Monday, April 27, 2015

Leveraging Knowledge Management

It is ironic that so many companies have an abundance of knowledge, but fail to use it for managing the business. Knowledge is a critical resource that warrants much more attention. If we are serious about managing knowledge, then we need to embrace the concepts associated with knowledge management.

“Businesses, especially large ones, have little choice but to become information-based. To remain competitive, maybe even to survive, businesses will have to convert themselves into organizations of knowledge specialist.” – The Coming of the New Organization by Peter F. Drucker

Knowledge Management is the process of pulling together people, systems and tools so that an enterprise wide structure is in place for efficient and effective decision making. Unfortunately, many companies view knowledge management as an IT project, trying to move information from one location to another. Although technology does play a role, knowledge management is more about understanding the resource and knowing how to leverage it for growing the business. And yes, technology (such as enterprise portals) is often deployed to help leverage knowledge. However, it may be more important to focus on the information itself – knowing how to classify it and analyze it before you give everyone access to it.

A much better approach to knowledge management is to clearly understand the intellectual assets of the business. This can include simple things like getting more out of databases (a common repository of information) or looking at strategic issues like properly identifying intellectual assets and understanding how they impact the business. The goal is to put the “whole brain” of the organization to work, getting all parts of the body connected and working together for driving performance. This usually requires some form of gap analysis – looking for gaps in your knowledge assets, building knowledge to fill in these gaps, and making sure you are using the knowledge that you currently have.

“Ultimately, intellectual assets have become more important than any other because only by means of knowledge can companies differentiate their work from their competitors.”
- The Wealth of Knowledge by Thomas A. Stewart

As author Peter Senge points out in his book The Fifth Discipline, learning organizations are always expanding their knowledge, finding new ways of creating knowledge, moving it seamlessly throughout the organization and transforming it so that people have insights into what they need to do. This requires a knowledge infrastructure, comprised of numerous components such as databases, libraries, internal experts, research centers, outside information brokers, and other knowledge-based sources for plugging the knowledge gaps within the organization. It also requires measuring and managing the value of knowledge so that it truly fits within the organization. Many companies have created Chief Knowledge Officers or Chief Learning Officers to help propel this process.

Leveraging knowledge management requires much more than moving the stuff around through Microsoft Sharepoint. It's about having a culture and infrastructure that supports the knowledge needs of the organization. This requires strong leadership, unlearning of old ways, an openness to new possibilities, promotion of learning, and very seamless communication on an enterprise wide level. This also requires a willingness to learn from others regardless of who they are; i.e. you must be willing to face the truth if you expect to leverage knowledge. In essence, knowledge management is about finding the best ways of running the business. And in order to accomplish this, you must be willing to learn and use your newfound knowledge in new ways for managing the organization. If a company isn't managing its knowledge, then it isn't managing its business.

“All healthy organizations generate and use knowledge. As organizations interact with their environments, they absorb information, turn it into knowledge, and take action based on it in combination with their experiences, values, and internal rules. They sense and respond. Without knowledge, an organization could not organize itself; it would be unable to maintain itself as a functioning enterprise.”
- Working Knowledge: How Organizations Manage What They Know by Thomas H. Davenport and Laurence Prusak

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