Successful Knowledge Management Implementation

Does your organization "get" KM?

I was having some off-line discussions related to KM metrics, as well as how to determine which KM initiatives make for the “best” for initial implementation, etc. And somewhere in those discussions we wandered smack into the middle of discussing why it seems that so many initial KM efforts have “problems.” And then at about the same time I received this absolute gem from Hubert Saint-Onge:

“When I was Senior Vice President of Strategic Capability at Clarica, I had to present my business plan on a quarterly basis to the CEO. In addition to knowledge management and learning, my portfolio included strategic planning, internal and external communication, human resources, and corporate branding. In other words, the full basket of intangibles.

The CFO attended these meetings and kept bringing up the measurement question. I was always able to side step the issue. One day, he became more vociferous than usual on the need to measure all this crap — in his words. Luckily, I had many opportunities to practice an answer. I said that I admired his passion for measuring and that I would like to take his lead on this matter. I promised right there that if he would share with me how he was measuring his organization’s finance and actuarial work was adding value to the company, I would right away adopt and apply this framework to the activities I was responsible for.

He looked at me dumb-founded. It had never occurred to him that he should measure what was considered conventional activities in the company: it’s that new so-called ‘crap’ we needed to measure. Isn’t it interesting that we put the onus of measurement on what is new when we have pile upon pile we don’t measure because it is just so. As all of us who have worked on this for decades, measuring the impact of growing intangible assets on the bottom line is no easy feat. It certainly cannot be trivialized because sometimes having wrong answers is worse than having no answer.”

And I was no sooner nodding my head up and down at the above, when I came across this second gem, also from Hubert:

“What I found through the years is that measurement does not always convince people. Senior managers who don’t believe in the stuff ask for measurement knowing very well that it is difficult to prove in dollars and cents but it is a better approach politically than to question the initiatives directly. In this case, when you do give them numbers, they tend to find fault with them and not accept them at face value. I had the painful experience of having to cancel a $2.5 million program where we had proven a 175 percent ROI through a study that had cost us $200K. The report clearly layed out the benefits and contained 300 pages of evidence. In the end, the program was not approved because they “did not like it”.

Again, lots of head nodding by me.

I think that the above makes great sense, but understanding why it makes great sense I think can be explained by acknowledging that Hubert spends more than a bit of time making the point that “knowledge activities in an organization will have maximum impact” when you recognize that the effort must address “knowledge architecture, technology infrastructure and culture.”

And that to me pretty much nails it as to what the key KM principle is — it’s not so much about the right implementation effort or about having/not having the exactly correct metric as it is in considering the cultural (organizational change) impacts. I think that the culture has a significant amount of impact upon whether or not the implementation effort will be successful.

Or to paraphrase from another “Hubert-ism”: KM efforts must be openly supported by the organization’s leadership; leaders must recognize that KM has a strategic value; leadership must be willing and prepared to invest in KM.

And I believe, as Hubert clearly alludes to, that implementing KM (or building Communities of Practice) certainly involves treating it as a form of organizational change — and applying common change management principles and approaches.

Dr. Dan's Daily Dose:
While I’d never suggest not to measure knowledge management, and I know that there are many ways to measure its success, there are certainly times when I believe that we need to take some time to measure whether or not both management and the organization “get it” when it comes to understanding the benefit of doing knowledge management. If they don’t, it pretty much doesn’t matter what your other metrics might be. They won’t accept them. Instead it might be more important to first focus on changing the culture, and finding the right way to measure that this has taken place.
About Dr. Dan Kirsch