by Leanne Murphy, Knowptima Solutions
“Let’s move knowledge management forward. It is of extremely strategic importance… I think that top management underestimates the strategic importance that knowledge assets in the organisation have – and how those knowledge assets should be optimised to make organisations and countries competitive.” Dr Herman van Niekerk
At the end of the 2015 SA KM, Dr Herman van Niekerk challenged us to come back this year with different conversations. Conversations that are not based on challenges but focused on solutions. In order to “be the difference” you want to see, one ought to look deeper than before. Knowledge Management has come a long way since the 90’s with many lessons learnt and now the time has come to apply those lessons as we move forward.
During my time as a KM practitioner (which I’m still enjoying since 1999), I found myself having to fight for recognition and attention. There were times when management didn’t see the value that was added by the KM department and budgets were cut continuously. Documentation Management was adapted to more rapidly than KM, even though the delivery of both KM and DM were on the same technical platform.
Back then, I knew the reasons why DM was adopted so rapidly had to do with the tangibility of the value added. Compliance to standards pleased the shareholders and maintained reputation for the organisation. Also, DM is easier to attain and the added benefit of efficiency can easily be calculated by cost reduction methods such as time saved, elimination of duplication and waste, etc. This gave DM the kick start and support it needed. DM just made sense to management while KM had to continuously be explained as its value is difficult to calculate even though there is this gut feel that it must be valuable.
Eventually, the KM strategy was moved to HR portfolio, KM was reduced to technology and my team and I were left with system implementation support. I had to leave KM and find a place where I was allowed to make a difference. It felt like I was pushed into a corner. No one had time for KM, especially with the rapid changes at executive level, and it became more and more challenging to find an active sponsor for KM. The organisation was in crisis and everyone was fighting political fires and tried to restore the reputation of the organisation. These were some of the obstacles that I personally experienced.
I spent a year at Enterprise Performance Management but something was still missing. I knew I still wanted to prove the worth of KM and I was on the look out for opportunities to take me back to KM. What I found was a totally new paradigm and like many great discoveries, it was serendipitous. Sometimes we need a paradigm shift to discover the missing link. This to me was when the realisation hit me; knowledge is that commodity which is critical to operate in the Knowledge Economy. In the context of the knowledge economy it has now become so important, more than ever, to demonstrate the value of KM.
Prof Ludo, the president of Areopa, a world leading knowledge provider in areas of Intellectual Capital Management and Accounting, Change Management, Risk Management and Applied Knowledge Management, says the following in his article titled “Measuring the Unmeasurable: Make Companies Compete Successfully in the Global Knowledge Economy”:
“Information and knowledge are the actual thermonuclear competitive weapons. Knowledge is more valuable, more powerful than natural resources, big factories, fat bankrolls. Success comes to the companies that have the best information or wield it most effectively. Wal-Mart, Microsoft, and Toyota did not become great companies because they are richer than Sears, IBM and GM, on the contrary. They had something far more valuable than physical or financial assets: Intellectual Capital (IC)”.
So it seems that all along we lacked the ability to get through to business leaders as we were demonstrating value in the wrong language. A language management and business leaders don’t necessarily speak. They speak in terms of money, rand and cent.
We have defined knowledge assets, what they are and how they do or do not behave. It is time to move from descriptions to application lest we repeat the same mistakes we made with KM as a discipline. IC allows us to see knowledge as an asset that yields future economic benefits. This asset is the most valuable because it has no fixed life span, has many potential applications in different contexts and benefits can be derived for as long as it is kept relevant within the applicable eco-system. New message to Leadership: if you don’t use all your assets, you are not leading or managing optimally.
To be the difference you want to see, you need to dig deep, find the root cause of the obstacles and find ways of solving them. Most of the KM practitioners can relate to the story above, I know this because almost every case study and conversations I had over the years has had some element of leadership buy-in as the biggest direct or contributing factor to either the success or failure of KM. This was the case for me as well, my biggest obstacle was management buy-in rooted in the lack of effective methods to demonstrate the value added by KM.
Managers, business leaders and business owners in both profit and non-profit organisations understand money best. Money talk is their language and they spend most of the time discussing the movement of money and that is how they measure the health and opportunities of a business. So for KM to make a difference, it must impact on this resource called money that every manager is trying to control.
What if there was a method or methods to measure knowledge in monetary terms? What if knowledge could be linked directly to the organisation’s bottom-line, to the country’s economy and to the global economy? What could this mean to governments, to investors, to managers and to practitioners? If knowledge can measured in monetary terms, could it and how can it be used tactically?