KM and Organisational Alignment
by Madanmohan Rao
Editor, The KM Chronicles
Bangalore; April 17, 2013
[ Also see article version on KM World website: http://www.kmworld.com/Articles/News/News-Analysis/15-tips-ensure-KMs-success-90492.aspx ]
An important issue for long-term success of KM initiatives is aligning it with organisational strategy, especially in times of change. KM initiatives, however, can ‘drift’ over time if measures are not taken to align it with organisational mission, new turns in direction, management changes, and different product/service offerings.
The Bangalore K-Community meetup of April 2013 addressed some of the change management issues and process re-design needed at such times. Panellists from Unisys, Mindtree, CitiGroup, and Ernst&Young provided case studies and tips in this regard, along with inputs from the audience who represented Cap Gemini, GT Nexus, Societe Generale and Bosch. Here are my Top 15 takeaways from the engaging discussion:
1. Bring KM into mission-critical activities. KM is a great enabler of many business processes, but can be very relevant to ensure success and continuity of mission-critical activities in areas ranging from banking to security. Unisys leverages KM to ‘acquire, retain and propagate’ mission-critical knowledge in its global services.
2. Focus on knowledge retention during times of attrition. Globalisation, ageing workforces and economic downturns are leading to loss of valuable knowledge. Show how KM can help stem this gap in the near-term and especially in the long-term.
3. Use KM to improve understanding and execution of business re-organisation. KM sometimes gets shunted aside during complex organisational restructuring, but can actually be a useful support to figure out how to do effective re-organisation. Some companies seem to spend almost half their time on re-structuring, but are not using KM to be more effective or innovative in such re-structuring.
4. Go beyond connecting to networking. KM at the people level sometimes gets stuck at the stage of people profiles and a bewildering range of discussion forums. It is important to add collaborative tasks on top of such connections, so that actually networking takes place and collective intelligence emerges.
5. Conduct more research on knowledge work. With all the hype about social media in the enterprise, people tend to forget that knowledge work is essentially built on effective communication. More research is needed on the changing workplace/workspace to understand how KM is becoming even more critical to 21s century organisations, and how knowledge seeking/collaboration behaviours of knowledge workers are changing.
6. Pay more attention to design and visualisation. In a workspace of increasing information overload and multitasking, it is important to design knowledge interactions and interfaces in a compelling yet effective manner. Effective design can help in sense-making in fast-changing and information-intensive environments. But how many KM functions include roles for skilled user experience designers?
7. Pay attention to the requirements of mobile knowledge workers. BYOD is old hat now as more and more frontline employees and managers are using mobile devices not just for accessing information but for full workflow. Knowledge processes should be mobile-optimised, and not just in terms of device interface but also in speed of delivery, eg. fast-loading dashboards for sales teams.
8. Blend informal and formal activities in knowledge-sharing sessions. For example, a ‘knowledge fair’ format with each project team presenting its achievements and learnings drives home the KM message stronger for all those who participate. The very act of presenting a KM case study can help employees develop a deeper appreciation of the strengths and opportunities for KM at work in the long term, and instils a sense of pride.
9. Broad-base the KM initiative and don’t restrict it to only select managers or project heads. The more the number of people who engage with KM in full-time or part-time roles, the more buy-in it will get and the more value it will be seen to contribute. Unisys conducts a one week knowledge sharing event called UniLight which attracts over 60% of its employees.
10. Highlight KM practitioners across the board. Don’t just showcase the usual super-achievers, but also feature the employees who are coming up with their very first unique work insights, or first re-use of existing knowledge assets.
11. Don’t pitch KM as an ‘extra’ activity to be done after normal work hours; it should be embedded in regular workflow. Even ‘additional’ activities such as conferencing and industry meetups should be seen as a way of learning, brainstorming and benchmarking.
12. Avoid too much theory and jargon. While the core team certainly needs to be abreast of developments in KM models and research, their recommendations and implementations need to be demystified and simplified so that employees are not distracted or confused with more buzzwords.
13. Don’t get hung up on the name ‘KM!’ Some people seem to have problems with the word knowledge, management and even KM. Other terms such as collaborative work, or knowledge sharing/emergence seem to be in use as well. A particularly creative acronym I have come across in a Singapore office is FISH – Friday Information Sharing Huddle!
14. Use metrics and analytics effectively, and conduct KM course corrections as appropriate. Many KM initiatives stop their outcome studies at the level of activity metrics (as described in my book “KM Tools”), but fail to connect them to deeper processes, knowledge insights, people attitudes and overall impacts on productivity and innovation. One company reported that only 40% of its knowledge assets were being used, and some were being viewed only by the creator! At the same time, metrics are not the “be all and end all” of assessment.
15. Help ensure long-term success of KM by evangelising it to students. Unisys has created the Unisys Technology Forum India (http://utfi.co.in/) to bring workplace domain knowledge and practices to students – including activities like KM. This helps create awareness in students about the importance of KM, and strengthens the KM pipeline in the long run.
The panel ended with a further round of fascinating questions, which will be taken up in future meetups. Is there a future anymore for ‘centralised’ KM? How should KM be pitched to Gen Next – or is it the other way round? How does strategy guide culture – or is culture the dominant factor?
Rajlakshmi Borthakur is a seasoned user experience professional at Ernst&Young, with around 14 years of experience, specialising in content management, content strategy and usability. She helps to define online experiences that enable businesses to realise their goals and end users to fulfill their information needs. She defines holistic frameworks that bring together the best of knowledge management, content strategy, marketing, technology, and usability. Rajlakshmi has worked with several notable clients in the past, including Fortune 100 organisations.
Renu Rajani is Senior Vice President with CitiGroup Global Technologies. She was previously General Manager at IBM, in the Global Business Service and Global Technology Divisions. Renu has overall 22 years of experience in global organisations and her experience covers supply chain, testing and supplier governance. She graduated from Purdue University and is the author of a book on software testing published by Tata McGraw-Hill.
Ravi Shankar Ivaturi is the operations director at Unisys in Bangalore. He has been instrumental in defining and implementing KM strategy and aligning it with organisational goals. Ravi has over 20 years of experience. He has expertise in setting up teams from ground up, growing them into world class teams. Organisational development and change management are key focus areas that excite him.
Krishnan KS heads culture and competence (L&D) and KM at Mindtree. He was with Tata Infotech and graduated from REC Calicut (now NIT Calicut). He has a keen interest in creativity, culture and competence development, and how management should evolve in the knowledge era. He has been on four treks to the Himalayas.
Dr. Madanmohan Rao is a KM author and consultant based in Bangalore. He is the editor of The KM Chronicles and four other book series. He is co-founder of the Bangalore K-Community (http://kCommunity.ning.com), and can be followed on Twitter at @MadanRao