Knowledge is essential to the functioning of any organization. Without the right information in the right hands, a company may flounder. In fact, failing to share knowledge efficiently costs Fortune 500 companies an estimated $31.5 billion per year.
Not only that, but a recent survey found that over 70 percent of respondents felt ideal knowledge sharing would lead to at least a 20 percent increase in productivity within their teams.
Clearly, the accumulation of the right knowledge provides organizations with a competitive resource and the best way to ensure create, organize, and utilize this knowledge is what knowledge management is all about. While the name “knowledge management” clearly establishes the basic concept, there’s more to it than meets the eye.
What Is Knowledge Management?
Knowledge management resources vary in how they define knowledge management, but perhaps the easiest way to conceptualize it is to think of it as “collecting and connecting.”
The aim is to collect an organization’s knowledge and connect people to the information they need to perform their jobs well (check out some knowledge management examples here.)
In more technical terms, as popularized by Nonaka and Takeuchi in their book The Knowledge-Creating Company, the goal of knowledge management is to turn tacit knowledge, which is know-how often gained through firsthand experience, into explicit knowledge, which can be documented and easily shared.
If you’re considering implementing a knowledge management program or refining your company’s existing program, here’s what you need to know.
Fundamental Facets of Knowledge Management
Knowledge management can be broken down into three main activities. Each task is an important part of the process and requires careful thought and effort.
Knowledge creation refers to discovering and capturing new knowledge, which may involve observation of highly experienced people, documentation of established procedures, research, and experimentation.
Some of the knowledge created comes from explicit knowledge, while the rest of the knowledge that’s captured comes from tacit knowledge, or knowledge residing in people’s minds through their experiences and skills.
As defined by Ikujiro Nonaka there are four types of knowledge creating processes that include ”socialization (tacit to tacit), externalization (tacit to explicit), combination (explicit to explicit), and internalization (explicit to tacit).”
Sharing knowledge is the process of distributing the proper information to the people within your organization that need it and is an essential activity in the knowledge management process.
Proper distribution facilitates the process of knowledge dissemination by connecting people to the right information, regardless of their location or time of day.
Additionally, when done properly (through the breaking down of organizational silos) knowledge sharing allows for better collaboration and cross-communication between teams. In turn this allows for better participation and cooperation among all employees, regardless of position within a particular organization.
Apply knowledge effectively
What good is capturing and sharing knowledge if it isn’t leveraged by the people within the organization effectively?
The knowledge that has been created and distributed should be used as part of the decision-making and problem-solving process.
Why Is Knowledge Management Important for Your Company?
Proper knowledge management can reap a host of benefits for your company. Here are just a few of the ways knowledge management can help your business.
Strong knowledge management can lead to greater situational awareness, which means employees know the facts and details they need to make good decisions for a particular situation.
Knowledge management fosters an environment of open communication, which can help your employees be more efficient, while also signaling that everyone is a valuable part of the team.
Sharing information can also encourage collaboration between employees. Since more people have access to necessary details and information, it is easier to work together to come up with ideas and solutions.
Develop a culture of sharing
A strong knowledge management program can also encourage a culture of sharing, wherein employees are less inclined to hoard information and more likely to recognize information as communal property. Such a culture is also likely to foster a stronger team atmosphere.
Store knowledge for the future
Your current team may all know a policy or procedure, but that doesn’t mean future employees will understand it. Strong knowledge management will allow you to store important information to use again in the future.
Avoid needing to recreate knowledge
Perhaps the main benefit of storing knowledge for the future is preventing the need to recreate knowledge. If you do something successfully once but do not document how, you may need to recreate your methods from scratch the next time you want to perform the same task. This can cost your company valuable time and money. If you’ve simply recorded the information, though, it will be ready to use again whenever you need it.
Enabling a Successful Knowledge Management Program
Implementing knowledge management may seem like a simple process: just implement some tools to collect and share. However, there are number of factors that could impact the success or failure of your program, so it’s important to take these things into account.
