Knowledge Management – Return on Investment

KM and ROI

A common and recurrent theme that I keep coming across is how to measure the value of knowledge management, e.g. the return on investment (ROI) of implementing a knowledge management strategy. This may cross over into having a social media strategy where the goal is to support knowledge sharing, so I’ll use these terms “KM Strategy” and “social media strategy” interchangeably in this particular context.

I don’t doubt the importance of being able to measure results and it’s the job of managers to ensure they get value out of any investment in training, technology, organisational development or whatever. However, these things are notoriously difficult to measure – for example – how do you put a price on a conversation? This led to me thinking about turning all of this on its head and considering how we should measure the cost of NOT having a knowledge management or social media strategy, or NOT making any change.

Using this approach we can at least examine the current status quo and determine whether business processes, capacity, staff knowledge etc. are fit for purpose. So, rather than spending time and effort creating a business case for a KM or SM strategy, ask managers to justify why things should stay as they are.

Some pertinent questions for managers might be:

  • Are your staff members currently motivated and inspired?
  • Do your staff have all the relevant information to do their jobs effectively?
  • Do your staff have the right tools for the work they are being asked to do?
  • Do your staff understand their place in the wider organisation and their input and output dependencies for the business processes they contribute to?
  • Do your staff have adequate opportunities to share knowledge and information with other parts of the organisation? Are they encouraged to do so?
  • Are you confident that you can react to rapidly changing demands on your staff?
  • Do you have sufficient knowledge and information to consider the impact of external events on you and your staff and to plan accordingly?
  • Do you know what your customers are saying about you (within and external to your organisation)?
  • Do current policies and guidelines support or hinder you and your staff in their work?
  • Does your manager fully understand what you and your staff do?

There are probably other questions that could be asked, but the key point is that any question which triggers a negative response is potentially a catalyst for change. This also means it could become a performance indicator if change is agreed, i.e. using qualitative or quantitative techniques.

So, we have the beginnings of a measurable approach to change; we know where we are now and we should know what the desired outcomes are. The difference is what we need to measure.

Of course, the problem remains that not all changes can be measured in strictly cash value terms, which is what many people consider to be the true meaning of ROI. I go back to the point I made earlier-  how do you measure the value of a conversation or some information shared?The answer is, you don’t, and the sooner that everyone recognises this the better. Measuring impact can be just as important as measuring value. The impact might be things like improved customer satisfaction (measured using surveys), or less time to complete a task, or improved staff morale (measured using surveys). Any of these can – and potentially will – have an effect in terms of cash value to the organisation, but I firmly believe that converting impact to cash value is an exercise in futility, since more often than not, the formulae and algorithms have too many variables.

So, in terms of “ROI”, think “Return on Impact rather than “Return on Investment when considering Knowledge management strategies, and develop the strategy from the starting point of getting staff to justify the present status quo. After all, change is part of life, and as Darwin once said:

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.

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About Steve Dale

Stephen Dale is both an evangelist and practitioner in the use of Web 2.0 technologies and Social Media applications to support personal development and knowledge sharing. He has a deep understanding of how systems and technology can be used to support learning and facilitate smarter working, where connections and conversations are the key to self-development and creativity within the organisation.
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6 Responses to Knowledge Management – Return on Investment

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  3. Word Police says:

    From your pertinent questions for your managers:
    1. Are your staff currently motivated and inspired?

    “Staff” is singular. The question should have been:
    Is your staff currently motivated and inspired?
    Are your staff members currently motivated and inspired?
    Are members of your staff currently motivated and inspired?

    I was flabbergasted to find a blog about technical communications with such a blatant grammatical error.

  4. Steve Dale says:

    Your are right of course, thanks for pointing this out. Now corrected. I don’t think grammar was ever my strongest point.

  5. Terry says:

    Of course in England the word ‘staff’ would use the plural form of a verb… “Our staff are motivated and inspired!” I rather prefer that, personally.
    Good blog entry. Turning the question on its end can be a good strategy in many situations, so that’s part of the takeaway for me.

  6. Steve Dale says:

    Thanks for the feedback Terry. Appreciated.

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