Journal of Knowledge Management Practice, May 2005

360 Degree Knowledge Management

Arun Hariharan, Bharti Cellular Ltd.

ABSTRACT:

This paper attempts to provide a guide to organizations to get the maximum real business results out of their Knowledge Management (KM) program. It introduces the 360-degree Knowledge Management Model, which enables a single-window access to all Knowledge within and outside an organization that is relevant to the most critical aspects of the business and shows how to organize this Knowledge around the most critical business measures. 360-degree KM enables companies to maximize their effectiveness in managing and deploying knowledge relevant to improving performance on their top priority business measures. In addition to introducing the 360-degree KM Model, the paper also raises and answers six vital How questions about KM, including How to keep KM relevant to the business; How to smartly focus KM efforts and How to ensure real business results and performance improvements through KM. Most companies today suffer not from lack of knowledge, but from sub-optimal ability to effectively deploy all available knowledge and expertise relevant to their top priority business measures – resulting in non-attainment of their full potential in business performance. The 360-degree KM Model introduced in this paper and the answers to the six How questions on KM are an attempt to help organizations unleash the power of integrating knowledge and expertise along six Knowledge Dimensions for each of their top priority business measures – and thereby help raise their business performance to its full potential.


Introduction

Try answering the following questions with regard to your organization:

      Do I know what are my most critical business measures?

      Do I have a measurement system that helps me know how we are doing?

      Do I know what our customers think?

      Do I know who are the experts in my organization who can help improve our performance on each critical measure?

      Do these experts form a closely-knit community and constantly collaborate with each other?

      For each critical measure, do we have a knowledge-base that provides easy access anytime to all relevant internal and external knowledge that can help us improve our performance on that measure?

      Do we effectively deploy the wealth of internal and external knowledge and expertise available with us to achieve maximum business results?

      Am I able to keep track of such deployment or application of my organization’s collective knowledge and measure the impact of this on my top priority business measures?

      For each of my critical business measures, do I get a single-window access to internal measurement data, customer-voice, relevant internal and external knowledge or best practices and the entire community of experts that would together help improve performance on that measure?

If your answer to all of the above questions is Yes, you are among the minority of organizations worldwide that have a truly effective Knowledge Management (KM) system. If you answered No to some of these questions – particularly the last three questions - the “360-degree” KM approach could help your organization. The objective of this paper is to attempt to help your organization get maximum real business results out of your KM program by adopting a 360-degree approach to KM.

After briefly touching upon “What is KM” and “Why KM”, the paper primarily focuses on six “how” themes:

1.      How to keep KM relevant to the business

2.      How to keep your KM efforts focused

3.      How to ensure real business results and performance improvements through KM

4.      How KM really works

5.      How to enable a single-window (360-degree) access to all Knowledge within and outside your organization that is relevant to your business

6.      How to organize this Knowledge around your most critical business measures to enable your company manage and improve its performance on these measures.

What Is Knowledge Management?

While KM has many definitions, for most business organizations, KM is what KM does – for business results and for creating an organizational culture of uninhibited sharing and replication of Knowledge. KM is a tool to achieve business objectives better and faster through an integrated set of initiatives, systems and behavioral interventions – aimed at promoting smooth flow and sharing of knowledge relevant to your business, and elimination of re-invention.

Why Knowledge Management?

Knowledge Management effectively deployed, can be a powerful tool or enabler of :

1.      Consistent customer experience by reducing variation in performance across time or across different geographies or units of your business

2.      Speed in business results by eliminating re-invention

3.      Empowering each individual employee to leverage the collective knowledge of the entire organization in serving customers

4.      Converting individual knowledge into re-usable organizational knowledge – to the extent possible


The Six “How” Themes

For a majority of organizations worldwide, their definition of What they mean by KM and Why they embarked upon a formal KM program would largely be as given above, though they may be worded differently. We now move on to the main theme of this paper, which is How. We will try to answer the following questions.

