Practical Knowledge Management in a Strategic World

Guest Post by Howard Cohen, CKM; KM Practitioner and Consultant with Booz Allen Hamilton
 
"In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” - Dwight D. Eisenhower


Planning for Knowledge Management

Why do organizations need a structured KM initiative or program?

Most organizations at a very high level seek to do three general activities:

  • Reduce Risk
  • Identify and Execute on Opportunity for Cost Savings
  • Identify and Execute on Revenue Generation Opportunities

While designing strategic business plans most organizations do not plan for KM activities.    Further, most KM activities are not tied to business strategies.    In 2001, Ronald Maier and Ulrich Remus published an IEEE paper on this subject.   They made a case for a “process-oriented KM Strategy.” This provides an integrated view of resources and market based orientation.

As a KM practitioner, this view makes a lot of sense, but it is still very strategic.   The key to a successful KM practice is centered in two areas that aren’t often identified as part of the strategy.   These are:

  • Organization Awareness
  • Organization Conflict Management

To plan for Knowledge Management in an organization, the planners must understand the landscape.   Planning to delight clients and customers with goods and services is not enough.   Even if you are planning for an industry of consumers that have few choices, understanding the landscape of the business is key to profitability in margins. Knowledge Management is essentially about getting the right information at the right time to the right people.   This sounds a lot like logistics.

What is Awareness?
a·ware·ness
əˈwe(ə)rnis
noun knowledge or perception of a situation or fact. “we need to raise public awareness of the issue”

More often than not we are unaware of what is going on in an organization.   When we go to the doctor to get a check up, we are seeking to raise awareness of our health.  Often times we don’t know and we can’t know without some diagnostics what is going on in our organization.  We need a “check up” to find out what is going on.   This check up needs to be performed with a frequency that makes sense and one that it minimally disruptive.

What activities can we perform to raise awareness?

One of the first practical activities is to start with a communication campaign.   (Internal Communications) <-see the post from Shel Holtz for more details; below are Shel’s words.

Mobile

Employees are using their personal devices for work simply because they’re better than the devices distributed by the company (if, that is, they were among the employees who actually got company phones) and they’re able to use those meatier features to fuel their own improved efficiency.  Regardless of the motivation, however, there are opportunities to reach employees who were relegated to the have-not class when companies abandoned print for the cheaper (but not necessarily more strategic) intranet.

Video

According to one study, 72% of internal communications teams are planning to increase the use of video as a means of communicating with employees. That dovetails nicely with the mobile trend, since YouTube recently revealed that mobile devices account for 40% of the videos consumed on its site.  More and more companies are adopting a YouTube-like approach to video, introducing video libraries that let employees search for videos, comment on them, tag them, embed them and (importantly) upload their own as a means of sharing information and knowledge.

Communicating for engagement

Employee engagement has always been the province of Human Resources, but research from the PR Academy supports the notion that good communications contributes to higher levels of engagement.

The focus on engagement is being accelerated by articles in communication publications and sessions at conferences from communicators who have been able to connect the dots. The mandate is clear as alarmingly low engagement levels lead executives to wonder why their communications departments aren’t doing more to correct the problem. Gallup, which more or less invented the whole concept of engagement, found that only 13% of employees worldwide are engaged at work.

There are ample opportunities for communications to bolster engagement. One is to improve the channels through which employees’ collective and individual voices are heard. Another is to recast communications based on the stakeholder groups with which employees self-identify: work groups, project groups and the employee-supervisor relationship. A lot of executives believe employees don’t care about the issues that keep them up at night, but employees do care—deeply—when those issues are articulated in the context of these stakeholder groups.

Social software adoption

While social software has been deployed in many organizations, employees generally haven’t adopted it. Adoption is critically important, since businesses that don’t migrate to social software as a conduit for day-to-day business will be mangled by their savvier competitors. The McKinsey Global Institute estimates productivity improves by 20-25% in organizations with connected employees, and the potential for revenue amounts to $1.3 trillion per year.

Yet, according to Prescient Digital Media’s 2013 social intranet study, only 13% of employees participate in the social intranet on a daily basis while 31% rarely or never do.  Given the focus on engagement and some other key internal communications trends, communicators will take a more active role in promoting the adoption of internal social media, which will require a strategic pivot away from the vice-like grip email has on most employees’ communication practices.

