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Putting Knowledge Management Strategy In Its (Proper) Place

One question I get asked a lot by my clients is who should own their organization’s knowledge management strategy. Or, put another way, where should it “sit”? Proponents of knowledge management (KM) have traditionally talked about the importance of setting up KM as a separate, vertical function within the organization. This requires dedicated staff, such as a KM director, officers, and in some cases, a C-suite level leader such as a chief knowledge officer. While this is not necessarily the wrong approach, there are many alternatives for those who don’t want to go that route or simply don’t have the resources to stand up KM as a separate department or unit.

The goal of any KM program should be to create a healthy digital workplace so that knowledge, information, and data can flow freely to where they are needed. Doing this successfully requires a massive coordination effort involving all key departments as well as a shared vision that everyone can drive towards.

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The first rule of thumb for executing an organization-wide knowledge management strategy is to be cross-functional in every aspect of what you do. For this reason, it matters less where the KM function sits than the designated KM leader's ability to coordinate a significant change effort across the organization. Their passion for what's possible and powers of persuasion, not their title, will determine how far and how fast the change effort will go. 

It is preferable to have KM sit within a business unit that shares many of the same objectives and desired outcomes as your KM strategy. Are you trying to increase employee engagement as a primary desired outcome? Maybe HR should drive your strategy. Or is your goal to improve learning and knowledge exchange among your technical teams? Then perhaps your quality team is the right place. Are you driving a total transformation of how your organization works and learns together? Then maybe your chief strategy officer is the right champion.

When thinking about whether or not IT should own the KM function, it’s mostly a matter of ensuring the right safeguards are in place. Any good KM strategist will tell you that as important as technology is, it cannot be the key driver of organizational change. Technology must always be in service to a broader set of business objectives tied to your KM program. Be on alert for KM strategies that do not include people and process in equal measure to technology and make sure there are plenty of non-IT staff involved at all stages.

All technology decisions should be governed by a cross-functional group of stakeholders representing the organization’s core business functions. A strong governance body that has decision-making authority and senior representatives from all key business units should drive technology decisions in support of your KM objectives. This is especially important when IT is responsible for leading your KM program.

Ultimately, responsibility for executing your KM strategy should be shared across the organization. No single person or department, no matter how effective, can bring the entire organization to an ideal state of KM and learning without the partnership of a wide swath of leaders and staff. Like any well-executed change management initiative, a diverse guiding coalition should be the pillar of your program. If no one internally is available to take the lead, consider hiring an experienced consultant to coordinate the effort. 

So in deciding where your knowledge management strategy should sit, be cross-functional in your approach. More likely than not, there are willing and able champions across the organization just waiting for a chance to drive the change you seek. The key will be ensuring that the KM function is well-aligned with the overall organizational strategy. Add passionate leadership, clear and measurable business outcomes and a healthy splash of collaboration to the mix and you've got a recipe for success.

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