In this day and age, there are very few resources that are as valuable to an organization as knowledge.
Be it employees’ ability to share experiences, best practices, and insights, or access to vast amounts of data and sources of information, knowledge is fast becoming the basis for competitive advantage and success.
And as it is with all resources, if not managed properly, knowledge can quickly become a liability.
It is therefore important that businesses implement proper knowledge management strategies and technologies in order to ensure they are utilizing their knowledge resources to the fullest.
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the most effective knowledge management strategies, technologies, and best practices that can help you make the most out of your organization’s knowledge.
What is Knowledge Management?
If you google knowledge management, the definition you'll find is “the process of creating, sharing, using and managing the knowledge and information of an organization.”
And while that's technically true, it does a disservice to the concept, because it's really not that simple.
By simply categorizing and storing knowledge (not that that is an easy thing to do, but we'll come to that) you aren't making the most of it.
Knowledge management should ultimately aim at creating a culture where everyone in the organization feels enabled and encouraged to share their own knowledge, as well as access and use the knowledge already available to them.
The goal is to maximize the collective intelligence of an organization and create a culture of learning so that each individual can leverage their knowledge creatively, allowing everyone to make better decisions faster.
And while sometimes simple knowledge bases and cloud storage solutions may help out, when looking at it from this perspective, it's clear that a dedicated knowledge management strategy and technology are necessary.
Why You Need Knowledge Management Strategies
The simple truth is that the collective knowledge of a company is not available to everyone when they need it.
It is often locked in the heads of a few people and not available to the rest of the team, or there may be silos within departmentsthat prevent knowledge sharing.
A lot of time people are also simply unwilling to share knowledge for fear of losing their "expert" status or having to give up control.
There are dozens of other factors that prevent the free flow of knowledge within organizations, which is why you need to have solid knowledge management strategies in place if you want to unlock the value of your company's collective intelligence.
The Challenges to Knowledge Management
Apart from the lack of willingness to share knowledge and information, there are also other obstacles that organizations may face when it comes to knowledge management.
The biggest challenge is often that certain knowledge is simply not that easy to share because it is deep within the minds of experts. As a result, this most valuable knowledge is often the hardest to access.
To understand why that is, just ask yourself why a university can never produce an experienced manager.
There is simply no way to extract the knowledge of an expert and place it in a document so that upon reading it, a beginner becomes an expert.
This kind of knowledge is called tacit knowledge. It's tied to experience, know-how, and context. It's forged over years of hands-on experience, trial and error, and complex problem-solving.
This makes it incredibly hard to capture and it is best transferred through master-apprentice relationships, common work projects, and other forms of collaboration and socialization.
In addition to transferring and protecting existing knowledge, firms also need to create environments that promote the creation of new knowledge. Knowledge is best created in an unstructured context where people are free to experiment and where failure is seen as part of the learning process.
It is best created when different kinds of knowledge and the people possessing it interact, socialize and build on their know-how and know-what.
And that’s why knowledge management is so much more than capturing knowledge, and also why the potential of knowledge management is so much greater.
The Importance of Knowledge Management
And this is why it must never be confused with information management, which deals with the transfer of easily coded facts and figures.
Knowledge management is about understanding the dynamics of knowledge, how and why it changes, and how people interact with information and each other in order to create new insights and develop innovative solutions to problems.
It’s also about having an eye on future developments and trends that might impact either what we know or our ability to use it.
Therefore, knowledge management is important because it enables organizations to identify and capture their teams' tacit and explicit knowledge, and then put systems in place to ensure these know-hows and know-whats are preserved and shared throughout the organization.
To sum it up, the key responsibilities and scope of knowledge management include:
An understanding of what knowledge the firm actually possesses and where this knowledge is found, getting the right knowledge to the right people at the right time.
Making sure that valuable knowledge is not lost. For example, if key employees leave or retire institutional knowledge can be lost forever.
and fostering an environment where new relevant knowledge can be created
Now that we are clear on what we are talking about when we say knowledge management, let’s talk about how to utilize it in your organization.
How to Build the Right Knowledge Management Strategy
In order to get the most out of your strategy, you will need to identify the 3 main goals (which we already did, but we’ll list them below again), and find the best way for your organization to achieve those goals in the shortest possible time.
The right processes for the detection and categorization of knowledge
The first goal your knowledge management strategy has to achieve is to detect, categorize and store knowledge. This is where the right processes come in.
You need to set up systems that will allow you to quickly identify what kind of knowledge exists in your organization, who owns it (human or digital), and how it can be accessed by relevant personnel.
Additionally, you should establish protocols for when and how knowledge should be categorized and stored, such as in a database or an organized library.
This is the most basic thing your organization can do to ensure information is available to anyone when it’s needed.
