There is an old saying that has proven to be useful across all professions and industries. When everyday operations start to get crazy, “go back to the basics.” This common sense statement might have been valid several years ago for the KM (Knowledge Management), L&D (Learning and Development), and ISO (International Organization for Standardization) industries, but it’s not valid anymore. The focus and practices of these industries have overlapped to such an extent that there is no turning back. “The basics” barely exist anymore.
Where management only had to make choices between data systems or LMS (Learning Management Systems) to fulfill knowledge oriented requirements, they now need to think differently. The C-Suite in particular, is thinking about KM/L&D/ISO as an overall strategic organization solution, rather than as separate functional solutions. Now, the goals and objectives are on how to capture, manage, and deliver structural, procedural, functional, and analytic knowledge across the enterprise. As a result, going back to the basics has become, “adapt, or watch your competitors pass you by.”
In spite of all the new language and hype surrounding the focus and thrust of each of these three industries, an unavoidable reality has come to the surface. The lines of division between these industries has melted under the heat of practical reality. Many managers don’t recognize this yet, but that is what is happening anyway. New vendor/customer exchange services provide the evidence for this through participating company requirement profiles. Companies are planning and looking for products and services that reach as far across the KM, L&D, ISO divide as possible.
The proof of this is also in plain view across the endless number of articles, white papers, and blogs that appear from university, social media, and company sources. These resources are primarily oriented toward the next and greatest term, service, product, technology, or research backing-up a favored perspective. It’s a well-justified game of one-upmanship with the purpose of gaining work and holding market positions within these industries. It’s what free enterprise is all about.
Every once in a while, however, out of the blur, comes a statement that drops an anchor of insight so deep into the reality of a situation or circumstance that a temporary state of clarity occurs that helps orient us to the new reality. One such statement was made by Mark Britz (@britz), an L&D thought leader, who made the statement, “people go to work to work, not to learn.” And so it is. most organizations exist to actualize their missions, goals, and objectives, not to provide learning for their employees and members (academic and training organizations obviously excepted). It may be that organizations conduct training for compliance and to improve work performance, but that is not their primary objective. Work means that individuals perform a service of value that helps an organization achieve its goals and objectives. Training is often considered to be a necessary evil that is required to achieve first priority goals.
Given this, we have to ask, “What is the solution, for large, medium, and small companies” from the perspective of “adapt or die” based on the people go to work to work insight? From our point of view, the solution comes from each of the KM/L&D/ISO industries since each of these industry services cross the boundaries into the other industries territory. To us, it is clear that the focus needs to be placed on operating strategies that are geared toward work/performance above all else. Here’s how I break it down:
KM: knowledge systems that are defined, coordinated, and retained to support missions, goals, and objectives across an enterprise.
L&D: compliance, best practices, subject matter expert knowledge transfers delivered through in-person and technology systems.
ISO: (and country standard organization affiliates), that define Quality Management System standards designed to ensure consistent, high fidelity product and service operations. ISO certification is an indicator of the kind of operational fidelity that is consistent with well run organizations. ISO certification is a door-opening requirement for most large product oriented commercial and government organizations.
Based on the strategic work/performance criteria, this is how I see the three industries merging:
KM will emerge as not just a strategic big business practice, but as a medium to small size business practice due to the growing sophistication and cost advantages of technology. CHRO (Chief Human Resource Officers), CKOs (Chief Knowledge Officers), CLOs (Chief Learning Officers), and Knowledge Management specialists will lead the way. Data technologies have streamlined enterprise operations, but the data mindset does not understand the knowledge mindset – or more specifically, the difference between data technologies and knowledge technologies. KM practitioners such as Nick Milton (@Nickknoco) has been helpful in clarify the difference between information and knowledge to help resolve the confusion.
L&D / T&D: company compliance and best practice training will gradually be subsumed by KM as the CLO mindset shifts from largely administrative thinking to strategic work/performance thinking which forces broad, beyond the parameters thinking about L&D / T&D / eLearning. Though not specifically defined as KM, the “system” practices of industry advocates such as Guy Wallace (@guywwallace) and others, demonstrate how Fortune 500 L&D models can be segmented or down-sized to accommodate the requirements of medium and small companies – which they can grow into.
ISO: ISO standards have become easier to establish and maintain due to automation, which reduces the administrative complexity burden resulting from high-detail delineations and cross-referencing of certification requirements. As a result, automation is allowing more companies to take advantage of time-tested Quality Management System processes and procedures whether they seek ISO certification or not. Many of these same requirements can be found in KM and L&D processes and procedures. The ISO market is growing at a rate of 15% per year.
As the saying goes, “Life will not be denied.” As practitioners and technologists continue to push the envelope of progress beyond its boundaries, the “adapt or die” pressures will be reduced in favor of a “come whatever, come what may” mindset, especially as the strategic work/performance ideal is actualized. In the meantime, we need to hold onto our seat belts as we feel our way forward through this dynamic change.