Last week, in a series on knowledge management (KM), I started to talk about how you can bring a knowledge management strategy to life – how you can move beyond the soundbite to a set of coherent decisions and practices in this area. By doing so, you will elevate your professional services company out of the mediocre masses to one that is genuinely set to deliver greater value to your clients, to exceed in your market and to scale efficiently. Having covered some primary components – a decision as to the dominant KM philosophy (codification – or – personalisation) you subscribe to, the key foundations and enablers of such a strategy – this week, we start to explore some practical knowledge management levers (i.e. ideas, practices, tools). It is these levers that, ultimately, impact your day-to-day operational practices.
The schematic in last week’s blog referred to eight such knowledge management levers. Of course, there is no magic number here; rather, I just intend to serve up some ideas as to the type of initiatives you could invest in. As it happens, the list below describes fairly accurately the KM investment we initiated at Moorhouse to aid its scaling from singleton start-up to a £multi-million business. All I would say up front is that it is better to do a few of these well than to set off on too ambitious a spread of sub-initiatives that peter out over time: so you may want to think about a subset of these if you are early in the scaling up journey. Conversely, you should not be unambitious as it this this level of holistic effort that really helps differentiate a professional service company from its competitors – building critical new capabilities of value.
The eight levers I am going to unpack are as follows:
Lever 01: Form a KM team
Lever 02: Run regular knowledge fairs
Lever 03: Develop a who-knows-what directory
Lever 04: Systematic development of your intellectual property (IP)
Lever 05: Develop and curate your knowledge repositories – tactical/strategic
Lever 06: Organizational learning and aligning your KM and HR strategies
Lever 07: Undertake regular KM audits
Lever 08: Regular staff communication
This essay will detail the first two and we will continue on the journey with the remainder next week.
Knowledge Management Levers | Capturing them in your KM Strategy
If this blog series has inspired you to initiate a KM initiative then I encourage you to detail the levers you will invoke within your newly-penned KM Strategy document. A simple template to adopt here might be:
- Lever Title
- Current Capability – an honest description as to where you are starting from
- Lever Description – a few paragraphs describing what this lever involves
- Best Practice Examples – look outwards to research organizations doing this really well – if you can find such exemplar reference points make note of them here
- Objectives – a short set of time-bound deliverables (say for next 12 months) that demonstrably take this lever forward
- Team – detail the team working on this aspect with clear single-person lead accountability
Ok; let’s get going …
Lever 01: Form a KM team
First off, you need to assign a team to the task of bringing KM to life in your business. One way of doing this is to have a rotating KM Lead – say for a one-year tenure – working with a small team of colleague volunteers. The cultural expectation in your organization should be that everyone contributes to firm-building activity as well as client delivery; certainly it is this level of wider contribution that marks colleagues out for promotion and in-year bonuses. The idea of rotating tenure, however, ensures that momentum is maintained – new energies and ideas are constantly brought to bear.
This team – well led – should be empowered to craft the KM Strategy and bring it to life. If you have the luxury of growing to a certain size (typically 100+ staff) you may want to consider a full-time KM professional. On the journey to such a sized business, however, it will inevitably be a well-motivated, part-time team that oversees your knowledge management levers.
An appointed KM Manager should be given two pieces of advice: to run the initiative as a scoped project (clear deliverables, regular progress checkpoints etc) and to inject their own personality and sense of fun into the endeavour. Knowledge management can be viewed as a somewhat stuffy (academic) endeavour by some – the key is to humanise it.
To illustrate: Scott, a very talented consultant at Moorhouse, memorably reinforced the impact of KM communications during his one-year tenure as the initiative lead by always dressing up in a purple morphsuit (changing into his pseudo alter ego: “KM man”) to deliver his missives at firm events. This will probably be a cultural-stretch for many but the point is there for all – this needn’t be a dry change initiative!
Figure: Not your conventional knowledge manager!
Lever 02: Run regular knowledge fairs
If you have decided to implement a personalisation-centric KM strategy then this is a particularly important knowledge management lever to pull.
The focus of this lever is to ensure that you – systematically – facilitate the social-professional opportunities for all members of your team to get to know each other and, more importantly, to get to know-what-they-know. This acquaintance needn’t be at a granular level; rather, it is a case of appreciating that Carrie is a credible practitioner-expert in topic X, Paul in topic Y etc.
If this level of intra-team knowledge is enabled then – assuming you also have a collegial, non-hierarchical culture – you will foster an environment whereby people thought-bubble: “I remember Dahlia talking about a similar challenge to the one I am facing – I will give her a call now to see how she resolved it”.
This knowledge management lever is supported whenever your whole team gets together physically (as such awareness is inherently social in nature) but is especially oiled when such regular gatherings have an explicit, organized knowledge fair component.
What do I mean by a knowledge fair?
Well, let me describe a regular feature in our quarterly team escapes. We would invariably put aside 1-3 hours at each such event to facilitate the cross-sharing of recent client delivery experience. In some cases, this would literally resemble a fair. We would take over a room and ask each client-project team to assemble materials on their table (market stall) that highlighted the unique nature of their delivery challenge and emphasised all innovative solutions/approaches. The KM team (facilitating this exercise) might add a twist to the exercise (e.g. prizes for best deliverable on display, most innovative stall, best fancy dress?). Everyone then was just encouraged to walk-around and see what their colleagues had been engaged on in the previous months.
Figure: A knowledge speed date
Even as the MD of the business (and nominally the best informed of the breadth of our company’s affairs), I was always blown-away by aspects I had no previous sight of and, inevitably, was always able to join up ideas across projects (links that hitherto not been obvious).
Another variant on this format is the speed-date format whereby, in a similar coordinated exercise, everybody in the firm (or your practice area) was scheduled to speak to everyone else against a deliberate idea-exchange agenda (e.g. “share any best practice ideas you have worked on in the recent period”). Again, you would invariably come away brimming with ideas from such a session but also, critically, with a topped-up understanding of who-knows-what.
This knowledge management lever is about ensuring such invaluable sessions are regularly scheduled, well prepared for and efficiently coordinated.
So, what’s next?
Next week, I will continue this sub-series on knowledge management by detailing lever 03 (Develop a who-knows-what directory) illustrative practical knowledge management levers (ideas, initiatives, tools etc) that can bring a KM strategy to life.
Hopefully, you’ll join us on this journey. It’s totally free, and you don’t have to be a Method Grid customer (though you’re more than welcome to sign up for a free trial here).
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The first blog in this series can be found here > knowledge management in a professional services business