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November 14, 2005

What’s the Deal with KM and HR?

So I went down to New York looking forward to giving my talk at the big Biotechnology HR conference, even though it was only a breakout session.

Several of the interviews I had recently done for my research on what we’ve learned about knowledge management suggested that human resources and knowledge management might be beginning to come together in interesting ways. One HR department was collaborating with a knowledge manager to develop talent through personal networks rather than training; another was using knowledge-sharing techniques in some of its succession planning.

Since I’ve always thought knowledge management and human resources should work together (so that, for instance, the people hired have collaborative skills), I thought these were promising developments. My talk—on how to attract and retain talented employees—seemed a perfect opportunity to do my little bit to nudge KM and HR toward one other.

I had twenty people in the room, all clustered toward to back. (Bad sign: that’s where the door was.) I gave my spiel: talented people were attracted by opportunities to learn and do interesting work with interesting people, not just by money; favor hiring based on potentials more than credentials; social network analysis and mentoring could help connect newcomers with the organization; HR needed to be part of the firm’s strategic planning process to know what kinds of employees the organization would need in the future; etc.

Six people left during the talk. The rest were unresponsive (to jokes, questions, abject begging for comments). They were so unresponsive that I couldn’t tell if they:

a) were paralyzed by my brilliance;
b) had heard it all before;
c) hated every word.

All in all, the talk didn’t feel like a success.

So here’s my personal scorecard for that New York trip:

Two good restaurant meals on 9th Avenue in the 40s (at Marseille and Cara Mio—Hell’s Kitchen has changed a lot since I was a kid growing up on Long Island). One lousy show (Dr. Sex: The Musical—Don’t ask, but it was a Monday night and almost nothing is on). And a bit less optimism about the coming together of KM and HR, mixed with a lot of puzzlement about what those people were thinking. If you have a guess, let me know.

Posted by Don Cohen on November 14, 2005 12:14 PM | Permalink

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Tracked on February 22, 2006 11:47 PM


As part of the not so bright young people who did go into HR (and wrote HR strategies for the last two years), I tend to agree with Pawan's comment: As a support function, HR strategy follows business strategy; if the business doesn't see the value of good KM, there is very little HR can do about it, even in the few companies where HR has the CEO's ear. Whether we're talking about culture, motivation, retention, or knowledge management: It all comes down to demonstrating ROI. Maybe KM should join forces with Finance?

Posted by: LY | January 9, 2006 04:27 AM

Hi Don,
Here's my take on it. The HR departments usually follow and support the business strategy. If the business strategy was knowledge driven, then naturally the HR would have to align to it and ensure its deliverables.

The problem comes since most people fail to realize the crucial link between Business strategy and KM strategy. In such a case most other departments that have to deliver the business strategy will keep running after revenue numbers, attrition rates, market shares, etc. and this impacts the business outcome.

for KM HR is an enabler, just like technology. Since, for most organizations, KM still needs a lot of change Management hence its linkage to HR is but obvious. However, is collaboration an HR issue? I don't think so...I believe its a culture issue.

Posted by: Pawan Bakhshi, Ph.D. | December 25, 2005 09:52 AM

HR must gradually shift its foundations from personnel adminstration,where numbers matter more than outcomes, to a human capital development one - where what one knows becomes more relevant. But this is one big silo everywhere.

Posted by: Karuna Ramanathan | December 2, 2005 10:15 AM

Maybe HR folks are not the correct people at all...you need to connect with the OD and Organizational Learning folks...

Most HR depts are run very close to the stereotypes that Dilbert points out


Posted by: Gautam | November 30, 2005 09:13 AM

HR people weren't interested in being innovative and responsive to new concepts that require treating employees as complex entities rather than replaceable cogs? Shocking...

Posted by: Anonymous | November 30, 2005 01:34 AM

Hi Don
I have no clue what their reactions might have been, but I'll offer one thought: Each one of them walked into your session on their own two feet.

They chose your session over something else. Why? What did they think it was going to be?

What are they thinking about now?


Posted by: Terrence Seamon | November 29, 2005 09:47 AM

Fast Company nailed the problem with HR in their August issue

Why We Hate HR
HR people aren't the sharpest tacks in the box. We'll be blunt: If you are an ambitious young thing newly graduated from a top college or B-school with your eye on a rewarding career in business, your first instinct is not to join the human-resources dance. (At the University of Michigan's Ross School of Business, which arguably boasts the nation's top faculty for organizational issues, just 1.2% of 2004 grads did so.) Says a management professor at one leading school: "The best and the brightest don't go into HR."

Posted by: Mike | November 22, 2005 02:26 PM

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