Corporate library managers face the challenge of being responsive to the changing information and research needs of their enterprise while facing the challenge of strategically managing their content lifecycle and operational budget. I recently had the opportunity to talk with three Microsoft Library information professionals who face the daunting task of anticipating the wide-ranging learning, research and information needs of over 150,000 employees doing business in 120 countries. Following is a summary of the insights I gleaned from my conversation with Isabelle Garcia, Library Operations Manager; Kiran Motwani, Employee Engagement Manager; and Philippe Cloutier, Research & Archives Program Manager.
The Microsoft Library falls within Talent, Learning & Insights, which the library managers have found to be a well-suited position for serving an organization with a corporate culture that values learning, curiosity and taking risks. The library staff have found that this lets them use a coordinated, hub-and-spoke model for providing services to all functional areas of the company, and lets them stay attuned to the research and information needs of each community. The library staff work proactively to monitor and identify the resources that a group needs, connect the users with the information products available and, if needed, work on filling the gaps with new content.
Providing knowledge management services in a company as diversified and geographically dispersed as Microsoft means being able to thrive in a collaborative and cross-departmental environment and being seen as an authoritative source for information across disciplines. In fact, because of the library staff's reputation for being credible, trustworthy, strategic partners, they are often brought in to test out a content management technology, identify content gaps or help address the KM challenges of individual groups. An unanticipated benefit of building a reputation as information experts has been better conversations about a new technology, initiative, or knowledge management consultation.
KM Words of Advice
I asked these Microsoft library managers for any advice they would offer to fellow information professionals contemplating a new KM initiative, and they had some thoughtful advice.
First, in their words, "KM is messier than you imagine it's going to be." It's all about connecting the dots—with users, with internal data, with external content, and with the outside world. This means that library staff need to stay on top of the needs and priorities of all the user groups within their organization, so that they always have a rich understanding of how to best leverage their digital content.
The library managers also noted that a common experience among KM professionals is users' desire for a technology solution, whereas the technology itself is only a small aspect of a knowledge management initiative. Instead, the focus needs to be on building relationships and understanding the culture within that group or department. Management guru Peter Drucker noted that "culture eats strategy for lunch;" the library managers commented that culture also eats knowledge management for lunch. "You could have the very best processes and the best technology in the world," they commented, "but if you don't have a culture of knowledge management, you're doomed."
A particularly valuable piece of advice they offered is to identify and remove all assumptions about what is needed and to approach each KM project as if they were a new employee. Rather than offering answers, begin by looking at the current situation with fresh eyes. Who are the stakeholders? What are this group's current information needs, and what problems are they trying to solve? How would they define a successful outcome? Is there support for this initiative throughout the group? Does leadership support it? Do all employees within the group understand what to expect from a knowledge management initiative? How is this initiative being funded? Have there been prior initiatives and, if so, what happened? If they failed, what lessons were learned and how can those failures be avoided this time?
Modeling good behavior is another factor in the Microsoft library managers' KM success. The library's content portals on SharePoint are easy to use and well-organized; users can find what they are looking for; and the user experience is smooth and intuitive. As a result, when users come to the library with a content management project, they see the library staff as consultants who are familiar with KM best practices, who know what pitfalls to watch out for, and who are committed to working collaboratively to solve their knowledge management problem.
The library managers have had so many inquiries regarding content management that they wrote an internal white paper detailing how to assess departmental needs and offering a brief case study on implementing a KM project. In addition to enhancing their reputation as thought leaders within Microsoft, this white paper has helped frame KM project conversations and facilitate discussions with users.
Learning and technology are key to an organization's competitiveness, no matter the size or scale, and the strategies the Microsoft library managers used can be effective in any enterprise that values informed decisions and cost-effective use of resources.