Knowledge management teams can be captivated by the beauty of their own methodologies, but KM is pointless unless it provides concrete value to the business. What “value to the business” means varies widely, however. A KM program might be designed to shorten project cycle times through knowledge reuse, reduce error rates by increasing access to experts, or harness collaboration to drive breakthrough innovations. Depending on context, any of these objectives might be mission critical—or a nice-to-have solution to a nonurgent problem.
The right business focus for each organization depends on the knowledge challenges and opportunities that leaders deem imperative, along with the needs and pain points of rank-and-file employees. But it still helps to benchmark and see which KPIs other KM efforts are targeting. Here are the top business priorities that KM teams should be supporting right now, according to 367 KM professionals who participated in APQC’s Knowledge Management Trends survey. I’ll talk about the top three and why each is important below.
In some ways, productivity is a catch-all category that covers a variety of business goals. For starters, let’s divide this into process vs. individual productivity to better understand what a particular KM effort is aiming to accomplish.
Some KM programs target productivity gains for certain business processes, such as reducing the time it takes for Sales to create a proposal (through automation and reuse) or improving first contact resolution in Customer Service (by equipping front-line agents with better content). These are good goals because there is a clear stakeholder group, and the impacts are relatively straightforward to measure. If—for example—KM can show that implementing a new knowledge system reduced time to complete process X by 20 percent, then the manager of process X is happy (and hopefully becomes a KM advocate), and KM can advertise a positive ROI for the new knowledge system.
KM’s impact on individual productivity is more diffused (and harder to calculate), but it may be an even bigger windfall for organizations. APQC’s research shows that employees waste a massive amount of time looking internally for information and expertise to do their jobs, recreating things that already exist because they can’t find or don’t have access to them, and managing chaotic virtual collaboration channels. For the average knowledge worker, these activities suck up nearly 12 hours per week—more than a quarter of their total work time.
Employees will always spend some time seeking and exchanging knowledge, but a good KM program can reduce waste and rework. For example, when organizations document their critical knowledge, employees report spending less time duplicating information and answers. Similarly, employees with access to peer mentoring and enterprise search tools spend less time looking for information and colleagues to support their work.
KM’s exact impact on individual productivity can be hard to pinpoint, but worker shortages and the transition to remote and hybrid work have forced organizations to think more strategically about these issues. If your leaders are worried about helping employees maximize productivity in the digital workplace, you may want to explore KM’s impact and how you can measure any gains (through available business and system data, user surveys, or other means).
2. Digital transformation/intelligent enterprise
It feels like nearly every organization is somewhere on the path of digital metamorphosis. The definition of digital transformation varies by industry and function, but most initiatives focus on digitizing data and information, automating (e.g., via RPA or AI), applying analytics, or enabling digital interactions.
For organizations that are pursuing digital transformation, it makes sense for KM to rally around these efforts. Digital initiatives tend to have lofty visions and budgets to match, which KM can benefit from. Moreover, KM can help digital teams identify the organizational knowledge critical to their implementations and ensure that knowledge is documented, protected, and made accessible to people and systems that need it. If senior leaders are focused on digital, then KM should aim for a seat at that table.
My best advice is to get specific about when, where, and how KM can help implement the organization’s digital strategy. For example, KM might:
- Help document specific processes and workflows so that they can be automated
- Curate bodies of knowledge to train machine learning algorithms
- Support change management for virtual platforms
- Spearhead enterprise search
Once you clarify KM’s role in digital, you can set milestones and metrics to track KM’s contribution and prevent it from getting lost in an amorphous, multi-pronged project. This is particularly important if the high-level digital strategy “fails” or misses its mark—which has been known to happen.
3. Strategic integration
The last two years have been a perfect storm for business siloes to wreak havoc on organizations. Market disruptions, supply chain backups, and rapidly evolving customer needs have required different corners of the business to update one another more quickly and collaborate on innovative, cross-disciplinary solutions. At the same time, remote work has curtailed water-cooler conversations, slowed “sneakernet” organic knowledge flow, and made cross-boundary collaboration more difficult. And fear of the unknown has made some people revert into their comfort zones.
The good news is that KM is uniquely positioned to help different parts of the business operate as one. For starters, many classic KM approaches are designed to break down organizational siloes:
- Communities of practice bring together people around a shared discipline, topic of interest, or business problem.
- Lessons learned helps document good practices, tips and tricks, and missteps so others confronting similar scenarios can learn from those past experiences.
- Expertise location helps people find and connect with experts and peers with similar interests, no matter where they sit in the organization.
KM can also provide tools and expertise to improve findability, collaboration, and innovation in the digital workplace.
As with digital transformation, strategic integration is a massive goal for KM to undertake. If your KM program is focused on this business priority, make sure you understand what leaders really want to accomplish and what success looks like in their eyes. Then you can carve out a role for KM, including the specific tools and approaches to pursue and the metrics to track.
What business priorities is your KM program focused on this year? Post in the comments. There are no wrong answers, as long as the outcomes you’re targeting are important to the organization, clearly defined, and within KM’s scope of influence.