Originally published August 21, 2020

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This is the 59th article in the Profiles in Knowledge series featuring thought leaders in knowledge management. Madanmohan Rao is an author and consultant in knowledge management and new media based in Bangalore, India. He is research director at YourStory Media, India’s №1 platform for startups and investors and co-founder of the Bangalore K-Community. Madan’s specialties include entrepreneurship, knowledge management, innovation, digital (Internet/mobile/social), ICT4D (Information and Communications Technologies for Development), and content management.

Madan is a charter member of TiE Bangalore and research advisor at the Asian Media Information and Communication center (AMIC). He is the editor of five book series: The Asia Pacific Internet Handbook, The Knowledge Management Chronicles, AfricaDotEdu, Global Citizen and World of Proverbs. He was editor-at-large of DestinationKM and contributor to the Poynter Institute blog on new media trends. Madan was on the international editorial board of the book, Transforming e-Knowledge. Madan was formerly the communications director at the United Nations Inter Press Service bureau in New York, and vice president at IndiaWorld Communications in Bombay.

Madan is a frequent speaker on the international conference circuit, and has given talks and lectures in over 90 countries around the world. He has worked with online services in the U.S., Brazil, and India. His articles have appeared in DestinationKM, The Economic Times, Electronic Markets magazine, Economic and Political Weekly, and the Bangkok Post. Madan is on the board of directors/advisors of a range of content and wireless services firms in Asia. He also participates in consultations at UNESCO, IDRC, and the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) in India and Nepal. Madan is an editor and DJ in world music and jazz and writes for World Music Central and Jazzuality. He produced channels on jazz and world music for RadioWalla.in, and was previously world music editor at Rave magazine and RJ at Worldspace Satellite Radio.

Background

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  • YourStory.in — Research Director, 2012 — Present
  • Mobile Monday — Research Projects Director, 2008 — Present
  • Extensia — Global Summits Conference Chair, 2008 — Present
  • The Knowledge Management Chronicles — Editor, 2003 — Present
  • Asian Media Information and Communication Centre — Research Advisor, 2001 — Present
  • Indian Proverbs Project — Founder, 2010–2011
  • WorldSpace Satellite Radio — World Music DJ, 2008–2009
  • ICANN — Nominating Committee Member, 2004–2006
  • United Nations Inter Press Service bureau — Communications Director, 1993–2004
  • Microland — Group Consultant, 1997–2000
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst — MS, Computer Science and PhD, Communications, 1984–2006
  • Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay — B Tech, Computer Science

Content

  1. Discovery, delivery, delight — how EY harnessed knowledge management and became one of two Most Outstanding Winners of the MIKE award
  2. Stay relevant, or be disrupted: CII Global Summit spotlights lifelong upgradation of knowledge and skills
  3. From global research to best practices in teaching: meet BINUS University, winner of the Most Innovative Knowledge Enterprise (MIKE) award
  4. Knowledge and innovation excellence: CII summit presents tips from winners of the Most Innovative Knowledge Enterprise awards
  5. Processes, practices, productivity: meet Petroleum Development Oman, winner of the Most Innovative Knowledge Enterprise (MIKE) award
  6. From intelligence to impact: how Cognizant leverages knowledge management and AI for business success
  7. Learning, leverage, leadership: meet Afcons, winner of the Most Innovative Knowledge Enterprise (MIKE) award
  8. Productivity, safety, resilience: how Global MIKE Award winner Tata Chemicals harnesses knowledge management
  1. Navigating the Minefield: A Practical KM Companion By Patricia Lee Eng and Paul J. Corney — BOOK REVIEW
  2. KM 3.0: KM and AI
  3. KM Singapore 2015: Twelve tips to unlock the knowledge-ready advantage
  4. Design thinking and knowledge management: 12 takeaways from the K-Community
  5. KM strategy bears fruit in Russia
  6. Microlearning from the KM perspective
  7. KM Asia: The top 10 takeaways
  8. Start-up skills and knowledge are prized by large enterprises
  9. The knowledge movement: trends and opportunities

Organizational conversational capacity involves mastering the following 10 components of knowledge communication, which may well be regarded as The Conversation Manifesto in 21st century organizations:

