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Accelerators of KM maturity: Part 1

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Regardless of how great its knowledge management (KM) toolkit, every organization has moments when it must take a hard look at how it enables the flow of knowledge across people and systems and identify opportunities for improvement. Most firms go through some soul-searching when they first initiate their KM programs, and stakeholders are unsure how to get their efforts off the ground. However, it is equally important to revisit that self-evaluation at key intervals, such as when participation in KM tools and approaches lags or when leaders want to capitalize on the success of an effective, but limited, KM implementation by expanding it enterprisewide.

At member-based nonprofit APQC, we supply several frameworks to guide the assessment and development of KM programs. One of the most important is APQC’s Levels of Knowledge Management Maturity (see Figure 1 at the top of page 19, KMWorld, Vol. 26, Issue 1 or DOWNLOAD CHART 1), a five-stage maturity model designed to help organizations determine the current status of their KM efforts. The levels of KM maturity form the basis for APQC’s KM Capability Assessment Tool, a 146-question assessment that shows participants their current maturity level and uncovers gaps that may impede the efficacy of KM initiatives.

Although APQC has collected and validated maturity assessment data from members 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 the 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.

This article, the first in a four-part series, highlights accelerators related to developing a KM strategy and business case. In subsequent months, we will share details about the governance structures, processes, technologies, change management enablers and measurement approaches associated with successful and sustainable KM implementations.

Start with a focus on value creation

When it comes to building KM capabilities within your organization, it’s important to zero in on the right goals from the very beginning. According to analysis of the assessment data, firms that acknowledge value creation as a major objective of KM have a significant leg up in terms of setting clear goals and objectives for their KM efforts. Specifically, those organizations are nearly four times more likely to document their KM strategies and roadmaps than similar organizations not focused on value creation—and they are a whopping 15 times more likely to articulate formal business cases that lay out the expected benefits and impact of applying KM to business opportunities.

Why is that important? APQC has long advocated that organizations start by understanding the relationships between the flow of knowledge and desired business outcomes and then work backward to design KM tools and approaches that will aid those outcomes. Any KM initiative worth pursuing must generate business value in the form of increased revenue, faster cycle times, cost savings, enhanced quality or other tangible benefits. When value creation is acknowledged as the underlying goal of KM, the initiative is starting on the right foot.

By contrast, any firm that hasn’t made the connection between KM and value creation is prone to start throwing tools and techniques at employees without thinking through how they will be used or what broader purpose they will serve. And that kind of KM program tends to fizzle out over time as users fail to perceive why they’re being asked to share their knowledge or how the new toolkit will help them in their day-to-day work.

Define your strategy and roadmap

Once your organization recognizes the relationship between KM and business value, the next step is to cement that relationship by building it into a formal KM strategy and roadmap. In our experience, few steps are more important than writing down exactly where your KM program is headed and how you intend to get there. A solid strategy will accelerate knowledge management maturity by providing focus, alignment and credibility throughout your KM journey. It will also guide conversations with the business stakeholders whose support and buy-in you need to win along the way.

And the data bears that out. Among the KM programs that have participated in APQC’s KM Capability Assessment Tool, only 42 percent report having a documented strategy and roadmap. However, those 42 percent are achieving significantly better results on two important indicators of long-term KM success and value.

First, 55 percent of organizations with documented KM strategies and roadmaps have managed to align their KM initiatives to the broader enterprise vision, mission and strategy, compared to only seven percent without strategies and roadmaps (see Figure 2 on bottom of page 19, KMWorld, Vol. 26, Issue 1 or DOWNLOAD CHART 2). This suggests that hammering out a formal KM strategy makes you more than seven times more likely to establish links between what you’re doing to improve the flow of knowledge and the organization’s broader strategic goals.

Alignment between KM and enterprise strategy is important for myriad reasons, but most importantly because it helps you justify the ongoing time, energy and money required to support and participate in KM tools and approaches. If senior leaders understand the link between KM and the big-picture business concerns that keep them up at night, securing support becomes much easier, even during downturns and business disruptions when funding for “nice to have” programs dries up.

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