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Where Should a Busy KM Program Focus Its Attention?

Where Should a Busy KM Program Focus Its Attention?

Smart knowledge management teams cultivate close relationships with their stakeholders out in the business. This helps KM stay aligned with strategic priorities, anticipate ever-changing user needs, and advise business groups on how to apply KM tools and approaches to solve problems.

As productive as these relationships are, they take time and effort. Most KM teams don’t have the resources to build them in every part of the business—at least not all at once. KM leaders must decide where the greatest need is and where increased KM attention will deliver the most value. 

Prioritizing KM Expansion Opportunities

So, where should a busy KM team focus its attention? Here are a few questions to ask when evaluating potential options. 

  • Does Function X recognize it has knowledge-related problems or opportunities to address?
  • Are Function X’s knowledge needs aligned to the current KM mission, vision, and strategy?
  • Does the KM team have ready-made solutions to help Function X, or would it have to design something custom?
  • Are Function X's leaders willing to allocate resources to KM, such as content authors or community leaders?
  • Do current KM sponsors care about Function X, or does it have funding it can chip in?
  • Will supporting Function X benefit the KM program’s strategic goals or performance measures?

A common mistake is when KM expands into a part of the business that is interested in the idea of KM but unwilling to commit resources to make it a reality. For example, leaders say they want better content management, but they expect KM to plug in a technology to fix things or to do all the classification and curation on its own, without involving process owners and subject matter experts. KM can pitch its services by conducting a small pilot, but it’s usually futile to go further without a clear load-sharing agreement. Ultimately, the business must own its own knowledge and engage knowledge sources and recipients in KM processes. 

Another mistake is when tackling a new knowledge need pulls resources away from KM’s core mission and focus. It may make sense for the KM team to support a new business strategy or build a new process or system for a specific business group, but such projects are often resource intensive. If scope creep causes the KM team to short-shrift existing goals or services, that can spell trouble. Adjacent work is usually preferable to breakthrough innovation unless senior leaders and KM sponsors are fully on board.

Top Functions and Business Areas to Consider

Expanding KM to new parts of the business is tricky, and the right answer depends on the KM strategy, available resources, and KM appetite within prospective client groups. But here are six functions that seem like obvious candidates to consider. 

1.    Human Resources. With the tight labor market in the U.S. and the Great Resignation still chugging along despite economic uncertainty, a lot of HR teams are feeling the strain. They’re being asked to do less with more while still providing great service and a positive employee experience. KM can help HR scale effectively by streamlining access to targeted self-service resources. In addition, KM can partner with HR on initiatives to promote career development opportunities and enhance employee engagement.

2.    Innovation. Volatility and rapid change are making innovation groups even more strategically important than they were pre-pandemic. But the high cost of innovation makes it essential to reuse knowledge, learn from mistakes, and avoid duplication of effort. This is an area where KM can have a tangible impact on projects that senior leaders care about. 

3.    Customer Service. Customer support is an obvious place for KM to intervene, given the amount of knowledge involved. Agents need to solve customer problems quickly and provide consistent, validated answers—all at the lowest possible cost. Good knowledge documentation is also a prerequisite for using bots to automate simple interactions, freeing up agents for more value-added work.

4.    IT. As every company becomes a technology company, IT has a lot of increasingly critical knowledge, some of which is undocumented. The risk may be particularly high when IT capabilities are outsourced to vendors and partners, so that key strategic knowledge resides with the small handful of employees who manage those relationships.  

5.    Supply Chain. Supply chain teams have encountered two+ years of headaches procuring materials, keeping factories up and running, and getting products where they need to go. This endless pivoting has created a need for better collaboration, visibility, and information flow among suppliers, partners, and customers. KM can help supply chain teams improve knowledge sharing internally and across the value chain.

6.    Process and Performance Management. Many organizations are clarifying their business processes to ensure they are consistent, resilient, and able to be automated. This involves documenting a lot of process knowledge so that it’s readily accessible to humans and bots. If KM gets involved, it can ensure that process knowledge is captured effectively and incorporated into standard knowledge repositories and flow processes. 

What do you see as the frontier for KM to focus on? APQC is conducting a short survey on Applying Knowledge Management in the Business to find out which functions and teams KM currently supports and where KMers see opportunities to deliver additional value. If you have a few minutes, I’d love your insights—the results will say a lot about KM’s strategic positioning and will be used to guide future research.