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Ka and Ba: The soul of an organization

Jay Liebowitz, Orkand Endowed Chair in Management and Technology, University of Maryland University College

The ancient Egyptians believed that everyone had a Ka and Ba. Ka was the life force of all living humans, and Ba was one’s personality. Of course, they also felt that the Ka and Ba formed one’s soul in after-life. 

In much the same way, an organization has a soul and their Ka and Ba might represent “Knowledge Acquisition” and “Business Analytics” respectively. These two areas, if not done well, could lead to the death of the organization. Let’s look at each of these.

First, the Ka—or what we are calling “Knowledge Acquisition.”  Today’s organizations are facing the graying workforce effect, and many industries are in dire straits in terms of possibly losing valuable knowledge that forms the strategic knowledge base for the organization. Without properly acquiring or retaining the knowledge of those in critical “at risk” knowledge areas, the organization’s longevity may be hampered. 

According to the Institute for Corporate Productivity’s knowledge retention strategy study, about 80 percent of organizations evaluated did not have a formal knowledge retention strategy and associated knowledge retention/acquisition process. This should really be part of the organization’s human capital strategy, leading to succession planning and workforce development efforts. 

Some companies, like John Deere and Michelin, use a ROCK (Retention Of Critical Knowledge) methodology to formally acquire, share, apply, and leverage knowledge in their organization through job handoff guides and SharePoint communities of practice. Without weaving knowledge retention within the knowledge management or human capital strategy, the organization will be caught between a “rock” (pun intended) and a hard place.

In much the same, the organization’s Ba (Business Analytics) should be part of the lifeblood of the enterprise. Without proper business analytics, the ship may not be steering in the right direction. Business analytics can take many forms, but ultimately some kind of dashboard should be used to help executives visualize the important analytics that may influence their strategic decision making. These analytics can help shape the “personality” of the organization, and through predictive modeling, may uncover hidden relationships and patterns that may be vitally important to the organization. 

From previous Bloomberg/SAS studies, business analytics have shown to have a powerful, helpful effect for organizational growth and success. They can shed light on key trends and issues that could influence the decision maker.

So, if the Ka and Ba are so important, then why aren’t organizations fully realizing the value of these two components for driving organizational success? Here are some possible reasons. 

1) Due to the global competitive marketplace, senior leaders of organizations are perhaps looking at the short-term outlook versus the long-term. They are more concerned with living from quarter to quarter than generation to generation. For example, knowledge acquisition has a longer-term focus than other initiatives, especially if we couple this with succession planning efforts. So the Ka in this case may be reduced if executives are concerned with only short-term gains. 

2) Often times the business analytics being produced are not explained in a way that the typical senior leader may understand their implications. Part of this is due to some business analytics specialists (data scientists) not being able to easily convey their analytics results in business-speak terms. Part of the future training and education of data scientists should address this issue in order to realize the power of Ba. 

3) Most executives today face an onslaught of daily events, both internal and external, that capture their attention and priority. Knowledge acquisition and business analytics may not viewed as the end-result, but in actuality, they are the means and processes  that could illuminate key issues to avoid some stressful situations from happening. Business analytics could form the triggers to possibly avoid future negative events from occurring.

For organizational survival, the Ka (knowledge acquisition) and the Ba (business analytics) should help shape the soul of the organization.  Executives and senior managers should heed this advice.  Simply put, wouldn’t it be better to take advantage of these elements now instead of waiting until the death of the enterprise?

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