Why should you integrate Knowledge Management (KM) into your Business Processes?
By Paul Whiffen, Hartfield KM Consulting Ltd
Integrating Knowledge Management into Business Processes - what does this mean?
In my article 7 steps to knowledge management success I talk about successful integration of KM meaning the whole organisation
- authentically adopts the approach;
- understands the value to the business;
- applies it as part of ongoing business as usual.
This includes the behavioural and cultural aspects as well as those around structure, technology and process. In the following article, I outline some of the issues that need addressing to achieve genuine integration.
The foundation of effective KM integration is the principle that we need to manage knowledge as an organisational asset.
Like other organisational assets, such as finance, this means we need people whose job it is to manage this asset. Some will be full time in KM, others part-time, but unless you assign some designated resource to KM then it will fade. You need KM roles both during the initial introduction and implementation phase as well as ongoing management after formal acceptance and integration.
Typically, KM roles include a central KM team and designated (and often part-time) KM managers out in the business units. Projects and functions should have a local KM manager reporting to the head of the project or function and supported by the central KM team. Other roles include those trained to facilitate processes such as Peer Assists, Learning Reviews, individual interviews and communities as well as critical knowledge domain owners. You will need to tailor the range and application of KM roles to the organisation and its knowledge needs. Unless you charge people with the responsibility of managing knowledge, KM will eventually fade and die as a profession.
The organisation’s approach to KM should not just include the provision of tactical activities such as team learning processes, knowledge markets, individual knowledge transfer or communities of practice in an ad-hoc way. These activities add value but we need an approach where the organisation thinks proactively about their application.
To achieve this, the organisation as a whole - projects, functions and individual staff - should consider applying KM Plans.
In simple terms, KM Plans mean
- setting out business (or individual) context;
- addressing knowledge needs to meet the objectives;
- setting out what tactical KM activities need to apply and when.
For example, a project KM plan may establish the project’s objectives, risks and constraints and then think about:-
- how required knowledge flows in to the project from the wider organisation at the start;
- how project knowledge develops as the project delivers and;
- how knowledge flows out to the wider organisation at the end.
With an owned and maintained KM Plan, tactical activities take place in a systematic and pre-planned manner, instead of ad-hoc influenced by day to day variables or changing circumstances leading to the risk of KM being forgotten.
The organisation's process set needs to adopt the KM policy and processes so that they are not regarded as something separate or optional. KM process needs ownership, maintenance, and auditing in much the same way as other professions.
Getting to this point takes time. It requires significant change management due to the cultural change implications. But, when you reach this goal it sends a strong signal that knowledge is a core asset that needs to be professionally managed.
Organisations need to be held to account in KM. Unless governance is in place to track its proper application, other priorities will, in the end, distract from the best of intentions even when supported by the high levels of enthusiasm and energy. Structured KM plans as outlined above can assist with this, providing a means for business leaders to assess delivery against pre-planned requirements. Top management need also to truly own KM, talk about it, question it and show staff that the organisation prioritises its knowledge asset. Audits and metrics need to be in place.
Change Managed Implementation
Getting to the point of proper integration is much more than addressing logical issues such as structure and process; the organisation must genuinely want to do this. Implementation of KM is more than anything about change in behaviour and culture. Significant investment in various processes, both tactical and strategic, won’t work if they are ignored because they are neither believed in or supported. Successful KM implementation leading to effective integration depends on a change management programme, built on:
- clear business need;
- a KM vision;
- senior sponsorship & support;
- prioritised piloting;
- targeted training, and;
- learning what works for the organisation in a practical and pragmatic way.
All this needs to be accompanied by a very effective communications strategy that talks to staff about what KM is, how it is working, the value added and listens to staff feedback. Simply stated, it is about both hearts and minds.
Knowledge management is a difficult challenge that every organisation is faced with. Being able to retain and transfer valuable knowledge in your Business can be the difference between success and failure. That's why, in collaboration with our Knowledge Management Thought-Leader, Paul Whiffen, Hydra has produced a free downloadable ebook. Managing the Right Knowledge & Managing the Knowledge Right shares the key questions and solutions for improving your knowledge management capabilities to help you become 'Knowledge Ready'.
- Understand the most difficult barriers to successful knowledge management
- The tools and strategies to improve your organisations knowledge management capabilities
- Learn how to make knowledge management real
I have been working in KM for 20 years, including Head of KM for three organisations in different sectors. I understand the theory and know how to make KM real and effective from experience gained in both leadership and supporting consultancy.