Monday, March 29, 2010

Types of KM Strategies

An idea jumps up all of a sudden from nowhere in particular on a quiet Saturday afternoon while yours truly is lazing around with what is normally described as a completely blank mind. I am not sure if this topic has already been considered by other KMers. I’d think someone must have written about this or at least thought about this before. However, as I am yet to come across such a write-up, I decided to go ahead and put it out, as it appears in my mind, to be examined by you, fellow KMers. 

Here goes then. It suddenly occurred to me that we have reached a state of affairs in the KM domain wherein we are well poised to turn around and look at the overall pattern(s) in our KM strategies. So, why not attempt to look at the different types of KM strategies that have been adopted by organizations with each type of strategy reflecting a dominant philosophy or concept? This may reveal why we adopted some of these strategies, what’s good or bad about them and where we might go from here. I am quite sure some of my assumptions are debatable, so please do not hesitate to leave your comments and inputs. 

The following are, I believe, the key types of KM strategies (in no particular order) that organizations seem to have adopted based on a number of factors like the business they are in, the organization's age, the beliefs, experience, knowledge and influence of the team or person at the helm of KM and the organizational culture and characteristics among other things.  

1. Integrate Everything: This is a strategy that pursues and focuses on the integration of content, irrespective of its source, flavor and purpose.  The integration may range from efforts to just put everything in one place in a meaningful structure to efforts to scratch beneath the surface and connect/integrate knowledge pieces at an elementary level. In some cases, where the KM initiative began early enough, it may be easy to attempt to plan exhaustively and restrict the creation of content to just one or perhaps a few appropriate platforms. This strategy may typically be followed by small organizations or large organizations that are particular about centralized operations and control. Such organizations are also likely to be very conscious of metrics like time saved in searching for content. Think portals, intranets and single source knowledge platforms (with widgets and mash-ups from other sources). Such strategies may not differentiate between documents, workflow, people profiles etc and may place an equal value on all these elements. Think small organizations or large ones with powerful KM teams. Dictator?

2. Connect Everyone:  Some organizations and KM teams would rather wash their hands off (as much as logically possible) the complexities & uncertainties of storing and updating content in repositories and exhaustive portals. Hard core business platforms that capture information/knowledge related to business processes cannot be avoided though. Basic portals and repositories are likely to continue to exist and be used. This strategy is not necessarily an attempt to only reduce the complexities of capturing and storing content but an inherent belief in the concept of knowledge being fluid and the value of it being highly dependent on the context. It also stems from the belief that all worthwhile knowledge lies in people’s heads and will make meaning (and can be elicited) only on a need basis. Consequently, such KM strategies would rather focus on people, their specific roles, situations, needs and connections. Efforts are made to do everything (culturally, procedurally and technically) to let people find relevant others and then find content from there on (or have conversations/collaborate) without too much intervention. Such strategies may emphasize on expertise location, formation of communities, encouragement and facilitation of informal networks, best practices sharing between specific teams, internal conferences and the like. Think relationship based organizations which focus less on processes. Broker?

3. Personalize Knowledge:  This strategy is perhaps the equivalent of a much milder version of the Ayn Rand philosophy in the KM domain. Organizations that adopt this type of a strategy may believe that nothing will be adopted as long as it is not presented in a personalized manner and format/structure (providing a self-centered view). The focus is unlikely to be on ushering in a general knowledge sharing and collaboration culture. Instead, it is highly likely to lure employees to be a natural part of their KM strategy and system by giving them something that they are unlikely to refuse, something packed and personal. The focus is on a personalized knowledge strategy that encourages employees to focus on only knowledge that is relevant to them. Subsequently, employees are encouraged to connect only with colleagues that matter to them etc. Everything points in the direction of benefits for the self and this may contribute to the initiative not being perceived as a ‘business’ initiative. However, implementing such a system may be difficult as it might call for in-house designs and techniques for smart knowledge filtering and personalization. Also, the technical effectiveness of such a system may be questionable if the underlying thinking is not strong enough. This strategy is slightly similar to the ‘Connect Everyone’ strategy since this is also people focused, but it has to go beyond connections and examine cutting-edge technology to understand the individual’s role and context and accordingly fetch and suggest content that is relevant to the individual and her context. Rather than company-wide intranets or portals, the focus here is on personal KM tools that allow employees to filter out the noise (with re. to their needs) and turn a blind eye to the rest of the knowledge floating around. This is likely to be a big hit amongst the employees as well as management but, as mentioned before, it may be tough to design and build an effective system.  Think innovative organizations. Psychologist?

