Saturday, October 03, 2009

KM Strategy Development: Smorgasbord vs. Acupuncture

Here are a few slightly random thoughts about a KM smorgasbord, centers of gravity, complex systems, acupuncture and "friendlies." It all started with a little personal brainstorming around KM strategic planning.

You can develop a KM strategy that is very broad based and tries to cover everything KM. Be very inclusive in your processes, listen to everyone, try to please everyone. What you'll probably end up with is a big smorgasbord of KM activities that make it look like you can't possibly have missed anything and everyone should be happy. Why are buffets not as satisfying as they might appear to be? First, you can't possibly try everything on the buffet. Second, if you ask people what was on the buffet afterward, you'll get as many different answers as there were diners. You will not have a coherent understanding of what KM is within the organization. You will not have a common view of benefits either? Perhaps it doesn't matter if everyone finds what they want on the buffet. You may find people to be satisfied with their meal but it's not clear they'll come back for more. In addition, when budget cuts come, you don't have a clue what to cut down on. Do you cut across the board and provide half the previous quantities or do you pick and choose which dishes to remove? Perhaps I am too pessimistic in thinking about budget cuts rather than a budget increase. The same question would emerge with a budget increase. Do you just provide more of the same, more of specific activities or new dishes on the table? You have no clue because you're just trying to do everything at once to please everyone.

You can develop a KM strategy that is focused on making the leadership happy and responds to the needs of the leadership or whatever the leadership thinks the needs of the organization are. You'll get leadership buy-in, perhaps even a good amount of resources to go ahead and implement. What you won't get is any kind of systematic, broad-based impact. You'll get resistance from front-line workers because it's likely you've managed to increase the burden on them without providing any kind of benefits to them.

So, the key is to develop a KM strategy that addresses the needs of front-line workers, leverages whatever opportunities already exist within the organizational environment, and present a convincing strategy to the leadership -- something that brings benefits to front-line workers AND in the process, addresses the needs of the organization and satisfies the leadership's perceived needs. Easier said than done, right!

This is where Centers of Gravity come in. You need to look beyond the concept of "leadership". Centers of Gravity are sources of power. For a KM initiative to be truly successful, you need to leverage Centers of Gravity, get them on board. Who has power within the organization? It's not just a question of individual personalities and positions within the organizational hierarchy. Where are the core nodes of the organization's? If you had a Smorgasbord of KM activities available and you could closely monitor the buffet table to see 1) what's getting the most traction; 2) what impact the activities have on organizational goals, which of the dishes on the menu would become the staples? Of course, we don't have the luxury of trying out the Smorgasbord approach first just to identify what's most useful. In addition, documenting impacts of KM activities on organizational goals is much easier said than done. Still... we need to make educated guesses about what would be most effective.

Think of the human body as a complex system. What are the core elements that make things work? The heart, the brain, the nervous system, muscles? Now think of an organization as a complex system. What are the elements of the systems that make things happen? What are the key functions? Forget about the organizational chart.

In a complex system (the human body or any organization), it may be difficult to pinpoint one or two centers of gravity. As soon as one element breaks down, others are affected. You can't seem to treat one without affecting the other. Now think of acupuncture as a way of reaching out to specific systems of the body and very precisely targeting them. Where are the pressure points within the organization?

When I think of being "strategic", I think of being in a situation where resources are limited and some decisions have to be made about how to proceed. There are alternatives to ponder and "trades" to be made. Do you spread all your resources across a smorgasbord of KM activities? Do you go all out with a broad-based outreach campaign to make sure everyone in the organization knows the types of KM services that are available? Or... do you deal primarily with "friendlies," those who are already sold on the KM idea and who are already on board, hoping there will be some trickle effect and organic spread of KM ideas? Or... do you deal with the "friendlies" AND go after Centers of Gravity.

This falls into the "half-baked" category of blog posts. They're fun to read six months later, once my thinking has evolved into something a little more polished.

KM Strategy - Diigo List

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