  1. Knowing how to ask questions.
  2. Willingness to ask for information and assistance.
  3. Willingness to give as well as accept knowledge.
  4. Expectations of sharing knowledge.
  5. Promptness in sharing knowledge and expecting responses within deadlines.
  6. Giving feedback on received knowledge.
  7. Handling conflicting knowledge responses.
  8. Acknowledging, rewarding and acting on knowledge contributions.
  9. Existence of conversational capacity at multiple levels within the organization.
  10. Extension of conversational capacity externally for engaging other organizations.
  1. Bring KM into mission-critical activities. KM is a great enabler of many business processes, but it can be very relevant to ensure success and continuity of mission-critical activities in areas ranging from banking to security. The IT giant Unisys leverages KM to “acquire, retain and propagate” mission-critical knowledge in its global services.
  2. Focus on knowledge retention during times of attrition. Globalization, aging work forces and economic downturns are leading to loss of valuable knowledge. KM can help stem that gap in the near term and especially in the long term.
  3. Use KM to improve understanding and execution of business reorganization. KM sometimes gets shunted aside during complex organizational restructuring, but can actually be useful in determining how to reorganize effectively. Some companies seem to spend almost half of their time on restructuring, but are not using KM to be more effective or innovative in restructuring.
  4. Go beyond connecting to networking. KM at the people level sometimes gets stuck at the stage of people profiles and a bewildering range of discussion forums. It is important to add collaborative tasks on top of such connections, so that actual networking takes place and collective intelligence emerges.
  5. Conduct more research on knowledge work. With all the hype about social media in the enterprise, people tend to forget that knowledge work is essentially built on effective communication. More research is needed about the changing workplace/workspace to understand how KM is becoming even more critical to 21st century organizations, and how knowledge seeking/collaboration behaviors of knowledge workers are changing.
  6. Pay more attention to design and visualization. In a workspace of increasing information overload and multitasking, it is important to design knowledge interactions and interfaces in a compelling yet effective manner. Effective design can help in sense-making in fast changing and information-intensive environments. But how many KM functions include roles for skilled user experience designers?
  7. Pay attention to the requirements of mobile knowledge workers. BYOD (bring your own mobile/tablet device to the office) is now old hat. More and more front line employees and managers are using mobile devices not just for accessing information but also for full workflow. Knowledge processes should be mobile-optimized, and not just in terms of device interface but also in speed of delivery, e.g., fast loading dashboards for sales teams.
  8. Blend informal and formal activities in knowledge-sharing sessions. For example, a “knowledge fair” format with each project team presenting its achievements and learning drives home the KM message stronger for all who participate. The very act of presenting a KM case study can help employees develop a deeper appreciation of the strengths and opportunities for KM at work in the long term, and instills a sense of pride.
  9. Broad base the KM initiative and don’t restrict it to only select managers or project heads. The more people who engage with KM in full-time or part-time roles, the more buy-in KM will gain and the more value it will contribute. Unisys conducts an annual one-week knowledge-sharing event called UniLight that attracts more than 60 percent of its employees.
  10. Highlight KM practitioners across the board. Don’t just showcase the usual super-achievers; also feature the employees who are coming up with their first, unique work insights or first reuse of existing knowledge assets.
  11. Don’t pitch KM as an “extra” activity to be done after normal work hours; it should be embedded in regular workflow. Even additional activities such as conferencing and industry meetups should be seen as a way of learning, brainstorming and benchmarking.
  12. Avoid too much theory and jargon. While the core team certainly needs to be abreast of developments in KM models and research, its recommendations and implementations must be demystified and simplified so that employees are not distracted or confused with more buzzwords.
  13. Don’t get hung up on the name KM. Some people seem to have a problem with the words knowledge management and even KM. Other terms such as collaborative work or knowledge sharing/emergence seem to be in use as well. A particularly creative acronym I have come across in a Singapore office is FISH (Friday information sharing huddle).
  14. Use metrics and analytics effectively, and conduct KM course corrections as appropriate. Many KM initiatives stop their outcome studies at the level of activity metrics (as described in my book Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques), but fail to connect them to deeper processes, knowledge insights, people attitudes and overall impacts on productivity and innovation. One company reported that only 40 percent of its knowledge assets were being used, and some were being viewed only by the creator. At the same time, metrics are not the “be-all and end-all” of assessment.
  15. Help ensure long-term success of KM by evangelizing it to students. Unisys has created the Unisys Technology Forum to bring workplace domain knowledge and practices to students-including activities like KM. This helps create awareness in students about the importance of KM and strengthens the KM pipeline in the long run.

At Tata Steel, one incident more than any other drove home the point that they had to find a way to combining intellectual and technological assets via knowledge management. In 1999, a foreign technical consultant was summoned to the Indian steel giant to solve a problem. He replied that he had already been engaged and solved it the year before.

In other words, the company, despite having a sophisticated IT infrastructure, did not seem to systematically “know” what its problems were and how it had been solving them, explains Ravi Arora, head of Knowledge Management.

With 48,000 employees, an asset base of US$2.3 billion, and annual turnover of US$1.5 billion, the steel manufacturer sells long and flat steel products to over 5,000 customers around the world.

