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How to hire your organization’s first knowledge manager

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COVID-19 has woken up many organizations to the need for knowledge management. Hiring your first KM manager can seem at first to be a daunting task. There are a number of things you should keep in mind as you work to build the knowledge team in your organization.

Here are some guidelines and considerations that can help as you plan a successful strategy for your organization leveraging knowledge management. 

Key considerations

KM is about people and process first, not technology

Be mindful when making large tech investments to support KM. KM technology is extremely useful, and usually some investment is necessary but it will not deliver your KM outcomes on its own.

Frequently, organizations may have invested in or implemented software before bringing in a KM professional to scope requirements and provide advice on what solution is necessary. While most KM professionals will be able to work with the tools provided, getting KM expertise in early will save money, time, and, critically, the credibility and buy-in your project needs with internal stakeholders by right-sourcing the technology from the outset.

Hire at the appropriate level

Knowledge management is not just about having someone administer your intranet or documents. The team sometimes comes across organizations that have designed a document repository and given the project over to a junior member of staff who struggles to be heard by senior stakeholders.

For KM to be impactful in most organizations you need to have participation from a wide set of stakeholders because contributing to KM necessitates a culture change. You need to hire someone with the credibility, interpersonal skills, and strategic "mindset" to ensure your stakeholders actively contribute to KM initiatives.

Avoid scope creep

Of course, in the KM profession, we know the tremendous potential of KM when it is working well. It is, however, always a living, breathing project with further potential to leverage an organization's knowledge and expertise.

For an organization looking at introducing KM, it’s very important to nail down some objectives and outcomes to avoid trying to boil an ocean. KM is about people and processes first, and this usually means you need buy-in from time-pressed stakeholders.

Your knowledge manager needs to be able to communicate clearly what it is you’re trying to achieve and deliver some visible wins against those objectives to ensure your organizations culture can absorb the required change. A clear idea of what your organization is trying to achieve with well-defined measurements for success will not only give you credibility internally, it will also provide reassurance to knowledge managers who are well-established in their careers to make the leap and join your organization when you decide to hire.

Think about talent pools 

Whenever you’re hiring for any position, you will look for the best fit with your wish list, but there also will inevitably be some kind of compromise. Most organizations will be seeking some accompanying domain expertise in addition to knowledge management skills.

Be sure to get a clear idea of what type of talent might be available at the budget you are considering. For the KM function to be successful, it needs to be fully embedded, so whomever you hire as a knowledge manager should be a good overall organizational fit.

Ensure that you have sponsors 

As with any large change project, KM needs organizational commitment. If you hire a KM professional and their activities are not aligned with your organization’s priorities or key stakeholders, they will struggle to make progress.

All KM professionals will be well-versed in developing strong relationships with key stakeholders but they will want to know that KM has executive-level buy-in before they seriously consider an opportunity in your organization.  

There is no one way that KM teams operate

Often, the seeds planted for a KM project come from internal stakeholders who have previously worked at, or with, other organizations that had KM departments. Their views on "what" KM is and what is achievable has been shaped by the touch points they had with KM within that past organization.

For instance, in a large professional services firm, you might have 1,000 staff members all under the "knowledge" function. Whomever the sponsoring stakeholder dealt with as a knowledge manager would often have been a touch point representing a team of knowledge professionals all specialized in different areas of KM—from knowledge systems to subject specialists. Clearly, replicating this in a smaller or very different organization would be incredibly difficult and probably not desirable for most organizations beginning their KM journeys. A new KM team is a blank slate in many respects that opens up a range of new possibilities.

KM isn’t the savior

A KM function won’t solve all of your organization’s issues overnight. In many ways, it should look similar to any other business support department when it is functioning well. Your organization has its own knowledge-sharing culture and processes even if they are not explicit. With the proper support and buy-in it is reasonable to expect a knowledge manager to be able to improve or enhance the processes and function within your organization, but changing longstanding practices and existing mindsets, if that is required, will take a wider organizational effort.

Seize the opportunities

The most successful organizations in the world invest heavily in knowledge management. For IP-intensive industries, having a firm grasp of your organization's knowledge and expertise is your competitive advantage. The massive investment that firms such as McKinsey have put into knowledge assets is relatively well-recognized. These investments are also being made by top law firms, professional services firms, and a range of corporate, government, and non-profit organizations. Increasingly, there is also more interest from private equity firms in using knowledge management to achieve better investment outcomes.

KM is needed now more than ever

In addition, COVID-19 has woken up many organizations to the need to understand their knowledge flows. The pandemic has exposed gaps in knowledge within organizational structures it’s understanding who is responsible for certain external supplier relationships or who has critical skills within the workforce. Mapping your knowledge and expertise assets is no longer a "nice to have."

In the early stages of COVID-19, clients and suppliers were all racing to find up-to-date information. Almost overnight all forecasts and assumptions within a large proportion of organizational strategies had become out-of-date, acquisition and curation of up to date information from both internal and external sources became absolutely critical. COVID-19 exposed the risk of acting on out of date information.

The rapid shift to virtual working fundamentally changed how information is shared. Users who would never have engaged with Slack or Microsoft Teams suddenly had to use these virtual spaces to collaborate with their colleagues. As knowledge professionals know, organizations need to drive the right culture to enable organizations to derive the benefits of collaboration while complying with appropriate policies and regulations on what should be shared and how.

Preparing for the new normal

We’re not in the "new normal" yet; this is still anything but normal. However we do know there will be lasting changes to how businesses operate—particularly geographic distribution of teams. Organizations that deliberately leverage the knowledge and expertise from across their organizations will have a competitive advantage in the post-COVID 19 world.

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