Knowledge Management is a business process which attempts to capture, create, and use organizational knowledge. Leveraging knowledge improves performance and creates a competitive advantage. It also helps to alleviate management by myth. Employees (knowledge workers) know how things are done within the organization because it is communicated in a systematic and seamless way. No guessing required!
The term “Knowledge Management” (KM) has different meanings depending upon your perspective and industries. Researchers Girard and Girard analyzed over 100 definitions of KM collected from open access sources. After removing the actual term KM, grouping root word combinations, and removing all prepositions and pronouns, the top six words found in were knowledge, organization, process, information, use, and share. Technology, while instrumental to KM processes, was much further down on the list.
Knowledge creation and organizational learning produce inputs for the KM system. Organizational learning occurs at the individual, group, and organizational level. Organizational learning is organic and happens in all organizations. It can be productive, lost or wasted, or impeded or stopped without proper support. KM systems capture these inputs and make them available throughout the organization.
Knowledge within an organization is more than just data. Knowledge can be both explicit and tacit. Knowledge allows employees, knowledge workers, to define, prepare, shape, and learn to solve a task or problem.
Some of the techniques for curating organizational knowledge to be retained in a KM system include:
- Communities of practice – These may be formal or informal groups which routinely interact due to a shared or common practice. Members may have varying degrees of involvement but typically are joined together by a common interest or pursuit. Peer learning groups may be an example of a community of practice.
- Storytelling – Compelling stories tap into our brains much more effectively than facts and figures alone. According to , the areas of the brain used for memorizing lists is most vulnerable to the effects of aging, medication, and head trauma. However, well told stories trigger neural networks throughout the brain thereby enhancing memory.
- Intra department meetings – Providing opportunities for employees to interact with peers across organizational boundaries allows for knowledge sharing and collaboration. have found that trust, justice, organizational culture, and management support are all necessary for knowledge sharing to occur at the individual level.
- Debriefings and project summaries – Also referred to as after-action reviews, debriefings or project summaries provide the opportunity to document what worked and what did not work with a project or initiative. The key to effective debriefings is to provide a safe environment for all participants so that it’s ok to admit to and learn from mistakes. Organizational culture will directly impact the success of debriefings and project summaries.
- Mentoring programs – Mentoring programs can be used to facilitate knowledge sharing between senior employees or executives and more junior employees. Mentoring programs can be hit or miss with some relationships being more successful than others. Also, knowledge sharing is somewhat limited to those participating in the program.
- Leveraging knowledge brokers or subject matter experts – Most every organization has a knowledge broker or two. That go-to person who always has the answer or knows someone who has the answer. These knowledge brokers may not be the subject matter expert or SME, but they know the SME’s and they know the ins and outs or their particular organization. Subject matter experts also should be identified for their contributions.
Each of these techniques have pros and cons. Some may be appropriate for one department or team in an organization yet not a good option for another department in the same organization. Often, a combination of techniques will be needed.
As one researcher put it, “technology by itself will be insufficient to create and sustain knowledge management; however, it is highly unlikely, if not impossible, to implement a knowledge management infrastructure without the support of technology” (Laun & Serban, 2002, P.85). Many firms utilize dedicated KM systems or products as part of their overall KM business process. These systems or products may support the following types of functions or activities within the KM process:
- Business Intelligence
- Knowledge base
- Customer relationship management
- Data mining
The lack of a formal KM products or system should not be a deterrent for smaller organization. By thinking outside the box and using many of the standard business tools available to them, smaller organizations can begin curating, cataloging, and better using their own organizational knowledge.
Tools to consider include:
- HCMS/HRIS data – Many human capital systems include talent data fields to collect information beyond just employees’ education information. These may help to identify knowledge brokers or subject matter experts within the organization.
- Communication tools – Email, wikis, blogs, intranets.
- Standard business documentation – Standard operating procedures, manuals, handbooks, new hire orientations, and meeting notes can all be used to capture and share institutional knowledge.
- Collaboration tools – SharePoint or GSuite Docs allow dispersed teams to collaborate on documents. These tools can also be leveraged for capturing organizational knowledge.
- Digitized records – Most organizations have some of records digitized. The cataloging and indexing used for digitized records should have long-term meaning that is documented for use across the organization. It may be necessary to re-evaluate cataloging and indexing on predetermined basis in response to changes in business needs or requirements.
Just like every other business process or initiative, there must be a commitment to making use of organizational knowledge. Before implementing any KM system (elaborate or homegrown) senior leadership need to champion the effort. If there is a lack of buy-in at the top, the effort will fall flat after the initial implementation process (assuming you get that far).
Once implemented, incentives for continued use should be put into place. Also, promote and celebrate success. When the KM system implemented works to help improve efficiency or customer satisfaction or employee retention, make sure everyone knows about the success and celebrate! Nothing motives commitment like success.
For more information on knowledge management, knowledge sharing or organizational culture, contact Engaged CTC.