In today’s knowledge-based economy, businesses and industries increasingly depend on higher levels of knowledge and skills, necessitating continuous learning for many workers. The lifelong acquisition and application of skills and knowledge have become the basis for increased innovation and productivity, leading to what can be called the knowledge value proposition.
Increasingly, firms are examining more effective approaches to knowledge management (KM) and knowledge transfer (KT) to increase their productivity and competitive advantage. Such strategies help to manage and mitigate the risks associated with new technologies, demographic shifts and a hyper-mobile workforce. Many organizations are examining more innovative ways to use, create, capture and transfer their knowledge assets.
Organizations face two key KM/KT challenges today: 1) how current information is accessed and leveraged to become knowledge and 2) how informal knowledge is captured and transferred to support their business.
Most organizations collect reams of information and data but often do not use it to inform or improve strategies, programs, policies and services. An inability to tap into this knowledge ultimately affects productivity. Information and data needs to be managed in order to turn it into knowledge. Only when knowledge is created does it become an organizational asset and a competitive advantage.
Loss of experienced employees through retirement or turnover means that organizations are at risk of losing their tacit or hidden knowledge. Tacit knowledge is often the most critical to an organization and is the only asset that cannot be “bought” once it walks out the door. It is the know-how in relation to how and why things have been done; how things work; expertise/knowledge built through experience on the job; and key stakeholder networks and contacts.
Knowledge transfer addresses the capture of this tacit knowledge so that it can be made explicit, shared and leveraged within the organization.
Knowledge is the only asset that appreciates as it is used. Strategic approaches to KM/KT improve decision making and operational efficiencies, as well as provide a competitive edge through greater innovation.
The level and degree of KM/KT strategy depends on several variables: business drivers; problems to be solved; budget/resources; leadership commitment; and organization culture. Some common KM/KT approaches include: mentor programs; simulated accelerated learning interventions; succession planning; graduated retirement programs; retirees-on-retainer; communities of practice; technical networks; learning partnerships; knowledge cafes; numerous knowledge capture methodologies and more.
Organizations can approach KM/KT from an integrated enterprise-wide planning and implementation perspective or they can target implementation at a branch, program or functional level. Many organizations start with pilot initiatives or proof of concepts prior to moving to more full-blown implementation.
Before developing a strategy, however, it is essential that organizations first understand and address their KM/KT risks. This can be undertaken through corporate-wide or targeted risk assessments which should include an assessment of workforce demographics, structure, leadership and organizational culture; existing knowledge gaps and opportunities; and the identification of key organizational “pain points.” Equally important is undertaking a mapping of knowledge assets to identify where the critical knowledge resides within the organization and the extent to which it is held by more than one person.
Targeted risk assessments and knowledge mapping are two critical first steps to informing KM/KT strategy development.
Jennifer Smith is president of Intergage Consulting Group, which specializes in organizational renewal, and helping public and private sector organizations attain KM and KT solutions.
Benefits of knowledge management
Corporate employees spend up to 25% of their day looking for information, which can be 25% of a company’s staff costs. According to a 2008 IBM study of 4000 human resources executives, only 13% of people can find someone with a particular area of expertise in their own company. This means the bulk of work does not leverage the specialized knowledge that exists in the firm, because there is no effective way to find the information.
- Source: Five Best Practices for Enterprise Collaboration Success