AOK: What Makes KM Sustainable

The AOK has started off 2005 with a Star Series on “What Makes KM Sustainable.” (for a little more, check out Knowledge Jolt with Jack: AOK: What Makes KM Sustainable). I didn’t have a chance to contribute, I did mostly keep up with the postings.* Very good stuff, I believe you can find the archives in the Yahoo groups that AOK maintains.

The topic immediately piqued my interest because of something I read when I first started out in the KM biz, an article by a new CKO about what he thought his job was. I’ve not been able to track down the original article or the exact quote I’m looking for, but to paraphrase: “My job is to put myself out of a job.” Kind of odd, but at the same time reflective of the attitude that seemed to me prevelant in ’98-’99 about KM.

In other words, at least how I interpreted it, this CKO believed that if he changed the culture of his organization so that it was “knowledge friendly,” existing KM initiatives would continue on their own and new ones would spontaneously emerge to meet the needs of the organization. This Star Series discussion basically puts that idea to rest and discusses why KM, like anything else, requires a lot of hard work and dedication to get it in place and to keep it there.

One issue for many cases of once prominent and successful KM programs failing is the departure of the KM champion. While we like to believe that what we do and establish will continue to flourish after we leave, the fact is that without the constant influx of energy that the champion puts into a program, entropy (that ever present demon) will always win. But this shouldn’t really come as a surprise.

Executives and other senior people in any organization make up the personality of that organization. Each one contributes his or her own individual personality into the overall organizational personality. If you lose, or replace, a person the overall mix changes. Obviously, the more people that make up the organizational personality, the less effect a single individual’s departure will have.

If, on the other hand, you only have one or two champions in a huge organization and you lose one or both, that personality trait essentially disappears from the collective. As we’ve known all along, the lesson to learn here is that the more people you can get to champion your KM (or any other) project/initiative, the better your chance of continued success even after one or more of those champions leave.

*Unfortunately, this has been a bit of a trend over the last month, reading when I get the chance and writing when I find a spare moment