Hiring a CKO

November 1, 2010

I’d, a few weeks back, written an article on the typical things that an organization could do to ensure that its CKO fits in and delivers quickly. Thought I’d share it on the Cognitive Edge blog as well as it seems to have struck a chord amongst some peers and most of this blog’s readers are perhaps here for thoughts and inputs on KM.

I think any organization looking for a KM Head or a CKO (for the first time) needs to ask itself a few important questions before it spends time and energy on hunting for, interviewing and negotiating with potential candidates. Even if the answer to one of these questions is a ‘No’ or ‘Not Sure’, I’d simply suggest that they go back to the whiteboard and introspect/reconsider whether they really need a serious and passionate KMer to spend all her time in attempting to set up a KM ecosystem in an environment that may possibly turn completely hostile, ineffective, cynical, or uncooperative.

Being a person who claims KM to be her core competence, I’d hardly be expected to recommend such an option (that of not employing a full-time KMer). But, seriously speaking, this is reality – some organizations are simply not ready for KM and might as well postpone or redesign their KM plans based on their internal situation and capabilities. So, if they don’t answer in the affirmative to some of these questions (hold on, they are coming) and conclude that they don’t really need a full-time KMer immediately, what do they do? I’m not suggesting they ignore KM altogether but what I believe is that they could as well get one of their interested Management Representatives (from another function/domain) to take up the additional (and temporary) role of a KM Lead and spend perhaps 10 to 20 % of his time on KM related activities. Till they get some basic things right. The world becomes a happier place this way. I exaggerate. (There are considerable drawbacks to employing a part-time KM Lead whose core competence lies elsewhere – May lead to short-term thinking, biased planning and implementation, incomplete perspectives, to think of a few things)

Getting down to the heart of the post, what are the questions that organizations must answer to help them realize what they really want with re. to KM?

1. Are we sure of the structure for the KM team? More importantly, where does the upward arrow for the KM Head/CKO lead to? Do we know who this person should be reporting into and WHY? Both the individual that the KM Lead will report into and the function/areas the former is responsible for must be appropriate.

2. Are we sure of setting aside a reasonable and regular budget/investment for KM? For expenses related to expertise, technology, practices, incentives, internal conferences etc? (A no-brainer of sorts but show me organizations that actually do it religiously and I’ll show you one that rocks!)

3. Do we know what we want from the KM initiative, to start with? Are we ready to build on our ideas and/or reconsider our expectations and ideas once we get the KM person on board and have detailed discussions with him?

4. Do we have a honest, somewhat reliable and collective understanding of the organizational culture, its unique qualities, its strengths and weaknesses and its potential responses to KM practices (sharing, reuse, innovation, learning, mentoring, collaboration etc) (The KM Lead would find it very useful to have a heads-up on this straight from the horse’s mouth)

5. Given that the KM person is new to our organization, do we have a concrete plan to bring him on-board, ramp up and get to know the key people who will in turn help him understand the business, culture and past experiments with re. to KM? In short, do we have a good and exhaustive induction plan for the KM Lead?

6. (Optional) Do we have a list of employees who will be of significant support to the KM initiative in their capacity as knowledge champions, idea-givers, firm supporters, domain experts, technical writers etc? Having such a list right at the beginning would accelerate the implementation of the KM initiative but this is something that could also be left to the KM Lead herself. Another associated piece of information likely to be very useful is the identification of pilot teams/groups.

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The Cynefin Company (formerly known as Cognitive Edge) was founded in 2005 by Dave Snowden. We believe in praxis and focus on building methods, tools and capability that apply the wisdom from Complex Adaptive Systems theory and other scientific disciplines in social systems. We are the world leader in developing management approaches (in society, government and industry) that empower organisations to absorb uncertainty, detect weak signals to enable sense-making in complex systems, act on the rich data, create resilience and, ultimately, thrive in a complex world.

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