Knowledge and Innovation Management: Sustaining and Scaling Initiatives

Knowledge and Innovation Management: Sustaining and Scaling Initiatives

by Madanmohan Rao
Editor, The KM Chronicles
Bangalore; October 19, 2011

The monthly meeting of the Bangalore K-Community ( focused on long-term KM initiatives. Many organisations have had KM and innovation initiatives for a decade or more. How do organisations sustain and scale up KM and innovation despite management change, increasing workload and changing directions/demographics? How are pain points addressed in terms of process, culture and knowledge champions? What renewed role do KM and innovation play in the 21st Century organisation? The panel ended with the provocative question “What would Steve Jobs have said about KM and innovation?”

Here are the Top Fifteen recommendations of the six panellists to sustaining KM success and innovation in the long term.

1. Connect KM to the business goals of the organisation

A key challenge for long-running KM initiatives is to show that they are relevant and essential to achieving the organisation’s business goals. Continuous business alignment is needed to show that KM worked not only in one phase of the organisation’s evolution but remains essential throughout business lifecycles. KM professionals should not get stuck in their jargon and metrics, but learn to talk the language of their business as well. KM leaders should be involved in co-creation of strategies with top business leaders.

2. Demonstrate that KM is essential for the growth of an organisation

Effective KM practices can help new recruits learn quickly and effectively, and hit the ground running. Good KM environments can help employees learn on the job and improve their productivity when faced with their next tasks. For instance, Infosys will soon be hiring 45,000 new employees; KM will help them prepare for customer-facing engagements such as consulting. Its KM portal experiences submissions of 60-100 documents a day and 5,000 downloads; there are over 50,000 knowledge artefacts which have been validated by experts.

3. Show that KM can stem knowledge loss

Particularly for organisations where a large proportion of the workforce is retiring in the next few years (eg. Indian public sector units), KM can help reduce knowledge attrition and thus KM initiatives need to be sustained and nurtured.

4. Create the right kinds of conversations

Make sure there is online and offline space for the rights kinds of conversations in the organisation, even if these may be of a critical or controversial nature. The challenge sometimes is in finding that the right kinds of conversations emerge in more unusual situations. Don’t just look at pumping employees with knowledge and measuring their output; look at the conversations they are involved in. “Enterprise Conversation Management” and “Enterprise Community Management” may be as important as “Enterprise Content Management!”

5. Align KM culture with the work expectations of multiple generations

For the first time in history, there are four generations of employees working in the same professional organisations. But each generation has different expectations when it comes to choice, rewards, achievements and work-life balance. KM cultures, practices, tools and incentives should be aligned for all generations.

6. Align organisational KM with individual personal aspirations

Participation and leadership in KM initiatives should ‘make sense for the resumes’ of employees and be aligned with their personal aspirations. A sense of pride should be inculcated in employees for their knowledge sharing behaviours.

7. Nurture the passion for knowledge sharing, it will solve everything else

Instead of worrying about tool/infrastructure details like whether email should be phased out and social media ushered in, just focus on creating and nurturing the appropriate knowledge culture of passion, sharing, curiosity and professionalism. It is important to keep this culture vibrant even as an organisation grows in scale, domains and geography. Once you have a solid culture, you can piggyback a range of KM tools and processes on it.

8. Balance 1: Universal and customised approaches

Some KM features (eg. portals, CoPs) seem to cut across all KM practices, but others may need to be tweaked or homegrown to meet local organisational needs. Some practices work well in the industrial/manufacturing sectors, others fare differently in services and government organisations.

9. Balance 2: Quantitative and Qualitative Metrics

It can help to use quantitative metrics, but don’t ignore qualitative statements which endorse the gut belief of top managers that KM works.

10. Not all KM practices can be rolled out via pilot projects

Some pilots for KM will just not work if their scale is too small; you can find some knowledge behaviours (eg. serendipitous discovery) only if the scale of the KM initiative is organisation-wide.

11. Find and nurture KM champions

KM champions help reinforce knowledge sharing cultures. Find champions and teams who ‘get’ the KM spirit and highlight their work practices and achievements. Peer-driven KM can work better than top-down KM.

