Knowledge Managers and KM Leaders

Originally published on September 26, 2016

Second in a series of 50 Knowledge Management Components (Slide 5 in KM 102)

Knowledge managers: people who spend all or a significant portion of their time leading knowledge management (KM) initiatives, sharing knowledge, and supporting others in sharing their knowledge

You will need to have at least one knowledge manager to lead the KM initiative. Knowledge management is everyone’s responsibility, not just the work of knowledge managers. But knowledge managers are needed to raise awareness, align knowledge actions with business priorities, promote a knowledge sharing culture, engage senior leadership, manage the infrastructure, and support all knowledge workers.

Good knowledge managers are part connector, part maven, and part salesman, to use Malcolm Gladwell’s terms from The Tipping Point. From Visualizing The Tipping Point by David Armano:

  • “Connectors are those with wide social circles. They are the hubs of the human social network and are responsible for the small world phenomenon. They connect people to each other.
  • Mavens are knowledgeable people. While most consumers wouldn’t know if a product were priced above the market rate by, say, 10 percent, mavens would. Bloggers who detect false claims in the media could also be considered mavens. They help people through sharing knowledge.
  • Salesmen are charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills. They exert soft influence rather than forceful power. Their source of influence may be the tendency of others, subconsciously, to imitate them rather than techniques of conscious persuasion. They use knowledge to engage and persuade.”

Knowledge managers know how to use KM tools, how to ask others for help, who should be connected to whom, who would benefit from a piece of information, and how to persuade others to use information effectively. One role of a knowledge manager is subscribing to many information sources, belonging to many communities, and reading many publications, always looking out for what may be useful to others in the organization.

All good managers should do these things, but they may not how to best do so. A KM program can support managers in all of these activities. Good knowledge managers regularly inform their management colleagues about an article, book, presentation, or con call which was relevant to their areas of responsibility. These colleagues can subscribe to the same sources and join the same communities, but if not, they will appreciate being selectively alerted when content applies to them.

All knowledge workers in the organization should view sharing, innovation, reuse, collaboration, and learning as part of their jobs. But as Malcolm Gladwell wrote, not everyone is a connector, maven, or salesman. So those who play these roles, and especially, those who combine more than one of these roles, can function as power knowledge workers, facilitating knowledge flow throughout the organization.

Good knowledge managers have worked in many different roles so that they have experienced first-hand the needs of employees. They know about the organization, including who does what, where to find information, and the ways things get done. Within the organization, they are active in communities, subscribe to newsletters, attend seminars and conference calls, and visit web sites. Outside, they attend seminars and conferences, read books, subscribe to periodicals, visit blogs and web sites, and participate in online communities.

Knowledge managers look for knowledge-related needs that are not currently met, and try to develop ways to meet these needs using people, process, or technology. They like to help others who are looking for information, trying to figure out how to use tools, or seeking others. They introduce people to one another, invite them to join communities, and pass along items of interest which they encounter.

Knowledge managers fill the roles of KM leaders, project leaders, and knowledge assistants. Here is the profile of a good knowledge manager.

Profile of an Effective Knowledge Manager

Experience

  1. Management: supervised people, led work teams, managed a business or functional unit
  2. Project management: successfully managed projects to meet deadlines, provide deliverables, and adhere to budgets
  3. Communications: published documents, gave presentations, and managed communications programs
  4. 50 Knowledge Management Components: for many of these, performed evaluations, led implementation projects, and used them regularly
  5. Reputation: has earned the respect of people both inside and outside of the organization based on accomplishments, networking, and communications

Skills

  1. Leadership: able to influence others, lead work teams, and manage projects
  2. Communications: excellent at writing, speaking, presenting, and using a variety of communications vehicles
  3. Process and Technology: able to quickly learn and master a wide variety of tools and processes
  4. 50 Knowledge Management Components: expert at using many of these
  5. Analysis: able to seek input, analyze information, consider alternatives, and make good decisions

Attributes

1. Adaptable

  • Flexible: willing to try different courses of action
  • Resilient: overcomes difficulties, withstands setbacks, and meets challenges
  • Open-minded: considers the opinions of others

2. Assertive

  • Takes initiative
  • Consistently achieves challenging objectives and meets commitments
  • Makes effective decisions in a timely manner

3. Calm

  • Maintains a high level of performance even when under pressure
  • Even-tempered even when dealing with unpleasant circumstances
  • Balances logic and emotions when interacting with others

