Insight No. 27

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Do You Need a CKO?:
(Chief Knowledge Officer)
No. 27





What To Do

A Chief Knowledge Officer is a senior executive who is responsible for ensuring that an organization maximises the value it achieves through one of its most important assets - knowledge. Although only a few companies have people with this explicit title, those with similar responsibilities include Director of Intellectual Capital, Director of Innovation. Note - a CKO is not simply a relabelling of the CIO (Chief Information Officer) or MIS Directors. The role of a CKO is broader and different. So what is the answer to the question: "Do you need a CKO?"

Yes ... If
You Want To

  • Maximize the returns on your investment in knowledge - people, processes and intellectual capital
  • Exploit your intangible assets e.g. know-how, patents, customer relationships
  • Repeat your successes and share best practices
  • Improve your innovation - the commercialization of ideas
  • Avoid knowledge loss and leakage after organizational restructuring.

For example: Dow Chemical has realized over $125 million through better exploitation of its patent portfolio; Texas Instruments has saved investment in a new plant by sharing knowledge of best practice from its existing plants.

No ... If
  • Knowledge is not important to your business (but 92 per cent in a recent survey said they were in a knowledge intensive business
  • You are content to leave it to local initiatives and hope it comes good
  • A culture of knowledge sharing pervades and systematic processes are in place
  • Knowledge leadership comes from the top and is passionately pursued
  • Everybody has development of knowledge in their job plans
  • Your performance monitoring system explicitly has a knowledge dimension.

For example: Bob Buckman, CEO of Buckman Chemicals has personally driven their knowledge initiative forward; Company X is developing an intranet, and hopes this alone will give them the benefits of knowledge management (we're not so sure!)

Role of the CKO

There is no set formula but most CKO's responsibilities include:

  • Developing an overall framework that guides knowledge management
  • Actively promotes the knowledge agenda within and beyond the company
  • Oversees the development of the knowledge infrastructure - 'hard' and 'soft'
  • Facilitates connections, coordination and communications.


The characteristics of a CKO are very much that of a hybrid manager. We have consistently found that they must be good at:

  • Conceptual thinking - developing the big picture; understanding the wider knowledge context and the organization's strategy within it
  • Advocacy - they must articulate the knowledge agenda and actively promote it, and justify it, sometimes against cynicism or even open hostility.
  • Project and people management - they have to oversee a variety of activities, and therefore need to pay attention to detail and motivate the people carry out these tasks
  • Communications - they must be excellent nonworkers, communicating clearly the knowledge agenda, have good listening skills and be sensitive to organizational opportunities and obstacles

Other generic general management characteristics required are leadership, teamworking, influencing, and interpersonal skills. A combination of all these skills equips them as excellent agents of change.

What Should You Do?
  1. Think about what knowledge is crucial to your business success
  2. Who has this knowledge? How quickly can key personnel access it?
  3. Assess how well you manage, develop and exploit this knowledge
  4. Consider who is responsible for maximising its value to the business
  5. Task a person or team to provide a framework for action.

© Copyright. David J. Skyrme. 1997. This material may be copied or distributed subject to the terms of our copyright conditions (no commercial gain; complete page copying etc.)

See the related Insight Knowledge Management: making sense of an oxymoron. See also:
'Knowledge Leadership', Chapter 3 in Creating the Knowledge-based Business, David J. Skyrme and Debra M. Amidon, Business Intelligence (1997).

Back to: Top - Yes..If - No...If - Role - Skills - What To Do - Feedback

Management Insights are publications of David Skyrme Associates, who offers strategic consulting, presentations and workshops on many of these topics.

Additional coverage of these topics can be found in our free monthly briefing I3 UPDATE/ENTOVATION International News, various articles, publications and presentations.

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