1.      How to keep KM relevant to the business

2.      How to focus your KM efforts and time to effectively deliver results in top priority business areas rather than spreading your KM resources too thin

3.      How to ensure real business results and performance improvements through KM

4.      How KM really works

5.      How to enable a single-window (360-degree) access to all Knowledge within and outside your organization that is relevant to your business

6.      How to organize this Knowledge around your most critical business measures to enable your company manage and improve its performance on these measures

Start by identifying and defining a few vital measures that are most critical to measure the strength of your business. We will simply call these “top priority” measures. Most organizations already have a number of measures or KPIs (key performance indicators) – both financial and non-financial. Your top priority measures could be selected from these. Perhaps your organization has a Balanced Scorecard or a similar performance measurement system. Your top priority measures could be from this system. In any event, ensure that the list of top priority measures you select is representative of your critical business processes – in particular, your directly customer-impacting processes or key revenue or value driving processes. At the same time, make sure that you select a manageable number of top priority measures. About fifteen measures is a good number to ensure that you are able to focus your KM efforts, time and resources effectively and get real results quickly. You can always add more measures later, after your KM processes and culture have got established in the initial fifteen areas – which are, in any case, the most critical fifteen measures of your business.

Communities Of Experts And Knowledge Champions

Having identified your top priority measures, create a Community of Experts around each measure. Identify one of the experts as a Knowledge Champion for each community. Typically a person who owns a business process would be a knowledge champion for measures related to their process. Each community could have several experts, but it is critical to make only one person the knowledge champion. It is important that this person has high levels of expectations, buy-in and enthusiasm with regard to your KM program. The knowledge champion must also have high stakes in the success of the community and in collaboration, sharing and replication of knowledge among the members of their community (here we are talking about knowledge that is specifically relevant to improving performance on their measure). It is also important that the knowledge champion is suitably empowered to demand and get any necessary behavioral alignment from members of their community. The role of the knowledge champion and the community of experts is to form a pool of talent in their area of expertise and to ensure that this pool is available in its entirety to all parts of the organization. They must collaborate and promote knowledge sharing and replication in their area. The knowledge champion must own the Knowledge Repository for their measure (more on repositories below).

The First Three “How” Themes Have Been Addressed

Thus far, we identified the top priority business measures for our organization, created a community of experts for each measure and nominated an enthusiastic and empowered knowledge champion for each community who has high expectations from their KM program. With this, we just finished addressing the first three “How” themes - How to keep KM relevant to your business; How to keep your KM efforts focused and How to ensure real business results and performance improvements through KM. You would notice we haven’t even talked about technology or intranets yet. Many companies having invested heavily in sophisticated technology solutions for KM, have been disappointed at the results. The reason for this is that they jumped into the technology without addresing the first three How themes.

How KM Really Works

Actually what KM does is disarmingly simple. All it does is provide the members of each community of experts (which is around one of your top priority business measures and which has a knowledge champion) access to each other and to the Repository of documented knowledge relevant to improving performance on their top priority measure. KM also makes each member of a community want to collaborate with the rest of their community and others and want to promote a culture of sharing and replication of knowledge relevant to their community. In the initial phases of your KM program, they may want to do so because your organization may put in place some motivational factors to encourage this kind of behavior – perhaps it is part of their performance appraisal or you have special rewards and recognition for knowledge sharing and replication.

As a community experiences faster results and improved performance on their top priority measure you will find that they want to “do” KM anyway because it is helping them in their own jobs, whether you give them special rewards or not, whether KM is part of their performance appraisals or not, and whether you call it KM or not. A sure sign of the increasing KM maturity of your organization is that you will find that your formal KM program evaporates or gets embedded into your people’s regular jobs and work processes. And when this maturity peaks, collaborative innovation, knowledge sharing and replication become your organization’s way of life; and re-invention and NIH (not invented here) get a richly deserved deathblow.

The 360-Degree Knowledge Management Model

The 360-degree approach to KM is about unleashing the combined power of knowledge and expertise from within and outside your organization along six inter-related dimensions for each of your top priority business measures. 360-degree KM provides each knowledge champion and each expert single-window access to all knowledge and expertise from within and outside your organization that is relevant to their top priority measure. It enables your knowledge champions and experts manage and improve performance on these measures better, faster and with zero re-invention. And when each community does so, because your KM communities are organized around your most critical (top priority) business measures, your overall business performance is bound to improve.