4. Client-focused

  • Understands clients’ needs and concerns
  • Responds promptly and effectively to client needs
  • Eager to be of help to users

5. Creative

  • Develops innovative approaches to problem solving
  • Invents new ways of doing things
  • Willing to try out bold ideas

6. Collaborative

  • Acknowledges others’ contributions
  • Works effectively with individuals of different backgrounds and from different groups
  • Willing to seek help as needed
  • Shares personal knowledge
  • Builds partnerships and networks

7. Curious

  • Stays current in the field
  • Open to new ideas
  • Asks others to share their knowledge and experience

8. Dynamic

  • Gets results
  • Balances analysis with action
  • Sets high standards

9. Influential

  • Gains support and commitment from others even without formal authority
  • Resolves differences by determining needs and forging solutions that benefit all parties
  • Facilitates teamwork across organizational boundaries

10. Personable

  • Gets along well with many different types of people
  • Nurtures new relationships
  • Well-liked as a manager, employee, and colleague

Behaviors

1. SIRCL

  • Share what you have learned, created, and proved
  • Innovate to be more creative, inventive, and imaginative
  • Reuse what others have already learned, created, and proved
  • Collaborate with others to take advantage of what they know
  • Learn by doing, from others, and from existing information

2. SAFARIS

  • Share a link, tip, trick, or insight
  • Ask a question to collaborate with others
  • Find a resource, person, or site
  • Answer someone’s question
  • Recognize a colleague’s contribution or achievement
  • Inform about what you are working on, where you are, or where you will be
  • Suggest an idea and solicit input using a poll

3. COLLABORATION

  • Communicate
  • Obtain
  • Locate
  • Learn
  • Assist
  • Build
  • Offer
  • Resolve
  • Ask
  • Transfer
  • Innovate
  • Onboard
  • Network

Tasks Performed

KM leaders should:

1. Lead by example

  • Practice what you preach
  • Become an expert in the tools that you want others to use
  • Get respected leaders to model desired behaviors

2. Set three goals for everyone

  • Simple, fundamental, measurable
  • Consistently communicate and leverage
  • Widely communicate and inspect

3. Recognize those who demonstrate the desired behaviors

  • Praise
  • Reward
  • Promote

KM leaders need to perform the following tasks:

  1. Improve business results by institutionalizing a knowledge sharing culture. With the help of the senior executive and the other leaders in the organization, take steps to achieve a positive culture which rewards caring, sharing, and daring.
  2. Define, maintain, and execute the KM implementation plan for the organization. This is the overall program plan for the KM initiative.
  3. Define, communicate, and implement people, process, and technology components for sharing, innovating, reusing, collaborating, and learning. These are the core elements that enable the KM program.
  4. Define KM measurements and rewards for the organization and KM goals for all relevant members. This aligns individual and organizational objectives.
  5. Report regularly on the organization’s performance against KM metrics. This lets the leadership team know how the program is progressing.
  6. Implement action plans for people, process, and technology projects. These are the detailed implementation plans for each project leader.
  7. Lead the organization’s KM teams. These include the program staff, the core team, and the KM community.
  8. Manage the organization’s KM communications. This keeps all users informed on the program.
  9. Actively participate in communities. Model the desired behaviors by being visible as a leader and member of multiple internal and external communities.
  10. Network with other KM Leaders. Demonstrate the use of social networks to stay current in the field of knowledge management.

From Tips for starting a KM or ESN program:

  1. Articulate the end-state vision: what does it look like when it is working?
  2. Start working on getting to the vision right now, in small steps, and with measurable progress.
  3. Define compelling use cases: don’t talk about adoption or rollout of a tool — talk about the advantages of using it over existing alternatives.

Insights

1. Peter West: “The differentiator rests with the organization-wide awareness-raising, focus, passion and leadership that a knowledge manager can instill. The concern that many have with the formal identification of a knowledge manager (or a chief knowledge officer) is that it may inadvertently convey the message that knowledge processes and, more importantly, knowledge responsibilities have been centralized. Unfortunately, some knowledge managers become knowledge bottlenecks instead of knowledge conduits.”

