Sunday, 9 March 2008

Devil's advocate: Forget about KM strategies?

There is a consensus in KM literature that every knowledge management setup in organizations needs to be based on a corporate knowledge management strategy as a mandatory prerequisite. Dealing with KM strategies myself, I don’t disagree. However, when reflecting on KM approaches with other KM practitioners, I realized that one could also take a different position, which would be the one of the devil’s advocate below:


"I don’t believe in corporate Knowledge Management strategies. Since I am exploring possible ways of doing knowledge management in organizations, I increasingly become to think that instead of strategizing, promoting and enforcing top down KM concepts, we should just start doing the things at hand. Because the business needs are already there (and already incorporated in strategic business frameworks). People do projects, people launch initiatives, people communicate and participate in the exchange with each other and their partners. And they are hungry to learn about more effective ways to do it right. We as KM people don’t need to reinvent business. We need to provide tools and mechanisms to do what we already do – just better.

Actually, the way of doing KM under the surface (“stealth KM” or “guerilla KM”) would be a much better approach, rather than trying to convince teams and business units of new strategies that cost a lot of money, cost a lot of time and imply that things should from now on be done completely different.

The thing is that people are happy to change if they see there is an immediate benefit. So what we ought to do is to provide tools which give that immediate benefit. Users of course don’t know in advance that a certain approach might help them, that’s why we need to communicate clearly. But instead of strategizing for a long time, how about we give them some tools that respond to their micromanagement challenges? Tools like social bookmarking or wikis, peer assist and after action reviews. Let’s play around and experiment with these tools. The ones which prove to provide a real benefit will survive. Some of the offered tools are not beneficial? So what? Most of them don’t cost anything, so we can drop them again. Instead of setting up a strategy and designing from top down what people ought to use, let people decide what’s useful for them and what’s not.

Now this of course will become difficult when we talk about approaches which’s benefits will only become visible over time. That’s why it is still important to have a KM Unit. Cause we need to have people who can do the experiments, who can pilot new approaches of communicating and exchanging knowledge. The KM team also will identify knowledge champions in the organization which are willing to listen, which are open to new approaches and eager to experiment. There are always some of that sort in each organisation. Get them on board and show them what did work for you personally and what did work for other organizations. Once it appears that a certain tool is indeed beneficial, the word will spread.

We are dealing with networked and interconnected societies and organizations. Instead of desiging KM stratgies top town, plant the virus and let the virus spread itself!"


Here we have again the bias between the view of organisations as fixed hirarchical structrues versus networked organisms. If the view of organisations as flat networks, which are (as Christian Kreutz posted today) democratic, flat and passionate, also makes top down KM strategies obsolete can be subject to discussion. I would be interested in your comments: What's your take on KM strategies? What makes them indispensable for your organizations?

1 comment:

Brad said...

Johannes,

I agree that "under the radar" approaches to KM activities are very attractive. My most successful initiatives at a former workplace (e.g. Communities of Practice) were activities that I established based on need and capability already inside the organisation. The key was using terms appropriate to the audience and not using KM-speak.

However, once you and the KM activities become visible, there is pressure then to create an overarching strategy and things take much longer to happen.

"Under the radar" KM is great because the focus is on discrete outcomes. A KM strategy can also be useful if it translates to positive action, and not roadblocks!

Positive action and outcomes should be the key result of both approaches.