More and more organisations, whether corporate and non-profit, are placing emphasis on knowledge management (KM) strategy. As a result, knowledge managers are asked to develop strategies and introduce them in the organisation. The longer the time horizons are, the more complex the requirements of a knowledge management strategy become. On top of this there is a need to correspond to the organisation’s vision and values, while at the same time respecting smaller available budgets. Furthermore, it can be difficult to introduce a knowledge management strategy without involving the important people in the organisation. How do you do this? Most employees are overloaded not only with work, but also with information. Therefore, people often perceive the introduction of a new strategy as an additional burden, which is time and energy consuming. What would be effective ways to introduce a knowledge management strategy in an organisation?
This FAQ discusses first the basic principles of introducing a KM strategy. Afterwards, the key steps of the implementation process are outlined. Lastly, you will find useful tips on how to organise for implementation.
Knowledge management strategy, implementation, process, change management, organisational development
Why is it important to involve people? Actually the introduction of any new strategy in an organisation always has to do with people. One of the main challenges is that people are increasingly overwhelmed by work and information. Often it is not obvious to them why they should adopt a knowledge management strategy in their daily work. How can you make sure that people buy in your knowledge management strategy? There is an effective way to convince colleagues that following a knowledge management strategy is not an end in itself, but an effective means to manage better workload.
A “stealth approach” can help. Start with small, discrete, but perfectly functional knowledge management initiatives that demonstrate fast and successful results. In building upon those successes, the organisation will gradually transform into a “knowledge-enabled” one. Another crucial point to remember is to start with people who are already committed and would support your undertaking anyway.
What role does technology play? It is fundamental to realise that the introduction of a KM strategy is a people and process led approach with Information Technology (IT) support (not the other way round). IT is an enabler or facilitator of the approach, but KM is mostly about people themselves. IT does play a part, and it is important when it does, but it should follow not lead. It is not advisable to start a KM strategy by building up an IT platform. If you start with a KM strategy by building an IT database, depositing information in it and expecting people to use it, failure can often result. However, if you start by being clear about the vision and the values of the organisation, what its objectives and necessary activities are, you have a better chance of knowing what knowledge people need to have access to when you create a database. The result is a database that is fine-tuned to the organisation's objectives, vision and people's needs and therefore more probably used by staff. In summary, the technology must be used to help people easily find past lessons learned and also to connect people effortlessly. If the KM strategy introduction is built only around the needs or potential of the available technology then this will be less effective and perhaps even avoided.
What should the frameworks look like? Frameworks need to be ‘broken down into digestible parts’ to address the complexity of organisational knowledge. Using the people-, processes- and technology framework as a means of starting the strategy introduction process can be much more effective. It is important to consider that knowledge has a minimum of two specific qualities: it is a “thing” (product), and it is at the same time a “process”. So, the framework should be well-defined and anchored before beginning with implementation.
What are the crucial elements of a strategy? A KM strategy is not an end in itself because a KM strategy cannot exist isolated from the organisation. KM should be linked with the organisation’s goals and objectives. These describe what the organisation wants to achieve for the future. That is, a KM strategy should relate closely to the overall organisational strategy. It is important to explicitly illustrate how KM contributes to the organisational vision. The Knowledge Manager should identify what knowledge is related to the structure, as well as, to the culture of the organisation at an early stage. In some organisations, an information sharing and organisational learning strategy will produce notable early results. In other more complex organisations, a strategy of how to capture ‘tacit knowledge’ is more useful and appropriate. Furthermore, a KM strategy should be in line with the personnel and financial strategies in order to support building organisational acceptance. The strategy should include a clear statement that knowledge is equally important to the organisation, the staff and financial controllers as other resources. KM should be integrated into the organisation’s business plan in order to ensure sustainable continuity of a KM strategy. Human resources are a key issue. Aside from this, it is advisable to include KM as integrated part in employees’ performance reviews. Regarding Information Communication Technology (ICT) it is important to wisely contemplate its use. The ultimate goal of ICT is to provide “the right information to the right people at the right time”. This is not always easy to achieve. And, the mere usage of technology alone does not guarantee success. Often users of large knowledge depositories are easily overwhelmed by the amount of available information and spend a lot of time not only searching but are distracted by the breadth and depth of the data.
