Who is Setting Your KM Priorities?

Do we really have as much control over our KM department priorities as we’d like to think we have?  I asked variants of this question during a follow-up conversation based on my prior post, What’s Your KM Priority? In the course of this second conversation, we took a look at how our various law firms defined knowledge management.  Although we didn’t have a scientific sample, the answers were instructive.  Most firms participating in the conversation had a bifurcated approach to KM:  (i) direct practice support and (ii) infrastructure support.  In fact, for many of these firms, the folks working on content creation and practice development (e.g, traditional practice support lawyers) were not part of the KM group, but were more likely to be embedded within practice groups.  As a result, they reported to practice heads, rather than the administrative head of KM.  By contrast, the folks working on infrastructure (e.g., technology, content distribution mechanisms, etc.) sat in the KM department and reported through the head of KM to the Chief Information Officer or IT director.

Now go back and look at the KM Priorities listed in my earlier post:  you’ll see that six of the nine areas of impact are primarily focused on information management as opposed to firm management.  Given that most of the KM departments participating in these conversations are expected to spend the bulk of their time on content retrieval and distribution, is it any wonder?

Our KM priorities are set in relation to how the firm defines KM and where the KM group sits on the organizational chart.  This has interesting implications for KM personnel who wish to apply KM principles to business processes generally and firm management specifically.  Will you be given the freedom to share your wealth in this way if your firm is intent on keeping you in the information management box?

[Photo Credit:  Steve Keys]

Share

12 thoughts on “Who is Setting Your KM Priorities?

  • April 15, 2009 at 3:43 am
    Permalink

    Another great post! It's up to all of us to keeping talking KM and assisting people in realising that it's more than just systems & processes. I have had a proposed job title changed because other management might claim that KM sits with them and not my department. No skin of my back, but it shows, what I think is your intent, that people still think that KM sits in a specific department.

  • April 15, 2009 at 5:42 am
    Permalink

    Reminds me of roles that have the responsibility but not the authority. But, you know what? I am not sure if I am interpreting your post in the 'right' way….but I am OK with getting my (KM) priorities set by the organization as a whole. In fact, I believe that the priorities should come from the customers (internal) to a large extent – practice heads in this example. Does that sound inappropriate to you? As for the part where you speak of reporting into the IM department, I think I understand your concern. I've seen organizations wherein the CKO reports into the Operations Head/Quality Head/HR head/CEO and these are definitely better off! Reporting into the IM department will ensure we don't go beyond infrastructure discussions.

  • April 15, 2009 at 8:41 am
    Permalink

    I agree. We're too focused on those 'content' projects. KM 'departments' should virtualize their efforts. In other words, promote principles and methodologies with the organization. Granted, some KM initiatives should be 'staple' projects like Portals and DMS. Others however, should be educational, dare I say 'evangelical' in nature. I know that we who toil in KM have developed distaste for the idea of evangelizing (it's because we've been accused of being 'fuzzy' by the 'practical' folks over at IT). But KM is an approach, a business discipline, not a single process or a set of 'content management' related projects – as you mentioned. In one of the firms I'm working with, the PMO director is now responsible for sharing best practices, creating, disseminating and re-using past templates, educating through internal seminars and encouraging document collaboration within project teams. This is not a KM project, but it represents KM thinking that's now part of his business processes.

  • April 15, 2009 at 9:10 am
    Permalink

    Thanks so much, Craig. You're right that folks in KM will need to help others understand the potential that comes from applying KM principles to the business itself. The catch is that to do so we most likely will have to find (or fight) our way out of the organizational boxes in which we've been placed. Even in the most dynamic and flexible organization, this will require significant effort since we'll be disrupting bureaucratic structures that have been created to maintain stability and predictability.

    – Mary

  • April 15, 2009 at 9:16 am
    Permalink

    Nimmy –

    I agree that goals should be set in conjunction with the larger organization. In fact, having KM goals that align with the strategic goals of the organization is key. However, given the bureaucratic boxes in which KM is often placed, it may be difficult for KM to recognize its full potential within the organization. In the meantime, the KM department will have to focus on what Steve Barth referred to as “digital piles of documents.”

    – Mary

  • April 15, 2009 at 9:25 am
    Permalink

    Shy –

    You're right that KM practitioners will have to get more vocal (and evangelical) if they want to realize the full potential of KM within their organizations. However, it's not just about their level of effort. It's also about the bureaucratic boxes that constrain because of more limited preconceived notions of “KM's proper place” within the organization. In this environment, a KM department could be meeting annual goals (set by the organization) and satisfying organizational preconceptions of good KM practice, without ever tackling the wider range of projects and practices contemplated by your comment.

    – Mary

  • April 15, 2009 at 10:30 am
    Permalink

    Liking the post & comments! I just wanted to circle in red pen (with maybe two asterisks scrawled in the margins if I was reading this on 'paper') your point about 'bureaucratic boxes' Mary – you're spot on.
    Watching law firms grapple with KM and somehow squeeze it into 'the box that fits on the org chart' would be funny if it hasn't ultimately been so restricting on what KM really is and should be at a law firm.
    Those firms that have established KM practices and are struggling to broaden their remit will have a tough time (hence needing the tough vocals), while those firms that are just exploring IM and KM may have a real opportunity to make it work (though the tendency of law firms to copy & go with 'established practices and preconceived notions' rather than strike out with courage may well be the stumbling block here…)
    Anyway, thanks for the thought-pockets

  • April 15, 2009 at 6:08 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks so much, Kate. It's sobering to see how misunderstandings or
    excessively narrow definitions within a firm's bureaucracy regarding KM end
    up setting a limit on what KM can contribute to a law firm. Perhaps we
    should be collecting and sharing strategies on how to be effective in
    finding a way out of those bureaucratic boxes.

    – Mary

  • April 15, 2009 at 11:19 pm
    Permalink

    Thanks Mary! I like your use of the term “bureaucratic boxes” – it reflects the truth. With the advent of web 2.0 tools and utilities, I do see some of the bureaucracy waning off as users themselves are beginning to dictate the evolution of the KM initiative.

  • April 15, 2009 at 11:29 pm
    Permalink

    Nimmy –

    As we say in New York City, from your lips to God's ears! It would be
    fabulous if there were such an ascendancy of users. Let's hope we see this
    really take hold in our lifetime.

    – Mary

  • April 16, 2009 at 3:19 am
    Permalink

    Thanks Mary! I like your use of the term “bureaucratic boxes” – it reflects the truth. With the advent of web 2.0 tools and utilities, I do see some of the bureaucracy waning off as users themselves are beginning to dictate the evolution of the KM initiative.

  • April 16, 2009 at 3:29 am
    Permalink

    Nimmy –

    As we say in New York City, from your lips to God's ears! It would be
    fabulous if there were such an ascendancy of users. Let's hope we see this
    really take hold in our lifetime.

    – Mary

Comments are closed.