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KM functions ‘should speak the language of our businesses’

Should frame efforts 'in a way that our internal client understands', KM experts say 

13 June 2014

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By Manju Manglani, Editor (@ManjuManglani)

Knowledge management teams should always focus on meeting the needs of their internal clients, delegates at Ark Group's KM UK conference heard this week.

"Make something magical happen," suggested Bonnie Cheuk, director and global head of knowledge and social collaboration at Euroclear.

"We need to speak the language of our businesses," she said during a panel session on the issues and challenges in knowledge management today.

"KM should be adding value to business and understanding the business," concurred Stuart Hopper, director of KM for Baker & McKenzie's global M&A practice group.

"I always ask myself: Could I ask that of my managing partner or global practice group head? How does KM frame what it's doing in a way that our internal client understands?"

Added Hopper: "KM is just the facilitator - if you take what we do out of context, we risk navel gazing, which makes conversations with internal managers that much harder."

As part of this, KM teams should seek to integrate new initiatives into existing business processes, rather than seeking to fundamentally redefine how things are done.

"We should bring KM into how work gets done and bring our tools into existing processes," said Cheuk.

However, she warned that knowledge managers shouldn't be put off by business processes that are ineffective in transferring knowledge across the organisation.

"If a process doesn't let knowledge flow, change that process," she said.

A challenge for many KM teams is keeping energy levels going when faced with internal resistance to change or when heavily immersed in technical projects.

"Keeping it fresh is really tough" commented Cheuk. "You can document procedures and so on, but keeping the human part is important."

"Maintain your engagement and enthusiasm," concurred Patricia Eng, the now-retired senior advisor for KM at the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

"Maintain your focus on the people you're trying to serve - not the management, but the people who do the work. I see my role as a go-between between users and managers," she said.

For Pamela Watson, knowledge manager at the Bank of England, the key challenge is getting all users engaged with 'social' knowledge-sharing tools.

"How can we make sure social includes everybody? How do we take everyone with us, not just the early social adopters?"

Asked which tools or resources they would least like to lose, Eng said: "The thing I would least like to lose would be the internal intranet. Don't take away my intranet!"

For Cheuk, the most important resource in KM is her staff. "I would least like to do without the people element, the passion and personality the KM team has - the will to serve. They are more important than any of the tools we have," she said.

The panel were next asked to share their thoughts on the key competencies of a KM manager and what questions they would ask prospective candidates to determine their suitability for the role.

For Hopper, the key questions to ask is: "How would you propose to get to know the work we do? How would you get to know my business?"

He noted that, while it can be useful to hire a KM professional from a different sector, he would expect that person to demonstrate a strong understanding of his business.

"You need to know the business to have credibility within it," he concluded.

Cheuk was more emphatic on the value of hiring KM expertise from outside of the firm's sector.

"KM skills are highly transferrable," she said. "What we are looking for is the ability to deal with ambiguity. Can you deal with ambiguity and egos?"

She also noted that KM managers need to "be comfortable with internal organisational politics" and how it works.

"The space is so dynamic - you need a sense of where the power is and where to show your credentials quickly," said Cheuk.

"Your internal connections and network are very important," concurred Watson.

Cheuk advised that, whatever success the KM team has, "the credit must always go back to the business".




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