On Wednesday 27 May, Prof Adeline Du Toit and Dr Andrew Kok hosted the #2015SAKMS Roundtable discussion around the theme of creating effective transformational knowledge leaders.

A roundtable is an informal interactive format to engage in in-depth discussions with colleagues with similar interests, sharing problems and successes regarding knowledge leadership themes and issues.

Successful knowledge leaders each hosted a table with rotating groups of delegates and facilitated a conversation related to themes such as:

  • Promoting the knowledge agenda
  • Developing the knowledge infrastructure
  • Connecting, coordinating and communicating with providers of information and knowledge
  • Improving the process of knowledge creation
  • Measuring the value of knowledge in an organisation

The discussion identified needs, gaps and actions to strengthen knowledge leadership in our organisations, and concluded with recommendations on how to create the ‘ideal’ knowledge leader. In the voice of our community, through the knowledge leaders who summarised the insights from the roundtable discussions, we discovered a portrait of the Knowledge Leader of the future…

 “We need to be realistic. Given that you are the CEO and you have resource constraints, do you still see a role for KM? You have HR, Strategy and IT and you say ‘where is the role of KM now?’” –  Akhona Damane, Transnet Freight Rail

Knowledge leadership means different things for different people and different organisations, depending on their context, level of maturity and strategy.

“In terms of a KM strategy, you need to define where you are in your organisation and what you want to achieve. The critical factor is to make sure that the people in your organisation see that KM is an asset to the organisation – not just a nice to have or something we should do.” – Hein Spingies, Road Accident Fund

In fact, ‘context matters’ was a recurring theme through the roundtable and the #2015SAKMSknowledge management must align its approach and application to the organisation’s culture, strategic priorities and context. There is no one-size fits all approach.

“Most of the time, we put the cart before the horse.  We focus on the system – SharePoint etc – but we lose sight of the strategy, the need – what do we need knowledge management for? There might be a company that says we are not really going to innovate, or do a lot of R&D… then your knowledge strategy must focus on THEIR strategic imperatives – maybe that is a focus on quality, or low cost. Then you must align your KM strategy and approach to the organisation’s specific needs, bridging the gap between the strategy discussion and the technology one.” – Akhona Damane, Transnet Freight Rail

A key element of context was open innovation that includes customers – customer knowledge management, collaborating more with customers and linking knowledge management to customers for competitive advantage. For example, in co-creation projects, creating new services or improved products by bringing together knowledge from customers as well as internal resources.

“Innovation will follow learning. And we feel that learning is incredibly important. Innovation without a foundation of learning or knowledge is a buzzword.” – Olwynn Garratt, Fasken Martineau

Prof Kingo Mchombu reminded us of the story of the iPhone… “One of the things that needs to come out is the acceptance of genuine mistakes in innovation. If people always get it right, it’s not necessarily innovative. At iPhone, they were at first laughed at, but they learned from their customers how to get it right.”

Having explored these themes of leading innovation, learning and experimentation, the roundtable leaders were asked to reflect on the future of knowledge management in organisations in Southern Africa. The identified the key role of the knowledge leader including,

  • Being able to close the strategic gaps – ask ‘what are the business challenges?’ and bring knowledge management to bear on directly addressing those.
  • The future role of the knowledge leaders is as facilitators or instigators of KM across the organisation – collaborating and leading collaboration across organisational silos.
  • Leading innovation management, bringing the experience and principles of knowledge management into innovation management.
  • In essence, it’s about taking responsibility and building trust, amongst our profession, as well as in our different organisations.

The conclusion was that knowledge management is definitely not dead! Rather, it has a strong role to play in the competitive advantage of organisations, crossing over many siloes.

“Knowledge Management practices will be the thing that sets companies and organisations apart from each other into the future, creating competitive advantage. It does currently and as information and knowledge grows, this will only be more essential.” – Ronel Davel, SARS

Our roles as knowledge leaders in the future will be as facilitators or instigators, leading a knowledge management culture, processes and strategy across the organisation.

“It’s important as knowledge managers to realise that we are not going to change the whole company by ourselves. We need to tap into and make use of all the skills, expertise and knowledge in the organisation when it comes to creating a culture of knowledge sharing – HR, change etc.” – Ronel Davel, SARS

We were called upon to take ownership and being accountable – with many agreeing with Patrick Lambe’s bold comment that he would like to see the day when we as knowledge leaders can be sued for not taking accountability!

“To be a knowledge leader, you don’t necessarily need to be a librarian, or an alchemist. The key qualification as a knowledge leader is PASSION.” – Hein Spingies, RAF