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15 tips ensure KM's success

This article appears in the issue July/August 2013, [Vol 22, Issue 7]


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An important issue for long-term success of KM initiatives is aligning them with organizational strategy, especially in times of change. KM initiatives, however, can "drift" over time if measures are not taken to align them with organizational mission, new turns in direction, management changes and different product/service offerings.

At a recent monthly meetup of the Bangalore K-Community, panelists from Unisys, Citigroup, Mindtree and Ernst & Young discussed 15 useful, actionable tips to ensure that a company's KM initiatives succeed not just at launch stage but also over the years to come.

1.  Bring KM into mission-critical activities. KM is a great enabler of many business processes, but it can be very relevant to ensure success and continuity of mission-critical activities in areas ranging from banking to security. The IT giant Unisys leverages KM to "acquire, retain and propagate" mission-critical knowledge in its global services.

2.  Focus on knowledge retention during times of attrition. Globalization,  aging work forces and economic downturns are leading to loss of valuable knowledge. KM can help stem that gap in the near term and especially in the long term.

3.  Use KM to improve understanding and execution of business reorganization. KM sometimes gets shunted aside during complex organizational restructuring, but can actually be useful in determining how to reorganize effectively. Some companies seem to spend almost half of their time on restructuring, but are not using KM to be more effective or innovative in restructuring.

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 actual 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 about the changing workplace/workspace to understand how KM is becoming even more critical to 21st century organizations, and how knowledge seeking/collaboration behaviors of knowledge workers are changing.

6.   Pay more attention to design and visualization. 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 (bring your own mobile/tablet device to the office) is now old hat. More and more frontline employees and managers are using mobile devices not just for accessing information but also for full workflow. Knowledge processes should be mobile-optimized, and not just in terms of device interface but also in speed of delivery, e.g. 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 learning drives home the KM message stronger for all 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 instills a sense of pride.

9.  Broadbase the KM initiative and don't restrict it to only select managers or project heads. The more people who engage with KM in full-time or part-time roles, the more buy-in KM will gain and the more value it will contribute. Unisys conducts an annual one-week knowledge-sharing event called UniLight that attracts more than 60 percent of its employees.

10.  Highlight KM practitioners across the board. Don't just showcase the usual super-achievers; also feature the employees who are coming up with their first, unique work insights or first reuse 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, its recommendations and implementations must 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 a problem with the words 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 Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques), 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 percent 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 evangelizing it to students. Unisys has created the Unisys Technology Forum 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.  


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