You Can Measure the Impact of KM and, More Importantly, You Should

Cindy Hubert's picture

During one of the general sessions at APQC’s 2015 Process Conference a couple of weeks ago, the question came up, “How do you quantify the benefit of knowledge management (KM)?”

Responses ranged from “we shouldn’t have to measure KM” to “knowledge sharing is intrinsic and it should just be part of the way we work” to “it’s too hard.” I must admit that I almost fell off my swivel chair when I heard this. While I know that these comments were sincere, I feel like our work in KM was set back a decade. Good intentions around knowledge sharing are not enough to really move critical knowledge around and across an organization. You can measure the impact of KM and, more importantly, you should.

So why should you conduct financial analysis and document the benefits to show the value of KM investments? Because it’s correlated with securing and expanding the KM budget, leadership and business-unit support, traction to expand KM, and evidence of business value (see APQC’s Accelerators of KM Maturity data report). If these are not compelling enough reasons, think about how it helps break down the barriers to knowledge sharing.

While what you measure and how varies based on your level of KM maturity, KM programs that thrive start measuring from day one (see Measuring Your Knowledge Management Program Across APQC’s Levels of KM Maturity). Most organizations start with measures of participation in KM approaches, like communities, or the use of tools. This provides a KM leader visibility and proxies for acceptance, behavioral changes, and engagement. APQC’s data below shows organizations that define key performance indicators at the beginning are more supported and sustainable.

Percentage of organizations reporting KM capabilities

We spend so much time at APQC helping KMers find and align suitable measures for their KM Programs. And we have seen great success. There are many tactics for measuring the impact of KM, depending on your situation. APQC has a framework to develop a meaningful measurement system that can be customized to your situation and the focus of your KM program. There is no need to spend the time wondering what KM measures to use and how to apply them. Accelerate your efforts by adopting best practices that work. We’ll talk a lot more about this during our Annual Knowledge Management Conference happening April 25-29, 2016 in Houston, so we hope you will join us. As our CEO Dr. Carla O’Dell says, “It isn’t always easy, but few things worthwhile are.” I’m just sayin’...


Anonymous's picture
Many thanks Cindy for this blog. Topic is really important for 1. Measuring performance instead of keep it open ended (innovative) 2. People confuse between individual performance management and developing performance based KM system 3. Developing knowledge based organization helps to perform as an individual and an organization. In my opinion, KM is also based on a principle i.e. learning system of the people, by the people and for the people. It is necessary to develop a KM system based on M&E indicator and on KPI (key performance indicators) Regards Dilipsing Bayas
Anonymous's picture
In a world where competency-based performance management is commonplace, and accountants and/or operational research run their 'tape measures' over every aspect of business, it's surprising that the message in this article needs to be said. But it does, it seems. While many efforts to 'measure' the impact of KM focus on KM activity (how many contributors, how many docs, how many communities / groups, etc.), I would urge people to think about business outcomes. Everything else you might want to 'measure' is really an indicator, telling you that you might be doing the right things (but not necessarily moving the needle). At the heart of KM impact measurement is attribution, the ability to show the contribution that KM made to business performance. And the ONLY real measure of KM's impact is in the way it increments business performance. The techniques to do this have been around for about a quarter century, just not always applied to KM. But they have been applied to KM for about 15 years... I don't really follow APQC's content, but it would be nice to know that APQC don't believe this stuff is brand new thinking.
Cindy Hubert's picture
I appreciate the feedback and comments. A couple of follow up points and observations: 1) APQC agrees that it's about measuring the impact of KM on the business. We created the Knowledge Analytics methodology so that when organizations start thinking about measuring the impact / value of KM, they start with the business needs and business performance indicators. Ironically, that's where we have seen gaps - organizations don't have good / consistent business measures. It ends up being a data problem - thus the importance and emphasis on big data. 2) It's hard to "just start measuring" KM. If there are no standard processes or approaches (communities, lessons learned, etc) to help knowledge flow, you have to design and launch them and get people using them before measurement can begin. That's why it's so important to measure participation from the start (whether in communities or social media); you will see levels of engagement, can observe what's working or not, and then correlate the participation to a number of outputs of the KM approaches impacting work flows. It can be done, but takes some planning and patience. My experience is that it keeps you (KM) focused and get's your audience (the business) interested.