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Arun Hariharan

Quality Insider

Creating a Strategic Knowledge Management Framework

Eight steps for building a companywide program

Published: Wednesday, August 26, 2015 - 13:22

My last article took a look at the new Clause 7.1.6 in ISO 9001:2015, which concerns organizational knowledge and its management. The article also introduced the strategic knowledge management framework. A detailed explanation of each of the framework’s eight elements is given here.

Element 1: knowledge management vision

Every organization must have its own knowledge management (KM) vision, in line with its business or organizational strategic priorities. A KM vision helps everybody in the organization share the understanding of why the organization needs KM, and the strategic nature of the KM program. The following is a sample KM vision statement:

“Knowledge management (KM) is an enabler to achieve our organization’s strategic objectives better and faster, by making the right knowledge available to the right person at the right time, and by eliminating ‘reinvention of the wheel.’”

KM seeks to facilitate the flow of knowledge from where it resides to where it’s required—that is, where it can be applied or used to achieve an organization’s objectives. KM also seeks to create permanent, reusable “organizational knowledge,” as opposed to individual knowledge that is lost to the organization when the person leaves.

This can be achieved by developing an integrated set of KM processes, roles, systems, and behavioral interventions aimed at achieving the company’s vision and objectives.

Element 2: strategy—how to achieve the KM vision

A 360-degree knowledge management model provides the strategy for achieving a broad and comprehensive KM vision like the example above. This approach to KM unleashes the combined power of knowledge and expertise from within and outside your organization along six interrelated dimensions for each domain—i.e., process, project, or department—that is important to your business. (A detailed paper on the 360-degree KM model can be read here.) A comprehensive KM strategy gives employees single-window access to all relevant knowledge and expertise from within and outside the organization that is relevant to their domains. It enables them to manage and improve performance of their domains faster and with zero reinvention. 

Element 3: leadership and governance

The organization’s leadership plays the most critical role in a strategic KM program, since it must provide the KM vision and direction. A list of leadership’s role and responsibilities are given below:
1. Identify organizational priorities and align KM efforts around them
2. Define performance measures for KM
3. Identify and put the right people in the different KM roles
4. Create a structure and pace for regular review of progress and results
5. Provide visibility and recognition for knowledge sharing and results

A KM governance body consisting of cross-functional and/or cross-departmental leaders may be created. It’s important that the leaders invited to be on the governance body have a stake in the success of the KM program. Ideally, their own performance appraisals or KPIs should first be aligned to include KM-related measurements related to their own department or function. Members of the governance body should be serious about the KM program, expect effective results, get involved, and spend the necessary amount of time required to provide direction to ensure that the organization gets results from KM.

Element 4: people, roles, and structure

Although the role of top management is important to ensure that KM is aligned with the organization’s strategic priorities, it’s also important that KM becomes widely accepted, and that employees across the organization participate in knowledge sharing and replication. A KM culture can’t be created if it remains an exclusive or elite initiative in which only a few people are involved. It’s only by KM becoming a mass movement that the culture of knowledge sharing and replication will spread and establish itself in the organization.

There are certain roles that a strategic KM program requires. Some of them are full-time KM roles, while others can be performed by people along with their existing jobs. The KM-related roles should be incorporated in the organizational structure. Some of these roles and brief descriptions of their responsibilities are given below. Detailed job descriptions for these roles must be created.

Knowledge champion
 The knowledge champion is a senior person from each domain who is a subject matter expert (SME) in that particular domain and takes overall ownership for vibrant and results-oriented knowledge sharing and replication (with results). The knowledge champion must set a target for a minimum amount of published content, and a minimum number of replications with results. The knowledge champion must also:
• Get other SMEs across the organization to participate and form a “community of experts” for their domains
• Encourage employees to participate actively in knowledge sharing and replication
• Approve and filter content contributed by employees before accepting it for publication
• Balance quality of content with a high level of participation

This isn’t a full-time job; an existing SME could assume this role, and it could be rotated every two or three years.

