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Saturday, May 01, 2004

Approach to Venice (J. W. M. Turner, 1843)

A Governance-Based Approach to Knowledge Management: A KMCI Position Statement (Co-authored with Mark W. McElroy)

Executive Summary

Until recently there has been little disagreement within Knowledge Management (KM) over the idea that KM activities derive their authority from organizational management and ultimately from the CEO. This view has given rise to the often-repeated principle that KM strategy should be aligned with organizational or corporate strategy.

This report presents the alternative view, derived from KMCI's New Knowledge Management research program, that Knowledge Management and its strategy must be autonomous in relation to operational management and its strategy, if it is to avoid a conflict of interest and the undermining of KM itself. It argues further that KM is a fiduciary responsibility of Boards of Directors and, where relevant, legislatures, and that the KM function should derive its authority from and be directly responsible to such Boards and legislatures. This in turn implies that KM as currently practiced in organizations rests on an insecure foundation, one that is likely to lead to its failure due to conflicts of interest introduced by corporate management.

In view of this conclusion, KMCI announces its commitment to further develop and seek adherents to a Governance-based approach to KM and to advise against further pursuit of the currently dominant Management-based approaches. The main body of this report will set the Governance-based approach in the context of KMCI's overall approach to The New Knowledge Management (TNKM) and then will develop the basis for the Governance-based approach through an analysis of three of the components of TNKM. More . . .

3:28:55 PM    comment []

Stories and KM

Storytelling and Knowledge Management

Storytelling and Knowledge Management

In earlier blogs on storytelling I talked about its role in problem solving and Knowledge Integration. This blog will complete my remarks on how storytelling relates to knowledge processing and KM. My analysis will use KMCI's KM Framework discussed in Firestone and McElroy (2003), and Firestone (2000). Figure 1 summarizes the framework's activity categories. All 9 categories occur at the top level of the three-tier model discussed in "Knowledge Management and Strategy".

Figure 1 KMCI's KM Framework (adapted from Mintzberg, 1973)

Storytelling and KM-Level Management Processes

Among KM activities it is the KM-level business processes that actually manage the knowledge processing performed by other than KM-level knowledge workers. But the KM-level needs to manage itself as well. It does so through Symbolic Representation, Building External Relationships and Leadership activities.

  • Symbolic Representation

Symbolic representation is an aspect of all managerial activity. Managers have authority. Part of what maintains that authority is the symbolism used and manipulated by them to express and claim the legitimacy of their authority. One of the best ways to manipulate the symbols of managerial authority is through storytelling, either performed by the manager or by supporters of the manager's authority. One way to undermine a manager's informal authority is to tell stories illustrating the fallibility of a manager.

Symbolic representation activities include participation in organizational ceremonies and functions by personnel identified with knowledge management. Storytelling at organizational functions is an important way for KM representatives to reinforce their authority. And skill in storytelling is an important skill for such personnel to have.

  • Leadership Activities

Leading includes hiring, training, motivating, monitoring, and evaluating staff. It also includes informing and persuading non-KM agents within the enterprise of the validity of KM process activities, and consensus-building about those activities. In most of these activities, storytelling is used frequently and is an important skill. It is hard to imagine leaders motivating or persuading without the aid of stories, or consensus-building occurring without storytelling, either.

  • Building External Relationships

Building external relationships means performing those activities intended to produce friendships, alliances, and "partnerships" with decision makers external to one's own company. These relationships are essential to knowledge managers for acquiring sources of information. They are also essential for providing "role models" for knowledge managers. And storytelling? Can you imagine making friends, building alliances, and concluding partnerships without using stories? When you do these things you have to tell your own story, and the story of your company, and the story of how you and your company fit together.

Storytelling and KM-level Knowledge Processes

Knowledge Managers, like other knowledge workers, perform a lot of routine work, punctuated by new challenges, accompanied by knowledge gaps, in their case about how to manage enhancing knowledge processing among other knowledge workers, problem recognition, knowledge claim formulation, knowledge claim evaluation, and knowledge integration. In other words, knowledge life cycles occur ay the KM-level as well as at the business process/business management levels, and knowledge production and knowledge integration occur at the KM level as well.

In previous blogs, I've described how storytelling fits into knowledge production and knowledge integration. The role of storytelling is essentially the same at the KM-level.

