KM at KP
In updating their Knowledge Management (KM) platform in 2007, Katzenbach Partners, LLC (Katzenbach) developed a strategy with a limited, yet powerful set of elements that were a direct reflection of the firm’s ethos of uniqueness and differentiation. Early in the process, Katzenbach determined that existing “out of the box” solutions would not suffice. Available platforms, including simple file sharing systems or off the shelf software such as Microsoft’s Sharepoint, simply were not adequate. Katzenbach felt they were too rigid. This was in keeping with the firm’s Value Statement. Throughout the case, and Katzenbach’s own literature, the firm is repeatedly described as, “unique,” as “a different kind of firm,” and that they developed solutions that were, “distinctly different.” This culture permitted and encouraged Katzenbach to create and unleash a powerful yet flexible hybrid KM system that was both unique and useful.
Historically, KM relied almost exclusively on the informal and personal interaction of people within the firm. In determining how to manage knowledge on a go forward basis, Katzenbach realized that users would have differing needs. To create this flexibility, Katzenbach hit on a hybrid approach. The proposed KM system would be comprised of both formal and informal components. The traditional or “formal” component would provide the structure or “taxonomy” familiar to many existing users of document management systems. The “informal” component of this strategy element incorporated the new possibilities created by the emergence of Web 2.0 technologies and the advent of Enterprise 2.0. Katzenbach’s hybrid system utilized the “tagging” aspects of Web 2.0 to create a better, more powerful KM system. In addition to formal classification, users could classify documents with informal “tags” that were most meaningful. Most important, users not only tagged their own documents, but tagged documents created by others. This created a much more robust description of a document’s contents and utility.
In addition to the formal and informal essence of the hybrid KM system, openness and the lack of rules were two additional key elements. While recognizing the risks inherent in an open system, Katzenbach felt that the benefits outweighed these concerns. Similarly, Katzenbach felt strongly that the desired flexibility of the KM system would require a minimum of “rules.” This “rule agnostic” approach recognized that initial use might be more difficult but valued flexibility and uniqueness of the system over initial productivity.
Another essential element of the KM strategy was management leadership. Any strategy, no matter the quality of the “blinky lights,” is doomed to failure without management buy in and leadership. At Katzenberg, the KM strategy was clearly a top management priority as evidenced by the level of effort – and funding. Moreover, Katzenberg spent significant resources on the roll out of the KM system. They implemented an informal communication strategy to supplement the roll out and also hosted a series of contests and events to promote the system. Management also identified Intellectual Capital “Champions,” early adopters, and project historians to reinforce the notion of KM as a responsibility rather than a burdensome new system. The components of this element of the strategy were intended to ensure that the new KM system achieved the breakthroughs they had spent so much effort developing.
Given the timeline of the presentation in the case, it is impossible to grade the “goodness” of this strategy. The elements of flexibility, openness, and a lack of “rules” might not work for some enterprises. It is fair to say, however, that for Katzenberg, the final strategy was probably predictable. Maintaining the status quo or implementing a standardized solution would not be in keeping with the values of the firm and the personality of its leadership. A unique and distinctive KM system was fait acompli at a firm like Katzenberg.