The KM Balancing Act

Logically, knowledge management should be quite simple. With the right technology, organizing and utilizing a company's knowledge shouldn't be a big deal, should it? But why then--regardless of the multitudes of cash dropped for high-tech solutions--do knowledge management initiatives fail?

"Knowledge management is in some ways no different than any other management discipline," commented Edward Truch, director of the Knowledge Management Forum at Henley Management College in Oxfordshire, England. "There are quite a number of organizational behaviors that you have to have in place first." Truch's litany of necessities contains the usual suspects but places additional weight on establishing ground rules for integrating KM that should show up in all aspects of the company, most notably in the way employees work.

Truch, who recently debated with David Snowden of IBM's Institute of Knowledge about the importance of proper processes and scientific approaches to KM, believes that while organizations are becoming much more complex, if company-wide programs such as KM are to succeed, they cannot be left to grow organically. There needs to be a level playing field and a consistently monitored environment keeping tabs on things such as company culture and upper management acceptance. According to Truch, the IT-focused approaches of the past few years are being proven inefficient and being replaced by a somewhat ironic but more beneficial people-to-people methodology.

KM, says Truch, is all about proactive collaboration, which takes the focus off of the individual and how they can singly use information. And while he's quick to point out that after putting the basics in place, "you still need to find your papers in your filing cabinet," considering technology solutions the end all and be all could be a dire mistake. "Technology is necessary," explains Truch. "It's necessary but not sufficient."

So, there's no question that if there's one thing KM isn't, it's simple. But, as Truch explained, most of a company's knowledge is personally controlled by employees themselves and cannot easily and automatically be captured. For KM to do its job, there needs to be an active balancing act going on--all the time. Because, he said, too much focus on one element of this diverse mix may turn the entire program sour.

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