New Edge in Knowledge
I received a copy of Carla O'Dell and Cindy Hubert's The New Edge in Knowledge, which recounts and updates APQC's experience in working with hundreds of organizations. The book is both an update to APQC's many articles and previous books as well as a look at what is new in knowledge management. Topics range from describing how organizations are doing KM, to what is coming next, to the APQC recommendations on creating and sustaining KM programs - including everyone's favorite topic of measuring KM's impact.
Overall I found the book to be an excellent resource around helping to understand how organizations have approached knowledge management with a lot of great examples from a wide variety of organizations. The book also explores what organizations are starting to do with social media and making their KM systems available in new digital environments (smart phones - one assumes today that this would iPad and other tablet environments as well). In my view, a drawback to the book is that the authors focus on the APQC view of the world of KM. But then APQC has been involved in KM since its early days, so there are some good perspectives here.
There were a number of ideas that jumped out at me as either something new or a new way of thinking about things in knowledge management. One was the idea that KM has to be there "in the time of need" - a version of the teacher needs to be there when the student is ready. KM has to be helpful for people when they need the help. We don't want people to realize days or weeks later that the KM offerings would have helped them - though that might provide motivation next time. Similarly, KM can't just be a training session that people take and then go off into their regular work life.
This leads to another theme that comes up again and again in the book - the idea of in-the-flow KM and above-the-flow KM. "In the flow" is related to what the above: KM as a regular part of doing your job. We want to see people naturally sharing and looking for knowledge when they need it. The authors of the book suggest that while in-the-flow KM is key to helping with adoption, there are times where above-the-flow KM is important. People can't always be heads-down in their work. They need the opportunity to step back and consider what they are doing and how they are doing it. KM could offer assistance here as well. On top of that the KM function should be looking at ways to improve the KM offerings to better meet the needs of people.
The heart of knowledge management, in my view and in that of the authors, is that of finding better ways to get work done. In heavy knowledge-work environments this is all about getting people working together and giving them the right structures. There is not strictly a technology solution to this. The book had an interesting quote in discussing the "magic" behind the information technologies. Rather than focus on the technology, the best-in-class organizations have let the direction of the KM program be set by the needs of the people. "The best way to embed knowledge into day-to-day organizational life is to involve employees in developing the knowledge flow that supports their work and fits their culture." (p. 54)
In line with this, I had the thoguht or realization that whatever behaviors we wish to support (create?) with knowledge management, they had better outlast any specific software or management tenure.
And what about the KM measurement or RIO discussion? Of any organization APQC are probably best qualified to talk about what works. (I wish there was more of what doesn't work.) They focus on three types of measures: activity to measure usage; efficiency to measure specific processes; and effectiveness to measure bottom-line impact. Effectiveness is the holy grail, of course. I really liked that they make it clear that these measures cannot all be deployed right away, and that they need to develop over time. I like to look for places where knowledge work gets stuck and find KM efforts that can remove the blockage. Assuming the work in question is valuable, there had better be an impact to that work flowing faster to completion.
The book closes, in an appendix, with four detailed descriptions of KM programs at companies that "get it right" from the perspective of this book: ConocoPhillips, Fluor, IBM, and MITRE. One of the best parts of the book is seeing how these and the other examples have approached the various elements that come together under the KM banner. How can you go wrong with a KM program that looks at "the four G's: give, grab, gather and guts." The guts being for the willingness to share mistakes.
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