Storytelling and KM-level Business Processes

KM-level business processes include: crisis handling, changing knowledge processing rules, allocating KM resources in interventions, and negotiating agreements with managers of other functions.

  • Crisis Handling

Crisis Handling involves such things as meeting CEO requests for new competitive intelligence in an area of high strategic interest for an enterprise, and directing rapid development of a KM support infrastructure in response to requests from high level executives. Crisis handling can involve the full range of other KM activities. So the role of storytelling in crisis handling is described by its role in the other activities.

  • Changing Knowledge Processing Rules

Information acquisition, individual and group learning, knowledge claim formulation, knowledge claim evaluation, broadcasting, searching/retrieving, teaching, and sharing are all at least partly composed of rule governed tasks. Knowledge workers execute these tasks and knowledge managers produce the process rules. Knowledge managers also change the rules once they produce new knowledge about them.

Changing the rules of knowledge processing requires communicating the changes to knowledge workers. Stories are part of this communication process and may be used to communicate problems with old rules and the advantages of new ones.

  • Allocating KM Resources in Interventions

Allocating resources includes allocations for knowledge processing and KM support infrastructure, training, professional conferences, salaries for KM staff, funds for new KM programs, etc. Since allocating resources involves using a range of communication methods, techniques, and activities, stories are as much a part of this process as they are of any process relying on communication. Stories are not the only things that are communicated as part of this process, but they are one of many types of content that have a part to play.

  • Negotiating Agreements with Managers of Other Functions

Negotiating agreements with representatives of other business processes over levels of effort for KM, the shape of KM programs, the ROI expected of KM activities, etc., is an essential knowledge management function. And this function too, involves communication, persuasion, and informing others of one's case. It is yet another area in which storytelling is one of the methods used in performing a process. In negotiating, storytelling may be particularly important since long negotiations over complex issues often require using stories along with analogies to drive home particular points during negotiation.

Storytelling, Knowledge Processing and Knowledge Management

This blog completes a series relating storytelling to problem solving, knowledge integration, and Knowledge Management. I've tried to show that storytelling and stories are, or can be useful in nearly all of the sub-processes of problem solving and knowledge integration and all of the activities of KM. But having said that, I must again also point to the limitations of stories and story telling. First, we must keep in mind that stories describe happenings. They are localized in time and space and
describe a pattern of particulars, rather than a general model. Stories rely on assumptions that are general in character, but they don't explicitly offer generalizations as knowledge claims. So they can't help where generalizations are needed either in knowledge production or integration or to add to our understanding.

Second, enthusiasm for stories and storytelling should be tempered in the area of problem solving, by an equivalent enthusiasm for critically assessing competing stories, because stories are conjectural in nature and could easily be false. In the first blog in this series, I proposed that we should pledge to cultivate a critical attitude toward them, keeping in mind that if our stories survive our best criticisms they are more likely to provide a better basis for decisions.

Third, in knowledge integration I pointed out that stories can be viewed as effective in eliciting real understanding or as effective in eliciting manipulated agreement and that in cases where the latter is true, knowledge integration through storytelling may create agreement but doesn't help the organization to adapt.

Fourth, in discussing the role of stories in knowledge integration, I pointed out that a problem involved in evaluating the role of stories in knowledge integration and other areas of knowledge processing as well, is the generality of the idea of stories. if we look at every narrative that describes an event, occurrence, or happening, as a story, then it is a trivial conclusion that stories are very important in knowledge processing and knowledge integration.

Finally, in this blog, we saw that storytelling is useful in every one of the nine major activities of KM. However, that is mostly due to the role of storytelling in human communication generally. Also my reasoning was very much based on a very general definition of stories, so while my conclusion may be correct, an analysis of which types of stories are most important in each KM activity category still needs to be done.


Firestone, J. and McElroy, M. (2003) Key Issues in the New Knowledge Management, Burlington, MA: KMCI Press/Butterworth-Heinemann.

Firestone, J. (2000) "Knowledge Management: A Framework for Analysis and Measurement," White Paper Prepared for Executive Information Systems, Inc.,
Wilmington, DE, October 1, 2000, Available at:

Mintzberg, H. (1973)"A New Look at the Chief Executive's Job," Organizational Dynamics, AMACOM, Winter, 1973.

12:58:01 PM    comment []

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