Originally published on May 10, 2016
Although culture eats strategy for breakfast, defining a strategy is a requirement for implementing a successful knowledge management (KM) program. From Implementing a Successful KM Program, the first three steps to follow for starting a KM program are:
- Create a Top 3 Objectives List of challenges and opportunities which your KM program will address. These objectives align business direction with program goals.
- Provide 9 Answers to questions about people, process, and technology. This information defines who will participate, which processes will be required, and how tools will support the people and processes.
- Define the KM Strategy for your KM program. These are specific steps which will be taken to implement the program, thus translating the Top 3 Objectives into action.
For each of the Top 3 Objectives, list the specific actions which can be readily communicated to the organization. This will allow everyone to understand exactly what will be done, what they are expected to do, and what’s in it for them.
There are ten basic categories of KM strategy: motivate, network, supply, analyze, codify, disseminate, demand, act, invent, and augment. Use these as a guide for formulating your list of actions.
To enable knowledge-related actions, it is usually necessary to provide incentives and rewards to your targeted users to encourage the desired behaviors. Often, the first step will be a management of change program to align the culture and values of the organization to knowledge management. Setting goals and measurements which individuals and managers must achieve is also important. And establishing formal incentives and rewards will reinforce the goals and measurements.
The means of motivating employees include communicating to them, modeling expected behaviors, establishing standard goals to be included in all performance plans, monitoring and reporting on progress against organizational goals, recognizing those who demonstrate desired behaviors, providing incentives for meeting objectives, and rewarding outstanding performance.
Examples include town hall and coffee talk sessions conducted by senior leaders, notes from senior leaders to employees who contribute reusable content, standardized performance goals, monthly progress reports, and awards for those who set the best example of sharing their knowledge.
A fundamental way for knowledge to be shared is through direct contact between people. Connecting to others who can provide assistance or who can benefit from knowledge sharing is a powerful way to leverage each person’s individual knowledge. Communicating across organizational silos allows good ideas to be exchanged between groups who might otherwise be unaware of each other. Collaborating within communities allows the members to learn together, which is enabled by community events, threaded discussions, and team spaces.
Building and expanding social networks creates valuable links between individuals and groups. Emerging social software supports these networks through adding friends, identifying shared interests, and tagging resources.
Conversations between people are the basis of building trust, gaining insights, and sparking new ideas. Storytelling ignites action, builds trust, instills values, fosters collaboration, and transmits understanding. The World Café method “helps us appreciate the importance and connectedness of the informal webs of conversation and social learning through which we discover shared meaning, access collective intelligence, and bring forth the future.”
There must be a supply of knowledge in order for it to be reused. Supply-side knowledge management includes collecting documents and files, capturing information and work products, and storing these forms of explicit knowledge in repositories. Tacit knowledge can also be captured and converted to explicit knowledge by recording conversations and presentations, writing down what people do and say, and collecting stories.
Examples of supply strategies include project databases, skills inventories, and document repositories. The content which is captured represents the raw materials. These can then be analyzed, codified, disseminated, queried, searched for, retrieved, and reused.
A supply-only strategy will not be very useful to an organization. Even if every possible document and knowledge object is captured and stored, there is no resultant benefit unless there is significant reuse of all that content. Be sure to keep supply and demand strategies in balance.
Once there is a supply of captured knowledge, it is then possible to analyze it so that it can be applied in useful ways. Before drawing any conclusions from what has been collected, the content should be scoured to verify that it is valid. Confidential data may need to be scrubbed, or the content may need to be further secured. Lengthy documents may need to be summarized, encapsulated, or condensed.
Reviewing collected information may reveal patterns, trends, or tendencies which can be exploited, expanded, or corrected. Distilling data to extract the essence leads to discovering new ideas and learning how to improve. Knowledge can be harvested in the form of lessons learned, proven practices, and rules of thumb.
Sense-making is the way in which we make sense of the world so that we can act in it. Dave Snowden describes technologies that process large volumes of data with a view to weak signal detection and pattern recognition. Another kind is naturalistic sense-making, derived from an understanding of the cognitive processes that underpin human decision making.
People can also be analyzed to reveal useful facts. Social network analysis maps and measures relationships and flows between people, groups, or organizations to improve communities, identify missing links, and improve connections between groups. Using Positive Deviance can help find those whose special practices, strategies, and behaviors enable them to find better solutions to prevalent problems than their neighbors who have access to the same resources.