The Six Dimensions Of 360-degree KM

You can think of the 360-degree KM approach as a central core (representing a top priority business measure) with six circles around it (each circle represents one Knowledge Dimension related to that top priority measure). See Figure1: The 360-degree KM Model. At the center or core of the 360-degree KM model is your list of top priority business measures. For each top priority measure, 360-degree KM creates a Knowledge Repository in which is organized all relevant knowledge and expertise - that would be relevant to helping the knowledge champion and experts for that measure to improve performance on that measure - under six Knowledge Dimensions.

Dimension 1 is the community of experts itself, headed by the knowledge champion. This is the most critical dimension. This is the only one of the six dimensions that is a living dimension – the other five dimensions exist to aid this critical dimension. Dimension 1 ensures that each member of each community has easy access to the rest of their community, provides them facilities for collaboration, knits them into a common pool of talent that is available to all parts of the organization. Communities of experts may also include experts from outside the organization.

Dimension 2 for each community is the internal measurement system or dashboard for their top priority measure. This provides the knowledge champion and experts a view to how they are doing on their measure, helps them assess performance on their measure across different business units, across time periods and against benchmarks or targets. It helps them to understand where they are and where they need to go.

Dimension 3 is the voice of customers relevant to each top priority measure. Like most organizations, your company might have periodical customer-satisfaction surveys. Perhaps you could identify one or a set of customer satisfaction indices or measures from your customer-satisfaction measurement system, that are related to each of your top priority internal measures. For example, for a service company that sends monthly bills to its customers, an internal measure could be the percentage of bills with errors. A related customer satisfaction index for this measure could be the customer satisfaction survey score on the index where your customers rate their satisfaction with accuracy of bills. You should be able to map each of your customer-impacting measures from your top priority list with related customer satisfaction indices.

Dimensions 2 and 3 together ensure that your knowledge champions and experts get a balanced picture of their own internal measurements as well as what customers think.

Dimension 4 is the knowledge base of all knowledge internal to your organization that could be useful in helping the knowledge champion and experts improve performance on their top priority business measure. Types of internal knowledge could include best practices or lessons learned shared by employees, standard documented processes, quality improvement projects, innovative ideas, FAQs, internal benchmarking, e-learning modules or training material.

Dimension 5 is the knowledge base of all knowledge external to your organization that could be useful in helping the knowledge champion and experts improve performance on their top priority business measure. Types of external knowledge could include external best practices or lessons learned, case studies, articles, information on markets, customers, competitors, the regulatory environment or technology trends.

While any internal or external knowledge could be shared and published in your repositories of internal and external knowledge under Dimensions 4 and 5, the key is to ensure that all knowledge that enters your knowledge base has some potential, if applied, to improve performance on the relevant top priority business measure. While all employees should be allowed to submit relevant internal or external knowledge into your knowledge base, a simple rule that must be followed by knowledge champions and experts before publishing a knowledge submission on their knowledge repository is to ask “Does this have some potential replication value? If this is applied, is there a potential to improve performance on my top priority measure?” If the answer is “Yes”, they should go ahead and publish the knowledge submission.

Many organizations have a taxonomy or classification scheme to organize knowledge in their knowledge-bases to facilitate easy search and retrieval. Having standard formats for documenting best practices, lessons learned or case-studies also helps to keep your content concise and replication-oriented.

Balancing relevance and content-quality with culture-building : Knowledge champions and experts have a vital role to play in ensuring high quality content in their knowledge bases, high rates of replication of published knowledge and real business results from these replications. At the same time, they are also responsible for building a culture of knowledge sharing in the organization. They must handle this responsibility with maturity. In the initial stages of your KM program, knowledge champions and experts may be a little liberal and accept most knowledge submissions in order to encourage more knowledge sharing across the organization. Once a culture of knowledge sharing is fairly established, the quality screws could be gradually tightened. Even then, any knowledge submission that cannot be published must be handled sensitively and it is the responsibility of the knowledge champion to ensure that the concerned employee continues contributing in future.

