Carla O’Dell is president of APQC and is considered one of the world’s leading experts in knowledge management (KM). In 1995 and under O’Dell’s direction, APQC launched its first KM best practices consortium study called Emerging Best Practices in Knowledge Management. Thirty-nine organizations sponsored the groundbreaking study. Since then, APQC has conducted over 25 consortium studies on topics related to KM, involving more than 300 participating organizations and producing the world’s largest body of actionable best practices in designing, implementing, and measuring KM. APQC has led more than 150 custom KM projects. APQC was the first nonprofit organization to be awarded the Global Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) award, as well as the North America Award, a total of six times.
In March 2011, O’Dell and Cindy Hubert, two leaders from APQC, released the definitive book on how to implement knowledge management (KM), The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business. The book is a follow up to O’Dell’s best selling business resource, If Only We Knew What We Know, co-authored by C. Jackson Grayson, that played an instrumental role in firmly establishing KM as an accepted and widely used management discipline.
Hubert is the executive director of APQC’s Delivery Services, which provides individualized and collaborative approaches to solve business problems and address strategic needs. Over the past 16 years, Hubert and her team have worked with more than 400 organizations to provide assessments, strategy development, project management, transfer of best practice design and implementation, and metric and best practices research engagements using APQC’s proven knowledge management methodologies.
Hubert has played instrumental roles in the innovation, development, and implementation of APQC’s Levels of Knowledge Management Maturity™ and Knowledge Management Capability Assessment Tool. These best practice frameworks are used by organizations across the world to guide, develop, and execute their KM strategies and approaches.
Morris: Before discussing your book, The New Edge of Knowledge Management, a few general questions. First, for those who are unfamiliar with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), tell us a little bit about the APQC’s mission and history in KM.
O’Dell: APQC is a member-based nonprofit founded by C. Jackson Grayson to help organizations improve productivity and quality. We are known as a global resource for benchmarks and best practices in finance, supply chain, HR and many other disciplines. We are one of the world’s leading proponents and advisors in knowledge management (KM), communities of practice, measurement, using social media and other related disciplines.
Working with more than 750 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC has spent more than 15 years studying what works—and what doesn’t—in the fast-moving arena called Knowledge Management (KM).
APQC is the leading source of trusted KM tools and information for both those just starting on their journey to KM excellence and those already advanced in their KM practices. Companies and governments use APQC’s KM implementation guides to quickly build an enterprise knowledge management strategy to span organizational silos, build a common way of working, and lead to more reuse of knowledge in new and innovative ways.
Morris: Why did you write this book?
O’Dell: Our first KM book, If Only We Knew What We Know, was published in 1998. A lot has changed since then. Many recent changes in the way we do business and communicate in general have exciting implications for KM. Even companies and governments with mature KM programs have adjusted their strategy for these game-changing trends.
- The digital world has begun to reshape KM. Online social networking has shaken up traditional KM. Although new technologies always present new challenges, no KM function can ignore this opportunity. Enterprise 2.0 tools may be the best thing to happen to KM since the water cooler.
- In their personal lives and on the job, employees have become digitally immersed. All ages of employees expect more engagement and access to information and want work processes that reflect the ease with which they communicate outside of work.
- Smart phones and other mobile devices now allow us to communicate and share any place, any time, and with anyone. KM can take advantage of these always-on and always-on-you devices to make content available to employees at their most teachable moment.
- A huge demographic is now leaving the work force. As baby boomers exit the playing field, their absence puts a greater need on incoming employees to get up to speed quickly.
These societal shifts have changed the power dynamics for how all organizations operate. An increasingly savvy work force is dictating how and when they need information, and organizations face tremendous opportunities to turn individual employees’ knowledge into organizational intellectual assets.
Employees need vivid, relevant examples and practical advice for everyday work. Executives need a tangible and substantial ROI. And organizations need to respond to the forces at work and create new approaches. In this new environment, KM is an absolutely necessary core business practice to face the competition. With it, employers can reasonably expect better knowledge-based decisions from their work force.
Morris: During the last decade, what has been the single most significant change in how knowledge is managed? What are its major implications? Please explain.
O’Dell: Organizations realize that you don’t “manage” knowledge, but you manage the processes that help knowledge flow. Knowledge management professionals realize that a portfolio of approaches with supporting technologies is required opposed to “one way” to collect and disseminate knowledge. For example, a community of practice can be foundational for other approaches, such as lessons learned, that allow knowledge to flow. Communities also promote collaboration that can be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and blogs, that also provide interaction and documentation of critical knowledge.
Organizations operate more virtually than they have in the past, which reduces the face-to-face opportunities that are such a rich environment for creating and responding to teachable moments.
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APQC cordially invites you to visit its KM expertise and services: http://www.apqc.org/knowledge-management.
Carla O’Dell is the president of APQC, an internationally recognized, not-for-profit organization dedicated to process and performance improvement. She joined APQC in 1978 as an adviser and researcher. Over the years, her fields of expertise and research have included knowledge management (KM), benchmarking, total quality systems, re-engineering, organization design, team-based reward systems, and assessment and improvement using the Malcolm Baldridge National Quality Award criteria. Currently, O’Dell is a key driver in the formation of the Open Standards Benchmarking CollaborativeSM (OSBC) research, which seeks to standardize the processes and measures that global organizations use to benchmark and improve performance. She is the author or co-author of several breakthrough publications: American Business with APQC Chairman C. Jackson Grayson, Stages of Implementation, If Only We Knew What We Know with Grayson, The Executive’s Role in Knowledge Management with Paige Leavitt, and Knowledge Management with Cindy Hubert and Susan Elliott.
