Are we really getting the payoff from KM that we expected?

There have been two interesting topics of late in the KM communities on LinkedIn – one, a request for evidence of the payoff of KM initiatives, the second, a discussion about what happened to all the CKO (Chief Knowledge Officer) jobs that were once prominent in organizations.

I think these two items are related and both point to the failure of Knowledge Management to achieve the return we expected.  I, like most of the other people in the community, can provide stories about how my KM initiatives had an impact, even show real dollar savings, but when it comes down to it, I find myself wondering, “But did they really have an impact?”  Did the extraction of this SME’s knowledge or the rich dialogue in the community really have the payoff we’d expected?  Did any of these initiatives fundamentally improve people’s ability to respond? Sadly I think the answer is no.

This is not to say that our efforts were in vain, they certainly were not.  The clue, I think, is that they were not enough.  As good as I am at eliciting and packaging knowledge from subject matter experts, this by itself is not enough.  It is in the use of this knowledge in decision making that we find the real value.

Perhaps the reason we aren’t seeing the great ROI stories or aren’t finding the CKO jobs is because we’ve inadvertently stopped short of achieving what we might have. Isn’t the goal not only to arm people with the knowledge and information they need to do their work, but also the critical thinking and decision making skills to know how to effectively use the knowledge and information?

Perhaps if we were to now focus an equal amount of time on the thinking and decision-making side. we’d see the kind of value add we need from KM. As I say this I am concerned that we need a different skill set of people involved as we transition into the second phase.  Maybe that speaks as well to the reason we aren’t seeing the KM initiatives or jobs today.  Likewise, we need a longer time horizon and opportunity to use and grow the knowledge in real time.  We need sponsors and managers who understand that it’s not about adding more documents or discussion or data, it’s about providing exactly what people need (and no more) when they need it and equipping them with the skills and intuition to make sense of it, pick out what they need, ignore the rest, and quickly and effectively respond to the challenge in front of them.

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