The 2nd KM: Little KM


In my first post on Three KMs, I outlined what I see as the “big KM” – the one that has budget, visibility, and is accountable to the organization (often with tangible ROI targets required).

I’d like to turn now to what I call “Little KM,” which I characterize as the quiet application of KM methods to business problems in a way that just makes sense. (You can also think about this as applying a “little KM perspective” to classic business activities.) In  little KM, the identified need for knowledge sharing maps to one or two of the KM methods, tools, or approaches. Any part of an organization may apply a KM practice to design and intervention in support of an immediate opportunity or problem.

The following list of practices, often applied without the code word “KM” (and sometimes described as “stealth” KM),  is based on having met or worked with people who specialize in these practices. I am sure that as you think about this concept, you will identify many more such practices.

Learning before, during, and after

Experiential knowledge is that which is not easily captured in classic “lessons learned” session. Practices for bringing experiential knowledge into a community include Peer Assists, Learning While Doing, and After Action Reviews (all beautifully described in Learning to Fly).

Outside (but near) the knowledge management community doing amazing work on Emergent Learning, Marilyn Darling has worked with corporate executives to apply after action reviews in a way that guides their future strategic action.

In a similar vein, Ken Bruss (who introduced me to the term “stealth KM” five years ago at a Boston KM Forum), has been integrating these learning practices into managing new product development processes.

Communities of practice.

Communities of practice are groups of people who engage in a process of collective learning. Through the work of Etienne Wenger and his colleagues, we have a rich set of practices that enable such communities to be designed and to sustain.
Although the term and related methods for COPs have been closely associated with KM, the notion of centers of expertise is widely applicable in settings outside of the KM umbrella. In either expertise- or functionally-based roles in organizations, staff and employees who are convened to share tips and techniques, new ideas, and so on, are in fact COP-like.

Knowledge continuity and retention.

The aging workforce is a problem being addressed by many organizations and institutions. Dave DeLong’s Lost Knowledge describes a number of programmatic approaches to the ensuring that vital organizational knowledge stays with an organization when a large number of its workforce retire.
One of the classic  staples of organizational development programs is mentoring, often done in the context of succession planning and resource development. Such programs not only help new, or junior employees gain access to the wisdom of senior people, but also to the connections of those people, passing on the social graph as well as the tacit knowledge.
Retention programs are focused on ensuring that the top performers stay in a company. Performance may include tangible results — meeting schedules, sales figures, and so on — but may also apply to the skills, knowledge, and experience the company needs to retain.

Knowledge mapping

Determining the core competencies of the corporation and mapping those competencies was introduced to the business management world by Gary Hamel and C. K. Prahalad in 1990. Competency modeling is a core HR practice that identifies high performers in key organizational roles and maps development programs to ensure that these skills are retained in the organization.

Organizational network analysis

Applying methods of social network analysis (SNA) to business problems is still an emerging practice for many large organizations; it’s often referred to organizational network analysis (ONA) — my preferred term.

The vanguard of organizational practitioners (corporate and government) participate in Rob Cross‘s Network Roundtable at the University of Virginia, a user community that supports the use of and research in network analysis. Much of Rob’s early research has its roots in knowledge management (he was a consulting practitioner at the Institute for Knowledge Management), but is now articulated solely in business terms, aimed at solving problems of organizational and personal performance.

Applied as a knowledge management intervention, ONA can reveal the paths along which knowledge flows in an organization.

Collaboration as a business priority has been increasing ground over the past 10 years, especially as the platforms (IBM, Microsoft, OpenText, and so on) matured. While some of these were used for their content management or project management capabilities, the leadership mandate was often phrased as “we need to collaborate more.”

As collaboration inside the organization was seen as important, organizations are now understanding that collaboration with customers and partners is vital.

Why Think about Little KM?

My thinking about little KM has changed as I’ve shifted from a corporate mindset to a small business and nonprofit mindset. Knowledge management is fairly well entrenched in large organizations, and each of the little KM practices figure into those Big KM programs.

I am also aware of the ongoing conversations about whether KM is dead, whether we should stop using the term KM, and so on. So it makes sense to talk about specific practices under the rubric of KM and work inside organizations applying these practices as need arises.

What’s important to remember, however, is that we could not have little KM if we didn’t have Big KM as a source of thought leaders and practitioners who have worked over the past 10 or more years to hone these practices in collaboration with others (As I like to say, “Knowledge management people share, relentlessly.) .

Next up: Personal KM

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