The Employee Engagement Network

Carla O’Dell and Cindy Hubert: An interview by Bob Morris

Carla O'Dell is president of APQC and is considered one of the world’s leading experts in knowledge management (KM). In 1995 and under O’Dell’s direction, APQC launched its first KM best practices consortium study called Emerging Best Practices in Knowledge Management. Thirty-nine organizations sponsored the groundbreaking study. Since then, APQC has conducted over 25 consortium studies on topics related to KM, involving more than 300 participating organizations and producing the world’s largest body of actionable best practices in designing, implementing, and measuring KM.  APQC has led more than 150 custom KM projects. APQC was the first nonprofit organization to be awarded the Global Most Admired Knowledge Enterprise (MAKE) award, as well as the North America Award, a total of six times. 

In March 2011, O'Dell and Cindy Hubert, two leaders from APQC, released the definitive book on how to implement knowledge management (KM), The New Edge in Knowledge: How Knowledge Management Is Changing the Way We Do Business.

This book is a follow up to O'Dell's best selling business resource, If Only We Knew What We Know, co-authored by C. Jackson Grayson, that played an instrumental role in firmly establishing KM as an accepted and widely used management discipline. Hubert is the executive director of APQC’s Delivery Services, which provides individualized and collaborative approaches to solve business problems and address strategic needs. Over the past 16 years, Hubert and her team have worked with more than 400 organizations to provide assessments, strategy development, project management, transfer of best practice design and implementation, and metric and best practices research engagements using APQC’s proven knowledge management methodologies.

Hubert has played instrumental roles in the innovation, development, and implementation of APQC’s Levels of Knowledge Management Maturity™ and Knowledge Management Capability Assessment Tool.  These best practice frameworks are used by organizations across the world to guide, develop, and execute their KM strategies and approaches.     

Morris: Before discussing your book, The New Edge of Knowledge Management, a few general questions. First, for those who are unfamiliar with the American Productivity & Quality Center (APQC), tell us a little bit about the APQC’s mission and history in KM.

O’Dell: APQC is a member-based nonprofit founded by C. Jackson Grayson to help organizations improve productivity and quality. We are known as a global resource for benchmarks and best practices in finance, supply chain, HR and many other disciplines.  We are one of the world’s leading proponents and advisors in knowledge management (KM), communities of practice, measurement, using social media and other related disciplines. 

Working with more than 750 organizations worldwide in all industries, APQC has spent more than 15 years studying what works—and what doesn’t—in the fast-moving arena called Knowledge Management (KM).

APQC is the leading source of trusted KM tools and information for both those just starting on their journey to KM excellence and those already advanced in their KM practices. Companies and governments use APQC’s KM implementation guides to quickly build an enterprise knowledge management strategy to span organizational silos, build a common way of working, and lead to more reuse of knowledge in new and innovative ways.

Morris: Why did you write this book?

O’Dell: Our first KM book, If Only We Knew What We Know, was published in 1998. A lot has changed since then. Many recent changes in the way we do business and communicate in general have exciting implications for KM. Even companies and governments with mature KM programs have adjusted their strategy for these game-changing trends.

  • The digital world has begun to reshape KM. Online social networking has shaken up traditional KM. Although new technologies always present new challenges, no KM function can ignore this opportunity. Enterprise 2.0 tools may be the best thing to happen to KM since the water cooler.
  • In their personal lives and on the job, employees have become digitally immersed. All ages of employees expect more engagement and access to information and want work processes that reflect the ease with which they communicate outside of work. 
  • Smart phones and other mobile devices now allow us to communicate and share any place, any time, and with anyone. KM can take advantage of these always-on and always-on-you devices to make content available to employees at their most teachable moment. 
  • A huge demographic is now leaving the work force. As baby boomers exit the playing field, their absence puts a greater need on incoming employees to get up to speed quickly.

These societal shifts have changed the power dynamics for how all organizations operate. An increasingly savvy work force is dictating how and when they need information, and organizations face tremendous opportunities to turn individual employees’ knowledge into organizational intellectual assets.

Employees need vivid, relevant examples and practical advice for everyday work. Executives need a tangible and substantial ROI. And organizations need to respond to the forces at work and create new approaches. In this new environment, KM is an absolutely necessary core business practice to face the competition. With it, employers can reasonably expect better knowledge-based decisions from their work force.

Morris: During the last decade, what has been the single most significant change in how knowledge is managed? What are its major implications? Please explain.

O’Dell: Organizations realize that you don’t “manage” knowledge, but you manage the processes that help knowledge flow.  Knowledge management professionals realize that a portfolio of approaches with supporting technologies is required opposed to “one way” to collect and disseminate knowledge.  For example, a community of practice can be foundational for other approaches, such as lessons learned, that allow knowledge to flow.  Communities also promote collaboration that can be enabled by Web 2.0 technologies, such as wikis and blogs, that also provide interaction and documentation of critical knowledge.

Organizations operate more virtually than they have in the past, which reduces the face-to-face opportunities that are such a rich environment for creating and responding to teachable moments.

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