[Ed O’Neal and Guy St. Clair got to know one another at the recent KM Education Forum Summit in Washington, where they talked together about KM work in the corporate structure. Thanks to Ed for sharing his thoughts with SMR’s readers.]
In and out of KM for a career…
I spent 24 years in the military before transitioning to the corporate world as an Organizational Effectiveness Leader for Manufacturing and then to KM. In my experience, few people are what might be called “pure” KM practitioners. Everyone seems to come to this work after experience in IT, information management, education and training, human resources, or some core business activity (“the field”).
I have 7 people on my KM team, and some of my best people came from IT backgrounds, not because they build tools but because they help the team communicate KM issues in terms IT folks can relate to. Information managers are great, too. They bring organization and structure to how we store and retrieve information, and learning folks bring the need to connect KM to our learning systems as an enabler for organizational learning and capability building.
Then there are folks from the field, people like Kenneth, who was a communications systems technician. He does not have formal KM training but Kenneth is a great teacher, communicator and role model for continuous learning and for sharing what he knows. Learning basic KM principles and processes was not a huge hurdle for Kenneth – he had been doing this his whole career.
I really need people like Kenneth on my team because they understand the environments where KM gets used and creates business value. Kenneth worked offshore in the Gulf of Mexico for 28+ years (14 days on, 14 off) and knows the environment, challenges, and people – he knows what motivates and interests them. He now leads the Best Practice replication process for our offshore assets in the Gulf of Mexico, and Kenneth will likely do 4-5 years in a KM role and retire or go to a non-KM role in operations. I believe that people moving in and out of KM roles over a career is actually good for the person and good for the business.
In my company, there are about 20 people globally whose job title is something related to knowledge management. I have shared with all my team members that KM is not a career in and of itself. There are not enough positions to accommodate a real career ladder and leaving this work to return to the field is good for them and KM (and this applies to me as well).
KM requires energy, enthusiasm, fresh ideas and passion, and moving in and out of KM roles provides a break from the field and an opportunity to demonstrate an individual’s many possible contributions to the business. My “dream team” would be half formally trained KM practitioners and half people from the field… the best of both worlds.
[Ed O’Neal is Learning Transfer Manager, Upstream Americas, at Shell Exploration & Production, Learning & OE in Houston TX. He can be contacted at Edward.ONeal@shell.com.]