While we speak often about the components of a knowledge strategy, a recent query reminded me that we don’t always give the same kind of attention to how we get the strategy development project started.
We need to think about what we’re attempting to do when we move into knowledge strategy development, and we all know that — as with any project — the process begins with giving attention to the background for the project, coming to some sort of statement about what we’ll do with a knowledge strategy and how we’ll go about getting there.
The Knowledge Services Audit. To get to that background — to find all the information we must have to build that background — we must conduct the knowledge services audit. And we recognize that it’s a sort of odd name, since “audit” is a term generally associated with financial services. In fact the term has a broader meaning, for “audit” can be used to suggest an analysis, for example, or an investigation, or a serious examination, and these are the types of activities we are undertaking when we conduct a knowledge services audit. But for some years now we have described the tool as the knowledge services audit and all of us working in knowledge services understand that — like all other management and process descriptions — the term used in any situation will reflect how such a process is spoken about in the organization or company using the process. With the knowledge services audit we even hear the process referred to as an “assessment” or — in some curious cases — as an “opportunity assessment,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. We use whatever terminology works in the organization for which we are conducting the audit.
But there’s an even earlier step, as I imply above. We have to take the idea of the knowledge audit and the knowledge strategy forward. We have to develop a proposal for undertaking the project, starting with the knowledge audit and moving forward until we’ve developed the knowledge strategy.
In my opinion the proposal (and the project) begins with Simon Sinek’s “golden circle,” which he put forward in his 2009 book Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. His concept is also the subject of what is referred to as the third most-viewed video on TEDx Talk, How Great Leaders Inspire Action.
Sinek’s golden circle? You start with “why” and before you go on to what you’re going to do or how you’re going to do it, you ask the basic question: Why are we doing this? And an easy way to think about the “why” is to think in terms of the main selling/learning points you want to bring to your client: Why should you be conducting the knowledge audit/assessment for the client? Is there a knowledge-sharing problem that needs to be addressed? Or an innovation that can be undertaken, for the benefit of the organization?
That said, you might next put forward a quick outline for your proposal, although a critical consideration requires understanding that there is probably no single proposal format that works for all companies and organizations. Indeed, it might even be said that since no two companies or organizations are exactly alike and since there is no way to prepare a single framework that works in all situations, you must take into consideration the individual and unique attributes of each environment, just as I mentioned above when I spoke about how the knowledge services audit might be referred to differently in different companies and organizations.
Nevertheless, with that caveat in mind, we go ahead and put forward our framework for a knowledge proposal, as the first step to conducting a knowledge audit and developing a knowledge strategy. If we’re brave enough, we might structure our example like the following (under a title of something like “The XYZ Company: Knowledge Services Assessment and Recommendations):
Project Objective. XYZ Company requires a study of knowledge services to determine if current procedures for implementing and managing knowledge services are operating efficiently and effectively. Knowledge services is defined as the management and service-delivery methodology that converges information management, knowledge management, and strategic learning into a single over-arching operational function. As we define knowledge services, we recognize that there are four benefits of a well-managed knowledge services function:
- Strengthened research
- Contextual decision making
- Accelerated innovation
- Exceptional knowledge asset management
Knowledge Services Audit. The proposed study will utilize an evaluation tool known as the knowledge services audit. The knowledge services audit combines the methodologies of the standard needs analysis (asking what resources and services people require to do their work), an information audit, which determines how resources and services are actually used, and the knowledge audit, which looks at knowledge assets themselves, that is, asking how knowledge assets are produced, by whom, and how they are acquired for the client population.
Statement of Work. The scope of the project requires an overview of procedures currently in place related to knowledge development, knowledge sharing, and knowledge utilization (KD/KS/KU) at XYZ Company. The knowledge services audit will identify, analyze, and assess current KD/KS/KU policies and procedures; the audit will include a survey of company management, selected staff, and other stakeholders (and, if appropriate, additional data-gathering through focus groups, departmental and/or sectional meetings, and individual interviews) to:
- identify who uses information in their work, what they value, what they use, and what they do not use
- identify and review current KD/KS/KU practices in different departments and sections of the company
- identify personnel responsible for KD/KS/KU management
- identify employees who use information in support of their work (contextual decision-making, knowledge asset management, etc.)
- identify best practices in knowledge services delivery and describe how these practices can be related to the XYZ Company’s KD/KS/KU framework
- review current work patterns and responsibilities to determine KD/KS/KU needs and expectations
- determine where a formal approach is required so staff can acquire information, knowledge, and learning to strengthen the quality of their work
- review personal knowledge management (PKM) procedures and applications, informal and interpersonal KD/KS/KU communications, and interactive relationship practices
- review formal and informal strategic learning and training activities.
Deliverables. At the conclusion of the knowledge audit/assessment, the client will receive:
- a report of the audit/assessment findings
- actionable recommendations for a best knowledge services solution
- an outline for the development of a knowledge strategy, including an implementation plan for enabling the company to transition from its present role to one in which organization-wide KD/KS/KU is incorporated into the organizational management structure
- a recommended timeline with reasonable and achievable milestones.
Following these guidelines, the knowledge strategist and his or her knowledge services team are providing the knowledge strategy the organization requires and, at the same time, positioning themselves for leadership as the organization moves to a knowledge culture.
More information relating to the knowledge audit is available at SMR Share, SMR International’s knowledge-capture site. See Getting to Success with KD/KS/KU with the Knowledge Audit (An Outline for Practitioners). A related document is The Knowledge Strategy: An Outline for Practitioners.