These things can be done in a variety of ways:
- Implement a knowledge base for easy access to information
- Designate a knowledge manager who is responsible for the organization and storage of information
- Monitor your onboarding time and evaluate if it could be improved with access to more info
- Make sure valuable institutional knowledge is being captured and stored
- Create a process for retiring old information to free up space and reduce clutter
- These are just a few of the ways you can ensure your organization has access to the knowledge they need. If implemented properly, this system could save time and resources while ensuring everyone in the organization is on the same page.
Create an organizational culture where people want to share, collaborate, and learn
Now that the so-called easy part is out of the way, let’s talk about how to capture and share that elusive tacit knowledge, as well as how to generate more knowledge in your organization - because that’s where knowledge management will make the biggest difference.
As we already discussed, getting knowledge out of an expert and into a database is incredibly hard for two reasons: their unwillingness to do so, and the sheer difficulty of capturing that knowledge in a format that is sharable.
Both of those issues can only be tackled by fostering the right company culture. An environment that encourages collaboration and sharing, where people feel safe to share their ideas without fear of judgment or criticism, and where they are given the tools and resources to do so.
This starts with ensuring that the organization’s values and beliefs align with those objectives:
- Reward knowledge sharing rather than knowledge hoarding
- Allow for time to be spent on research, innovation, and collaboration
- Incentivise mentorships and collaborations between team members
- Create an open, transparent communication flow that encourages idea sharing
- Regular check-ins with teams to ensure that knowledge is being actively shared
- Provide access to external experts and resources when needed
- Focus on collaboration, not competition
- Embrace failure as an opportunity for learning, and have a plan in place to quickly iterate on ideas
Creating a culture that nurtures collaboration is by no means an easy undertaking and the process will look different for every company, so make sure to tailor your strategies to best fit the needs of your organization and people.
Regular check-ins, be it in person or via surveys, can give you valuable insights into where your strategies might be lacking and where you should concentrate your efforts.
The right technology infrastructure
Lastly, for your knowledge management efforts to truly shine, you need the right technology infrastructure in place.
Most companies rely on internal communication tools, like Slack or email, for collaboration and the sharing of information. And while they might work perfectly well for those purposes, when it comes to sharing knowledge they usually fall short.
You probably know yourself how incredibly hard it is to explain certain things in an email - what could have been a 5-minute chat turns into an hour of writing and rewriting.
Other than being frustrating and time-consuming to use, those channels have the added disadvantage of not being searchable - well, yes, they have search functions but more often than not, information shared there will be lost within days.
And we’re just talking about simple information - tacit knowledge is pretty much impossible to share this way.
And it’s not the channels’ fault, they were never designed to be used for that purpose.
However, the good news is that other apps are.
Since the world is embracing remote and hybrid work, where chats and in-person mentorships are becoming less available, there was a need to find more efficient ways of knowledge sharing and a lot of platforms stepped up to the plate.
Enter knowledge management tools, employee apps, social intranets, and many other tools that have been designed to facilitate knowledge sharing in the digital world.
They are made specifically for supporting a distributed workforce and allow people from around the globe to connect, share ideas, and collaborate in real-time.
So be it that you are looking for a way to implement microlearning content or need a platform to share information and documents, there will always be something suitable for your organization that will help you create that informal learning culture, enabling employees to stay up-to-date with the latest skills and best practices.
Just be sure to do your research! The app you choose needs to be:
- Easy to use- Whether it’s a mobile app or web application, the platform should be user-friendly and intuitive.
- Secure - The data shared on the platform needs to be encrypted and secure from malware attacks.
- Scalable - It should be able to process large amounts of data and integrate with other software solutions you already have in place.
- Cost-effective - Look for a platform that fits into your budget and offers the features you need.
- Tailored to your organization's needs - Find an app that offers the specific features and support you need for success.
When choosing the right app, make sure it is compatible with all mobile devices in your workplace, that it can be integrated into existing workflows, and that it provides analytics and reporting capabilities.
Whichever you pick, the most important part is to realize that the right app is out there. With a little research and testing, you can find an app that meets your business's needs and enhances user experience.
This will help you create a secure and efficient workplace while increasing productivity and boosting morale. So don’t wait - explore the options today!
So to recap, knowledge management is about establishing the right organizational processes, environments, culture, and technological infrastructure to help you understand what you know, relative to what you need to know and then share, protect, and further develop key knowledge and knowledge assets.
It is ultimately about ensuring that the right information reaches the right people at the right time so they can make well-informed decisions.
And by implementing the right knowledge management systems, organizations can not only improve their competitive edge but also create an environment that fosters collaboration, creativity, and innovation as well as build a culture of trust and respect.