Does an organization need a dedicated and separate KM function in order for it to do KM?
If one looks at great organizations like Google, Apple Yahoo (who are considered to be great Knowledge led organizations), they don’t have dedicated KM functions. What’s important is that the basic tenets, ethos and culture of KM needs to be part of the organizations ‘being’, the way of life — akin to the breathing process, doing it continuously without even realizing it.
All the above organizations (and many more) are role models in the knowledge era. The great thing about these organizations create processes & structures that truly embody the spirit of the ‘needs’ of the knowledge worker and through that they are able to attract the best talent and provide them with an environment that goes to the core of what knowledge management espouses. They don’t do KM for the sake of KM and saying ‘oh, we also do KM and realize the importance of it and hence we have dozens of knowledge managers supporting KM’…
I personally believe in the approach taken by the Google, Apple Yahoo type organizations as an effective way of doing KM.
For the ‘regular’ organizations I believe that creating a dedicated KM function is a good thing to bring ‘focus’ on KM and giving it legitimacy. This will send the right signals and help get going.
However, for KM to be truly effective in those organizations, over a period of time, the KM function should strive for enabling the different parts of the organizations to do KM themselves and not rely on the KM function. This is where KM needs to be part of the organizations ‘being’, the way of life. This should be the role and end goal of CKO’s and they should also be measured on this aspect. Once the above has started to happen (and this should happen in a measurable/definite time frame) then the KM function should be considered for dissolution and the charter of the KM function should become to just oversee it’s disbanding
The above may look good in theory but there are practical challenges like (just some of the many…):
- Over a period of time the person leading the KM function can get attached to it and can find it difficult to let go.
- KM has overlap with almost all functions and in the beginning there is less conflict and at a conceptual level people agree for KM to work on the areas of overlap and make progress. As clarity emerges and overlap areas gain traction, the different functions start voicing or thinking about what do these overlaps mean and start questioning this.
- This creates ground for small battles in bigger organizational ‘turf wars’ and results in various functions/departments further entrenching in their beliefs/positions and the organization opting for ‘status quo’ approach to please all.
It’s sad but a true mirage and we continue to rely on “Knowledge Management needing the KM Function to be successful” approach…