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The Audacity of Managing Organizations by Leveraging Knowledge

We at times become prisoners of our belief system and find it difficult to see reality. When Copernicus said ‘the Earth rotates around the Sun’, it questioned the prevailing belief systems and earned the wrath of the society. However, the Earth merrily continued to rotate around the Sun oblivious of this. We are in a similar prison when it comes to managing knowledge. A prison built by the ‘object-oriented view’, which has become ingrained in our belief systems, and we are not able to think otherwise. Meanwhile organizations continue to use knowledge to work on knowledge to create knowledge. However, unlike our good old Earth, organizations, because they are quasi-natural, suffer as they are not able to leverage knowledge properly.

Focus on content management, sharing and collaboration are important for organizations, however, these are hygiene aspects of KM. They generally do not add value directly to an organization. The benefits ‘Hygiene KM’ brings in is minuscule as compared to what is possible. Knowledge management needs a ‘Copernican revolution’ into the way we manage knowledge for organizations. The blog is a nudge towards that.

Before getting into details on the focus of KM and its positioning, a few statements are made below:

  • Organizations perform different tasks as part of their effort to stay competitive, generate revenue and earn a profit. Some organizations realize it, some don’t. That does not change the fact that organizations perform different tasks.
  • How well tasks are performed is a reflection of expertise organizations have in performing the task of getting it done by others.
  • The success of an organization depends on identifying all the relevant tasks it needs to perform and continuously master the way the tasks are performed.

With these statements as the base, the following approach is proposed to manage knowledge:

Knowledge management has to take the center stage. The suggested approach can help create an organization which learns fast and embeds those learning equally fast. It has an approach to automation that has a natural fitment to the organization.

Note on the training team, process team and tools team: Training team, Process team (BPM) and Tools team are essentially doing KM activity. All three teams come together to feed into the tasks performed by the organization. By systematic training (imparting know-how, know why and know what), Training team enables employees to perform different tasks. Process team captures the processes performed as part of the tasks and continuously embeds know-how into the process. The tools team creates tools, which can be used by employees or work without employees to perform tasks. To a large extent role of the HR team is also to enable employees, by enabling culture. Orphan here is ‘Task’, the legitimate responsibility of KM.

Employees and their roles: Employees will have dual roles. First is to perform tasks using the most advanced version or approach of performing a task and second is to regularly analyze what they are working on and find ways to improve them. The role of employees will be critical. In this approach, there may be a need for fewer employees, but the kind of task employees play will keep them rooted in their work and organization.

KM Team structure: BPM team and Tools team will be part of KM team. Along with this KM team will also have teams focusing on content management, collaboration/sharing, Lessons Learned management, Expertise/Core Competency Management. They will work closely with the training team, HR team, CIO and Operations group. Essentially the way organizations perform remains the same. However, rearrangement happens in the support part of the organization.

That brings us to the key question, what are the responsibilities of the KM team

  • Responsible for improving maturity in performing tasks: Track the tasks performed by an organization and systematically improve maturity in performing them. Benchmark how tasks are performed against industry standards. Build expertise on critical tasks and take it to thought leadership level
  • Safeguard Core competencies: Core competency, (A concept introduced by C. K. Prahalad & Gary Hamel) is another orphan in an organization. It plays a key role in ensuring the competitiveness of an organization. It is KM team’s responsibility to grow and safeguard core competencies. Communities of Practice is a means to it, however much more needs to be done here.
  • Enable automation of tasks: As maturity level in performing tasks improve, they become more fertile for automation. KM team should enable automation of tasks and find new areas for automation.
  • Organizational culture: While HR has the responsibility of cultural fitment with work, logically it should be with the KM team, as they focus on key cultural aspects that enable work in organizations.

Further fine-tuning needs to be done on this approach, however, to stay efficient and effective on a continuous basis, we cannot ignore this way of working. This approach has the ability to impact both the top line and the bottom line directly.

So coming back to the ‘Copernican Revolution’, after all, KM is not a toothless tiger, we just have to clean our lenses, grow our tooth and nails. More in my next blog.

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