Benchmarking Your Knowledge Strategy

Charting your organization's performance on a range of knowledge strategy drivers, makes it possible to check strategic focus and operational alignment against an integrated model of knowledge capabilities.

In the knowledge economy, creating new knowledge is the central activity of organizations, and the principal driver of all other competencies and capabilities.

Several strategic choices and trade-offs determine a company's learning process and knowledge base:

  • Balancing external and internal learning;
  • Balancing radical versus incremental learning;
  • Balancing knowledge creation and knowledge transfer;
  • Speed of learning;
  • Balancing a broad scope versus a narrow focus.

These factors are interrelated: internal learning tends to produce faster and more radical results, while external learning may support a broad knowledge base.

Generic knowledge strategy

Limited resources and cultural factors that predispose organizations to one learning style over the others, create a dynamic from which typical configurations of learning styles emerge.

We may distinguish between four generic knowledge strategies:

Innovators are able to integrate learning across all the dimensions mentioned above, creating synergies between the various types of learning. Innovators are also the fastest learners.
Loners spend much resources on R&D with poor results. They are isolated and slow learners, with typically a over-narrow knowledge base.
Exploiters spend least on R&D and benefit from external learning that incrementally expands a broad (but shallow) knowledge base.
Explorers attain very high levels of radicalness, with a balanced approach across all the learning approaches, while spending less on R&D than Innovators.

Aligning operational knowledge strategies

A recent publication integrates the four generic knowledge strategies outlined above, with a portfolio approach to four operational knowledge strategies:

A leveraging strategy prioritizes internal transfer of existing knowledge.
An appropriating strategy prioritizes external learning to widen the knowledge base.
An expansion strategy prioritizes the creation of new knowledge that adds to the existing knowledge base.
A probing strategy attempts to create a new knowledge capability from scratch.

Benchmarking your knowledge strategy

I've created a computer model that incorporates the complex relationships between learning style trade-offs, generic knowledge strategies and operational knowledge strategies.

Running this model allows us to investigate some interesting questions:

  • What is your long-term, or 'grand', knowledge strategy?
  • Are your operational knowledge activities consistent with this long-term focus?

To see how the model helps answering these questions, let's investigate how it works for Example Corp, a fictitous organization.

First we define a knowledge strategy "fingerprint" of Example Corp, consisting of scores (low/medium/high) for various learning dimensions, as follows: internal (medium), external (high), radical (high), transfer (high), creation (medium), speed (high), scope (high), focus (medium).

Feeding the stategic fingerprint into the computer model, gives us the alignment of Example Corp's strategy with four generic strategy types.

Example Corp turns out to fall between an Innovator and an Explorer. That's good news, both types are high performers when it comes to knowledge creation. You may want to step back and think a bit whether the competitive dynamics in your industry are strong enough to warrant an aggressive knowledge strategy, and if so, what it is that limits your ability to pursue an all-out Innovator strategy.

More interestingly, the model allows us to compare the alignment of our operational knowledge strategy implementation with the idealized 'grand' knowledge strategies of Innovator and Explorer.

As it turns out, Example Corp's alignment for the operational balance between Probing, Expanding and Leveraging is close to the expected scores, for both the Innovator and the Explorer grand strategy types. The interesting outlier is the Appropriating operational strategy, which appears to be overweighted when compared with the Innovator ideal type, and also when compared with the Explorer ideal type.

Now, there's nothing prescriptive about this model. Being heavily invested in Appropriation may be a valid operational strategy. Highlighting this aspect of your knowledge strategy operationalization does, however, raise the question: why are you heaviliy invested in Appropriation?

As it turns out, Example Corp is entering a new product market and the high weight for Appropriation reflects a conscious decision to widen the knowledge base fast, by absorbing external knowledge. As the new product line becomes established, Example Corp will want to make sure that the operational knowledge strategy portfolio becomes more balanced and increasingly incorporates other modes of strengthening the knowledge base.

Benchmarking knowledge activity performance on a range of carefully chosen indicators, makes visible the chosen long-term knowledge strategy, and allows for evaluation and tuning of the portfolio of operational knowledge strategies.

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