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Why Do KM Programs Struggle to Get Connected to Companies’ Business Goals?

The short answer? Because they don’t start with the business goals in mind! As simple and as common sense as that seems, it’s analogous to the sales person who talks to a prospective customer about why the sales person’s company is so good—without ever asking for the sale itself. That is, the connection to the desired outcome in both cases is broken.

In the time I’ve been doing this thing called KM for the past 17 years, I’ve run across many a KM program with lofty aspirations that come down to a simple ambition: to share. That’s it; to share--done. Presumably because those in charge of designing and implementing their organization’s KM program have heard/read/been told that knowledge sharing is good. A comforting thought, like a well-worn, fuzzy security blanket. While I would never argue against knowledge sharing lest I end up having to find something else to do in my career, sharing only for the sake of sharing has rarely moved the business goal needle into the positive zone.

The solution to this is alarmingly equally simple. Just ask! More specifically, use APQC’s Knowledge AnalyticsSM Process and you’re halfway home. What you’ll likely find is that sometimes knowledge sharing isn’t the best answer, or even the answer at all [Some amplification here: knowledge sharing can always help, but it’s not always the most urgent need. Think of the Pareto principle.] What you will also find however, is that when you focus your knowledge sharing efforts on the things that the business cares about (ie, business goals), you’ll end up lining up your KM program goals to the business goals, and prove the value that knowledge sharing brings to the business.

Conceptually, this isn’t anything new; other improvement programs are under the same requirement. Lean projects eliminate waste; six sigma projects improve efficiency; quality frameworks provide rigor to quality. Why should KM be any different? The answer is of course, it shouldn’t. Pointing to the business goals as KM’s objective will only help make the subsequent business case for it easier to develop, and more importantly, put KM on the same playing field as the other improvement methods. By the way, one advantage that KM has that all the other improvements don’t is this: the potential for 100% of an organization to participate. Everyone can teach, everyone can learn. Of even more value is that those roles switch—often—based upon the situation at hand, making everyone a potential source of improvement capability whether a knowledge provider or a knowledge user.

So if you’ve read this and thought, “I already knew this” congratulations, you’ve just had a confirmation of your own experiences. If you’ve read this and wondered why your KM program has fallen victim to this problem take comfort—the solution is easy to implement. In which camp has your KM program pitched its tent?

Follow me on Twitter @KM_dude.