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Accelerators of KM maturity: Part 2

This article appears in the issue February 2016 [Volume 25, Issue 2]
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At member-based nonprofit APQC, we use a 146-question KM Capability Assessment Tool to measure organizations against 12 aspects of KM program development, determine where each falls on a five-stage maturity model and highlight gaps that may impede the efficacy of its KM tools and initiatives. Although APQC has collected and validated maturity assessment data for nearly a decade, prior to this year we had never aggregated the responses to explore the broader implications of that rich data set. Our most recent research changes that.

For our current project, we analyzed the capability assessments of 218 participating KM programs, testing more than 90 statistical correlations to reveal interdependencies between capabilities and insights into how KM programs develop over time. The result is a set of foundational KM capabilities we’re calling “accelerators of KM maturity” because putting them in place will vastly increase your odds of building a mature, impactful KM program.

The first article in this series talked about the importance of developing a strategy and business case to underpin and guide your KM program. Once you establish a strategic direction, the next logical step is to start putting resources in place and building a stakeholder network to support the effort. Thus, this month’s article builds on our discussion of strategy with an in-depth look at governance practices designed to accelerate KM maturity and fast-track the development of a focused, sustainable KM program.

The KM core team … and beyond

In our experience, it is extremely difficult—if not impossible—to build KM capabilities of any sophistication without one or more dedicated KM roles. Specific skills are needed to move the KM effort forward, and only full-time resources have the energy and focus required to effectively design, advocate for, benchmark, analyze and continuously improve the KM toolkit. To that end, APQC has identified four KM core team roles that are vital to the success of an enterprise KM program:

  • a KM leader to oversee program development and ensure alignment between KM and the broader business strategy,
  • one or more KM specialists to facilitate the design and deployment of KM approaches,
  • a KM communications director to build awareness of KM and convey the value proposition to various stakeholder groups, and
  • an IT/business analyst to serve as a liaison between KM and IT and ensure that knowledge needs are translated into appropriate technology solutions.

But as essential as a robust KM core team is, our research on the accelerators of KM maturity suggests that the broader governance structure surrounding the KM program has even more impact on the program’s development and durability. While someone has to do the day-to-day work of administering KM tools and approaches, it is the guidance of senior leaders and the support of champions and advocates out in the business that truly propel your KM program forward.

The remainder of this article explores three governance practices that have been proven to accelerate KM maturity and improve the outcomes achieved by KM programs:

  • Allow senior leaders to set KM priorities with input from the business units or domains.
  • Charter a cross-functional steering or advisory committee to guide the KM effort.
  • Secure active champions and resources from the business units.

Engage senior leaders insetting the strategy

In APQC’s 20 years of KM research, active and enthusiastic senior leadership support has been a consistent critical success factor for KM program development. To some extent, the reasons for that are obvious. If executives understand the vision for improved knowledge flow and how it can aid the business, then the KM core team is much more likely to acquire the approvals and funding needed to move forward. Once the program is green-lighted, executive-level engagement helps the core team guide the effort in the right direction and design tools and approaches that target key challenges and opportunities. Sustained alignment of knowledge and business strategy bolsters the case for program enhancement and expansion over time, and visible endorsement and participation from the top help win over reluctant middle managers and drive up participation rates across the organization.

The current research bears out and reinforces those connections between leadership support and successful KM program development. For example, analysis of APQC’s assessment data reveals statistically significant correlations between involving leaders in setting KM priorities and a range of desired outcomes related to funding, integration of KM and business processes, accountability and business impact (see Figure 1 on Page 15, KMWorld February 2016, Vol 25, Issue 2 or download chart).

First, 54 percent of organizations where leaders participate in setting KM priorities achieve mature, flexible funding models in which KM budgets expand in response to increased demand for knowledge assets and competencies, compared with only 15 percent of organizations that do not involve senior sponsors in prioritization. That makes sense: If leaders help set the direction and expectations for KM, they are more likely to satisfy resource requirements as they arise, instead of setting strict budgets and expecting the KM core team to work within those constraints.

Leadership involvement in KM prioritization is also linked to improved connections between knowledge and business processes, as well as higher levels of accountability among business stakeholders.

For example, organizations that engage leaders in setting priorities are almost three times more likely to embed knowledge flow processes in core business processes and domains. This helps ensure that capturing, sharing and reusing knowledge feels like a cohesive part of employees’ daily duties instead of an ancillary task they must stop “real work” to perform. Furthermore, those organizations are a stunning nine times more likely to expand accountability for KM beyond the KM core team. This is important because the business groups that act as “customers” for the KM program are unlikely to shoulder responsibility for knowledge-related activities and outcomes unless they perceive real and significant returns from their participation.

The final outcome related to leadership involvement in strategy development follows naturally from the first three. A KM program with a strong connection to underlying business processes, a high level of buy-in from business stakeholders and resources to meet those stakeholders’ evolving needs is well on its way to becoming integrated into the way an organization works and generates value. Thus, it seems appropriate that KM programs with those characteristics are nearly six times more likely to demonstrate ongoing evidence of business impact.

Charter a cross-functional steering or advisory committee

If involving leaders in setting KM priorities results in mature and sustainable programs, the next logical step is to formalize leadership contributions through the creation of a formal KM steering or advisory committee. Such a committee may include top-level executives, but members are more frequently a level or two below the C-suite. A typical steering committee might comprise leaders from functions such as HR and IT as well as vice presidents or directors from the business units, functions and domains that KM tools and approaches are designed to benefit.

Whether executive-level or cross-functional, a steering or advisory committee provides vital ongoing strategic direction and oversight for KM, including:

  • establishing purpose and context for the program,
  • guiding the strategy and focus of the KM core group,
  • securing resources and approving funding for large-scale KM initiatives and enhancements,
  • role-modeling knowledge sharing behaviors and helping overcome structural and cultural barriers to KM implementation,
  • providing ongoing feedback and assessment of the program, and
  • celebrating and promoting KM-related outcomes and success stories.

The presence of a formal steering committee is linked to several key outcomes, highlighted in Figure 2 on page 16, KMWorld February 2016, Vol 25, Issue 2 or download chart.

First, a steering committee helps ensure ongoing strategic alignment between the KM program and the business stakeholders it supports. Senior leaders can launch a new KM program with the right goals, but it is easy for the core team to lose sight of the big picture during design and deployment—or for the business strategy to take a U-turn without giving the KM strategy time to adjust. Ongoing feedback and advice from functional leaders help mitigate those risks by recalibrating the KM roadmap at key intervals and keeping the focus on the challenges and opportunities of greatest import to the business. That, we suspect, is why organizations with formal steering committees are three times more likely to achieve alignment between KM and the enterprise vision, mission and strategy and to develop knowledge assets that support organizational core competencies.

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