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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Why measure the value of KM?

By Chris Collison

Measuring value can often seem like a time consuming effort for knowledge workers. Is it worth it? Is measuring the value of KM initiatives a worthwhile way to spend time? Don't get me wrong; clearly any KM activity needs to be linked to the creation of business value, and we need to be able to illustrate that convincingly. But, the concern is that to try and separate out the unique contribution than KM activities make can become something of a cottage industry and counterproductive to "getting on with the business of making a difference."

Like most business changes, knowledge management moves through the cycle from unconscious incompetence, to conscious incompetence, conscious competence and, finally, that elusive "nirvana state" of unconscious competence, where knowledge sharing has become part of "how we do things around here."

This is where there's conflict with detailed "compartmentalized" measurement approaches. KM will never become an unconscious competence in organizations where it's measured as something distinct from good business management. The act of detailed measurement imprisons us in the "conscious competence" quadrant (although that's good news if you're an accountant). How much time do you want to spend arguing the toss over whether it was KM, Six Sigma, Lean, Appreciative Inquiry, Systems Thinking, NLP or the corporate values program which helped a team achieve a remarkable outcome? I'd rather be out there working with the next team, helping them achieve their own remarkable outcome!

I can remember the second year of BP's KM program some years ago, when we were asked to demonstrate $100m of business value through the application of KM approaches and tools. We did this by asking senior managers, directors and VPs who had been applying KM tools (mostly with some support from our team) for anecdotes and stories with $ value attached. Many of them did and when we passed the $250m barrier we stopped counting. Was it scientific? No. Did it comply with Generally Accepted Accounting Principles? No. Did they have credibility as stories? Absolutely yes – because of who was telling them. Did the stories inspire others and give momentum to what was going on? Definitely.

However, one senior VP in Mergers and Acquisitions refused to be drawn on the specific contribution that KM had made to a recent acquisition. "It's a big number" he said, "but it's in there with the spaghetti..." (meaning, the other approaches that had also been brought to bear on this acquisition). I have a lot of sympathy with that view. Whilst I recognize that we need to be able to illustrate the value that knowledge sharing brings, with compelling examples and stories, my preference would be to commit the minimum time necessary to the activity of measurement. Like that manager – I'd rather than get on with eating the spaghetti than don a white coat and spectrophotometrically analyze the bolognaise source.

Chris Collison is a KM Review Editorial Board member www.knowledgeableltd.com

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Creating a knowledge-sharing system

By Nancy Settle-Murphy, Chrysalis International and, Stan Garfield, Hewlett-Packard

In an increasingly competitive and volatile world, the ability to share knowledge is a prerequisite for successful growth, especially for organizations that prize intellectual capital as one of their most valuable assets.

Here are 10 top tips on how team leaders can create a knowledge-sharing system in their own virtual backyard. Who knows - one relatively modest knowledge-sharing system may be the springboard by which an enterprise-wide system is born.

1. Sell the benefits
Senior management needs to be persuaded of the value, given that they may have to lay out additional funding and resources to set up even a modest knowledge management program. Tip: try to estimate the cost of not reusing knowledge. For example, how many people have to spend how many hours generating how many proposals throughout how many organizations each year? How many prospects choose other vendors when proposals are delayed? Chances are, with some pretty simple math, you can make the case for some initial investments.

2. Appoint a KM leader who can dedicate meaningful time to building the right infrastructure
While this need not be a full-time job in many cases, you will need a sharp person who is conversant in the field of KM to spend dedicated time for the design and launch of any KM program.

3. Set up a community of practice (CoP) to start
This community should include people of a certain function, discipline, area of expertise, or field of interest that all share. Make it easy to join and participate. You can start with something as simple as a newsgroup or an email list. Convey the benefits of membership clearly to give people a reason to join. Find venues by which you can promote the available communities of practice to those most likely to be interested.

4. Create a formal repository in which knowledge can be dropped off
Using a web collaboration technology or a shared messaging system, such a repository needn't take a lot of time or money to set up. Ask participants to help brainstorm a logical construct, to make loading and accessing relevant knowledge more intuitive for all. Start with a few categories and be prepared to refine after an initial period. Plant a few examples in each category so people will see what type of documents best belong where. Focus efforts on the type of content that has the greatest potential for reuse by others.

5. Think globally
When setting up a CoP, be sensitive to cultural differences and local requirements. Make sure that local leadership is in place to tailor the knowledge management program to each region or country as needed. For example, local language may be required in some cases, or a different web portal may be used as the gateway for knowledge in some locations. Strive for a universal look and feel when possible, to make searching and retrieving information easier across all locations.

6. Encourage the sharing of knowledge by embedding related activities within existing work processes
For example, make it a requirement that post-mortem documents following a consistent format are submitted at the close of a project, or make it mandatory to store proposals in a shared space.

7. Reward those who show special initiative in sharing knowledge.
Whether through formal recognition, financial remuneration, or promotion, consider including KM leadership as part of performance reviews or as a basis for bonus plans, from senior management down.

8. Cultivate senior management as champions
Help them promote the benefits of KM in their lines of business. Provide them with actual case studies and examples they can showcase for others to aspire to. Encourage them to model knowledge-sharing in visible, meaningful ways.

9. Create a network of knowledge advisors
These people are subject matter experts who help others to leverage available tools and methods so they can help create self-sufficiency among members of the knowledge community. Depending on what percentage of time these people have to devote to their roles, knowledge advisors can also be instrumental in helping to set up new CoPs and guiding participants in the creation of principles and norms.

10. Open the lines of communications among KM subject matter experts, regardless of their exact titles, roles and locations
Encourage them to communicate frequently using multiple channels, sharing what works, what doesn't, and working to connect different communities of practice. Suggest that they model their own knowledge-sharing techniques for others to learn from.

Laying the foundation for a worthwhile KM program takes careful thought, focused resources, and visible commitment by senior management. You can start with a few straightforward steps within a single organization, and then expand the program as other organizations realize the value.

KM Review

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