12. Use a phase-wise approach to KM

Companies who have been in KM for 10+ years (eg. Chevron) evolved their KM strategy over phases: eg. best practices (KM 1.0), connecting people (KM 2.0), knowledge transitioning to a new generation (KM 3.0).

13. Connect KM to Innovation

While a lot of KM focuses on ‘old’ knowledge (lessons learnt, experiential knowledge, organisational history), there are some overlaps and enablers for ‘new’ knowledge or innovation strategies. Innovation approaches like networking, experimenting and observation apply to KM as well; KM should effectively leverage idea management practices too. While a lot of KM focuses on ‘internal’ knowledge, efforts should be made to bring in ‘external’ knowledge and ideas as well. Good companies to learn from are Amazon, IDEO and Apple. KM may help incremental innovation, but extra effort will be needed to create disruptive innovations.

14. The number of patents as knowledge assets is not always a guarantor of business success

Don’t obsess with filing for large numbers of patents when you connect KM with intellectual capital. An estimated 99.8% of awarded patents are never used. And the company with the largest number of patents in the world, GM, went bankrupt last year!

15. Learn from Steve Jobs!

Even for those who are not users of iPods and iPads, Steve Jobs and Apple offer useful lessons for KM and innovation management, according to the panellists.  Bridge knowledge between different domains. Don’t just ask what customers want today. Go with your gut feelings and develop a good sense of intuition in addition to knowledge and logic. Hire creative and imaginative people. Be with the best. Learn from innovations of other organisations. Go visit other organisations. Pursue what is mysterious. Encourage eccentricity.


Distinguished guest panelist:

Jeff Stemke is a knowledge strategist and is the primary architect of Chevron’s global KM environment. He has worked with many groups to design, launch and sustain global communities of practice. Over the last few years, the boomer “Big Crew Change” was a top priority. He summarised his approach in a case study in “Knowledge Retention: Strategies and Solutions” by Jay Liebowitz. Jeff will join us via videoconference during his India visit in October.


Rajendhiran N. is KM Group Head at Wipro, leading KM initiatives in several verticals, service lines and functions.  He is one of the pioneers in the company’s KM initiative over the last ten years. He is a hands-on KM practitioner supporting a base of 60,000 employees. Prior to the KM position he worked for technical support, customer service, quality and training for 18 years.

Dinesh Tantri is Global Head-Knowledge Strategy in ThoughtWorks. He has about ten years of overall experience in knowledge management, consulting, application development, teaching and evangelism. His current challenge at work is bridging customer and employee communities and getting the B2B social strategy right. He is also intensely passionate about alternative education models and education technology.

Pavan Soni ( is an innovation evangelist by profession and a teacher by passion. He has consulted on innovation and creativity for Dell, Ericsson, GlaxoSmithKline, Infosys, Mahindra, Marico, Tanishq, Tata Steel, Thermax, Titan, and Wipro. He graduated from JNVU Jodhpur and NITIE Mumbai. He is currently pursuing his doctoral studies from IIM Bangalore with a focus on innovation management.

Vikram B. is a principal architect associated with the KM group at Infosys Limited for over ten years. He has architected, program managed and deployed several KM solutions at Infosys. He has also contributed to Infosys KM processes, strategy, promotion, and measurement of KM metrics. He has consulted on KM solution engagements with Infosys customers and has helped in their KM strategy, roadmap and implementation.

Sagar Paul heads Knowledge Management at MindTree. His areas of focus are generating new product or process ideas, reducing cycle times, reducing costs and improving customer experience. Sagar has a work experience of nineteen years and worked with PwC and with the Tatas. He travelled extensively in the US and Singapore prior to taking up leadership of Knowledge Management. He is an MBA from XLRI and BE in Computer Sciences from the Birla Institute.

Moderator: Dr. Madanmohan Rao, Editor, The KM Chronicles (

Venue: Microsoft India office

See previous K-Community blogposts at:

KM and Innovation: Converging or Complementary Practices?
KM and HR: Mutual Synergies
“Case Study: Knowledge Management at Titan Industries”
“Knowledge Management Strategies: Formulation and Evolution”
“Embedding KM in Organisational Workflow and Culture”
“Conversational Flows for Knowledge Sharing”
“Open Content and Access in the Knowledge Society”


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