The company aggressively embraced IT-enabled processes in the late 1990s, and by 1999 had installed a corporate Intranet, SAP ERP system, employee portal and established special interest groups focusing on various operational and manufacturing issues. The company’s mission statement in 1998 was even re-drafted to include: “Tata Steel enters the new millennium with the confidence of a learning and knowledge-based organization.”

And yet, says Arora, there was no effort being made to capture experts’ knowledge into intellectual assets, and no systematic way of aligning the employee portals with solving business problems.

In April 1999, a concerted effort was made to launch a KM practice. Over the next year, through April 2000, a core team of five members studied best practices, devised knowledge taxonomies, created knowledge repositories, formed knowledge communities, and drilled employees launched on KM behaviors.

“Though this was a good textbook beginning, connectivity was still poor and access technology was not standardized. We noticed a lot of irrelevant and superfluous contributions coming into the knowledge repositories,” Arora recalls. Worse, there were cultural problems with technology phobias and attitudes such as, “This is another method to downsize” and “Why should I share my precious knowledge?”

A new, refined strategy was adopted and put into place in May, 2000, which included a seminar on KM, consulting on communities of practice by an external firm (McKinsey), and identification as well as recognition of successful KM efforts.

Communities of practice aligned with business processes and strategy were formally launched in 21 areas, including iron making, steel making, rolling, maintenance, mining, waste management, cost engineering, energy management, HR, IT and KM. Care was taken to ensure that each CoP had a champion, convener and senior manager.

However, some problems still remained. “There was no easy way to cull out the referable, usable contributions. Irrelevant and unsolicited contributions contributed to pour in,” says Arora.

Beginning in January, 2001 benchmarking steps were introduced, a composite KM index was created, and KM activity was included in performance evaluation. A directory of experts and skills was devised, a formal rewards and recognition system was put in place and seminars on KM were conducted.

Then a new problems arose. Management realized that they had not adequately planned budgetary outlays for KM community support, or devised ways of summarizing knowledge contributions and identifying which were the similar and redundant ones.

“Key questions facing us were: Is this KM approach really encouraging innovation? and How can we involve the grassroots levels as well?” Arora recalls.

So in February 2002, the company began to formally focus on promotion of innovation by encouraging more active experimentation, and rewarding intelligent failures as well. KM activity was more closely monitored. It was learnt that the number of KM users had grown from about 1,000 in early 2001 to over 3,000 by late 2002; in the same period, page views of the body of knowledge grew from barely 200 to almost 2,000 per day.

The number of new products manufactured has significantly increased, downtime has decreased, and costs have come down, Arora claims. In monetary terms, savings of about $725,000 were realized from the KM system.

At a cultural level, employee attitudes shifted from one of “I am an expert, I do not need new knowledge” to one of a continuous quest for knowledge; from just “I need help” to “I can also help.” The extent of organizational knowledge changed from narrow and shallow silos to wider and more permeable silos, says Arora.

Funds have now been allocated to enhance knowledge activities, and Tata Steel is even providing KM guidance to sister companies of the vast Tata group in India. Arora is regularly invited to speak at KM conferences around the world, including the recent KM Asia 2002 summit.

Other steel plants are also requesting Tata Steel’s assistance in KM implementation, and the company is sharing its experiences with other Indian organizations.

Future plans for KM at Tata Steel include linking e-learning with the KM repository and KM communities, devising an intellectual capital index, networking with retired employees, employee skill development for better externalization of knowledge and integration with customer’s knowledge.

Key lessons from this KM journey, according to Arora, include the importance of avoiding the creation of silos among communities, providing communities with detailed structures, and keeping databases current.

“The most important challenge in this economy is creating conversations,” Arora sums up. “The key to business modernization in the 21st century is not just through the expenditure of huge sums of money to create physical assets, but orienting people — the greatest asset — towards meeting the opportunities and challenges of the future.”

Presentations

Videos

Books

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  1. Review: It was a very good year by Hugh McKellar
  2. Another valuable compilation came from Madanmohan Rao. In Knowledge Management Tools and Techniques, Rao puts together stories about how KM has developed in organizations: “ … about KM journeys, origins, destination roadmaps, speed bumps gridlocks and compasses. It brings KM to life as a human story, filled with a cast of characters, agendas, passions, and motives and even with confusion and conflict.” And that’s the way it truly works in organizations, isn’t it? Rao’s 70-plus page introduction, “The Social Life of KM Tools,” is justification enough to purchase the book.
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  1. Holistic KM frameworks
  2. Types of organizational cultures
  3. Cultural components of KM
  4. Branding of KM initiatives
  5. KM activities to reinforce culture
  6. Sustaining KM — The role of culture-specific communication
  7. The road ahead
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  1. Metrics frameworks
  2. KM metrics and impacts in the private sector
  3. KM ROI in government and the public sector
  4. Conclusion
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Written by

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/

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