Tuesday, July 06, 2010

KMers' Survival Guide

It's been quite a while since I read such a well-analyzed post. Steve has totally rocked in this post. A must-read for every passionate KMer who dreams about making a difference to her organization. As I responded on Steve's blog,  
Totally rocking post. It leaves me, like many of the folks above mentioned, speechless. Your analysis is spot on, to my mind. I am particularly impressed with the end notes on what KM programs will have to be wary about. The only thing I perhaps do not agree with is your perception that HBR encourages traditional management techniques even today. To my mind, most of the current HBR articles and blog posts are brilliant and step out of the conventional management boundaries. In fact, I've personally read many HBR articles that emphasize on KM as a management tool.
Meanwhile, here are some extracts from the post that struck me as awesome. 
....So even when an oasis of excellence and innovation is established within an organization being run on traditional management lines, the experience doesn’t take root and replicate throughout the organization because the setting isn’t congenial. The fundamental assumptions, attitudes and values are at odds with those of traditional management.
.....The third assumption of traditional management is that the marketplace can be predicted and controlled and manipulated.  
....The fourth plank of traditional management is to view employees as “human resources” i.e. things that can be controlled and manipulated and exploited. So long as the firm was merely providing goods and services to the marketplace, it could give commands to employees as to what to do and control them to make sure that they did what they were told. Once the challenge became one of having interactions with customers and creating a steady flow of innovations and new value to customers so that they would be delighted, the firm depended on its employees to generate those innovations and interactions. Smart firms discovered that the energy and enthusiasm and insights of its employees—now often highly educated—couldn’t be bought or directed or commanded and controlled. Instead, employees had to be inspired to contribute—a radically different and more difficult challenge. Again it was a shift from a simple linear manipulation to a complex interaction. 
...The sixth plank is economies of scale. Becoming bigger enables the firm to achieve economies of scale. But in the process, traditional management encounters the experience curve and the phenomenon of declining returns. The more experience the firm has, the longer it takes for the next performance increment of improvement. This is discouraging and tends to result in managerial “flailing”, as managers desperately try to make further gains in a setting that doesn’t permit it.
What makes it difficult to change traditional management is the interlocking and self-reinforcing nature of these assumptions, attitudes and values. Once the goal of the firm is established as producing goods and services or making money for the shareholders in a predictable economic environment, scalable bureaucracy and the efficient management of existing knowledge stocks are seen as appropriate responses. The firm develops proprietary knowledge. It aggressively protects that knowledge to make sure no one else gets access to it, and it extracts the value from that knowledge as efficiently as possible and for as long as it can. The rationale of the firm is to minimize transaction costs in deploying these stocks of knowledge efficiently. That way of thinking and acting created huge and seemingly successful companies in the 20th Century. 
The first step is to make sure that your ship is seaworthy. Check to make sure that your KM program is well managed, with clear goals, vibrant communities of practice, effective use of IT and social media (though without excessive reliance on IT), and valid metrics of the KM program’s contributions. Without those elements in place, your KM program will be a sitting target for a cost-cutting traditional manager.
The second step is to make sure that your KM program is focused on supporting innovation and learning, and drawing on flows of new knowledge, including knowledge from outside the firm, not merely re-circulating the internal dogmas of yesterday.  In this way, your KM program can be a genuine contributor to the firm’s real future.
The third step is to check: what are the overall goals of your organization? If your firm is already committed to radical management, you are in good shape. But if the firm is built around traditional management--producing goods and services, and making money for the shareholders, through “scalable efficiency”, then your KM program is at risk, no matter how well run it may be, and how matter how much you can demonstrate what it is contributing to the firm today. With the attitudes and practices of traditional management in place, it is only a matter of time before your KM program will become another victim.

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