Knowledge Management Study: Focus on Leadership and Culture, Not Technology, to Gain the Edge

The purpose of the article, study and website is to encourage the reader to take a step back from the technology component of knowledge management and widen his or her field of vision to include performance drivers around leadership, culture, organization and process.

The study is based on in-depth interviews with key executives in some of the most admired knowledge enterprises in the world. Study participants include BP, Buckaman Laboratories, PeopleSoft, Sainsbury’s, Simens and the World Bank. Some participating enterprises have chosen not to be directly named.

What is knowledge management?

Knowledge management is capturing, structuring, enhancing and disseminating the knowledge of an organization. Knowledge management involves:

  • Getting the right information, to the right person, at the right time and cost
  • Organizing, distilling and presenting information in a timely, relevant, accurate and simple manner
  • Leveraging both tacit and explicit knowledge in a systematic way
  • Using the information delivered to enable informed decision making

Knowledge management helps problem solving, dynamic learning, collaboration, strategic planning and decision making, and also protects intellectual assets from decay. With this in mind we have developed a knowledge management framework to establish how enterprises achieved great success.

What does knowledge management best practice look like?

Leadership and culture are the critical success factors in building world-class knowledge management – enabled by good process and technology practice. We looked at knowledge management best practice against a number of performance dimensions: strategy, leadership, culture, process and technology.

KM Strategy

Alignment of knowledge management with the business strategy is a clear benchmark of success. We identified the following best practices: The development of an IT Knowledge enterprise-wide knowledge strategy which links all knowledge management initiatives:

  • It is important to identify organizational and knowledge priorities
  • Promote full organizational participation
  • Knowledge strategy clearly aligns with a core component of business strategy – for instance:
  • A customer centric approach: KCS (annual efficiency saving of US$ 1.5 million)
  • A drive towards operational excellence: BP (US$ 2billion over 4 years)
  • The knowledge value chain is managed at an enterprise level:
  • Determine knowledge needed
  • Determine knowledge available
  • Assess knowledge gap
  • Developing or buy relevant knowledge

KM Leadership

Leadership is an important dimension in driving the success of any organizational initiative. The impact of leadership is even more pronounced given the cultural implications and low maturity of knowledge management within most organizations

Enterprise knowledge strategy is deployed under the guidance of a ‘Chief Knowledge Officer’:

  • Each of the world-class companies have mandated a senior leader to oversee and steer the enterprise knowledge strategy
  • The CKO need not be a permanent role yet has proved to be instrumental in the establishment of world class knowledge management within enterprises:

In Buckman Laboratories, knowledge sharing and collaboration have evolved from a top down prescriptive approach towards knowledge sharing into a pan organization imperative. The company highlights that they do not have just one Chief Knowledge Officer, but rather all workers are knowledge leader

Similarly, a global software company points to its leadership programme, in which knowledge-sharing and collaboration are emphasized, and is a key reason the have no Chief Knowledge Officer. A programme is developed to identify and foster knowledge leaders throughout the enterprise:

  • In addition to a Chief Knowledge Officer, leading knowledge management enterprises built another tier of knowledge leaders – in the form of ‘knowledge champions’, ‘knowledge mentors’ – at different levels across the enterprise
  • The enterprise leadership itself must be seen to act as knowledge mentors and collaborators:
  • This is leadership by example: – they are seen to model the behaviours they are trying to promote within their employees:
  • Software Company, CEO, is known to contribute to the company’s many discussion forums
  • Buckman Laboratories: Bob Buckman, ex-CEO now Chairman of the Executive Committee, would contact employees that have not been active on the company’s knowledge sharing system and asks what assistance the leadership can provide to help them contribute more

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