2. Patti Anklam in the SIKM Leaders Community:

  • “Share Relentlessly what you have created and what you are learning. Be a role model for those around you.
  • Search First looking to find, reuse, and refine what others have done before creating something from scratch. Listen to what others are saying.
  • Communicate, Ask and Answer in the Open using email only when absolutely necessary. Make your work and your talents discoverable by working out loud. TAG, TAG, TAG what you create so others can find it.
  • Seek Active Collaboration for tasks both small and large. The sum is always greater than the parts.
  • Build Social Capital as if it matters as much as financial. Build your personal network and connect people so they can enhance theirs.
  • Act on Your Ideas for creating and sharing knowledge. Leverage company KM resources.
  • Improve your Knowledge and Skills with KM Tools and Practices by learning one new thing every day (and then go to #1 and share).”

3. Dave Simmons:

  • “Drive for most valued information in an organization
  • Write once and use many ways
  • Spot information pain as a KM opportunity
  • Link all KM content to business metrics
  • Start small and build both supporters and content (Sinclair “Stealth KM”)
  • Be prepared to speak IT, BusinessSpeak, budget, Content, Process, and HR when addressing KM
  • Know your constituents’ metrics for success”

4. Jean-Claude Monney in 3 tips to increase company value creation and productivity:

  • “Be a Knowledge Citizen — Display accountability for sharing, re-using and improving collective knowledge to create greater value.
  • Be Social with a purpose — Be an active participant of your organization’s Communities of Practice.
  • Be Digital — Studies show that 50% of your productivity comes from individual task performance and 50% from collaboration.”

5. Michel J. Boustani: “The knowledge manager needs also to have a constant and well established connection with upper management or the dedicated sponsor. This level of buy-in would free the KM organization to evolve and reach most of the people to engage into KM’s culture!”

6. Ramnarayan Parameswaran: “FLAVOR:

  • F — Forethought
  • L — Leadership
  • A — Attitude
  • V — Vision
  • O — Organized
  • R — Responsive”

7. Angelo Mohanan: “While most experts have talked about the Sharing, Networking, and Innovating aspects of KM, not many have mentioned the need for the Knowledge Manager to acquire subject knowledge. Without that, you may not stay relevant in business for long.”

8. Howard Cohen: ‘Show up. In practice, all these things are great but you have to meet people at some point to help in building trust.”

9. Eric Lambert: “Most future surgeons during their fellowship start to learn one thing. Only those who follow this principle will succeed, not as a surgeon, but as recognized leaders:

  • See one
  • Do one
  • Teach one

10. Angelo Mohanan: “Unfortunately, most organizations prefer to employ people from consulting workforce as Knowledge Managers. While this is may be best for business considering their knowledge of subject matter and consultant networks, they fail to understand the KM concepts and logics — forget innovation.”

11. Jian Ann Howard Wong: “One of the key words here is ‘sharing.’ For knowledge managers, there is this huge problem if they like to take the back seat, observe the process and later giving this big reveal, which the people they are managing may simply take it as it is without perhaps questioning its viability or authority. Some knowledge managers also like to simply input a small portion if things go off tangent, otherwise they will just withhold their thoughts. We need managers to share, because this information can either make or break something. We also need such managers to be humble instead of being prideful of their knowledge.

12. Eugene J. Doody: “Now if we could only get all managers to adapt to this philosophy, the working world would become a better place. The biggest roadblock to overcome will always be the selfish acts of what’s in it for me syndrome. Most managers top down executives included need to see what’s good for the shop floor will always reap benefits to the bottom line and sometimes a simple good morning is all it takes to change a dismal day into a productive one.”

Resources

  1. 7 Habits of Highly Effective Knowledge Managers
  2. Knowledge Management Leaders & Community Managers: What’s Needed?
  3. What Attributes Should the CKO Possess? by Bill Kaplan
  4. The Competencies, Roles and Responsibilities of a Knowledge Manager by Bill Kaplan
  5. Knowledge Managers: Who They Are and What They Do by James D. McKeen and D. Sandy Staples
  6. Knowledge management job description by Steve Denning
  7. Organizing for Knowledge Management by David Skyrme
  8. KM Champion Guidelines by Patrick Lambe and Edgar Tan
  9. Knowledge Managers by Nick Milton
  10. Knowledge Management Roles by Nick Milton
  11. Example Knowledge Management role description by Nick Milton
  12. KM Roles and Responsibilities by Ron Young
  13. Knowledge Management Positions and Roles by Alan Frost
  14. SIKM Leaders Community thread on knowledge manager job responsibilities
  15. SIKM Leaders Community thread on KM competency frameworks
  16. How to Be a Great Community Manager
  17. Trust me, I’m a community evangelist
  18. Successful Knowledge Leadership edited by Helen Roche
  19. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen R. Covey
  20. Principle Centered Leadership by Stephen R. Covey