How to Get Your KM Strategy Right from the Start

Lauren Trees's picture

APQC asked a roundtable of knowledge management professionals about the biggest mistakes people make in KM strategy, how to identify problems that KM can solve, and the common traits of successful KM programs. All of our roundtable participants will be presenters at APQC’s 2018 KM Conference April 16-20 in Houston.

The roundtable included the following participants:

  • Jennifer Michael: KM Program Director, Bechtel
  • Darcy Lemons: KM Senior Project Manager, APQC
  • Sissel K. Austad: Chief Knowledge Officer, Deloitte
  • Shannon Gacke: Business Solutions Analyst, AbbVie

1. What is the biggest mistake people tend to make with their KM strategies?

Jennifer Michael: One thing organizations should acknowledge before launching a KM program is that it is critical to integrate KM into the flow of work of all employees. Rather than having KM be the responsibility of only one team or department, KM should be owned by everyone in the organization. At Bechtel, we have KM leaders in every area of the business who advocate for KM and demonstrate how KM can and should be used in the day-to-day work of their teams and colleagues. By managing and marketing KM this way, employees are more likely to understand how KM relates to their work, how to participate and engage in KM, and how to take ownership of the role they play in integrating KM into the company’s culture.

Sissel K. Austad: When developing a KM strategy, the easiest mistake to make is not spending enough time getting a solid endorsement from, and common understanding with, senior management and leadership. They need to feel that this is their KM strategy focusing on tackling what they agree to be hot topics and current business challenges. They also genuinely need to feel their involvement is crucial for successful implementation. An added benefit for them is that solid leadership involvement tends to increase their understanding of the true business issues.

Darcy Lemons: One of the biggest mistakes I’ve seen is a failure to define and document the KM strategy initially. In some instances, this lapse occurs because the strategy and program have evolved organically over time. And in other instances, it happens because they don’t understand the value of documenting the strategy. APQC’s research identifies a documented KM strategy and roadmap as an accelerator of KM maturity.

Another mistake is the failure to periodically update the KM strategy and roadmap to ensure that the KM program remains aligned to the business strategy. A periodic refresher is a great opportunity to re-connect with stakeholders along the value chain to seek their input on possible new directions and obtain their feedback on improvement opportunities.

2. How do you identify the right problems for a KM initiative to tackle?

Jennifer Michael: Projects that align with our corporate priorities, relate to the collection and reuse of knowledge, serve a business-critical need, have adequate support from leadership, and have clear requirements are the types of projects our KM team often decides to tackle. When these critical factors are in place, projects are more likely to deliver results on time and add value to the business.

Darcy Lemons: There are several approaches to that challenge. I recommend that a member of the KM core team interview key business stakeholders to identify opportunities for KM to support the business. Depending on how many opportunities are identified, the KM team may need to evaluate the opportunities against certain criteria to see which opportunities meet the most criteria and therefore become priorities for the KM team to address. A criteria testing matrix is a good tool to use in this instance.

Sissel K. Austad: Doing KM, it is fundamental to have very good knowledge of the business—and the people. In order to achieve that, continuous involvement and communication over time is key. You need to make sure there is a common understanding of the problems—what is the situation today, and how can it be improved. Further, it is important to be very clear on which problems KM will resolve, in order to establish a common understanding of scope and thereby set the right expectations.

3. What are some common traits that successful KM programs share?

Jennifer Michael: Two common traits successful KM programs share are having visible support from senior-level leadership and maintaining a structured approach. When there is clear direction and active sponsorship for KM coming from the top of an organization, employees are more likely to engage with and buy into the program. Maintaining a structured approach and process is another key to success. In successful KM programs, roll-out and maintenance activities are strategically scheduled to reach the right audiences at the right time, and programs regularly evaluate themselves to ensure they are still aligned with their initial business case, are moving closer to achieving program goals, and are meeting the needs of the organization.

Darcy Lemons: That’s a loaded question. There are a variety of success factors for KM programs. Here are my top five:

  1. a documented KM strategy and roadmap to demonstrate the alignment between the KM program’s objectives and the business’s strategic objectives or mission;
  2. a cross-functional steering committee that provides guidance to the KM core team and can sign off on and approve funding for KM-related decisions;
  3. knowledge maps that help the organization identify its critical knowledge;
  4. a change management strategy and communication plan that helps the KM core team identify who its audience is, what their concerns or challenges (regarding KM) are, and how to begin to address those concerns/challenges; and
  5. measures of success—a combination of activity, health, and impact or outcome measures.

Sissel K. Austad: The only thing that leads to success is continuous and relentless effort over time. After securing leadership support and their long-term commitment, there needs to be a common understanding of the fact that it takes time to achieve sustainable results. The users repeatedly need to be reminded of why and how they are supposed to participate in the program, and ideally by someone from their own department. This accentuates an important fact—several people need to be involved and engaged in different KM roles in order for a KM program to be successful over time. KM is no “one man show.”

4. What advice can you share for getting hesitant or skeptical users engaged in KM?

Jennifer Michael: Every change initiative faces resistance in some form.  One way you can help engage hesitant or skeptical users is to regularly document and disseminate “success stories” describing how users across the organization use KM to help them do their work. Some examples of success stories at Bechtel have demonstrated how using KM tools have saved projects time or money, have provided useful resources, or have quickly connected users with the right experts. Continuing education of KM is also critical to engaging hesitant users. Having training resources readily available, including live and virtual courses, is essential to educate users not only on the “how-to” of tools and features deployed by the KM program, but also on the foundations of knowledge management, why it is important to the business, and how it can help them perform their jobs better. Additionally, it is important to keep managers engaged as vocal advocates of the program. As the adage says, “If it is important to my manager, it is important to me.”

Darcy Lemons: Communicate, communicate, communicate! Successful KM programs know their audience and have identified the barriers to engagement for those people. Those same programs craft value propositions targeted to their audience that address the perennial question, “What’s in it for me?” They also collect and publish success stories that demonstrate what being engaged looks like (e.g., participation in a community of practice or contributing content to a wiki article) and how it benefits the organization, the department, and the individual.

Sissel K. Austad: Seek out the advocates and get them involved in sharing some best practices. Pick some “low-hanging fruits” and make sure to share the success-stories. Make some small commitments, and make sure you deliver more than expected—then go back and commit to do more (work agile). Be patient, and keep telling your KM stories. Do not fall into the trap of spending all your energy on the hesitant and skeptical users. Fuel the advocates instead, and have them help you convince the skeptics.

Shannon Gacke:  The key for getting skeptical/hesitant users engaged is to give them the KM 101 and show them the value that KM provides (financial/time savings, reduced resourcing strains and the redundancy of rework).  We need to show them the “what’s in it for me” so that they can relate it to their challenges and jobs.  There needs to be a guided approach and over-the-shoulder training so that they truly understand the value and jump in. 


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