Morris: Please provide a briefing on APQC’s background, mission, and current activities.
O’Dell: In 2010, APQC is celebrating 33 years of helping organizations improve by discovering and adopting best practices. People come to APQC for three things: data and best practices, frameworks to make sense of the world and guide future action, and the opportunity to network with others facing the same issues. APQC’s roots lie in process improvement and benchmarking. We have conducted over 150 multi-client “consortium” projects to discover best practices on hot issues, over 6,000 individual benchmarking studies, and more than 3,000 sites are participating in our Open Standard Benchmarking CollaborativeSM (OSBC), launched in 2004. APQC is an exciting place to be; we are always innovating and working on something new.
Morris: During the years since APQC’s founding in 1977, which developments do you think have had the greatest impact on our understanding of quality and productivity?
O’Dell: There are many, but I think the three paradigm shifts—and the methodologies they spawned—that have made the greatest impact are 1) understanding that all work is a process that can be measured, benchmarked, and improved (TQM, reengineering, Six Sigma, and business process management all were possible because of this insight); 2) being able to “see” and “manage” knowledge that is both the raw material and the engine that drives innovation, productivity, and growth, leading to knowledge management, virtual collaboration, and all the Internet search and retrieval capabilities we now take for granted; and 3) that organizing around teams and communities of practice is a very productive way to work.
We take the concepts of “process management”, “knowledge management”, and team-based projects and working environments as givens now; but not so long ago, these were radical, even threatening, concepts. Now there are robust, repeatable and scalable methodologies and best practices for all three.
Morris: Many of the best business books seem to have been written to answer an important question. Is that also true of If Only We Knew What We Know that you wrote with Jack Grayson?
O’Dell: Absolutely. Jack and I, as well as our colleagues at APQC, kept seeing the same phenomenon over and over again. A firm would contact us and say they were looking for best practice in something, for example, in the area of customer retention and the ability to predict customer-purchasing behavior. It was not uncommon to find that one of the best-practice organizations in the field was another division of the same company that had asked us to do the research. Why didn’t they know about this already? And if they did know, why hadn’t the practices transferred? In the mid-Nineties we set to investigate why best practices didn’t transfer; why organizations didn’t learn from experience and why knowledge held in one part of a company did not flow to other divisions in the same organization. Those answers, based on eighteen major multi-client studies and dozens of individual projects became APQC’s knowledge management (KM) practice and the basis for the book. We continue that research today.
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You are cordially invited to check out the wealth of resources at the APQC website. Please click here.
In this series, Bob Morris poses a key question and then responds to it with material from one or more of the business books he has reviewed for Amazon and Borders.
In one of two books bearing that title (the other written by Lloyd Davies), Jay Cross makes a number of bold assertions. For example, “Workers learn more in the coffee room than in the classroom. They discover how to do their jobs through informal learning: asking the person in the next cubicle, trial and error, calling the help desk, working with people in the know, and joining the conversation. This is natural learning – learning from others when you feel the need to do so.” Moreover, “Training programs, workshops, and schools get the lion’s share of the corporate budget for developing talent, despite the fact that [and] this formal learning has almost no impact on job performance. And informal learning, the major source of knowledge transfer and innovation, is left to chance.”
Cross makes other key points:
1. “Formal learning is like riding a bus: the driver decides where the bus is going; the passengers are along for the ride. Informal learning is like riding a bike: the rider chooses the destination, the speed, and the route.”
2. “Formal learning takes place in classrooms; informal learning happens in learnscapes; that is, a learning ecology. It’s learning without borders.”
3. When seeking information, it’s not who you know that’s important; it’s who those others know.
4. “Most training is built atop the pessimistic assumption that trainees are deficient, and training is the cure for what’s broken.”
5. “Created long before knowledge work was invented, accounting values intangibles such as human capital at zero and counts training as an expense instead of an investment.”
6. “Imagine having an in-house learning and information environment as rich as the Internet. You’d have blogs, search, syndication, podcasts, mash-ups, and more.” You’d also have a platform just about everyone already knows how to use.
Informal learning will occur with or without institutional support. That’s not the point. Rather, that there will be more – and more effective – informal learning if (a) mentoring is viewed, measured, and rewarded as a core competency, (b) there are resources (e.g. books, CDs, DVDs in a learning center) that are easily accessible and (c) if there is a workplace environment in which informal learning is celebrated, not merely allowed.
I highly recommend Cross’s book, Informal Learning: Rediscovering the Natural Pathways That Inspire Innovation and Performance as well as Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of the Learning Organization, and If Only We Knew What We Know: The Transfer of Internal Knowledge and Best Practice by Carla O’Dell and C. Jackson Grayson
Comments, questions, requests, or suggestions? Please share them. They will be most welcome and I thank you for them. Best regards, Bob