Human Resources and Knowledge Management: disrupt or be disrupted

 To steal a line from Shakespeare, this blog is about: two services, both alike in dignity, in fair organisations where we lay our scene – two fading service houses, Human Resources and Knowledge Management. My message, if you don’t disrupt yourselves, others will do it for you.

 Both of these service centres were once crown jewels in many organisations – both, coincidently, during the dot-com era when organisations had a thirst for talent and knowledge retention was the rallying cry from leadership. Both have experienced decline since the turn of the Millennium and both have been severely hit by the Great Recession of 2008. Why? Organisation leaders just don’t see the value in their services; both sets of service providers have rested on their laurels and are blinkered to the needs of the organisations they exist to serve.

 For over twenty-five years, Knowledge Management has served up the same methods, the same solutions and with the same results – failure and dissatisfaction; for example, take a look at Thomas Davenport’s review of the field. The need for a coordinated effort around an organisation’s knowledge capability is not really in doubt, but the methods and education in the field is out-of-step with the environment. This is because the development of “human”, “social” and “intellectual” capitals (the drivers of new financial reporting models, such as the international integrated reporting framework) requires a holistic coordination driven approach to an organisation’s knowledge “capability”, not “management”. This is a fundamental challenge that KM service centres just don’t seem to grasp.

 The same is happening with HR. For the last twenty-five to thirty years, HR has been talking about becoming more strategic in order to improve its value to the wider organisation. Well, that failed. Read the July/August edition of Harvard Business review, with a cover that asks, “is it time to blow up HR and build something new?” The complaints within HR are much the same as for Knowledge Management, a service provider that has lost touch with the ever changing environment it exists to serve – misaligned understanding, methods and services. Again, the need for HR to influence human behaviour with organisations, in order to deliver ongoing capability that sustains human, social and intellectual capital development is perhaps more relevant today than ever before. The problem is that the vast majority of current HR service provision does not develop such capability. As with KM, the function itself is not agile, the services it provides are not agile, so how does it contribute to an agile organisation?

 Some deny that there is a problem in the first place. Such people, and their service centres, cannot see the need for change and therefore will resist the need to adapt. These people and their service centres will become obsolete. As night becomes day, it is just a matter of time. The only way to stop this is for KM and HR to fight blind ignorance founded upon fast fading successes of the past. HR and KM, as service providers, need to disrupt themselves from their malaise before organisational leaders do the disrupting for them.

 The warning signs are amplifying. Disruption is massing on the horizon. The question is, will you be the disruptor or the disrupted?

Leave a Reply