Dimension 6 consists of all replications or applications of knowledge from your knowledge base that result in performance improvement in the relevant top priority measure – in other words, demonstrated business results. Just like internal and external knowledge, it is important to document (in a standard format) and publish each completed knowledge replication with demonstrated business results in the relevant knowledge repository. This calls for discipline – but this is critical for three reasons. Firstly, it helps to capture the results of KM in terms of real business measures – something that many companies struggle with. Secondly, documenting and publishing replications creates visibility and encourages more replications & more results. Thirdly, hardly any replication is a 100% copy of an existing knowledge submission. Almost every knowledge replication would have used an existing knowledge submission as a base and then adapted, customized or built upon it to meet the current requirement. In this process, new knowledge is added to the knowledge base. Thus, almost every replication not only brings business results, but also adds new knowledge to your knowledge base. KM is a never-ending cycle and your knowledge repositories keep growing each time knowledge is replicated. See Figure2: The KM Cycle.

 


Establish Standard KM Processes

The effectiveness of your 360-degree KM in delivering real business results will go up exponentially if you establish standard processes for sharing and replication of knowledge. Do not leave submission and publication of knowledge in your knowledge repositories, and the deployment of your organization’s knowledge-assets to chance. Put in place simple but robust processes that make it mandatory – not optional – to share internal best practices and other internal and external knowledge relevant to your top priority measures. Likewise, put in place a process to close-loop every knowledge submission that is published in your knowledge-bases. Business results of KM come only from replication – therefore, replication cannot be a matter of choice or chance. Eventually, as KM maturity increases, these processes will get embedded in your regular work processes.

Role Of Technology In 360-Degree KM

Company after company worldwide has learned the hard (and expensive) way, and, in the process, ensured that it is now fairly well accepted that KM is not about IT. The big challenges lie in top management conviction and seriousness, keeping KM relevant to the business and in the people and culture arena. That said, there is no doubt that technology can play a vital enabling role in each of the six dimensions of 360-degree KM. Let us see how.

In Dimension 1 (community of experts), IT can knit the experts together into a virtual community and aid collaboration. IT can also help to provide the entire organization easy access to experts in each top priority measure through corporate yellow pages or similar tools. In Dimension 2 (internal measurements) and Dimension 3 (customer voice), most companies today use IT in some form for measurement and reporting. In Dimensions 4, 5 and 6 (knowledge bases of internal knowledge, external knowledge and replications), many companies use their Intranet and KM portals to organize knowledge and provide search and retrieval capability. Finally, IT can effectively provide a single window access around each top priority measure, to knowledge and expertise in the all the six knowledge dimensions relevant to that measure.

Conclusion

This paper attempts to provide a guide to organizations to get the maximum real business results out of your KM program. It introduces the “360-degree KM” model, which enables a single-window access to all Knowledge within and outside your organization that is relevant to the most critical aspects of your business and shows how to organize this Knowledge around your most critical business measures. 360-degree KM enables your company to maximize its effectiveness in managing and deploying knowledge relevant to improving its performance on these top priority measures.

The paper primarily focuses on trying to answer How questions about KM - How to keep KM relevant to your business; How to smartly focus your KM efforts and How to ensure real business results and performance improvements through KM. Not all the concepts introduced in this paper are new. Most companies have internal performance measures and customer satisfaction indices. Many companies have KM systems with knowledge repositories. Some even have active communities of experts. Unfortunately, in many companies, while all or most of this is available, they are disjointed and all over the place, present in bits and pieces and sometimes not available where and when required most. No wonder most companies today suffer not from lack of knowledge, but from sub-optimal ability to effectively deploy all available knowledge and expertise relevant to their top priority business measures – resulting in non-attainment of their full potential in business performance.

The 360-degree KM Model introduced in this paper and the answers to the six How questions on KM are an attempt to help your organization unleash the power of integrating knowledge and expertise along the six knowledge dimensions for each of your top priority business measures – and thereby help raise your business performance to its full potential.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Arun Hariharan is a Knowledge Management, Quality and Performance Management practitioner. He is Senior Vice President – Knowledge Management at Bharti Cellular (www.bharti.com). He can be contacted at arun_hariharan@rediffmail.com.