Points to consider during the process:
- The direction of the strategy might change
- Be opportunistic
- Show how KM contributes to the organisational vision
- Be flexible; always stay open to the impacts of the unknown
- Communication is highly important
- Reflecting and learning needs to be continuously planned and funded
Steps in the implementation process
Collect basic information about:
- What kind of KM could work in your organisation
- Identify most important stakeholders and involve them
- Map the existing knowledge in the organisation
- Start with a self-assessment, e.g. INTRAC Learning NGO questionnaire
- Use the SWOT (Strengths- Weaknesses- Opportunities- Threats) analysis of KM
- What knowledge is needed
Start with a consultation process: It is crucial that people of the organisation buy in to the new strategy from the very beginning.
- In the form of online discussions
- Talk with people who would benefit from KM: in particular frontline staff, as well as, project managers who are the go-betweens to the outer world. This can be very strategic as they are some of the main beneficiaries of a KM strategy.
- Organise participatory workshops
Formulate your strategy:
- Imagine and write down your vision in form of stories for the future
- Use the scenario technique
- Consider available resources: funding, personnel, and time
- Ensure support from the top management
Introduce your strategy step by step- follow an ‘incremental path’:
- Establish a plan based on a vision, and tie it directly to discrete business needs and opportunities. Targeted projects deliver value quicker and will convince the top management easier.
- Use strategic opportunities, and become engaged in ongoing activities to demonstrate how KM can make a difference
- Link the strategy to needs of people in the organisation
- Identify small activities where you can achieve fast successes (“Don’t try to eat an elephant all at once”.) The majority of KM implementations fail when they try to tackle too many things in a relatively short period of time. Smaller projects or splitting a big project into phases gives a better control over the outcome. A “big bang” may happen once, but not at regular basis. That is why a step by step implementation is more promising that the big bang approach.
- Smaller projects also provide a safer environment for trying out new KM concepts and adapting them to the needs of the organisation.
- It is easier and more feasible to receive funding for a series of smaller projects than for an organisation-wide initiative, in particular, if the benefits are difficult to quantify.
- Integrate the strategy into the organisation’s daily life by building on it in ongoing activities.
- The KM strategy implementation should be smart and small. Many KM initiatives fail because they add unmanageable steps to the daily work of already overworked employees. So, by starting small and focusing on one job role at a time, you can build KM into a job function in a manner that actually helps employees to do their jobs faster, better, and more easily.
- KM should be integrated into the structure of any job description. Thus, KM becomes integral part of any work. Start by embedding the KM concept into the organisation’s most important knowledge-oriented role, and then expand it to the next important role and so forth.
- Start your KM strategy initiative with a small pilot project and engage a group of ‘influencers’, who are well respected by their colleagues.
- Support innovative programmes and current initiatives
- Skills training is important. You need to clarify what kind of skills you want to improve and who eventually would support training activities.
- Be patient!
Monitoring of KM process: Continuous monitoring is needed in order to adjust the strategy to new requirements, internal and external impacts. A KM strategy should be able to respond to the changing environment and to meet eventually new needs.
- Collect information: success stories and failures and other relevant information in form of hard and soft data
- Live the strategy, talk about it!
- Review it regularly. Ask yourself whether you are on the right track? Is there a need to adjust the strategy?
Organisation of the implementation process
- First, form an advisory group that supports you in the implementation of the strategy.
- Someone should be nominated to coordinate the process in order to ensure continuity.
- Top management support is necessary. Key persons especially the senior management should support and “validate” a KM strategy.
- Introduction of KM strategy always starts at the beginning of the strategy definition process.
- It is important to remember that the whole undertaking is rather a process - than a project.
- Start with a pilot or “model” process.
- The introduction of Knowledge Management and Knowledge Sharing is an organisational change process.
1st Discussion Thread
Paul Whiffen raised the interesting question of how 10-years (or longer) visions for KM can be developed in an organisation. The content of contributed ideas are summarised below:
One way is to try and visualise the future by writing a short 'novel' or story based purely on imagination. Another is to hold an online consultation with the staff to engage on the issue of knowledge and its relevance to the organisation’s overall strategy. A next step in the process will be a face-to-face workshop to which the most active of the online participants are invited. The goal of the workshop is to attempt to translate many of the issues and recommendations from the online discussion into a concrete plan of action. A critical voice stated that developing a strategy as a 10 years outline would be a “risky business”, especially for something that is essentially internal to an organisation, unless it is a flexible approach. Important issues to address are: what is the organisational mission going to be in a decade? Will you likely follow similar or different approaches to achieve your objectives? What might be staffing or location changes? Another contribution was: try to think of a set of alternative scenarios, and then see if you can develop a KM strategy that is robust enough to support any of these plausible futures, and react “gracefully to the unknown, and unknowable”.
