Beware of Burnout

If deploying knowledge management solutions were easy, I'd likely be out of a job. But it's not--in fact, it's as hard as it is necessary.

Why necessary? I'll spare you the sermon, since it's not my business to convince you; the marketplace likely will take care of that. Let me merely point you toward the comments of Gartner Group analyst French Caldwell.

Caldwell argues that during an economic downturn, KM will make an important difference and that companies that have successfully implemented enterprise KM will increase market share in hard times over peers that have not. The stronger the economic downturn, he says, the greater the justification for new programs that increase business process efficiency. Here's his conclusion: "Enterprises investing in enterprise KM when the money is available to do so will be better positioned to weather an economic downturn and expand market share at the expense of their less-insightful peers."

Why is the deployment difficult? If you've already piloted the rollout of a KM tool or strategy--such as conducting a knowledge audit, harvesting tacit knowledge for storage in a centralized knowledge base, creating an enterprise information portal customized to the individual worker and able to support transaction processing, or setting up an expertise profiler and locater--you know from the inside the challenges of changing a company culture from competitiveness and knowledge hoarding to rewarding collaboration. Despite our parents' initial efforts, we aren't trained to give freely and share without asking, and our reward structures reflect that "selfish is good" orientation.

Consider this, then, a plea to support your knowledge champion. As we note in Knowledge Management magazine's March cover story
the burden of reorienting your company's strategic positioning can weigh heavily on the shoulders of the person you've charged with converting your company's knowledge assets into competitive advantage. The up-and-coming executive you've chosen is likely to be smart, driven and prone to throw himself or herself fully into the challenge.

He or she is also handling a challenging task of which the parameters can be unclear. They may involve shepherding new software tools onto people's desktops but also trying to help people change how they work. Turf battles are inevitable, while executive support must constantly be reaffirmed. And since the benefits of KM aren't yet easily quantified, success may be hard to measure, robbing the champion of a sense of accomplishment.

It doesn't sound like much fun, does it? Yet the evidence is abundant that putting a company's intangible assets to use is worth it, in both the short and the long term.

So do your part to prevent KM burnout. Value your knowledge champion. Support him or her, validate the work being done and provide the necessary resources. You'll be investing in both a valuable executive and the future of your business.

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