4. Embrace Differences & Multiple Ingredients (‘Masala’* Indian term for a powder/paste comprising many ingredients and used to lend a complex taste to certain dishes): This is somewhat similar to the ‘Personalize Knowledge’ strategy from the conceptual perspective but lies at the other end of the spectrum from the technological perspective. Instead of focusing on individual employees, this strategy revolves around teams’ and business units’ (BU) idiosyncrasies. It is a decentralized approach and teams and BUs are allowed to adopt methods and tools that they are comfortable with without too many rules and controls. Thus, the organization may adopt varied mechanisms and tools for similar purposes. One team may manage their projects mainly through simple Wiki interfaces while another may have a niche workspace tool (in-house or purchased). Neither of them is forced to change or switch to the other tool/method.  Organizations are likely to be forced into such a strategy when there have been too many divergent and intractable views from the stakeholders or the KM teams were established very late or went through frequent changes in composition, or simply because the business believes in decentralized management down to the BU level. The organization may be quite comfortable with complexity and lack of a dominating central authority. There is no clear big picture as such and teams go about KM in their own convenient ways. The decision to change is taken at the team level. In such a scenario, KM teams may play consultants at the BU level rather than at the organizational level. There may, of course, be efforts to build bridges between selected tools and techniques between certain teams or even at the organizational level in case the organization is expected to benefit highly out of such integration. This strategy may be very hard for people who insist on simplicity, single sources and controlled systems. Such a strategy is debatable in many ways since the organization will still have distinct silos but most large organizations may be forcibly subjected to this strategy. Think of the large conglomerates. Peace-Maker?

5. Inject into Organizational DNA: This is, arguably, a KM strategy in its truest form and perfectly aligned and intertwined with the business and people strategies. It is characterized by the pursuit of plenty of soft knowledge practices rather than a passion for technological advances and experiments. Such a strategy can be designed and adopted only in an organization where the CEO and the key business leaders are genuine KM champions and mentors (encouraging a culture of openness, sharing, learning, reuse, innovation and collaboration). Such a KM strategy will primarily comprise of promotion of localized and organizational level knowledge sharing sessions/conferences/ideation, participation in organizational strategy formulation, practices like mentoring and shadowing, emphasis on employee-relationships, performance evaluation based on team performances rather than individual performances, business and operational processes that pay attention to the knowledge flow from one end to the other etc. The adoption of this strategy also indicates focus on practices like after action reviews, best practices, participation of ex-employees where needed, decision-making by communities etc. Such a strategy may not neglect technology’s role in KM, but it, nevertheless, is more passionate about simple day-to-day practices and mannerisms/habits leading to the efficient and effective sharing of knowledge and collaboration.  Think Buckman Labs. Doctor?

Finally, these are just the central tendencies that I’ve observed in various KM strategies in the organizations I have come across. Obviously, certain organizations may adopt a combination of two or more of the above strategies or may even transition from one to another based on the growth of the organization or change in the KM team composition or adoption of a new technology (the last one, un-ideally so because letting the technology dictate to the strategy is not advisable). That’s all for now. If you have ideas on typical examples for these strategies or what is missing from this list or how I can build upon this theme, please let me know. 


Karthik said...

Hi Nirmala,

excellent articulation!

I too feel from my experience that both my previous and the present organizations tries to adopt more than one strategies you have articulated.

what my understading is, whenever a new financial year starts, KM team comes up with a plan of targets/numbers. we never discuss how we are going to achieve! we never discuss what are the existing techniques/strategies and infrstructure that will enable us realising our vision?

we start with one strategy, adopt another strategy after 3 - 4 months (because of lack of motivation) and end with another strategy to show numbers and clear appraisal.

as you have mentioned (Doctor's section), we need to spend time with our customers and understand them first. we need to get to know their pain areas/needs. we need to match our offering to their requirements. if not, we should formulate new techniques/frameworks to address their concerns.

if we are able to do this, we don't need any metrics to KM. The organization and the stakeholders will naturally feel the potential of KM.

Nimmy said...

Hey Karthik,

Thanks for the appreciation and thanks a ton for choosing to leave a detailed comment as well. And a very thoughtful and excellent comment at that! I like your point that it varies through the year and depending on the targets - true! And also your very valid observation that we need to spend a lot of time to be a 'Doctor' KMer. Spot on! :-)
Thanks again!