The discussion group made further suggestions: The planning process is crucial, as well as reviewing, questioning and discussing plans. This is more a 'rolling' approach than a static one. The more that KM becomes an element of 'business as usual' by all individuals and teams in the organisation, and not a separate function, the better. Time issues in terms of planning, strategy, delivery and reporting cycles are a key aspect of this. One option of implementation step is the following: • Establish the organisation's Vision and Values; • From the V and V's develop a clear goal and specific objectives; • From these objectives it becomes clear what kind of activities and projects are needed; • From these, it becomes clear what knowledge is required and by whom • From this, it becomes clear what Information Management is required. This means that KM is completely embedded in what the organisation is about and what it wants to do.
2nd Discussion Thread
The guiding question for the second discussion thread was how best to start a KM strategy. Where should we begin? And, what are necessary key steps? The discussion group suggested doing the following: • Find a senior person in the organisation who is going to champion KM for you at the most senior level; • Use the INTRAC 'Learning NGO' questionnaire before you start as a baseline study on where you are at the moment (see attached); • Find out what your organisation already knows, and therefore, potentially what can be shared and compared.
3rd Discussion Thread
The third round started with ideas on frameworks and on how to start to introduce KM:
A 'knowledge framework' can be very useful. It will support the strategic development of our organisation, after all our service is knowledge based - we are all knowledge workers. A KM framework being a tool that can initiate processes that can drive a strategic planning process will create the changes that will 'optimise the organisation’s resources'. KM is a strategic issue. It is all about how to do what we do more effectively. And that has implications from the top to the bottom of any organisation. A framework can help gain perspective but for something as complex as organisational knowledge any model or framework is necessarily broken in parts. Make sure you identify how the framework is going to be useful to you before you put it together. Knowledge is both a “thing” and a process. To only think of knowledge as a product, a thing is to miss out on important aspects of it. Knowledge is also contained in social process, habits, and in communities.
On Getting Started: A first requirement when you start to develop a KM strategy is to talk to the people who would benefit most from effective KM, namely the people on the front lines of your organisation. Depending on how big your organisation is and how spread out you may want to conduct face-to-face interviews or conceivably carry out an online consultation, or perhaps both. A second step is to establish a pilot project. Form a group that does a task over and over again and get them to try out “Before, during, and After Learning”. Listen through the whole process for stories that model how you would like the organisation to be and then celebrate those stories. Work with and adapt existing processes. Celebrate the successes. And make sure you have buy-in from management and not just tolerance.
4th Thread initiated
The fourth discussion round was introduced with the statement “Less for success - Forget the big bang KM approach”:
To introduce KM initiatives, starting small and adopting “stealth strategies” is more effective than the “big bang”. A ‘piecemeal strategy’ may work out much better. Starting with a small KM initiative makes sense for some good reasons. Smaller projects or splitting a big project into phases gives you more control over the outcome. It is important to come back several times and review in order to refine a KM strategy. An incremental and opportunistic approach, taking advantage of pockets of energy and innovation, works best. In the long run, only patience pays and you have a better chance not to miss windows of opportunity that help you to pass important messages or to influence change.
The following members of the KM4Dev community contributed to the discussion thread on introducing a knowledge management strategy in an organisation: Paul Whiffen, Joseph Mugore, Steve Song, Tony Pryor, Charles Clift, Jo Scheuer, Frank Ryan, Marc Steinlin, Hermi Trupke, Dmytro Potyekhin, Peter Hall, Giulio Quaggiotto, Bruno Laporte, Manuel Flury, Michel J. Menou, Barbara Brown, Fernande Faulkner, and Brian Foster.
Examples in Application
[One or a few practical examples and references that illustrate the topic or show how it is done in practice]
[Insert links to related FAQs]
“The Social Life of Information” by John Seely Brown, Paul Duguid
“Learning to Fly: Practical Lessons from one of the World's Leading Knowledge Companies” by Chris Collison, Geoff Parcell
Original Author and Subsequent Contributors of this FAQ
Urs Karl Egger
Dates of First Creation and Further Revisions
FAQ KM4Dev Source Materials
[Raw text of email discussions on which the FAQ is based]