the process of identifying strategic knowledge must be carried out by business leaders and experts. APQC also suggests that they should be responsible for determining what knowledge is strategic and the KM specialist’s role is to act as an enabler and provide criteria to support their decision making.
Strategic knowledge may mean different things according to the business case. For example, Kraft foods has a deep focus on R+D. Therefore it´s more concerned about developing knowledge which will allow the R+D groups to meet challenges. R+D makes the call and KM facilitates the path in order to get there. This is a wonderful formula since it clearly shows how KM and business units act as partners in order to fulfill one objective. Developing this “business empathy” is an essential ingredient for KM and teams must be flexible enough to explore various alternatives and solutions in order to secure the best way to develop strategic knowledge.
For example, Danone´s strategic knowledge, based fundamentally on a series of marketing and commercial methods and strategies, needed to be rapidly shared and learned by many business units. For this they developed the “Networking attitude” which included the design of social tools to stimulate sharing and use of knowledge, including Marketplaces (quick and informal gatherings where people “give away” solutions), message-in-a-bottle, T-shirts, Who’s Who, and communities.
When asked about the future of KM, I usually respond that KM is really more about people and how we can bring them together in order to connect, collaborate and co-create. This must come about from working on culture and driving a genuine a sustainable change management strategy that looks to promote passion towards learning and working as teams. This is in fact one of the biggest challenges KM faces and as various case studies show, there is no single recipe in order to get it done.
In my case, I like to work close to people in order to make them feel part of the strategy. It´s difficult to know everyone since we are a large firm with various business units located in so many places. So whenever I get the chance to work with the teams I take a few minutes to discuss about the various things that motivate them to share knowledge. The result of the conversation is a “brand promise” which I translate in to the KM value preposition and philosophy. Just think about how this can help you to communicate your KM strategy. Designing an effective communication strategy is another vital lesson learned in KM. Fluor Corporation even included a group of communicators in their KM team in order to help steward the KM message across the company.
Finally we can say that KM needs to focus on strategic knowledge but we can´t do much unless we create a sustainable culture. This still is a key area of focus on KM and the challenge means looking beyond technology. We need to be mindful of the role of people and making KM less formal and more fun helps as well. Also bear in mind that people are more likely to share when they feel less pressure and respond to intrinsic motivations.
© Jose Carlos Tenorio Favero