A knowledge management strategy is useful because it gives your KM effort a concrete purpose and target to work toward. Many organizations set well-meaning but elusive goals for KM such as “to break down siloes” or “to build a more collaborative culture.” These are good intentions, but they’re too vague to craft a meaningful initiative around—after all, what does it really mean to have a collaborative culture, and how do you know when you have one? A KM strategy makes you document the step-by-step actions that will help the organization achieve its expansive KM vision, along with the inputs required and the measures that will indicate success.
Given the volatility we’re currently experiencing, you may be tempted to throw up your hands in despair with it comes to plans and targets. What’s the point, when everything will just change again anyway? But ironically, a well-defined KM strategy is more important than ever.
If you articulate what you want to achieve with KM, you’re less likely to get blown off course by every storm. You simply adjust your tools and tactics in line with current reality while chipping away at your established goals. For example, if your communities of practice must transition to all-virtual operations, their overarching mission hasn’t changed—they’re just using different means to get to the same end. And even if communities need to assume new duties, having the strategy laid out makes it easier to shift gears without losing focus.
How to Develop a KM Strategy
Before you sit down to document your KM strategy, you need to do some pre-work.
- Assess your current state, including critical knowledge gaps and any formal or informal KM efforts currently underway.
- Figure out who needs to be involved, including the KM team, any leadership sponsors, experts who will serve as sources of knowledge, and IT representatives to advise on technology.
- Decide on a methodology and timeline for strategy development (you can use APQC's or any established strategic planning process your organization is comfortable with).
Once you’ve outlined the who and how of the process, you can start crafting your strategy. APQC recommends a 7-step process, which is laid out in more detail in our Strategic Planning for Knowledge Management white paper (free to all for a limited time).
Step 1: Establish organizational goals and strategic objectives for KM. This is where you articulate the business problems or opportunities your KM effort is designed to tackle. For instance, do you want to deliver client projects faster and cheaper, or do you want to develop new products and services? These strategic objectives give you a picture of what KM success looks like from a business point of view.
Step 2: Identify strategies. The next step is to connect your strategic objectives to the right KM tools and approaches. If your goal is to accelerate project delivery, you might build a searchable repository of reusable knowledge assets. If you want to spur innovation, you might establish a cross-functional community of practice to generate and refine new ideas. (APQC’s Approaches to Address Classic Knowledge Management Needs can help you sift through the options).
Step 3: Identify priorities. Here, you start breaking down each strategy into a project by outlining the actions needed to make it happen. For the searchable repository, you might start identifying existing sources to curate and people who could contribute reusable content. For the innovation-focused community, you might look for target members and develop a charter. Even though the details can and will change along the way, you need to articulate a plan to put the strategy into action.
Step 4: Confirm scope for each strategy. For example, will you focus on one department or business unit, or will your effort be enterprise-wide? Will you use existing technology, or do you need to build or buy something new? How will KM fit into existing processes, and will participation be mandatory or just encouraged?
Step 5: Define roles and skills required. The next step is to define the people resources you need, including man hours and any specialized skills. Be sure to focus on roles—not individuals—and consider both those leading or administering the strategy and those who will share and consume knowledge.
Step 6: Define measures and expectations. This is where you lay out the results you expect and what success will look like. Emphasize concrete indicators, whether those are numeric measures (X number of innovations, Y dollars revenue) or more qualitative signs (at least 2 innovation success stories from our community). Think about the timeline for achievement so you can manage expectations.
Step 7: Access critical success factors, gaps, and potential risks. These are the elements that go into an implementation roadmap, which helps you execute against your strategy.
Benefits of a Defined Strategy
The value of a KM strategy may seem self-evident, but you don’t have to take my word for it. Analysis of data from APQC’s KM Capability Assessment Tool indicates that organizations with documented KM strategies and roadmaps are achieving several important benefits.
- First off, they are 7 times more likely to have their KM initiatives aligned with the broader enterprise vision, mission and strategy.
- Even more importantly, they are 3 times more likely to leverage their knowledge assets for competitive advantage.
Links between KM and enterprise strategy are vital to make sure KM is focused on the right things and evolves in line with the business. But for me, the show-stopper correlation is the one between documenting your KM strategy and leveraging knowledge for competitive advantage. Nearly every organization wants to compete on knowledge—and in today’s fast-paced environment, these capabilities are more than “nice to have.” A team’s capacity to harness its collective know-how to get to market faster, improve its products and services, and earn customers’ loyalty can spell the difference between success and failure in the new normal.