Saturday, November 30, 2013

Knowledge Management approach - Bottom up or top down

Knowledge is Power via Varying Directions. 

There are basically two themes in managing information and knowledge, the maintenance of information and the activities with emergence of new information. With exponential growth of data and information, what is the better knowledge management approach-bottom up or top down. A better question may be- “To what degree and where do you use a bottoms up approach and to what degree and where do you use a top down approach?”

Start with the business goal you want to achieve and the measures that determine success and get agreement with senior management first. Then design the program. What is most important is to understand what KM activity is required (to achieve your end state and through which business process it will be enabled. Then you can look at the organizational structure of the company to determine policies, regulations and laws that must be followed and who in the company is directly and indirectly involved in the process you are trying to enable. Once you identify who the people are you must look at their interactions with the process and what behaviors you want them perform. If these are behaviors that altruistic, benefit them in doing their job, are self-rewarding (saves time) and self-fulfilling, then you most likely can generate a bottoms up approach. If it is a matter of behaviors required for people to perform specific processes or perhaps change the way they have been doing something then a top down approach may be more appropriate.

Generally, you need to do both top-down and bottom-up simultaneously: Usually, the central or top down functions are best able to manage standards (common tools) and to help scale what is working (low cost shared Services) But keep as many resources as you can close to the core business teams you support. However, if you go too top-down, you can end up delivering to the "lowest common denominator", and not having any raving fans in the business. Collaboration to harness the ideas and ingenuity of your staff cannot be nor should be controlled. KM should reflect a top-down approach in terms of processes and procedures. But for the development of tools to assist the organization as a whole, it does need to be a bottom-up approach, since your end users are the ones touching the tools which need to be user friendly to decrease the learning curve for use and acceptance of the tool. When establishing policies, the top level need to have awareness on what is going on at the bottom levels of the organization to ensure understanding and compliance.

It is balancing the two forces (KM team and KM customer) that will determine success. If KM teams think they need more control- KM may be too centrally focused. Talk to the end customers and ask if they are getting the value they hoped for. If the end customers think they need more standard and help from global - KM may be too distributed. Talk to KM team about what common challenges they see on the business or regions and how they could address them centrally. If the end customers and the KM team both think they need more resources (and for the same things), then, the two forces may strike the right balance.

Take advantage of the latest learning tool and knowledge sharing platform: One KM approach is the management puts in place the social learning tools & platform, and provides a loose structure for employees to connect and collaborate and generate bottoms up ideas, issues and solutions. The management tone decides KM style: Do senior leaders recognize great ideas acknowledge and reward or do they justify every criticism and keep telling people why that won’t work? If they use it as a barometer for discovery and problem identification, they might find the work force identifying and solving many problems that management was getting involved in. Thus, freeing them to work more strategic issues. A cooperative net model like social network permits to share knowledge and create common models that evolve themselves naturally like organic organism.

Managing information and knowledge becomes more critical than ever in digital era, the static KM approach is too slow to adapt to the changes and dealing with exponential information growth, the more dynamic approach needs to well mix top-down structure & standard with bottom-up flexibility & customer satisfaction. This requires a holistic look at the entire knowledge environment and identifying how the KM initiative aligns with the company or business unit objectives. It is a complex balancing act. 


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