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Small KM Teams Can Thrive with the Right Business Support

Small KM Teams Can Thrive with the Right Business Support

When business leaders tell me they want to pursue knowledge management, one of the first questions I ask is about staffing. You can’t make things happen with no one running the show. Focused attention is paramount: At the very least, one full-time person needs to be dedicated to developing the KM strategy and bringing it to life. 

But beyond a reasonable baseline, bigger isn’t always better when it comes to KM teams. APQC’s 2022 KM Benchmarks and Metrics research shows an incredible range in KM staffing ratios. The median KM program has one full-time person supporting KM for every 444 employees, but staffing rates are all over the place, with little consistency across programs. And highly staffed KM programs are not performing significantly better in terms of KM participation rates, performance against goals and objectives, or generating value for the business. 

Number of Employees Which Support KM

 
If adding headcount to the KM team isn’t always the answer, what is? APQC’s analysis suggests that KM is more likely to succeed when people with “day jobs” in the business take on formal KM support roles. Whether part-time or volunteer, these roles complement the activities of the KM team by making colleagues aware of KM and how it can help them, advocating for participation and knowledge use, and providing customized coaching and support. They also take on some of the heavy lifting required to create, identify, review, and share knowledge. 

Four business support roles are particularly critical:

  1. Scouts who identify business opportunities to apply KM
  2. Subject matter experts (SMEs) who share and validate knowledge
  3. Coaches responsible for training and awareness for KM tools and approaches
  4. Champions who advocate for use of KM in their areas of the business

The same people may wear many hats when it comes to KM business support. For example, SMEs may also scout people and projects from which to capture knowledge, and KM champions may deliver training and coaching as part of their role. The key is to have specific people in the business agree to take on these duties and to create some formal structure around doing the work, rather than expecting everyone to pitch in when and where they can. Formality creates accountability, and it also gives the KM team a clear point of contact to communicate with the business, roll out changes, or get on-the-ground feedback. 

Here is a rundown of the four key business KM support roles and why they’re important.

Scouts Who Identify Opportunities to Apply KM

People doing the day-to-day work of the business are often in the best position to suggest places where KM interventions are most needed. They know about the 30-year veteran who’s thinking about retiring, the messy project that generated a ton of lessons learned, and the innovative process that should be documented and promoted to others doing similar work. 

While many stakeholders can make recommendations, it helps to have designated representatives who understand the scenarios where KM can be most helpful and are tasked with keeping their ears to the ground. These scouts can take the lead on scoping out KM opportunities, and they can also filter and prioritize suggestions from colleagues. 

In APQC’s research, 60 percent of KM programs report explicitly tasking people with identifying opportunities to apply KM within the business. Compared to those who don’t, these KM programs are significantly more likely to say:

  • leaders believe KM is very effective in delivering its intended business value 
  • KM is performing very effectively against its goals and objectives
  • KM is delivering enormous or a lot of measurable value 

The suggestion is that, when KM can pinpoint the right problems and projects, it is in a better position to generate meaningful outcomes for the business. 

Experts Who Share and Validate Knowledge

SMEs are always critical to effective KM. These are people with the expertise and authority to document the organization’s most complex knowledge, sign off on official procedures and guidance, deliver webinars and master classes on advanced topics, and answer tricky questions in knowledge-sharing forums. 

While all organizations have experts of some form, formalizing the knowledge component of the SME role can provide significant benefits. The 57 percent of KM programs supported by SMEs are significantly more likely to say:

  • leaders believe KM is very effective in delivering its intended business value 
  • KM is performing very effectively against its goals and objectives
  • KM is delivering enormous or a lot of measurable value 

When experts are engaged in KM, it increases the quality of knowledge shared and employees put more trust in the knowledge available to them. Trusted knowledge gets higher usage and generates more value. 

Coaches Responsible for KM Training and Awareness

The KM core team usually oversees broad-brush KM communications and training, especially during rollouts or big changes. But that leaves big gaps in terms of translating KM expectations for specific business groups. This is why two-thirds of KM programs have formal business roles for KM training and awareness. And these roles are important. KM programs with coaching roles are significantly more likely to say:

  • KM is performing very effectively against its goals and objectives
  • KM is delivering enormous or a lot of measurable value 

Embedded coaches can explain exactly how a salesperson, customer service rep, or engineer needs to engage with KM processes and systems. They can also leverage their established relationships to tutor colleagues who might not feel comfortable asking for help from central KM staff.

Champions Who Advocate Use of KM

KM champions who advocate for KM use in specific parts of the business are the least common formal role, supported by only 46 percent of KM programs. But champions are a linchpin for ensuring that enterprise knowledge gets used for business benefit.

Organizations with formal KM champion roles have significantly higher participation rates, and they are also more likely to say:

  • leaders believe KM is very effective in delivering its intended business value 
  • KM is performing very effectively against its goals and objectives
  • KM is delivering enormous or a lot of measurable value 

People out in the business have a deep understanding of the work that goes on and how KM -fueled improvements might reduce frustration and improve business outcomes. When they encourage peers to share and reuse knowledge, they can back up the requests with concrete examples of how KM can benefit individuals and the team. They also tend to have more credibility with peers than the KM team would—especially if those in champion roles are well respected in their business areas. All of this helps them get colleagues excited about and engaged in KM in a sustainable way.

Do you have experience with KM business roles or the best way to provide customized KM support across the business? Let us know!