After collected knowledge has been analyzed, it can be codified to produce standard methodologies, reusable material, and repeatable processes. Data can be consolidated, content can be collated, and processes can be integrated to yield improved business results.
Codifying knowledge also involves establishing the value of intellectual property, adding metadata to documents stored in repositories so that they can be easily found, and tagging content so that users can discover useful views, connections, and collections.
Examples include designating documents as standard templates, identifying processes and proven practices, and producing a catalogue of official methods. Refining knowledge after it has been captured so that it can more readily be reused renders it in a more valuable state.
Even if captured knowledge has been analyzed and codified, it will not be of value unless potential users are aware of its availability. Thus, its existence must be disseminated, both widely to inform all potential users and narrowly to inform targeted consumers.
A variety of communications vehicles should be used to distribute knowledge. Newsletters, web sites, and email messages can be used to spread awareness. Blogs, wikis, and podcasts can be visited online or subscribed to through RSS feeds. Content can be dispersed through syndication and collected through aggregation, including the ability to personalize web sites to display only relevant information.
Examples of knowledge dissemination strategies include providing customized notifications of new or changed content, weekly newsletters featuring new submissions to repositories, and a KM corner on the organization’s home intranet page listing the top 10 most-reused documents for the current month. Monthly podcasts featuring interviews with thought leaders, weekly con calls featuring conversations about lessons learned, and email messages sharing proven practices are also good ways of increasing awareness.
- How leaders can improve internal communications using an ESN
- All the news that fits: Tips for good newsletters
Demand is the other side of supply. It involves searching for people and content, retrieving information, asking questions, and submitting queries.
Demand-driven knowledge management takes advantage of networks, supply, analysis and codification. It is stimulated by dissemination and enabled by making it easy to find resources.
Examples of demand strategies are expertise locators, ask the expert processes, and search engines. User assistance and knowledge help desks can help connect supply and demand by answering questions, providing support, and searching for content. Specific tools and techniques which enable demand for knowledge include e-learning systems, threaded discussions, and Appreciative Inquiry.
Focusing more on just-in-time knowledge management and less on collection, content can be provided at the time of need through networks such as communities. By only supplying information which is actually required, unnecessary knowledge capture can be avoided and time and resources used more efficiently.
- Improving enterprise search results: Why don’t you just tell me what you need?
- Why won’t people ask questions in the open?
- Reuse it or lose it: The many uses of reuse
Peter Drucker is widely quoted as saying “The knowledge that we consider knowledge proves itself in action. What we now mean by knowledge is information in action, information focused on results.” The payoff for motivating, networking, supplying, analyzing, codifying, disseminating, and demanding knowledge is results through action.
Peter Senge is quoted as defining knowledge as “the ability to make effective decisions, and take effective action.”
Making better decisions is supported by networks and analysis. Implementing changes to replicate proven practices and improving processes based on previous experience are also enabled by analysis.
Incorporating knowledge into routine workflow and utilizing processes and procedures can be done as a result of codification. Disseminating what has been learned allows it to be applied to new situations. Responding to requests, answering questions, and using and reusing content are actions which result from demand.
Responding, deciding, and reusing are good examples of acting as part of a knowledge management initiative. Another form of action is the next strategy — invent.
A special kind of action is invention. Creating new products and services, coming up with new ideas to try out, and developing innovative methods and processes can help transform an organization, industry, or a nation.
Generating new sources of customer demand, stimulating personal and organizational growth, and rethinking the existing rules of the road can help an organization develop, thrive, and endure. Failure to do so may lead to stagnation, decay, or death.
Knowledge management can help trigger the imagination by providing a continually replenished source of ideas and experiences. People help bring out the best ideas in each other through their interaction as a part of networks. Publishing white papers stimulates creative thinking. Analyzing collected knowledge reveals patterns and opportunities for new developments.
Cognitive computing can simulate human thought processes and mimic the way the human brain works, addressing complex situations that are characterized by ambiguity and uncertainty. Artificial intelligence can perform operations analogous to learning and decision making in humans. Intelligent personal assistants can recognize voice commands and queries, respond with information, or take desired actions quickly, efficiently, and effectively.
