Today, the most successful business leaders recognize that knowledge is a strategic asset and they can achieve benefits ranging from cost savings to improved employee engagement by prioritizing knowledge management. However, there isn’t always a clear path to achieving that goal.
Most companies lack a Chief Knowledge Officer or similar role, and because no single person owns the knowledge management function, each team or department is often left to determine its own systems and initiatives. But that often hinders effective knowledge management. According to a Deloitte survey, organizational silos are considered the top barrier to effective knowledge management, cited by 55% of respondents.
For companies to succeed, they must have a clear vision for who is responsible for knowledge management. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Below, we explore how organizations commonly categorize their initiatives and provide considerations for who should “own” knowledge management for the best results.
Different Department, Different Knowledge Management Goals
Knowledge management means different things to different departments, so companies often organically develop disparate knowledge management initiatives, such as:
Customer support/customer experience: For customer-facing roles, knowledge management is often focused on providing employees with efficient access to information that will enable them to better serve customers, such as troubleshooting tips, FAQs, and best practices.
Insights/market research: Customer insights and experience teams use knowledge management to distribute research across the organization and inform decision-making.
Operations: On the operations side, knowledge management is about making sure that all employees have the resources they need to work productively. An efficient knowledge management solution can promote self-sufficiency, keep teams aligned, and help employees work faster.
Strategy: At a higher organizational level, teams often focus on leveraging knowledge as a strategic asset. This includes preventing knowledge loss as employees move on from the company, as well as helping facilitate high-level decision-making about the company’s products and services.
Especially when a company first considers developing a knowledge management strategy, it’s common to focus on one particular area. However, this often ends up promoting siloed work, as the strategy only affects a few specific departments.
Considerations for Effective Knowledge Management Ownership
Who is responsible for knowledge management? Ultimately, there’s no one right answer, and it will likely look a little different at every organization. However, there are a few common considerations to keep in mind when developing the structure that’s right for your company.
1. Develop and promote a shared vision for knowledge management across all departments
Before honing in on a management structure for your program, focus on why you want to develop a knowledge management strategy in the first place. You may have some specific goals in mind—e.g., streamlining customer service requests or distributing market research—but remember that creating separate objectives will rarely result in a united, organization-wide effort to implement those initiatives.
To most effectively drive your knowledge management efforts forward, you must create a unified, shared vision for knowledge management—one that every department can buy into. When every employee understands the ultimate goal of the strategy and clearly sees how it will benefit them, your initiative will have a much better chance of success.
2. Consider creating an executive role specific to knowledge management
Today, it’s somewhat rare for an organization to have an executive role specific to knowledge management, such as a Chief Knowledge Officer. However, introducing such a role to your executive team can offer significant benefits, as this person’s primary responsibility is to initiate and drive knowledge management programs forward. And when that person sits on the executive team, they have significant influence and power to coordinate the right people and departments.
If hiring an executive role isn’t a possibility, you can certainly set up your knowledge management function within an existing department. Just make sure that the person you select to head up the effort is someone who can be a true change agent within the organization. In other words, they must be passionate about the program and able to rally people together to create meaningful change.
3. Avoid anchoring knowledge management strategy in IT
Technology is undoubtedly a key component in a successful knowledge management strategy. An advanced knowledge management platform is essential to storing a variety of content types, allowing employees to quickly and easily find the information they need, and maintaining up-to-date, trustworthy information.
However, a successful knowledge management strategy extends far beyond that foundational technology. While the IT team may be involved in setting up and maintaining the platform, the team on its own usually cannot drive the organizational change necessary to align all departments. You must have a cross-functional team in place in order to develop and promote the processes and governance behind that platform.
4. Gather a cross-functional group of stakeholders
Knowledge management impacts and is impacted by everyone in the organization—but to develop and promote that kind of culture, it’s essential to work with champions from across the company. So in addition to assigning a knowledge management leader, you will need to assemble a cross-functional team of leaders to assist with the effort.
While you don’t have to involve leaders from every department (a team that’s too big can create problems of its own), you should make sure to include representatives from key teams based on your specific knowledge management goals. This will ensure you have advocates in each department who are responsible for encouraging knowledge sharing, promoting best practices, and engaging all of the employees they supervise.
There’s no one right way to structure your knowledge management function. At some companies, it may be a distinct vertical function, headed up by an executive leader; at others, it may be spread among several departments. When determining who should own the program at your company, it’s important to consider your unique goals and, in any case, involve a cross-functional team that can inspire and lead the rest of your employees.
With the right ownership in place, you can keep your knowledge management efforts aligned and moving forward, and increase your program’s chances of success.