Effective Strategies to Secure Middle Management Commitment to Knowledge Management

At a time when operational middle managers are faced with sometimes contradictory demands from top management and from the field, we’d like to offer you some food for thought to convince them to embark on a knowledge management approach.

Middle managers play a unique role in knowledge management: they are the key players, and the hardest to convince. Top management is easily persuaded, practitioners and experts may resist, but you will always find pioneers. The head of a department, an entity or an industrial site is not opposed in principle, but pragmatically: how can we make knowledge governance a priority in the midst of a very busy agenda and short-term operational objectives? How much will it cost? What resources will have to be directed towards KM?

The answer lies in:

  1. Targeted, fast-to-implement operational KM initiatives, integrating relevance (value creation) and opportunity (it’s the right time).
  2. An ambition to innovate, stand out or succeed.
  3. A business need to increase an operating margin, improve a process, reduce the impact of staff turnover, etc.

1 KM provides short-term solutions

Knowledge management provides short-term solutions. For example:

  • Prepare succession planning by supporting the transition from one employee to another. A KM approach identifies critical knowledge, proposes quick-to-deploy collaborative tools, and characterizes the tacit elements of a workstation.
  • Facilitate the integration of new recruits into teams, by making knowledge and know-how available in a variety of forms (text, video capture of gestures, etc.).
  • Retain newly-hired young people by implementing all the modern means to facilitate learning (by peers, via relevant content, etc.).
  • Capitalize on expertise in a critical area of knowledge and share it with others.
  • Carry out postmortem on recurring projects or work packages, or even pool problem-solving solutions, in order to reduce costs or increase quality.
  • Share structured content between teams, going beyond a simple document base (but starting by tidying up the office automation chaos will probably be a necessary first step…).

2 KM helps transform business processes

With the support of top management, the head of a process or function can propose to transform a business process.

  • Take customer relations, for example. Integrated into a call center, knowledge management not only provides better answers to questions from customers, prospects or partners, but also offers targeted, anticipatory information. It feeds bots with relevant answers. From being reactive, the call center becomes pro-active.
  • Another example: the head of a design office, a consulting firm or a law firm can launch a KM initiative within his or her perimeter. A local approach is always possible, and is all the easier if the whole organization is on the move (pooling of intelligence functions, shared platform, knowledge-sharing recognition policy, etc.).
  • A plant manager can reduce the impact of turnover on the shop floor by launching a video-capture approach to machine use, focusing on key gestures.

These targeted, gradual initiatives are actually less risky than the implementation of a management software package, which requires a big-bang approach that is always painful. The very essence of KM is to spiral outwards. You have to find a subject to get a core group to adhere to, then progress by gradually bringing on board new collaborators and new areas.

3 KM, a driver of change in management practices

Even more, middle managers can discover that KM is a means of managing their teams. This is not self-evident, and requires an adapted management style, such as de-centering for an expert manager. Relying on a trusted knowledge manager and incorporating daily encouragement for the KM dynamic into management practices are other success factors.

By giving employees the opportunity to map, capitalize on and share their business knowledge, and by using tools to show the reality of their knowledge and expertise, this manager will create a dynamic of pride in belonging, a sense of ownership of a war chest. Observable cases bear witness to this.

Many middle managers, full of ambition or simply looking to fulfil a professional project, are bound to be interested in these pilot approaches, which have been tried and tested elsewhere. For all organizational functions, it is now possible to reassure oneself by observing achievements in other organizations.

ROI is not the metric

To be convincing, knowledge managers know that they can’t use the most important metric of all, ROI, because they know that this metric is ineffective for measuring the value of KM initiatives. It’s in the knowledge manager’s best interest to focus on two tools that have proved their worth in many organizations:

  1. Benchmarking at the start of the KM process, by showing middle managers what is being done in organizations similar to their own.
  2. Testimonials from the field along the way, by disseminating KM success stories involving employees.

Gonzague Chastenet de Gery & Louis-Pierre Guillaume

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