Knowledge manager (one full-time person per domain)
• A middle-management level person from the respective domain; must be familiar with the domain
• Must facilitate close-looped KM processes for sharing and replication (e.g., proactively identify best practices as well as their documentation, publication and replication, and measurement of results). Must set the target for minimum amount of published content and minimum number of replications with results
• Must work closely with the domain’s knowledge champion as well as the organization’s chief knowledge officer
• Must be able to influence/gently push people from the domain to participate in knowledge sharing and replication
• Facilitate reward and recognition programs that may be put in place
• Contribute content relevant to his domain
• Ensure that relevant website content is updated, and links and transaction services are working

Chief knowledge officer (one full-time person for the entire organization)
• Middle management level
• Must acquire reasonable level of familiarity with various domains participating in KM
• Must work closely with knowledge managers and knowledge champions of various domains to facilitate close-looped KM processes for sharing and replication (e.g., identify potential best practices and ensure their documentation, publication and replication, and measurement of results)
• Must set the target for minimum amount of published content, and minimum number of replications with results
• Must be able to influence people from across domains, creating a healthy competition for knowledge sharing and replication
• Identify early KM adaptors and good performers, and ensure that they are visibly recognized
• Facilitate reward and recognition programs that may be put in place

Researcher/moderator (can be initiated in selected domains where most beneficial)
• Must have a reasonable level of expertise in a particular domain
• Continuously monitor and research internal and external sources for KM best practices and lessons
• Moderate “crowd-sourcing” responses and online discussions, and extract relevant knowledge from those that are suitable for implementation
• Can also perform the knowledge manager role for the domain

Element 5: culture and change management

Along with leadership’s role, culture and change management are the most important elements of a strategic KM framework. KM is primarily about culture and behavior. In most organizations, a culture of free sharing and replication of knowledge will come only with persistent change management efforts. Some of the ways in which this culture can be created are:
• Visibly reward and recognize knowledge performance (sharing and “copying” with results)
• Realign KPIs and performance appraisal systems to reward knowledge sharing and replication
• Constant communication by senior leaders about expected culture and behavior
• Senior management must lead by example

Element 6: KM processes

KM activities like knowledge sharing and replication will happen consistently only if they are standardized processes. Sharing best practices that are relevant to your business, or copying relevant knowledge that can benefit your business, can’t be left to chance or individual choice. You can create simple but foolproof processes to ensure that knowledge relevant to your business gets shared, is available to the relevant people in your organization, and gets used for business results.

Element 7: measuring KM results

Measuring the results of KM is an area in which many organizations fail. If they’re unable to measure the results, there’s no way of telling if KM is contributing toward achieving the organization’s objectives.

You will know how effective your KM initiative is only if you measure it by capturing the impact of KM on performance measures related to your organization’s priorities. Some organizations implementing KM know that it is helping them, but they’re unable to quantify the impact of KM.

Measure the results of KM by capturing the effect of each knowledge replication on one or more of your organization’s critical performance measures. This will be possible if you have a standard format for documenting each replication, including the quantified results. Enforce the discipline of documenting each replication in a standard format.

In addition to capturing the effects of KM on your organization’s top performance measures, you should also have a way of summarizing the overall impact of KM and its trend month after month.

Along with measuring the results of KM (i.e., the lagging measures), it also helps to measure enablers (i.e., leading indicators). The number of knowledge submissions shared under each of the top business processes and the number of completed replications with demonstrated results are examples of leading measures.

You’ll be able to realign your performance appraisal system only after you establish these KM measures. Include these same measures in your performance appraisal system to achieve alignment.

Element 8: technology

KM is not about technology, nor is technology the be all and end all of KM. However, technology can be a useful enabler of KM. Some of its uses include:
1. Portal to facilitate knowledge exchange and virtual collaboration
2. Creating knowledge bases and repositories
3. Taxonomy, organized content, easy and quick search and retrieval
4. Organizational “yellow-pages”—virtual communities of experts
5. Knowledge sharing and uploading knowledge for review and publishing

All eight elements of the strategic knowledge management framework are important and need to be in place to make your KM initiative a strategic program that will give significant and sustained business results.


About The Author

Arun Hariharan’s picture

Arun Hariharan

Arun Hariharan, author of Continuous Permanent Improvement (ASQ 2014), and The Strategic Knowledge Management Handbook (ASQ 2015) is a strategic quality, knowledge management (KM), and performance management practitioner with nearly three decades of experience in these fields. He has worked with several large companies and helped them achieve substantial and sustained results through quality and customer focus. He is the founder and CEO of The CPi Coach, a company that provides partnership, consulting, and training in business excellence and related areas. Former roles held by Hariharan include president of quality and knowledge management at Reliance Capital Ltd, and senior vice-president of quality and knowledge management at Bharti Airtel Ltd, India. He is a frequent speaker at quality and KM events around the world. He is also the author of more than 50 published papers on quality and KM.