The Tribes of Knowledge Managers: Charting a New Destiny for KM

ACIES Innovations
November 15, 2020
Back to all blogs

While working in Unisys, I came across a Knowledge management team, which was part of the BPO group, and had very little commonality with what I was doing as a Knowledge Manager. At that time, I was managing the KM program for Application Services team. This BPO KM team had designations related to Knowledge Management but interestingly had very little to do with the typical activities done by knowledge managers. On further study, I could find an altogether different world, living with the same designations but actually not doing what we expect a knowledge manager should be doing. If we have to appreciate KM completely and chart a new destiny for KM, we need to understand the different kinds of roles that are there in the industry, that has KM tagged to it or knowledge related activity tagged to it. The focus of this blog is to throw light on the different tribes of Knowledge Managers.

While I would like to desist from classifying knowledge managers, overall I could find around 6 types of knowledge managers.

The BPO Knowledge Managers (BPO KMers):

These employees are part of BPO and Managed Services team in IT services Organisations, with a task of doing content management. Their activities include identifying relevant content, curating the content, storing it with proper tags so that it can be used by engineers as part of their work. They basically create standard operating procedures for managing different aspects of an application, resolution for known errors etc. Their focus is to continuously capture explicit knowledge and make it available for employees to reuse. Most of these employees do not have grounding on Knowledge management theories but are trained on limited skill sets related to content management.

The Consulting company Knowledge managers (Con-KMers):

Recollect the article from Nitin Nohria, Morten Hansen and Thomas Tierney, titled “What’s Your Strategy for Managing Knowledge?”, which was published in HBR in 1999. In that, the authors highlight two types of KM strategy, one focusing on “people to document” and another focusing on “people to people”. The second type of knowledge managers and whom I call ‘Con-KMers” are those who practice the people to document type of KM. Quoting their role from the article “After removing client-sensitive information, we develop ‘knowledge objects’ by pulling key pieces of knowledge such as interview guides, work schedules, benchmark data, and market segmentation analyses out of documents and storing them in the electronic repository for people to use.” They are like the BPO KMers, but with additional responsibility. They not only document content but also consolidate content based on the specific requirement of the consultants. From that perspective, these knowledge managers are tightly integrated with a specific industry. Like BPO KMers, the Con-KMers also have limited exposure to different aspects of KM.

Majority of the knowledge managers come from these two categories. Their contribution to the Organisation is much valued, even though it is still intangible. They have pretty well-defined roles and responsibilities with measurable performance parameters. However, from an impact perspective, they have limited impact on the Organisation.

Then we have knowledge transfer managers and knowledge brokers.

Knowledge transfer Managers:

As the name suggests these managers are specialized in transferring knowledge. They are quite regularly found in IT services companies where they focus on helping the transfer of large knowledge pools. They are mostly involved when there is a knowledge transition happening from one vendor to another or from client to vendor. They are highly skilled folks and much sought after because of the kind of work they do. Their focus is to grasp the knowledge shared very fast, understand a system and then transfer the knowledge to another location. Since I have been working with IT service companies a lot, what I realized is that even though these folks do knowledge transfer, they are mostly not known by this terminology and are completely unaware of the basics of KM.

Knowledge brokers:

This is not a commonly known designation, but I came across a few employees who are known by this. On further study, I found that Knowledge brokers are similar to knowledge transfer managers, but they are more connected to a specific area of work with well-defined roles. They focus on knowledge transfer on a continuous basis between two different worlds, for example from lab to field. Taking the practices that evolved in a laboratory and taking it to the field, working with the actual users and helping them in leveraging this knowledge. They are not doing the typical knowledge sharing or transfer activity, but are also doing a knowledge translation. Being a perfect conduit for the transfer of knowledge and in the process also redefining knowledge so that it much well adopted. More on this can be read at “The Function of Knowledge Brokers”.

And finally community managers and the ‘Knowledge Managers’ in its true sense.

Community Managers:

With the advent of social networking packages and realization of the importance of tacit knowledge, Community Managers as a role started becoming prominent. Community Managers mostly focusing on developing an informal network among employees and help them share and collaborate. The Community of Practice (CoP) is a much popular KM practice where Organisations focus on developing formal and informal CoPs and help employees with similar interests come together and collaborate. With the advent of social networking tools, it has become very easy for us to form communities both in the work place as well as outside of it. From a Knowledge Management perspective, Community Managers have specific well-defined tasks and they focus on a narrow aspect of the bigger set of activities that is part of the Knowledge management.

Knowledge Managers:

Let me now come to the role of Knowledge Managers in its true sense. A Knowledge Manager is one who focuses on managing knowledge. Their focus is on knowledge and on ensuring Organisations benefit the most from knowledge. This can include content management, knowledge protection, knowledge transfer, sharing/collaboration, reuse, lessons learned etc. To ensure knowledge is properly leveraged, they may work with the training team, process team, quality team, production team, CIO team etc. These knowledge managers are in a position to bring tangible impact to the performance of the Organisation. Their performance should be measured on cost savings, revenue generation, innovation, schedule adherence, quality levels etc.

Get update from anywhere

Want to stay up to date about the world of KM? Sign up now!

Subscribe to get more info

Let's start with us