Activity streams

Nothing succeeds like success. When organizations focus on adoption of social software, the tool that attracts most employees is the activity stream (the equivalent of Facebook’s news feed on your intranet). With employees able to see instantly what their work team peers, project peers, bosses and other employees are doing, they feel more connected and, as a result, get more engaged.

Within organizations that have adopted the activity stream as the dominant homepage feature, communicators are giving up their magazine-style approach to sharing news and simply injecting their articles and other content into the stream. At least three organizations I know have seen this approach result in three or four times the views of their content. That’s right: Getting employees to “follow” or “like” the communications profile leads to more consumption of communications content than the traditional approach of listing headlines on the homepage.

Social visual communication

Images are dominating shared content, and with good reason. Engagement levels and interaction with images are significantly higher than narrative text as content consumption shifts from fixed desktops and laptops to mobile smartphones and tablets. While I’m hesitant to call this an internal communications trend—I haven’t seen it manifest yet inside any organization—it is inevitable. Smart communicators will get ahead of the trend and innovate ways to use images to tell stories and deliver messages, along with the channels for delivering them. I wrote a post recently suggesting six ways communicators can use images for internal communications.

Digital signage

These devices are activated by touch or motion, incorporate video, and can be tailored to deliver relevant information to employees based on their location, even floor-by-floor. Here’s just one case study from a freight company.

Gamification

Gamification, stated simply, makes it fun to do things that usually are mundane and tedious by applying one or more of the elements of game-play. These typically include badging, leveling, leader boards, and completion bars.  Communicators who acquaint themselves with the principles of gamification will be able to apply it to communication challenges.

Print

The simple fact is that employees don’t use the intranet the same way they used the company publication. While the periodical all-employee publication isn’t making a comeback, niche uses of print that are based on achieving measurable objectives are making a comeback in many companies. Hospitals, for example, are returning to print to get messages to nurses and other staff who don’t have access to the intranet. Yes, it’s costly. Yes, it has long production lead times. But it also works.

Employee influence measurement

As employee-to-employee communication moves into the jurisdiction of internal communications departments, identifying and tapping into those employees with high levels of influence will grow more important. The folks at Microsoft recognize this; it’s why they’ve done a deal with Klout to have an influence score appear on their Yammer profiles based on their internal Yammer activity. I have little doubt that Chatter and other internal networking tools will follow suit, but in the absence of such automated scoring, communicators will find other ways to figure out which employees to tap for advocacy and ambassadorship roles.

"Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.." – Cohen

As your organization gains momentum in communication, feedback and open exchange the ideas around social constructionism – (Social constructionism, or the social construction of reality, is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world. Wikipedia)  start to emerge.     What this means on a basic level is that WE are smarter than ME.   Strategic communication through a matrix approach facilitated and orchestrated (INFORMS) the organization.   This information … converts in context to KNOWLEDGE and feeds strategy.    Communication is a basic and practical way to turn a KM strategy into an effective KM practice. 

What about organizational conflict management?

Keeping it Practical

1.  Position our organization for learning.   We do this by learning about ourselves, our people, our process, our methods, and tools.  What are the best things we never knew we had, including our who, what, when where and why?

2.  What level of awareness do we need in our organization to be successful?  What does awareness mean to us?

3.  What are our current activities and how do they tie to our current business, mission, vision, scope and objectives?   What questions do we need to come up with to understand OUR landscape.   

4. Does our current Knowledge Management practice align with our business objectives?   Do we work in siloes?  Is that ok for our kind of business?   What information needs to transfer between individual performers and groups? How do we deal with personal, team, and enterprise knowledge?

5. What areas do we need to practice an approach to organizational conflict management?  What are the costs associated with conflict management?  What are the benefits and innovation potential for conflict management?   Inter and intra-department transformational and adjacent innovation?

6. What are we doing well today?  What do we need to reinforce and what do we need to resolve?  Most of the tools are already in our organization.   The key is active communication, facilitation and attention to people our most valuable and precious resource.
 
Leadership has the tools, the process and the methods of communication in hand today.  With a well thought out strategy, leadership can start communication early and often. They can create opportunity for employees to engage and provide feedback.   This communication will inform the strategy for business which includes KM.   The well informed organization lowers risk, increases opportunities for cost savings where it makes sense and increases the opportunities for revenue generation.


Many thanks to Howard Cohen for his contributions to KM Institute as a frequent guest blogger, and presenter at KMI's training programs and conferences.
Follow Howie's blog at:  cohenovate.com