Using these approaches can enhance the capabilities of humans by augmenting their powers of observation, analysis, decision making, processing, and responding to other people and to routine or challenging situations. Cognitive computing tools such as IBM Watson, artificial intelligence tools such as expert systems, and intelligent personal assistant tools such as Amazon Echo, Apple Siri, Google Now, and Microsoft Cortana can be used to extend the ability of humans to understand, decide, act, learn, and avoid problems.
Here are examples of possible KM strategies for three different types of organizations. Typically, not all ten types of strategies will be used, but these examples illustrate what might be considered.
1. Non-Profit Organization
- Top 3 Objectives
- Lower costs by preventing people from reinventing the wheel all the time.
- Eliminate deficits caused by repeating the same mistakes.
- Increase contributions by innovating and creating new capabilities.
- KM Strategy
- Motivate: provide incentives for sharing and reusing proven practices.
- Network: create communities of practice to enable sharing and to stimulate new ideas.
- Supply: collect stories on both failures and successes.
- Analyze: look for patterns and trends in previous work, and select proven practices from the collected stories.
- Codify: develop standard processes to follow.
- Disseminate: publish standard processes to the intranet, and distribute proven practices in a monthly newsletter.
- Demand: use communities to ask questions about how to perform tasks, and allow searching the proven practice repository.
- Act: follow the standard processes, and reuse proven practices on new opportunities.
- Invent: create new sponsorship opportunities, and develop improved fund-raising techniques.
- Augment: provide chatbots and voice recognition for contacting and responding to donors
2. Manufacturing Company
- Top 3 Objectives
- Increase orders by better collaboration between sales, services, and back-office functions.
- Increase revenue by stimulating a flow of ideas for new products and services.
- Increase profits by sharing and reusing lessons learned.
- KM Strategy
- Motivate: reward collaboration, submitting new ideas, and sharing and reusing lessons learned.
- Network: enable cross-functional collaboration.
- Supply: capture lessons learned and suggestions for new products and services.
- Analyze: select best lessons learned and suggestions.
- Codify: categorize and tag selected lessons learned and suggestions.
- Disseminate: send out lessons learned in email messages, and publish blog entries about new ideas.
- Demand: provide query capability for lessons learned database.
- Act: reuse lessons learned.
- Invent: develop new products and services through collaboration and submitted ideas.
- Augment: implement expert systems for designing, engineering, and building new products.
3. Consulting Firm
- Top 3 Objectives
- Increase win rate by improving the proposal development process.
- Lower sales and delivery costs by reusing proven practices.
- Increase engagement quality by collaborating with customers and partners.
- KM Strategy
- Motivate: measure and reward collaboration, sharing, capture, and reuse.
- Network: get all consultants and project managers to collaborate on projects, actively participate in communities of practice
- Supply: capture proposals and other project documents for all projects.
- Analyze: select proven practices from contributed project documents.
- Codify: ensure metadata is attached to submitted documents, and cleanse proposals to use as standard templates.
- Disseminate: make it easy for everyone to find reusable content, methods, tools, templates, techniques, and examples.
- Demand: search for proven practices and proposal templates for each new project.
- Act: reuse proven practices and proposal templates on each new project, and employ customer and partner feedback to improve project quality.
- Invent: use customer and partner feedback to improve existing services and create new service offerings.
- Augment: automatically determine the specialties, roles, and interests of consultants and automatically deliver important information relevant to their work at the time of need.
For more information on defining a KM strategy, see:
1. Strategy of knowledge management by Steve Denning
2. KM strategy is easy! by Denham Grey
3. Designing a Successful KM Strategy: A Guide for the Knowledge Management Professional by Stephanie Barnes and Nick Milton
4. Developing a knowledge management strategy by James Robertson
5. Knowledge Management Strategy by APQC
6. Crafting a Knowledge Strategy by Shawn Callahan
- Crafting a knowledge strategy that works by Shawn Callahan, Mark Schenk, and Chandni Kapur
8. Knowledge Strategy: Take Charge by Guy St. Clair
9. How to Approach a Knowledge Management Strategy Exercise by Patrick Lambe
10. Turning KM strategy on its head — Dave Snowden by Ian Thorpe
- Creating a knowledge strategy by Dave Snowden
- Slides by Dave Snowden
- Of sandbanks and granite cliffs by Dave Snowden
Motivating, networking, supplying, analyzing, codifying, disseminating, demanding, acting, inventing, and augmenting are the ten types of KM actions. Incorporating them in your KM strategy will turn the Top 3 Objectives into specific actions which can be communicated to your organization.