The KM Baseline Assessment

This topic came up in a conversation last week, so I thought I’d share some thoughts on it. Comments welcome as always, thank you.

Quite often when talking to organisations I find that they are already doing some KM, even if it’s not called that. An up-front Baseline Assessment can help to reveal this including where the same processes or activities are called different things, and of course where any key gaps in a systematic approach to KM may be found and crystallised.

A lot of people will have tried different elements of KM (learning processes, expert interviews and so on) around the organisation, but there is usually some frustration that it hasn’t really moved on in a cohesive and consistent way. More than once I have been told something like, “We have been trying this on and off for several years, but its never really taken off.”

People generally like the idea of KM and being a learning organisation, but they need something specific to structure it around, develop and support both individually and collectively – for both hearts and minds.

A Baseline Assessment can be done using structured interviews with selected people across the organisation (face to face or by phone / skype) – and it doesn’t take so many such interviews before a picture of the current state of KM in the organisation, conscious or otherwise, emerges.

The first question is does the organisation want to do a Baseline Assessment in the first place? I have come across instances where it’s wanted because it will show where the organisation is already strong or weak in KM and where the gaps are – and also an instance where a Baseline Assessment was not wanted for the same reasons. The latter is usually also associated with fear of change & insecurity more generally.

Assuming that a KM Baseline Assessment is indeed wanted then it brings two main advantages in my experience:

1/. Clarity of current organisational strengths and weaknesses against a best practice KM framework. This will include both technical and non-technical aspects, namely culture which is crucial to understand in implementing KM. Technical aspects typically include addressing the extent to which the organisation genuinely learns (ie more than simply filing so-called Lessons Learnt), shares knowledge through communities and applies individual knowledge transfer for retirees. Typically, a score of up to 10 is applied for each of 10 dimensions of a KM organisation.

2/. Insight and support for a really good KM Vision - if only all dimensions of the Baseline Assessment could be made to be a perfect 10 score. Discussing & showing what a difference it would mean if all the gaps were closed, and clarifying the benefits to the business this would bring, excites and energises people.

In the early days, I had viewed a KM Baseline Assessment as simply providing a set of numbers which could be revisited later to check for progress – but it quickly emerged that it is a very powerful tool in winning hearts as well as minds in how things could be. It’s a great communications device!

Successful KM needs a vision and structure to manage the corporate knowledge asset, and the Baseline Assessment provides an early vision of how that can be done in a way that brings people along with you.

A good early sign is that, though people may be very busy, following a Baseline Assessment that is well structured and communicated they start to make time for you and the change needed for KM.