While knowledge management can shape company culture, research suggests that culture can also shape the implementation of knowledge management within an organization. Not only does culture shape how employees interact and share information, it can also influence who shares and who hoards information. This could ultimately play a role in the success or failure of a knowledge management program. Some cultures might create more resistance, while other cultures might embrace a new knowledge management system.
Leadership and contributions
Implementing knowledge management requires a strong leader to direct the process. As with any major organizational change, someone needs to lead the change, plan the rollout, and guide employees through the process.
In addition to needing a strong leader to implement the change, a strong leader will also need to empower employees so that they can easily share the information that the organization wishes to better manage.
A lot of strategy is involved in implementing a successful knowledge management system.
Before implementing your knowledge management program, it is helpful to plan out your strategy. Start by creating clear objectives for what you want your knowledge management program to accomplish. Once you have these objectives in place, you can work backwards to define strategies that will help you meet your goals.
Additionally, the main goal of effective knowledge management is to help a company meet its strategic goals, so it is essential to consider what information is actually relevant to your goals.
While it can be tempting to record as much information as possible, some information is not relevant, and the process of recording it and cataloging it can waste valuable time and create unnecessary clutter that employees must sift through to find the content they need.
Finally, you’ll need to find metrics to use to determine whether your knowledge management techniques have been successful.
Standard operating processes (SOPs)
SOPs need to be in place to collect and share information within your company. Having clear, established processes will enable consistent, efficient documentation and distribution of key information.
Any knowledge management program requires the right technology to support it.
This doesn’t mean that your company needs to spend thousands of dollars to design its own custom database or e-learning system. In fact, low-tech techniques like mentoring programs and written documents could be just as helpful for meeting your objectives.
However, using technology to your advantage can often make the knowledge management process more efficient. Your business may choose to use existing technology or develop new technology to help you better meet your organization’s goals.
Whenever your company implements technology, security becomes an important consideration, so this is something you must take into account if you are using technology as part of your knowledge management program. Especially since some information shared between employees might involve industry secrets or proprietary knowledge, you’ll want to make sure security procedures are in place to protect the information you’re sharing.
Essential Technologies and Strategies for Successful Knowledge Management
Creating, organizing, spreading, and managing knowledge across your organization requires proper tools and strategies.
Here are just a few that will help in the process:
A knowledge base acts as a central repository of information that allows for easy and effective knowledge sharing.
Members within your organization can search for best practices, standard operating procedures, and other useful information.
Additionally, knowledge bases aid in the knowledge creation process as they can show an organization where it has knowledge gaps.
Databases management systems
Databases can be a convenient way to give employees across your company access to the information they need. However, to be effective, databases must be carefully designed to be quick and easy to use.
Documents management systems
Documents management systems deal primarily with explicit knowledge and aid in the publishing, storage, indexing, and retrieval of documents that are both printed or distributed digitally.
Lessons learned management systems
The process of doing a post-mortem allows teams and their members to learn before, during, and after a project and helps with converting tacit knowledge into explicit knowledge that can be accessed later on.
While the concept of knowledge management was fueled by the Information Age, old-school methods of knowledge distribution, like mentoring programs, still have their place. This technique relies on pairing an expert with a trainee.
The expert aims to share knowledge attained through personal experience by demonstrating for the trainee, monitoring the trainee’s progress, and providing guidance and feedback to the trainee.
Since targeted, work-related social networking allows employees to share information, discuss developments, and ask questions, it can be a powerful knowledge management tool. Specially designed programs, like Slack, are particularly useful for allowing workers to learn and share.
Improving your company’s knowledge management can save valuable time and resources, so implementing a strong knowledge management program can be one of the best business decisions you’ve ever made.
But ensuring that the initiative is successful requires a shift in company culture along with strong leadership and contributors. Furthermore, it’s necessary to have the right tools and strategies in place to ensure that knowledge is continuously created, shared, and used effectively within your organization.