What the heck is a Chief Knowledge Officer?

It is a high-level position in a number of large regional firms. The individual is responsible for all aspects of knowledge and information about the firm. He or she focuses on making sure that knowledge doesn't just reside with the individual firm members, but is captured and then institutionalized within the firm so that he it can be accessed easily by all those who need it.

What this probably means is templates for audit engagements, checklists as well as established procedures to be following in tax return preparation, and a sophisticated client relationship management database. There is almost certainly a knowledge database on the firm's Intranet that might have, for example, questions to be asked for determining the scope of a consulting engagement for a manufacturing client.

So how does this relate to a smaller firm that can't afford a Chief Knowledge Officer? Here are ideas that came to me while I was a guest at The Rainmaker Academy business development class for 17 partners and soon-to-be partners from accounting firms from around the country.

  • I asked two attendees how they read the Practical Accountant. Their answer was they check out what features they want to read from the cover and then look in the table of contents for the departments in their specialty area. To me that's a mistake because the tax partner doing cost segregation work never sees the item in the Revenue Enhancers department on how one firm is outsourcing its costs segregation expertise to other accounting firms. Is there a better solution for the small firm? Sure-one of the other attendee's told me his accounting firm simply has different individuals responsible for certain subject and practice areas so that they inform firms members with a e-mail alert of developments that might impact them.

  • How about recognizing important clients. Is that knowledge normally residing in the partner that serves that client and the managing partner? I was given a Rainmaker class directory with contact information for each attendee along with their pictures. In the age of technology, how about placing pictures of the key people of important clients in the firm's CRM database?

  • What about when a firm hasn't documented the practices and procedures of key soon-to-be departing personnel? Instead of just pushing them to complete some unfinished engagement, have them summarize, in writing, their practices and procedures for the firm so their successor can reap some benefit from it.

Bottom line: Every member of a smaller firm should be a knowledge officer, splitting the duties of that so-called "Chief Knowledge Officer," and thereby accomplishing similar results to those of the large regional firms, but utilizing their available tools and done with a limited budget.

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