Wednesday, 12 April 2017

Hail to the Chief - creating faux senior roles is no alternative to a grounded strategy

I've been advising a client that is devising a new knowledge strategy.

Here's a snippet of a recent phone conversation...

Client: 'We're thinking of appointing a Chief Knowledge Officer. We need to show that the strategy has some real clout behind it'.

Me: 'So will this Chief Knowledge Officer have a seat on the main board? If not, how many levels down will the role be positioned?' (The board has only 3 members, CEO, Finance/HR and Operations directors)

Client: 'No, it will be at senior manager level' (that's 3 levels down from the board)

Me: 'I think you should wait to see what the knowledge strategy requires, before creating roles. I'm going to send you an article from a recent Harvard Business Review. Let's have another conversation when you've read it'.

The HBR article I emailed was 'Please Don't Hire a Chief Artificial Intelligence Officer'
I asked my client to simply substitute 'KM' for 'AI' and 'Chief Knowledge Officer' for 'Chief AI Officer'.

Try this yourself with the following paragraph from the article and you'll see why...

'However, I also believe that the effective deployment of AI in the enterprise requires a focus on achieving business goals. Rushing towards an “AI strategy” and hiring someone with technical skills in AI to lead the charge might seem in tune with the current trends, but it ignores the reality that innovation initiatives only succeed when there is a solid understanding of actual business problems and goals. For AI to work in the enterprise, the goals of the enterprise must be the driving force.
This is not what you’ll get if you hire a Chief AI Officer. The very nature of the role aims at bringing the hammer of AI to the nails of whatever problems are lying around. This well-educated, well-paid, and highly motivated individual will comb your organization looking for places to apply AI technologies, effectively making the goal to use AI rather than to solve real problems'.
The problem with creating 'Chiefs' is that they imply clout, but often have none. Witness the number of Chief Knowledge Officer jobs that were created around the turn of the century and how many remain today. I can't think of one. 

Before any roles are created, it's essential that those with real clout understand how organizational learning or knowledge transfer can help them achieve their personal objectives and solve 'actual business problems'. Get that right and you're more than halfway to your strategy. Creating hollow roles are probably unnecessary nails.

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